By Tonnie Iredia
The refusal of the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), General Buhari to participate in this year’s Presidential debates has once again thwarted our efforts at organizing a debate to enable Nigerians assess the candidates properly so as to determine who to vote for.
From the hue and cry which followed the refusal of the General to be part of the debates, it would appear that some Nigerians did not expect what happened. That is strange because General Buhari did not do anything new as we have never had any proper debate since the return of democracy in 1999.
Indeed, the nation waited in vain for the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011. The last of the debates, that of 2011, took the format of drama as 3 of the candidates appeared in one debate at one platform while President Jonathan undertook a one-man debate in his preferred platform.
There are a number of reasons why we can therefore not blame Buhari for his decision. First, lack of faith in some of the organizers is a strong reason. Having seen the numerous personal attacks on Buhari and his family in certain media outfits, it does not make sense to blame the same candidate for declining to be part of a debate organized by such bodies.
They obviously can neither be objective and impartial nor can they provide a level playing field. Rather than blame the candidate who appropriately shunned a distrusted platform, we should condemn the media that published or transmitted the hate campaigns as well as their sponsors who through ownership control or materialism coerced the management of the media concerned into unethical practises. We can only hope that the stalemate occasioned by the refusal of one side to participate will serve as a lesson in media management for the future
Second, why is Channels Television which has for the better of a decade won the Nigerian Media Merit Award as the best station in Nigeria not part of the debate group along with the other main broadcasting stations of the nation? Is there something channels-our credible station knows that the rest of us do not know? Is it not instructive that Dele Alake, the Director of Strategic Communications of the APC team said the other day that his party’s candidate would attend a debate solely organized by Channels TV?
What these questions establish is the correlation between the success of a political debate and the faith each party has in the organizing body. Of course, political debates cannot stand in isolation; they are part of the totality of political broadcasts of an electioneering period. Although no one knows when electioneering begins in Nigeria as we see candidates campaigning for a new term from the day they were first sworn-in, no substantive issues are ever raised by the average Nigerian politician.
For longer than made sense for example, the APC kept telling us that our President was clueless without offering clues itself. To make matters worse, some of its leaders decamped to the so called clueless PDP making it look as if there is some gain in being clueless. On its part, the PDP wants the nation to note is that the candidate of its main rival party has some personal defects; first it was an alleged prostrate concern, then the focus shifted to the non-possession of school certificate which was later changed to forged certificate.
Could it be that the party did not appreciate that Buhari’s personal defects if any, cannot over shadow our poor economy, increasing corruption and unprecedented insecurity during its own administration. The certificate issue for instance should be challenged in court instead of using it to push serious national concerns to a second fiddle. In other parts of the world where the culture of political debates is firmly rooted, political broadcasts are usually dedicated to a nation’s current problems and its viability.
Between 2004 and 2005 for instance, this writer watched political debates in no less than four countries. In Germany, the economy was the issue because of the restructuring policy of Chancellor Gerhard Schroder which many believed caused the rise in unemployment in the country. In France, foreign policy especially the survival of the European Union was the controversial matter of the moment. Thus, President Chirac had to undertake a LIVE political debate with the opposition to persuade his fellow citizens against voting negative on the issue of the European Union Constitution.
For the May 2005 elections in Britain, what each party could do to improve the welfare of the citizenry was overtly canvassed following an opinion polls organized by the Mail Newspapers which showed that the rival political parties-Labor and conservatives were 37% at par. Some 6months earlier, the situation was the same in Ukraine where an election was stalemated. Prime Minister Yanukorych whose initial victory was declared illegal because of massive electoral fraud had to face opposition leader, Yushchenko in the 100 minutes debate which was televised LIVE on Ukraine’ State television.
Unfortunately, Nigeria has never been able to hold real election debates where diametrically opposed viewpoints are canvassed at a time for meaningful comparison. What we have are “party talks”. Even at that, we are supposed to be talking to the undecided voters because enlightenment usually falls on the deaf ears of political fanatics. If so, who are undecided Nigerian voters?
I dare think that many of them are the poor rural illiterate dwellers who are unaware that a man like Babangida or Obasanjo as the case may has since left office because irrespective of who leads, their own fortunes have remained static. Unfortunately, these people who by statistics constitute the majority of our people cannot understand the Queen’s English of our political debates. Even if a debate is organized today in their mother tongue, they would have no television to watch it while the few who may have TV sets may not have light. For whose sake then, are we holding debates and on what topics-the mundane and cosmetic or what immediately touches our people?