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Debate? Which debate?

By Adewale Kupoluyi

ONE  of the issues that has elicited diverse discussions in the last few days is the boycott of the presidential debate by the two main aspirants in the race to the highest office  in the land. To be sincere, next month’s presidential election is likely to be the most keenly-contested in the annals of the nation and is mainly going to be between the two most popular political parties. It is because of the dominance and deciding factor of these big parties that there has been a hue and cry  that the people were unable to hear from the duo during the organised debate.

Ordinarily, such a platform would have afforded the contestants as well as the electorate an opportunity to have a clear picture of what is to come and who has what it takes to achieve the desired electoral outcomes. It would equally have made it possible to measure the strengths and weaknesses of the aspirants in terms of what they have to offer and the limitations. It is in light of these expectations that the respective political gladiators were invited to the parley and so the idea to have the debate about one month to the D-day is welcome in the electioneering process.

No doubt, the performance of the other three presidential contestants who participated was impressive, to say the least, going by the verdict of the people. It shows that the trio were prepared for the outing and had a grasp of what it takes to lead, if any of them makes it to the high office. Not only that, their command of language and presentation skills indicate that the exalted office should be manned by sound technocrats who are poised to offer quality service to their fatherland. But for the two major contestants, participating in the presidential debate did not really matter. For them, the dynamics of politics in our country is peculiar and so debate may not be necessary afterall. What matters in winning elections is not the ‘big’ grammar or any superlative outing at debates, which is more an  academic exercise, they would say.

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On why the big men did not participate, the spokesperson of one of them disclosed that his principal could not attend because the event clashed with other crucial official engagements while the other party explained that he backed out because his main challenger was not present at the occasion and alluded that, ‘you cannot shave a man’s head in his absence.’ The body language of our top politicians simply suggests that electoral victory is determined by how deep one’s pockets is, who you know and how to get things done within the available means and resources. Apart from  money, other incentives include creating a safe haven for those battling with a litany of legal tussles and litigations. A chair of one of the parties even boasted that any member of the opposition party that had a case to answer but chooses to join his party would have his ‘sins’ forgiven and be given a discharge certificate. Godfatherism, thuggery, violence and rigging have always been common features of our political system.

Taking part  in  a debate is certainly not one of the viable options. Let’s even ask ourselves this question: In almost 20 years of our democratic experience, how many times have politicians been elected into offices on the basis of their party’s manifestos, programmes or for outstanding performance during debates or town hall meetings? In fact, one of the stalwarts was so sure of victory that he had declared that his party would win within three hours of the commencement of voting. The party stalwart, who is also a former governor, claimed that his state would be first to hit the success mark. According to him, the people of the state had already decided whom they would  vote for, insisting that there is really no battle ground in the state. He may be right afterall!

In all honesty, we can presume that despite the brilliant performance of the three aspirants and the absence of the other two main gladiators, the perception of the people who watched the presidential debate may be inconsequential when it comes to actual vote delivery. What do we see? It is the common man who participates in the electoral process and not the elite. How many of our elite do vote  on election day? What really happens  is  that on  voting date, the elite is busy sleeping, reading newspapers or watching the television. But, those who would mobilise their support for the top contestants are those who may not have watched any debate, hence are not influenced by the contestants’ performance or eloquence. Rather, they are fully mobilised to the field, to do everything that is humanly possible to win elections before  reward comes.

The fear that all may not be well caused a former president to raise an alarm that dangers lie ahead. The statesman, who was once labelled as the promoter of do-or-die-politics, warned that deliberate attempts were being made to manipulate the forthcoming polls. According to him, the electoral management body may not be able to independently supervise the conduct of a free, fair and credible exercise due to the impartiality of the umpire and that to be forewarned is to be forearmed. What is equally annoying is the fact that many of our youths and young persons who should decide who wins the race by virtue of their numbers and population when it comes to registered voters become ‘useful’ tools in the hands of politicians in fighting their perceived opponents by becoming party thugs, errand boys and girls. The implication of this is that the voting advantage of this crop of young electorate would have been terribly compromised and at the end of the day, status quo remains the same; old wine in a new bottle.

Who cares about any presidential debate? Which debate? What the people need is money, not big grammar. Period! Rather than waste time on any speech jamboree, their  attention is on the electoral field, trading and deploying available resources to achieve electoral victory since there is no job and meaningful source of living. Here lies the problem. It is when we are able to address such basic societal problems that we can have the desired impact expected of a debate. The irony, however, is  that it’s either of the two main contestants who did not debate that will actually win the race. Past trends have so shown. So in the long run, does  debate  really matter?

Mr. Kupoluyi wrote from Federal University of Agric., Abeokuta, Ogun State.

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