The presidential debate organised by the Nigeria Elections Debate Group (NEDG) and the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON), held on Saturday January 19, at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, in Abuja.The debate which started at around 7pm was the same venue where the vice-presidential debate held on Friday, December 14, 2018. The debate offered the platform for the presidential candidates to reveal to Nigerians their plans for the country as the nation prepares for the general elections this year.
Five political parties were selected to participate. They include: the Allied Congress Party Of Nigeria (ACPN), the Alliance For New Nigeria (ANN), All Progressives Congress (APC), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and The Young Progressive Party (YPP). As such, the candidates that were expected at the debate were President Muhammadu Buhari, Atiku Abubakar, Oby Ezekwesili, Fela Durotoye and Kingsley Moghalu.
Atiku, who flew in from the United States, appeared for the debate but stepped aside from the stage on the grounds that Buhari was absent. The drama that led to his pulling out of the event started as he was being fitted with microphone preparatory to the debate. He explained that he could not debate issues arising from Buhari’s policies in his (Buhari) absence. Speaking as he walked out, Atiku said: “I am walking out because I expected to come and debate with Mr. President. The President has been in office for the past three and a half years. He is not here to defend that record. So who am I going to debate with? If he is on his way, when he comes, I will come back. “I came back from the US to participate in this debate but the President is not here.” In a statement he released after he walked out, the PDP presidential candidate said:
He added, “I, however, challenge President Buhari to choose a date and time for a debate where he will be present and I will be there, hopefully with the other candidates as well.”
A statement by Buhari’s Campaign spokesman, Festus Keyamo, explaining the absence of the President, said he had taken up other formats to market himself. He also noted that Buhari’s time was overstretched by the activities of yesterday that saw him commission projects during a campaign visit to Niger State. “In addition, the busy and hectic official and campaign schedules of Mr. President clashed with this programme. On Saturday, Mr. President commissioned the Baro Inland Water Port in Niger State and campaigned in Niger and Plateau States where his time was over-stretched by the tumultuous and mammoth crowds in both states (as seen by Nigerians on live television) and only returned to Abuja late this evening”, the statement said. Buhari and his Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo, had on January 16, 2019, attended an event tagged ‘The Candidates”, a presidential town hall co-production between Daria Media and the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), supported by the MacArthur Foundation.
In the absence of the duo, the trio took the centre stage at the debate. The debate, moderated by Mark Eddo, was staged at the Congress Hall of the Transcorp Hotel. Despite the claims of the two men, nonetheless, the three candidates present at the debate took turns to lampoon Buhari and Atiku over their absence.
Meanwhile, the following are the nuggets served by the candidates of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, Oby Ezekwesili; Alliance for New Nigeria, Fela Durotoye; and Young Progressives Party, Kingsley Moghalu:
- Nigeria needs a different kind of leadership that will transform the country and make it the envy of other nations —Moghalu.
- Together, we will all build a nation that will work for us — Durotoye.
- I have the capacity, the competency and the character to take on this new leadership that our country deserves —Ezekwesili.
- Skill, capital and literacy are what will fix Nigerian economy and take it into industrialisation —Moghalu.
- We will lift at least 80 million Nigerians out of poverty through improvement in the productivity of majority of Nigerians who earn less than N700 a day —Ezekwesili.
- My plan is to provide 30 million jobs —Durotoye.
- Every citizen of Nigeria matters. You matter, I matter, we all matter. That’s the basis for healing Nigeria —Moghalu.
- We will ensure that the girls in the schools are safe and well taken care of —Durotoye.
- To reduce opportunities for corruption, you do things like structural changes in the economy —Ezekwesili.
- My Presidency will make sure that Nigeria’s peace will be established on the basis of equity, justice and accountability —Moghalu.
- To improve the security situation the leadership of the Armed Forces should not be based on friendship or ‘man know man’ but based on performance —Durotoye.
- We must modernize teaching. We will take teaching to the prestigious profession that it once was by training the teachers massively, and equipping them with the new knowledge of the new economy —Ezekwesili.
- I will end ASUU strike in Nigeria —Moghalu.
- There’s a huge supply of bad behaviour, savagery in our country because there has not been any judicial process that has led to the conviction of anyone that has killed a fellow Nigerian —Ezekwesili.
- One of the reasons why people are not paying taxes is not because their taxes will not be judiciously used, but because of the wastage and the corruption, they have seen in the system —Durotoye.
- Today, those who commit savagery know that there’s no consequence, and whenever there’s no consequence to criminality, it mushrooms —Ezekwesili.
- We will build a new Nigeria of our dreams together. Where there are job opportunities, where businesses exist and where nobody needs to know anybody to get into office because it will be a nation for all —Durotoye.
- The APC and the PDP; one is a kettle, one is a pot, and they call each other black —Moghalu.
Besides questions posed by the moderator, the candidates present at the debate responded to online questions asked by comedienne, Emmanuela, a former Big Brother Nigeria housemate, Bisola Aiyeole, among others.
BY CHUKWUELOBE ONYEDIKA