The ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has tried, with limited success, to make political mileage out of the refusal by the presidential campaign of the All Progressives Congress to hold televised debates. From the party of a candidate who is notorious for getting into trouble the moment he speaks off the cuff, the drama about APC’s non-participation is indicative of the PDP’s frantic effort to retain power.
On the other hand, what would be the motivation of the APC to engage in televised debates? How many Nigerians (apart from the elite who hardly vote) would have watched the debates? How many have electricity to watch television? And how many undecided voters would have made up their minds to vote for a candidate simply because he is able to talk smoothly and make glib promises or attack the integrity of his opponent?
From a strategic point of view, the APC made a smart choice in refusing to be drawn into the debate saga and for opting for the town hall format where it can better engage with potential voters face-to-face and in more natural settings.
What would it have achieved from agreeing to a debate when the variables indicate that those who will vote for Buhari will vote for him no matter what, while those who have made up their minds to vote for Jonathan will do so no matter the perceived outcome of any debate?
Incidentally, if the APC had agreed to a debate, what would be the debate about? Would it have been about the number of unemployed Nigerians or whether the figure is 30 or 50 million? Would the debate have been about security, when at least 20,000 Nigerians have been killed in an insurgency that the government has failed to end despite spending an average of 1.2 trillion naira on defence and security every year since 2011?
Would the debate have been about our demoralized military which seems to be in permanent retreat from the insurgents, or the fact that Chadian and Cameroonian forces are leading the way, even entering Nigerian territory to dislodge Boko Haram? Would Buhari have reminded Jonathan that he drove Chadian rebels and bandits almost to the gates of Ndjamena 39 years ago, but that under Jonathan, Chadian forces are liberating Nigerian territories from terrorists?
If the presidential debates had taken place, what would the candidates be debating about? That the $28 billion wasted on electricity only worsened Nigeria’s electricity crisis, or about who in government owns which underperforming electricity distribution company that is being bailed out with public funds in circumstances that are nothing short of scandalous?
Except if it was merely for political bravado, what would the PDP candidate debate on about the economy? That despite warning from well-meaning Nigerians, the government continued to fritter away our oil earning until today, we are at the edge of economic disaster? What would he have said about devaluation of the naira, followed by the plummeting value of the currency which now exchanges for nearly N250 to a dollar? Or that even the so-called economic growth has ground to a halt?
Had the debates held, would we know better about the N2.6 trillion that was stolen in the name of fuel subsidies or be reminded that till today, not one person has been convicted for that monumental fraud? Would we have been better informed about the N10 billion (some say N15bn) the minister of petroleum spent to charter private jets in a country where public universities were closed down for nearly a year, and where public health workers seem to be moving from one strike action to another?
Had the presidential debate gone ahead, would any of the moderators have had the courage to ask what happened to the Second Niger Bridge which President Jonathan promised to complete in 2011, yet still remains an election issue? What anyone have asked the president why he has harped so loudly about putting a few ‘locomotive’ trains that would be better suited to ferrying goods in an age when even countries less endowed than Nigeria have sophisticated bullet trains?
Would a member of the public have asked the president to clear the air about his doctorate degree? Would the PDP candidate have taken the advantage to tell us what his dissertation topic was, who supervised the research, where and when he defended it and what his contributions to knowledge? Would he have seized the opportunity to enlighten us about his publications as a university lecturer and academic?
Had the debates taken place, would Nigerians have found out whether it was $20 billion or a ‘mere’ $1.4 billion that was stolen from the NNPC accounts? What would the PDP candidate have said if a moderator had asked him to explain how N30 trillion ($200bn) was stolen or mismanaged under his watch, as former CBN governor, Chukwuma recently revealed?
How might Jonathan have explained the shift in election dates as anything more than the fear of electoral defeat?