The recent appearance at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chattam House, London by the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Rtd General Muhammadu Buhari, in all intents and purposes was a political miscalculation enough to convince the average Nigerian voter that Buhari holds him in low esteem.
Otherwise, how would he explain the idea of ignoring the invitation by his own fellow country men to offer himself for proper scrutiny (through open media-anchored debate) along with other parties’ candidates for the forth coming presidential election and chose to travel all the way to London to advertise himself and his manifesto?
It certainly runs against the tenets of nationalism because his acceptance and participation would have afforded the electorate opportunity of listening to his argument with other candidates on how he would run the economy if he wins the election. He should have shown more deference and commitment to the expectations of the people he is intending to govern.
Apart from his campaign messages that centre much around fighting of corruption and insurgency, there are many hidden questions that need answers from him on how best he could handle same if he wins the election.
There are many Nigerians who are already disillusioned with the inability of General Buhari and other presidential candidates to openly discuss their political manifesto and respond to questions that may arise there-from in a debate forum.
A prominent lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Olisa Agbakoba, for instance in an interview with Saturday Vanguard newspaper of February 28, 2015 was quick to say that between Buhari and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, he did not know who to vote for at the presidential election because both of them who are most prominent among the presidential contenders are yet to face each other in an open debate that can easily reveal who holds the ace in terms of the knowledge needed to correct the inherent anomaly in the polity.
There are many other Nigerian eligible voters like Agbakoba who are yet to decide who to vote for, because the contenders have not sufficiently advertised their candidacy through face-to-face debate like what happened in 1993 between Chief Moshood Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC).
Prior to the emergence of the two, apart from Abiola’s popularity as a businessman and Tofa also, not much was known about them in terms of how much knowledge they had in political economy.
It was largely the open debate conducted and televised by the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) that helped Nigerians to shift attention to Abiola as having a better chance to win the election. Eventually, it was not surprising when results came out in his favour even though the military junta led by General Ibrahim Babangida annulled the result of the election for reasons not well explained to Nigerians till this day.
Since Jonathan has continuously indicated his interest to appear in any media organized debate with Buhari and other presidential contenders, Nigerians stand to benefit a lot from such debate because it would be a big plus in the development of our political process and further deepen our democracy.
The fear by APC and Buhari that the debate organizers may have some bias against his candidacy is not really tenable because Nigerians who would watch the debate are certainly going to be the judge since it would be televised live.
For Buhari to continuously shy away from the debate goes a long way to portray him as a weak leader who is not likely to put himself forward for greater national or international debate that calls for open participation. His participation in the open debate would have afforded Nigerians the opportunity to assess him if he can conveniently represent the country in international fora like the United Nations, African Union, Commonwealth of Nations, ECOWAS and other international organizations Nigeria belongs to.
Presidential debates are not new in civilized countries. The United States of America which Nigeria’s federal system and democracy are modeled after has consistently held debates for her presidential candidates in every election, the last of which was between incumbent President Barack Obama of the Democratic Party and Mitt Romney of the Republican Party.
Presidential debates undoubtedly give more colour and admiration to democracy as a system of government. So let APC and Buhari do the needful.