A Purposeful Presidential Debate

March 16, 2011

On March 29, some of the frontline candidates in next month's presidential election are expected to participate in a television debate. Last Thursday, however, three of them announced they were pulling out, owing to dissatisfaction with the People's Democratic Party's Goodluck Jonathan, who skipped a previous encounter on March 18.

The StandPoint urges those candidates: Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Shekarau and Nuhu Ribadu, to reconsider their decision. Their decision is understandable, but it is at the expense of the larger national interest.

The March 18 debate was somewhat diminished by the absence of Mr. Jonathan, who is the candidate of the ruling party. His failure to appear at the scheduled event certainly betrayed the confidence of the other contestants. They had every reason to expect him to be present - and therefore every reason to feel hard done by. But true leadership, in the end, is service writ large. And service is never as empty as when it is devoid of sacrifice. That is why we urge the presidential debate protesters to sacrifice their justifiable anger for the greater good of Nigeria.


It has also been speculated that one of the reasons the other candidates are reluctant to participate is that BON, a government agency may give the President an undue advantage. It is therefore important for BON to level the playing field and work to earn the confidence and trust of other participants. Perhaps, the questions should be shared ahead of time to each presidential candidate.

We also understand that the upcoming debate is being co-organized by organizations including the Nigerian Election Debate Group and the Democratic Institute of the USA. This should be impetus for all the presidential aspirants to participate.

No longer is the public debate merely an essential component of a modern democracy; it is now even a measure of its very health. Where one of the candidates in a presidential contest is the incumbent, as in our case, it is the best possible campaign forum for him to demonstrate the potency, perhaps even indispensability, of his government. By the same measure, it is the most efficacious forum for other candidates to electrify and inspire voters with their vision and their preparation for presidential responsibility.

We challenge the candidates at the upcoming debate to seize the opportunity to demonstrate to Nigerians their genuineness and their readiness for responsibility at the highest level. For too long, Nigeria has suffered from a dearth of men sufficiently seized with the patriotic zeal to sacrifice and serve. We therefore challenge the presidential debaters to bring to the homes and hearts of Nigerians a clear and committed understanding of the principal challenges besetting our fatherland.

We will expect to hear from them an articulate elucidation of how they intend to reverse years of decay, double-talk, manipulation and corruption. Let us hear from the incumbent and his challengers not the self-serving circumlocution and platitudes that govern much of Nigeria's political discourse, but well-conceived responses to the Nigerian condition. Let us hear not empty clichés, but purposeful policy proposals capable of pulling Nigeria out of the quicksand. Let us have a robust, productive and vigorous debate that is capable of re-igniting the hopes of our people.

We hope that the Broadcasting Organization of Nigeria and the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria, the organizers of the debate, will ensure an unimpeachable production and make the debate widely available on online and offline channels. While the NN24 debate was excellent, we would have loved to see one or two additional interviewers. It is also essential that each participating campaign is clear as to the format of the event in order to avoid incidents of speakers being abruptly halted in the middle of their statements.

Finally, while the upcoming debate will be carried on an impressive number of television networks, it is ironic that most Nigerians are unlikely to see it live because Nigeria lacks one of the basic elements of modern life: electricity. We therefore urge the participating networks to schedule repeat broadcasts in the week that follows in the hope that more Nigerians will be able to see it.