President Muhammadu Buhari has yet to take a decision on whether he will take part or not in the presidential debate slated for January 19, 2019 by the Nigeria Election Debate Group.
But the Peoples Democratic Party and the Social Democratic Party said their candidates, Atiku Abubakar and Donald Duke respectively, would take part in the debate.
The Chairman of the Nigeria Election Debate Group, Mr John Momoh, told journalists in Abuja on Thursday that the group had fixed January 19, 2019 for a debate for presidential candidates of different political parties taking part in the 2019 elections.
Momoh, who is also the chairman of the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria, said the debate series would, however, start on December 14, 2018 when vice presidential candidates are billed to take their turns.
He added that the debates would hold at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, and would be broadcast live by all BON members.
He said the debate would focus on the nation’s economy, electricity, job creation, health care, education and security, among others.
Momoh said Nigeria would be strong when elected leaders were transparent, adding that such openness must start long before election.
He said, “Our nation is strongest when our elected leaders are transparent, accessible and accountable to its citizens, explaining their decisions and answering tough questions. That standard of openness must start long before election day.
“It is for this reason that the Nigerian Election Debate Group and the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria are organising a vice presidential debate on December 14, 2018 and a presidential debate on January 19, 2019.
“The debates would hold at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel Abuja and will be broadcast live on all BON member radio and television stations across the country.
He added, “The debates will also be streamed live on all mobile and social media platforms such as Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to give it a global coverage.
“Among others, the debates will focus on the issues that matter most to working families; restoring our economy, providing electricity, creating jobs, securing health care for every Nigerian, making and achieving excellence in every Nigerian school and ensuring safety and security for Nigerians.
“The Nigerian Election Debate Group would set the format and rules of the debate, handle moderation, outline the criteria for political party participation, ensure the objectivity of audiences and steer negotiations between broadcasters and the parties.
He said Nigerians would expect the leaders of all political parties to be challenged in a very public and robust way in these debates.
In justifying the debates, Momoh said it was a well-known fact that Nigeria, in spite of its potential, was faced with a social crisis that began way back during the military era and had been with the democratic rule since.
He said the nation today was experiencing a health care crisis threatening women and children, education crisis threatening children’s future, power crisis crippling economic activities, and a more fundamental crisis of corruption, accountability and security.
He identified other challenges facing the nation to include threat to national unity, resource control and self determination, ethnicity-based identity politics and religious cleavages which he said had enveloped national consciousness.
Many of these problems, Momoh argued, stemmed from decisions made by Nigerian leaders behind closed doors or openly.
When asked about the group’s plan to avoid past situations when leading candidates shunned similar debates, he said it was the prerogative of the candidates to attend.
He said while some countries had already enshrined it in their constitution to make it compulsory for candidates to participate in debates, Nigeria had yet to do so.
He recalled that efforts had been made in the past to ensure that such a law was made in Nigeria.
Momoh expressed the hope that in the not too distant time, such a law would be promulgated in Nigeria.
In an interview with one of our correspondents, the spokesman for Buhari Presidential Campaign Organisation, Mr Festus Keyamo (SAN), said no decision had been taken on whether Buhari would participate in the debate or not.
He said once a decision was taken on the matter, it would be made public.
“I am not the only one that will take that decision. When that time comes, all those concerned will sit down and take a decision on that and we shall make our decision public,” Keyamo said.
But the National Chairman of the PDP, Uche Secondus, in a separate interview said the party’s presidential candidate would take part in the debate.
Secondus described the debate as an opportunity to tell Nigerians what the party had to offer Nigerians and why the citizens should vote for its candidate.
He asked Nigerians to insist that all presidential candidates should address them through the debate.
Secondus said, “The PDP and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, will be live at the debate and we will tell Nigerians in clear terms what we have to offer them.
“We are not going to shy away from the people we are seeking their votes. We will talk to them, answer their questions and also sell our party and its manifesto to them.
“All over civilised world, political parties and their candidates look for such opportunities to talk to the people. Nigeria should not be an exception.
He added, “We are through this medium, asking Nigerians to demand that all presidential candidates should be at the debate to tell the whole world what they have done and what they will do.”
Also, the National Publicity Secretary of the Social Democratic Party, Mr Alfa Mohammed, said the party’s presidential candidate and his running mate, Junaid Mohammed, would participate in the debate.
He said the event would serve as an avenue to showcase the quality of the party’s candidate and his running mate.
Mohammed said, “We can’t afford to miss this ample opportunity to showcase the calibre of the personalities we are presenting to Nigerians as the next President and Vice-President.
“Certainly, we are going to be there. We shall make our candidates available for any kind of debate in any part of the country.
“That will be an opportunity to let Nigerians know that we have the best candidates.”