In most advanced Western democracies, including the United States of America (USA), presidential debates, although not constitutionally mandated, have become an integral part of the electoral process. In these cultures, the debates are mainly addressed to undecided voters; those who tend not to be supporters of any ideology or political party.
We know that the first real presidential debate in the United States took place only in 1960 between John Fitzgerald Kennedy of the Democratic Party and Richard Nixon who was the standard bearer of the Republican Party. The debate was notable because it was the first to be televised in the country’s political history.
In the American system, of which the Nigerian version is a poor photocopy, the people have the possibility of knowing the candidates from the primaries which cover all the states that make up the country. In this country, problems are defined ideologically. This is not the case in Nigeria where a few delegates are paid to choose the rest of the country based on overriding feelings devoid of patriotism.
When Nigeria returned to democracy after many years of military rule, there was a feeble attempt to organize debates among presidential candidates. Ironically, few results were achieved from this effort.
Even as the campaigns for the 2023 elections are underway, candidates are expected to engage somewhat in debates to allow the Nigerian people to assess those who aspire to lead them in the absence of manifestos and dissent. clear ideologies. There is resistance from some candidates to participate in the exercise. The idea is that they don’t need it to win the election. They have been backed by experience since 1999. That year, Olusegun Obasanjo of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) refused to debate, others did. But he, Obasanjo won. In 2003, Obasanjo refused to debate, svon. In 2011, Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP refused to debate, others including Buhari did, and Jonathan won the election. In 2015, Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) refused to participate in the debate but he won.
From this point of view, it appears that the debates are not necessary within the framework of the electoral activity. In the opinion of this newspaper, this scenario should not continue to play out for the simple reason that the candidates have not often had to emerge through a democratic process in the sense that the Nigerian people have not had the opportunity to know who they are before becoming candidates. As always, tickets are bought by the highest bidder who isn’t necessarily the person people want.
It is therefore imperative, in our opinion, that the debates take on the appearance of a platform allowing the people to know who their future leader really is. On this platform, they are supposed to speak directly to the people on national issues and how they intend to resolve them if elected. This request was made during a recent public meeting organized by Arise Television in collaboration with other partners. The people insisted on listening to the presidential candidates and not their representatives.
Most Nigerians agree that often there is a misperception when assessing proposed candidates. Variables other than competence and integrity such as ethnicity and religion play a major role in the process of choosing the leader who, in most cases, turns out not to be the one people want.
However, a new variable has an even more devastating effect on the electoral process: money. Until now, the godfathers imposed on the rest of the people a candidate of their choice and dared to complain. From now on, the candidates impose themselves by buying the places. They also buy votes and challenge anyone to raise a voice of protest. To this extent, what they need, in their view, is money and not participation in a media debate. Ultimately, people are harmed, leading to governance failure.
The challenge to the democratic process is that politicians get away with this attitude that has hurt and still hurts the nation as a whole. But there is a preponderance of opinion urging Nigerians to avoid the mistakes of the past by not electing the wrong people to office. Ironically, due to a combination of ignorance and poverty, people are sinking deeper into the warm embrace of the same disease that plagues the political arrangement. But they have a duty, in our view, to demand to hear from their aspiring leaders. In this case, debates between candidates should not be optional.