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APC absent as Obi, Kwankwaso, Abiola, Okowa parley at first presidential townhall

By Bridget Chiedu Onochie, Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Sodiq Omolaoye (Abuja) and Kehinde Olatunji (Lagos) 
07 November 2022   |   4:14 am
Presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and the standard bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, failed to show up at the first in the series

Kola Abiola of Peoples Redemption Party, PRP (right); Rabiu Kwankwaso of New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP); Peter Obi of Labour Party (LP) and Ifeanyi Okowa representing Atiku Abubakar of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the Arise News Presidential Town Hall series in Abuja…yesterday.

We want only presidential candidates, and participants to protest, delay the kickoff
• Insecurity: Okowa, Obi seek coordinated intelligence gathering, serious policy on employment, poverty 
• CDD: We invited Tinubu, Atiku, Obi, and Kwankwaso to debate after the Twitter survey on the selection
• Tinubu explains absence at town hall meeting

Presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and the standard bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, failed to show up at the first in the series of town hall meetings for presidential candidates yesterday.

The presidential town hall series is an initiative of Arise Television and the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD). The agenda for the first presidential town hall meeting was on security and the economy.

Delta State governor and PDP vice-presidential candidate, Ifeanyi Okowa, was in attendance to represent the party’s flag-bearer. There was, however, no representative for the presidential candidate of the ruling APC.

The candidates in attendance were Peter Obi, flag-bearer of the Labour Party (LP); Rabiu Kwakwanso, presidential candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) and Kola Abiola, standard bearer of the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), who was a later replacement for APC.

Commenting on the absence of Atiku, Okowa said Atiku secured permission from the organisers to be away.

The Delta governor said: “He (Atiku) is outside the country. We duly obtained the permission of the organisers for him to be represented. When it is time for debates, we will get into it. But this time, it is a town hall. Atiku has asked me to represent him.”

Explaining Tinubu’s absence, Director, Public Affairs and Spokesperson, of Tinubu/Shettima Presidential Campaign Council, Festus Keyamo, said in a statement last night that Tinubu did not attend for the following reasons: 

“Firstly, many radios and TV networks in Nigeria have indicated interest to host such debates and out of deference to other TV and radio stations, our candidate will not be making selective appearances in some networks, while ignoring others. As president of Nigeria, by the Special Grace of God, he intends to treat all persons and businesses fairly and equally.

“Secondly, the busy and hectic campaign schedules of Tinubu will not permit him to honour all such invitations by different radio and TV networks, hence our decision for him not to start with one TV station and later ignore others.

“Thirdly, our candidate had long before now realised the importance of speaking directly to Nigerians and shortly after unfolding his Action Plan as president, embarked on town hall meetings beginning with his interaction with the business community and other stakeholders in Kano, followed by the town hall meeting and presentation by experts last week in Lagos. Tomorrow, he will be interacting with agro and commodity groups in Minna, Niger State.

“While we thank Arise TV for the invitation, we want to assure Nigerians that we shall continue to hold these debate groups and Nigerians in high esteem. Nigerians will hear from our candidate loud and clear through other forums.”

The candidates were selected based on the performance of their parties in an online survey by the organisers during which all the 18 political parties were listed in alphabetical order.

In an earlier statement, CDD director, Idayat Hassan, justifying why the organisation invited only the four candidates, said the process for selecting the candidates was not without a set methodology. 

She said: “To ensure ample time devoted to hearing each of the candidates, we ran a survey on Twitter from October 4 to 10, asking citizens to vote on which four parties they wanted to hear from. All 18 political parties were listed in alphabetical order. After the survey was closed, nine parties did not receive a vote. 

“The remaining nine received the following percentage of votes: African Action Congress (AAC) – 20.7 per cent; APC – 86.2 per cent; All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) – 6.9 per cent; LP – 96.6 per cent; NNPP – 51.7 per cent; PDP – 82.8 per cent; PRP – 6.9 per cent; Social Democratic Party (SDP) – 6.9 per cent and Young Progressive Party (YPP) – 13.8 per cent. 

“The result of this survey informed our decision to invite the highest four scoring parties – LP, APC, PDP and NNPP to the town hall,” Hassan said in a statement.

MEANWHILE, the absence of some presidential candidates caused a stir at the town hall. For more than 30 minutes, the audience protested what they termed appearance by proxy. The exchange delayed the commencement of the event slated to begin at 7:30 p.m.

Problem started when Okowa was introduced to speaking alongside Kwankwaso, Obi and Abiola. While Tinubu promised to join future series, Atiku was said to have informed the organisers that he just returned from a trip and would be joining the dialogue as it progressed.
But the audience became uncontrollable when the programme was about to begin, with the protesters chanting that it was meant for presidential candidates and not for their running mates.

However, Dino Melaye and the Atiku team insisted that the “ticket is one.” Even when the dialogue eventually began, there was still sustained protest and rowdiness after the candidates’ formal introduction.
While Obi said it was time to recover Nigeria from its current situation through job creation and resuscitation of ailing industries through public, and private sector partnership, Okowa emphasised the need for peace and unity as one of the ingredients for development.

The candidates talked about mopping up arms and pulling people out of poverty, cultivating massive land across the North and changing the security architecture.

Okowa said: “Technology is very important and we will continue to require it much more than we have at the moment. Security equipment that we have is very small. I am sure that if you go to the police command now, such an instrument that can identify criminals right to the spot, you will probably see one or two for the entire nation, which is definitely inadequate. We need to rework the security approach.

“Devolving the police force such that the state will have their own police and operationalise it is important. It’s important because these people because they are working in their environment, are in a better position to have a clear understanding of their areas and know exactly what to do in such areas. Lots of people are calling for state police, just one centralized police force is not enough to attend to all issues that we have.

“As of today, Nigeria is being overwhelmed, we need better training and we also need to ensure that we provide adequate welfare and make the police force and other agencies better paid than what they are getting at the moment. We must attack the issues of unemployment and we must ensure that we educate our children, until we get these two done, there will be a lot of people on the streets that will be recruited into these deadly vices.”

Kwankwaso said: “Some of us are angry to the extent of leaving PDP and APC because we feel there are better ways of doing things in this country. We believe the system has failed and that is why we decided to go to the NNPP. The failure of other sectors of the country resulted in insecurity, one cannot separate security and the economy.

“I believe that if the government is doing the right thing, many people will put down their arms, it’s the responsibility of the government to ensure that necessary steps are taken within the bracket of the law to ensure that each and every Nigerian lives in peace and goes around doing their legitimate business not minding religion, ethnicity.”    
Obi said: “The more you pull people out of poverty, the more you reduce the criminality in the country. They are doing what they are doing because they can see the poverty in the country. We are in a country where those people who are in government are richer than the entrepreneurs, we manufacture poverty.

“As governor, everybody knew what we did in community leadership, we were able to use what we can call modern communication, telephone to provide for every community a vigilante system that was working, providing them with vehicles, communication equipment, linking them to work with the police.   

“A complete review of the security architecture, starting with increasing the personnel. Police to the best of my knowledge are 320,000 for a country of over 200 million; let’s increase that to at least a million. I support three levels of policing (LG, State and central). The most important thing to stop criminality is to start pulling people out of poverty.”
Abiola said: “The security agencies that we have today need to be improved upon, it’s not just about recruiting the right person but also continuing to train the personnel. The machinery and technologies are there to use, in many cases, they are there, we just don’t utilize them and that speaks to the kind of leadership we have in our forces and also at the helms of government.

“The security architecture of Nigeria has never been utilised to date. Go back to the original security set-up and make it work, don’t duplicate it. We have a national security council that hasn’t sat since 1999 and that body is made up of eight people who are supposed to govern dispassionately. We have a security adviser that is totally underutilised to date.” 

On the exchange rate, Obi said fuel subsidy is an organised crime, stressing that people with almost the same population consume less fuel. He said that subsidy would be removed and the money used to support the building of refineries and other critical infrastructure.

He added that those stealing oils are part of the government, wondering why the Nigerian Navy could not detect oil thefts.
He also stated that fiscal responsibility is a panacea for the reduction of the exchange rate, noting that the kind of fiscal rascality going on in the country will continue to skyrocket the exchange rate.  

Kola suggested that subsidies should go into mortgages and things that can create jobs. He said the import-based economy contributes to the increase of exchange rate.

Kwankwaso accused the government of stealing national assets and said efforts should be made to stop it. He said there is a lot of corruption in subsidy management. He said necessary palliative would be created when the subsidy is removed in a long run.

For Okowa, he said subsidy was a crime. He suggested finding ways of having functional refineries. He urged the government to ensure Dangote Refinery is encouraged to start next year while modular refineries are encouraged.
Oil theft, he said, is on two scales, illegal refineries and organised stealing. He suggested surveillance, stressing that the pipeline surveillance project was a crime.

For the exchange rate, he said producing for export and removal of subsidies will help the country save money. Okowa described as unacceptable the N800 black market rate for a dollar.

On political investment and the usual manner of recovering investment in an election before thinking of national development, Kwankwaso said his party did not buy candidates.

Obi also joined Kwankwaso in stating that Obidients are not giving “shishi”. He said that to curb corruption, Nigerians should judge candidates based on their past records.
“If you can manage a penny, you should be given a naira to manage. My running mate and I will fight corruption. If you are not stealing, you can control those around you.”
Okowa stated that PDP created anti-corruption agencies. He also faulted NNPP and LP for claiming that they don’t spend money. He asked whether they walked to campaign grounds across the country.