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Buhari, Atiku shun presidential debate

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The much-awaited 2019 flagship presidential debate at the behest of the Nigeria Elections Debate Group (NEDG) and the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON), yesterday took place with the major dramatis personae, President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and his major challenger, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) shunning the exercise.

While Abubakar arrived the country few hours before the debate, he nonetheless left the Transcorp Hilton Hotel venue of the event following Buhari’s glaring absence. The running mates of all the five presidential candidates, however, participated in the vice presidential debate, which took place on December 14.

Buhari absented himself from the debate the way he has done with all presidential debates before the one in 2011. The last time he took part in a presidential debate he squared up against Ibrahim Shekarau of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and Nuhu Ribadu of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).

In the end, only Fela Durotoye of the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN); Kingsley Moghalu of the Young Peoples Party (YPP), and Oby Ezekwesili of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN) took part in the debate, which was anchored by media personality, Mark Segun Eddo.

Expectedly, economy, security, healthcare and agriculture formed the major talking points of the debate, just as the candidates marshaled their views on how they hope to revive the economy, tackle corruption, uphold the rule of law and rejuvenate education.

Ezekwesili, who said she was not surprised that President Buhari and his PDP counterpart shunned the debate added that the duo had announced their exit from the contest by actions.

The former education minister maintained that she remained unwavering in her determination to lift 80 million Nigerians out of poverty, which she promised to do by improving their productivity.

Insisting that her government will remove barriers to productivity, ensure conclusive prosecution of corrupt officials, expand the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) and end brain drain in the health sector, she reiterated that her government would make it clear that there is a new sheriff in town, just as she would set up a SWAT team that will be based on intelligence and technology.

While lamenting the lack of consequence of the rampant killings on Nigerians, she said she would work towards exploring global collaboration as a way to fight insurgency.

Ezekwesili told the nation that to reduce corruption, her party would carry out structural changes in the economy, including deregulation of the oil sector because “deregulation of the oil sector will reduce massive corruption and the incentives that make people run for political office when they have no idea of governance.”

In reacting to Buhari and Atiku’s absence Moghalu said he was not surprised, stressing: “They are not here because of arrogance. They believe they can do without you. They believe we are trapped. They are not here because they cannot answer the questions. They are in the class of old politicians that have a sense of entitlements but have no record of performance.”

Moghalu, a former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria who said he would put in place a youth-led government, added that he would reduce government spending by going into a programme of recruitment and training.

He revealed that his government plans to recruit six million policemen in four years to tackle insecurity, while corruption in the military would be given a bloody nose.

His government, he added would tackle poverty in the North East, which has led to violence in the regions, while also working hard to make “Nigerians feel they are Nigerians.”

On how to tackle corruption, Moghalu said his government will ensure that no one is above the law and that there are no sacred cows. “We will give fair treatment to all citizens.”

On job creation, he said his government would create incentives for digital work in rural and urban areas through technology. “We will develop a startup nation through the ICT. N500b will be sourced for job creation through the private firms,” he said.

On his part, Durotoye faulted APC’s fight against corruption, stressing that the party cannot defend it’s record, else, it would have been at the debate.

“The anti-corruption fight is selective and targeted at the opposition. We will make it difficult to steal, strengthen our anti-corruption agencies, as well as, make it easy to get judgment against suspected corrupt people.”

Durotoye says his government will ensure proper welfare of the armed forces and the police, and also integrate security intelligence with locals.

He stressed the need for a complete overhaul of the curriculum of the education system in order to make young school leavers job-ready upon leaving school.

His government, he added would ensure the development of specialisation among teachers. “We will ensure infrastructure and quality environment for education,” he says.

He tailored his plan for health towards revamping the Primary Health Care system, adding that the best way to solving the country’s health challenge is by strengthening the PHCs.

While walking out of the debate venue, Atiku Abubakar told reporters, “I am walking out because I was expecting to meet the President. The President has been in office for three and half years and he is not here to defend his tenure, so who am I going to debate with?

Told that there was still enough time for Buhari to show up, he responded, “If he is on his way, I will come back. In any case, I will have the opportunity to address Nigerians via interviews nationally. I came from the United States because of the debate but unfortunately the President is not here to defend his record.”

The Senate President and Director-General of the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, who accompanied Atiku to the debate venue said: “We have always made it clear to the organisers that our candidate is ready to debate with the President. When we were told in Washington DC that he will be here, we cut our trip short to come here, but we are here, he is not here. Our candidate is ready to debate with the President anytime he is ready”

Moments after Atiku departed, he released a statement explaining in details why he walked out of the debate.

Entitled “Why I did not participate in the Presidential debate,” the statement, which he personally signed read: “We came here for a Presidential debate, not a candidacy debate, and I, Atiku Abubakar cannot challenge or question an administration where the man at the helm of the affairs of the nation is not present to defend himself or his policies. After all, you cannot shave a man’s head in his absence. I do not believe in attacking a man who is not here to defend himself. As a leader and former vice president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, let me first apologise to all Nigerians, my fellow candidates and the moderator for the APC Presidential Candidate’s absence in this debate. His non-appearance is a slight on all of us and our democracy.

“Secondly, with all due respect to my fellow candidates, Fela Durotoye, Oby Ezekwesili, Kingsley Moghalu and to the moderator Mark Segun Edoo, and with apologies to all Nigerians here and at home expecting an interesting debate, I regret that I will not be able to go on with this debate due to President Buhari’s absence.

“I however challenge President Buhari to choose a date and time for a debate where he will be present and I will be there, hopefully with the other candidates as well. Thank you and God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria”

In explaining Buhari’s absence from the debate, APC Presidential Campaign Council, in a statement signed by its Director, Strategic Communications, Festus Keyamo (SAN) said Buhari could not attend the presidential debate organised for the following reasons:

“Firstly, out of several opportunities afforded our candidate to interact with the Nigerian people directly by different organisations, our presidential candidate has taken full advantage of another town-hall meeting organized by another group which held on Wednesday, January 16, 2019. He was also joined at that town-hall meeting by our vice presidential candidate who is also the Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, SAN.”

The statement titled, “Why President Muhammadu Buhari Did Not Attend the Presidential Debate Organised By The Nigeria Election Debate Group and the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria continued said: “Nigerians from all walks of life who were physically present and through on-line platforms asked uncensored questions which were adequately answered. It was also transmitted live by various broadcast networks in Nigeria.

“In addition, the busy and hectic official and campaign schedules of Mr. President clashed with this programme. Today, Mr. President commissioned the Baro Inland Water Port in Niger State and campaigned in Niger and Plateau States where his time was over-stretched by the tumultuous and mammoth crowds in both states, (as seen by Nigerians on live television) and only returned to Abuja late this evening.

“Whilst we thank the organisers for the invitation, we want to assure Nigerians that we shall continue to hold these debate groups and Nigerians in high esteem, which our candidate has demonstrated during past election debates when he honoured similar invitations. Nigerians will also recall that a few weeks ago, our vice-presidential candidate, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, also attended the debate organised by the same organisations.

“Lastly, we note the statement of the candidate of the PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar who actually came for the event and left the venue when he did not see Mr. President, who is our candidate. According to him, he would not want to “attack” Mr. President in his absence.

“It should now be obvious to Nigerians that for Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and the PDP, this election is all about attacking the person and programmes of Mr. President and not about proffering their own solutions to the problems they created during their 16 years of misrule, maladministration and looting of the nation’s resources. When they cannot see President Buhari to attack, the content of their campaign becomes hollow, empty and ‘full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’

“Now that Atiku Abubakar had a unique opportunity to explain to Nigerians his own vision and mission without a President Buhari in the picture, he ran away. After all, he has his own eight years of crass and grand corruption as vice president to defend before the Nigerian people.


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