What Buhari/Osinbajo town hall appearance reveals
• VP as presidential stilt
It was a town hall type media programme sponsored by MacArthur Foundation in collaboration with Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). In the words of President Muhammadu Buhari, it was taken for granted that not only Nigerians, but also “the world was watching.”The event was designed to bring the presidential candidates and their running mates to the electorates and also equip them with the necessary raw data to enable voters choose which pair best represents their ideal team to occupy the presidency from May 29, 2019.
But if the organisers or handlers of All Progressives Congress (APC) preferred the stand alone approach to avoid the incommodious and critical presence of other contenders, it proved most helpful: Nigerians now know who, between President Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, performed better as the rightful person best suited to occupy Aso Rock. From the structure of the interaction both were expected to deliver as a team, but it became obvious that one of them served as captain. The moderator, Kadaria Ahmed, conveyed that impression in the way she posed the questions:
What are your thoughts on restructuring with regards to education?
President: I’m expecting the press to investigate the corruption in the local government.
Why should the Nigerian people vote for you again?
President: I’ve said before that if my party nominates me, I will contest.
The soldiers are protesting poor treatment and are ill equipped. What are your thoughts?
President: I get situation report from the military. The military should investigate the demonstrations because they are not supposed to demonstrate.
Boko Haram has been targeting the military and killing soldiers. Are you worried about that?
President: They choose the time to attack. We have resource limitations. Boko Haram gets help from external forces.
What’s the solution to the conflict between farmers and herdsmen?
President: We studied grazing routes from the First Republic. Benue Governor shouldn’t ban grazing but provide routes for grazing.
As the head of government, most of the questions were, understandably, directed at Buhari, but he seemed lost, as he appeared not to quickly grasp the questions, only to be rescued by Osinbajo. It was not once. It was not twice. The vice president regularly came to the rescue of his principal, which prompted Ahmed to, at some point in the debate, urge Osinbajo to allow Mr. President to answer his own questions.
For instance, while answering a question on why he seemed not to mind the corruption allegation against Kano State governor, Dr. Abdullahi Ganduje, the president said: “Can Ganduje fail to trust somebody to give the money to him? That clip, somebody brought it to me of how the Kano governor was receiving dollars and smiling and putting it in his pocket.
“I don’t know the extent of technology used and I can’t answer now, because the state assembly has gone to court, and I decided not to talk about it, and the state assembly constitutionally could have dealt with that, but then I heard the matter was taken to court.” When the moderator asked if the president believes the video was fake or real, but Osinbajo tried to intervene, whereupon the moderator cut in, saying: “he can talk for himself.”
And the president continued: “As I told you, I’ve seen the clip; I don’t know how much technology was used but can Ganduje fail to get somebody to get the money to him [and] he has to take it directly himself, smiling?“I honestly am completely overwhelmed and the system has given me some relief; it’s in the court, it is in the state assembly. So, let them, as much as possible, deal with it. This thing has received a lot of publicity and I hope by the time I go on my campaign for re-election there will be some answers from the court and the state assembly in Kano State about the…”
When asked the reason why he wanted to re-contest, Buhari said his second-term bid was the desire of the national executive of his party.“I said it much earlier at the National Executive Committee of our party that if my party recommended me to its executive, I would contest. I did that to save time and wide discussions among members of the party.
“So, those who felt very strongly about it left the party and the party nominated me. Why? It is because I felt that the three fundamental objectives we campaigned in 2015 are still relevant. We want to remind Nigerians to see when we started — 2015 — where we are now, what we have been able to do in between this time of three and a half years with the resources and time available to us.”
On his part, the vice president questioned the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) programme of Goodluck Jonathan’s regime, asking: “Who can point to one single beneficiary of the SURE-P scheme?”He also said government had spent N20 billion on the Trader Moni no-interest loan.
Asked what the government was doing to boost the economy, Osinbajosaid: “We started the largest investment programme for social investment in the history of this country. That’s why we have the conditional cash transfers; we are giving the poorest people in our country today N5,000; we are hoping we are able to [help] about one million people. We are doing our school feeding, feeding 9.2 million children every single day in public schools.
“Aside of that, the Trader Moni and the Market Moni that we are doing; these are loans to the poorest. Let me give an example: With the Trader Moni, we are giving two million market women loans starting with N10,000… some of them their inventories are not up to N2,000; we give them N10,000. When they pay back, they get N15,000 … and it goes all the way up to N100,000. For the two million people, all of that is N20 billion.”
In a nation where it is easy to forget, the Presidential Townhall Media Interaction would not be easily forgotten even though it must have left some sad memories to some APC faithful and other citizens, especially the opposition based on the incoherence of Mr. President and his inability to grasp certain realities or questions posed on him.
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