Nigerians have been warned against voting for presidential candidates who dodge debates and town hall meetings.
A former presidential aspirant of the National Rescue Movement (NRM), Professor Benedicta Egbo, on Wednesday said that all presidential candidates for the 2023 general elections must honour invitations to town halls meetings and debates, arguing that “Nigeria [and ], its governance is much bigger than individuals.”
Egbo, who was reacting to the absence of some presidential candidates at the town hall series organised by the Arise News, declared that only incompetence and a false sense of superiority would be the reasons anyone seeking to occupy the highest office in the country would shun such invitations.
“On Sunday, November 6, Arise News held the first of its presidential town hall series. While three presidential candidates- Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP), Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigerian People’s Party (NNPP) and Kola Abiola of Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) honoured the invitation, Atiku Abubakar the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was represented by his running mate and vice-presidential candidate Dr Ifeanyi Okowa which caused a mild fracas and a sideshow at the event.”
According to her: “The candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC) Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu was absent. This is, of course, a familiar pattern with the major political parties and it smacks of disrespect for Nigerians and the office they seek to ascend. The 2019 election cycle saw the same pattern of behaviour among some members of the political class. Apparently, the leopard never changes its spots.”
She continued: “There are two possible reasons why presidential candidates would absent themselves from town halls and televised debates. The first reason is their perceived incompetence. Put differently, they are not competent enough to engage the salient topics which, in the case of the Arise News town hall, were security and the economy. A second possible reason is an imagined sense of superiority that makes town halls and debates beneath certain calibre of candidates.”
The Professor Emeritus at the University of Windsor said: “The political class ought to be reminded that anyone who feels too big to participate in televised national discourse that is designed to beam a searchlight on them, their ideologies and most importantly, show Nigerians how they plan to govern the country, has no business aspiring to lead this great nation.”
Town halls and debates, she said, are like interviews.
“No one gets a job without an interview even in a nepotistic society like Nigeria. Failure to show up for these interviews connotes disrespect and unseriousness. It is, therefore unacceptable. While one must commend Arise News and the host, Dr Reuben Abati, for a good showing, no media house should accept substitutions or surrogates in place of presidential candidates moving forward,” she stated.
She further stressed: “Vice presidential candidates are not the flagbearer of their party. The media must insist that only the presidential candidates can participate in debates and town halls. Of course, candidates are likely to provide myriad reasons to explain their absence. However, with the exception of health matters, no engagement is more important than attending and participating in such national discourse.”
Presidential candidates, she stated, should no longer be given a free ride or preferential treatment.
“As I’ve argued consistently, Nigeria’s extant and oligarchic political elite must understand that they serve the people and not vice-versa. They must, therefore, show respect for the people,” she said.
“Nigeria and its governance are much bigger than individuals. If we must get the country back on track and out of the current quagmire we find ourselves in, presidential candidates must exemplify respect, seriousness and humility. They must honour invitations to presidential town halls and debates,” she further stated.