The last presidential debate organized by the Nigerian Election Debate Group (NEDG) on March 30, 2011 exposed the petulance and pettiness of some of the presidential candidates seeking the votes of Nigerians. What options does the Nigerian electorate have now?
It was reported that the presidential candidates of the ACN, CPC, and ANPP had threatened to pull out of the NEDG presidential debate because President Jonathan did not show up for the NN24 presidential debate in which the three candidates had participated. Besides, they had appeared to lose confidence in the organizers of the last presidential debate.
I wrote and said, “About the BON debate, considering natural emotions, Ribadu, Buhari, and Shekarau must boycott the debate. But considering rationality, strategy, and opportunity, and the fact that many of us are waiting to hear their solutions to the myriad problems we are facing as a nation and people, I call on my friend Ribadu, my colleague (fellow mathematician) Shekarau, who came across to me at the last NN24 debate as a thoughtful and intelligent man, and my former head of state, Buhari, to re-consider and attend the BON debate.” Unfortunately, the three chose to give in to emotional weakness.
Let me state why it was petulant and petty of Ribadu, Buhari, and Shekarau to boycott the NEDG presidential debate:
1. The debate was meant for them to address the myriad questions on the Nigerian state, how they would solve our numerous problems. They chose to stay away from addressing millions of Nigerians who could not attend their campaign rallies, and who had no opportunity to watch the NN24 debate.
2. The NEDG was a coalition of many organizations, including private and governmental, and the debate was co-sponsored by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Who did the three presidential candidates scorn other than Nigerians? Definitely, they did not scorn the president. They scorned me and millions of Nigerians who were looking forward to the debate to further assess them. That debate was covered by both radio and television networks, and there are millions of Nigerians that could listen even if they did not have access to satellite television.
3. If a co-applicant failed to turn up for an examination, should I also stay away? Put another way, if a co-applicant stayed away from a job interview which I attended, would that be a slight on I who attended? The kind of reasoning by Ribadu, Buhari, and Shekarau betrayed puerile unreasonableness. It uncovered a mind-set that is not ready to lead Nigeria at this moment. At this moment Nigeria does not need vengeful leaders; at this moment we need a president that can rise above angry emotions. Obviously, the three have shot themselves in the foot. If they deceive themselves that their action cost them nothing, they should think again; at least, it cost them my vote. And if they wave my vote aside, it only shows they are not ready to lead because one vote lost is a serious matter to a politician.
4. Would it not be to the advantage of a politician to have others stay away from a political debate? What disadvantage did Shakarau, Buhari, and Ribadu stand to suffer by President Jonathan’s absence from the NN24 debate? I saw and still see no damage suffered by any of the three gentlemen. Rather, it was President Jonathan that stood to lose thereby. But at the NEDG debate, the president calmly and convincingly explained his absence at the NN24 debate, and went on to present a solution agenda to many of Nigeria’s problems. Were any of the three other candidates there to fault President Jonathan or expose the deficits or contradictions, if any, of his proposed solutions to Nigeria’s problems? What a missed opportunity they will never have again before the presidential election on April 9th!
5. Shekarau, Buhari, and Ribadu failed to turn up for the biggest job interview by Nigerians.
Whatever reasons for their absence that their campaign managers may manage to come up with will not suffice. They have despised me and many other Nigerians, and have forced us to hire who may have not been hired. If they care for my opinions; if they know a little about the political dynamics of today in Nigeria; if they place any value on a presidential debate in Nigeria at this defining moment, they should know that they have helped polish up President Jonathan. The three, therefore, have a difficult task on their hands.
I have heard of talks about mergers of some opposition parties in this twilight of political campaigns in order to dislodge the ruling party at the national level. I laugh sadly at the pettiness of Nigerian politicians, who have failed to do their homework well. They talked about a mega party some few years ago (I warned them, though); that failed on the altar of self-interest and opportunism. The Nigerian politician must purge himself for a better political engagement in the future. The options have been reduced seriously. And in as much as I would like Nigerians to punish the ruling party at the polls, what options do we have, at least at the national level?
Finally, the Electoral Act 2010 says that after voting, voters should stay at least 300 meters away from the polling booth. Well, what shall INEC or government do to Nigerians whose houses are within 300 meters of polling booths? How our politicians make unenforceable laws! Lack of serious and deep thought in our politics has always been our great undoing as a people.
Leonard Karshima Shilgba is an Associate Professor of Mathematics with the American University of Nigeria and President of the Nigeria Rally Movement (www.nigeriarally.org ).
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