Nigeria: Ruckus Over Presidential Debate

This post is part of our special coverage Nigeria Elections 2011.

Nigerians will elect their president on April 9, 2011. Apart from the usual politicking, many independent organisations have been pushing for a live presidential debate. The aim, as in most democracies, is to give the contenders a chance to outline their plans amid sunlight and also give Nigerians an opportunity to compare. However, it seems the presidential debate has run into a major rumpus with the reluctance of Jonathan Goodluck, the incumbent to feature in any such discussion.

Initially the debate was whether to hold a debate at all. This is no surprise to Jon Gambrel who says, “Televised debates have yet to take hold in Nigeria, where political discourse often simply amounts to rowdy rallies and stern-faced posters of politicians plastered to bridge pillars.”

Two independent platforms have offered to conduct the debates – both the Nigeria’s satellite TV network, NN24; and young Nigerians under the aegis of “What About Us?” to be anchored by acclaimed novelist, Chimamanda Adichie.

What exactly is What About Us? campaign?:

What About Us? is a NON-PARTISAN campaign, calling for the first-ever presidential youth centered debate in Nigeria. The collaborative effort is driven by several youth empowerment groups and blogs, including Vote or Quench, Enough is Enough Nigeria, Sleeves Up, StandUP Naija and Nigerian Eagle. The group’s mission is to educate the Nigerian youth on the agendas and motives of presidential aspirants and it will continue to collaborate on various initiatives to drive voter awareness and participation

Nigerian celebrities have joined the campaign:

Joining the call for the first-ever presidential debate focused on youth issues, Nigerian celebrities are giving up their digital profiles to support What About Us, a collaborative effort from youth advocacy groups, Vote or Quench, Sleeves Up, Enough is Enough, Nigerian Eagle, StandUP Naija and others.

The campaign started March 3rd 2011, with more than 10 famous Nigerians raising their voices in support of the youth including Eldee, Sasha, BankyW, Bez, Naija Boyz, Four Kornerz, Lami, Tee A, Nse Ikpe Etim and Nneka Egbuna. In unison, 1000s of their fans also dedicated their profile pictures and statuses on facebook, Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger, inviting their network of friends and family to do the same? As a result, #WhatAboutUs successfully became a top trending topic in Nigeria – the most populous country in Africa.

However, the first indication of shock was when the Vice Presidential Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ducked the NN24 debate on March 12. Daniel Fayemi of whistle-blowing Sahara Reporters notes:

The debate was scheduled to hold between Sambo of the PDP, Tunde Bakare of the Congress for Progressive Change, John Odigie-Oyegun of the All Nigeria Peoples Party and Mr. Fola Adeola of the Action Congress of Nigeria. However, the PDP representative absconded from the debate while the three others went ahead with the debate even as they condemned Sambo’s absence.

The PDP unfortunately insisted that its candidates will stand for a debate that will be conducted by the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria. This infuriated the Nuhu Ribadu Campaign Organisation of the Action Congress of Nigeria, who called on Mr Goodluck to accept debates without putting conditions:

It simply shows that either the duo have nothing concrete to sell to Nigerians or are afraid they cannot defend their actions in office for the past 10 months. It is common knowledge that BON is mostly populated by government employees, and as such the presidency will find a way of running the entire debate from the back door.

Nigerians were jolted with President Goodluck’s deception after he granted an interview with a pop star, D’Banj. The angst of many was expressed in this piece:

Nigerian Pop Star D'Banj with President Goodluck Jonathan. Photo courtesy of Sahara Reporters

We would not have bothered if Jonathan was being prepped for a reality show on D'banj's Koko mansion, but this was a session with a man asking Nigerian voters, including young ones, to entrust him with the highest political office in their country. Having decided to duck from a debate organised by numerous Nigerian youth groups, Mr. Jonathan nevertheless wanted to show off that he's got the backing of the Nigerian youth. He chose a well-known popular entertainer as collaborator in a patently deceptive game.

While the debate continues, most people are still amazed at President Goodluck Jonathan fear of having a conversation with Nigerians.

This post is part of our special coverage Nigeria Elections 2011.


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