Monday, March 28, 2011


Everyone’s talking about the presidential debates –who impressed, who flopped, who weren’t invited, who shunned it, who organized it, who---. It feels suddenly like a debate bug has bitten deep into our national fibre. Politicians, being what they are, have begun scheming and play-acting, masking their fears behind a veneer of tough-talk. The outcome is an intense propaganda war between Team Umbrella (President Jonathan-PDP) and Team Coalition (Buhari-CPC, Shekarau-ANPP and Ribadu-ACN). Let’s examine some questions raised by contending camps in this debate wahala.

1.  Was it wrong to host a debate on the NN24 platform?
     Verdict –NO.
Team Umbrella’s argument that to participate in a debate organized by NN24 –a 24-hour news station hosted exclusively on a foreign network, DSTV –denigrates our own institutions is disingenuous. The location (Lagos), ownership (Tony Dara- founder/CEO), management, programming and staff of NN24 are Nigerian through and through. If our leaders have no qualms delivering breaking news to foreign media outlets, flying to foreign hospitals for treatment, importing foreign toothpicks, leaking information to foreign embassies and stashing money in foreign banks, why then is it difficult to have a debate on a TV station simply because it is hosted on a foreign network? 

Team Umbrella made a good point, however, in mentioning that many Nigerians don’t have access to NN24/DSTV. But even that is insufficient excuse because the contestants could easily have attended the NN24 debate, as well as that of any other organization with a wider reach. What’s the big deal? 

2.     Did President Jonathan have a right to abstain from the NN24 debate?
     Verdict –YES.
Debates aren’t the only avenues available for separating the positions/visions of candidates. Manifestoes, campaign events and the antecedents of the contestants are others. There’s no law binding contestants to face off in televised debates. When former US president Franklin D. Roosevelt declined to take on his Republican challenger Wendell Wilkie in a debate, the heavens didn’t fall; he still won. Obasanjo and Yaradua did not debate anybody. By abstaining, President Jonathan did no wrong, technically or legally.

However it solidified people’s perception of him as being intellectually inept and idealess, especially given the inconvenient revelation that he sought to obtain the debate questions (expo) beforehand. 

3.     Did the opposition have a right to shun the NEDG/BON debate? 
     Verdict –YES.
Well, if the PDP candidate has the right to pick and choose, surely other candidates have same rights. Some pundits have accused the opposition of being reactive and immature. I beg to disagree. The PDP candidate is the incumbent but he is still just another candidate. It would be a psychological blow to opposition supporters if their candidates bend over at his every whim. It was disrespectful of President Jonathan to ditch the NN24 debate without an apology even though his team had actively participated in the pre-debate negotiations.

However I think the opposition’s reaction was overdone. Saying that they “will not honour any debate session with President Jonathan in the 2011 elections,” was a bad move. Let’s face it –they need the free airtime the debate provides more than the president whose campaign has more resources and hence more visibility. They should have shunned only this particular debate, and then publicly hinged future participation on the condition that all parties involved meet again to decide on a date, format and organizers acceptable to all. That would have given them the upper hand –more visibility and more positive press. It would also have been an important service to the electorate who are desperate to see the debate happen. 

4.     Did the opposition have a right to suspect the president’s embrace of the    NEDG/BON debate?
     Verdict –YES.
Reno Omokiri, one of President Jonathan’s fiercest supporters, argued that the opposition candidates showed their lack of national pride by their refusal to participate in the BON debate. That is balderdash. The US presidential debates used to be sponsored by the League of Women Voters (LWV). They withdrew in 1988, saying: “the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter. It has become clear to us that the candidates’ organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign trail charades, devoid of substance, spontaneity and answers to tough questions. The league has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.”

Withdrawing is an honourable path to take when one suspects an uneven playing field. The president had attempted in the past to lay hold on the debate questions beforehand, what is the guarantee that he wouldn’t/didn’t try again? The opposition must have reasoned that in a country where even judges are not above reproach, prevention is better than cure. As they said in their joint statement, it’s not like the people running the agencies under BON lack integrity, “but the awesome power of the presidency may be too much for them.” I agree.

PS: Are debates not overrated? Mallam Shekarau is touted to have won the last two debates, yet we don’t see any real upsurge in his favour. Do the debates really matter?

Thursday, March 24, 2011


For what it’s worth, President Jonathan is my friend (thanks to facebook). I’m not friends with any of the other leading candidates in this year’s polls. In April, however, my vote would not be going to my friend. Nigerians are desperate for something Goodluck can’t bring –a change of the old order. Four more years of President Jonathan would be four years of more of the same. Here are four reasons why. 

1. To change the old order is to challenge those who benefit from it.
President Jonathan has not challenged them; he has revived them. Under his watch, we’ve seen senile veterans quit retirement and begin to call the shots again (read Obasanjo and Anenih). We’ve seen ineffective state governors ramrod their way through the PDP primaries. He shocked us by sending a representative to the scandalous homecoming of the unrepentant ex-convict, Bode George, and confounded us by withdrawing (or about to withdraw) corruption cases against the Vaswani brothers, Kenny Martins, Julius Berger, Nasir El-Rufai and the Minister of State for Health, Suleiman Bello. In short, under this president, the old guards have waxed stronger and laughed the loudest, an anomaly bound to continue if he wins in April. 

2.     To change the old order is to accept responsibility and hold people responsible.
In a facebook note entitled “tangible reasons to wish you a merry Christmas,” President Jonathan scored himself high on security because according to him, “while there was tension in some parts of the North last Christmas, this Christmas those tensions have eased.” That note, as it turned out, arrived too early, just 48hours before the 2010 Christmas Eve bomb blast which maimed and killed scores of Nigerians in Jos and Maiduguri. Arrests were made as usual; nothing came out of it as usual. Unlike the way he tried to lap up the credit a few days prior, President Jonathan did not take the blame for the security lapses. Nobody was queried or fired. And the security situation continues to worsen. He has not taken responsibility for the roads he’s not constructing or for the non-improvement in power supply under his watch as de facto power minister. Neither has he fired any among his bunch of idling ministers and advisers. Yet the wheels of development appear to be clanging to an inevitable halt. 

3.     To change the old order is to wholly embrace the new.
“Rather than say the youths are the leaders of tomorrow, I am more comfortable in saying that they are the leaders of today and tomorrow,” said President Jonathan in another one of his notes. Yet he declined the invitation by an umbrella youth coalition–WHAT ABOUT US?–to come address youth issues in a debate to be anchored by the award winning Chimamanda Adichie. In fact, he consistently exhibits an inexplicable distaste for debates and intellectual jousts. In February, a group launched an online campaign in which they asked Nigerians to flood President Jonathan’s facebook page with questions on why it seemed nothing was being done to check the recurring senseless killings in Jos. About two hours into the campaign, the page was blocked and made inaccessible for comments, the same page on which the president had previously declared that “opinions on issues, policy and governance can be expressed in an unedited, uncensored way by citizens.” It is clear that President Jonathan is only comfortable in a selective, half-hearted embrace of the new. That’s why he chooses ‘D’banj’ over ‘What about us?’ That’s why he exalts social media only when it is used to proclaim him as Nigeria’s long awaited messiah. That’s why he’s not the kind of president Nigeria needs in 2011. 

4.     To change the old order is to always put Nigeria first.
Any man who seeks to lead this nation must put Nigeria first, over the generator lobby, the toothpick lobby, the rickety car lobby, the multinational firms lobby, the Iranian lobby and so on. He must put Nigeria first over political party or political ambition. President Jonathan puts Nigeria first only sometimes. He has listened to the governors’ forum and stripped the excess crude account from over $10billion to less than $500million, but has refused to listen to his advisory committee’s recommendation that the government’s over-bloated bureaucracy be stripped to reduce the recurrent expenditure. He looks the other way as illegality is perpetuated in Ogun, where minority rule prevails in the state assembly. Putting Nigeria first is more than writing it on the walls of facebook or reciting prepared speeches. President Jonathan doesn’t seem to understand that, or as some people argue, he’s too weak to be strong for Nigeria.

Being a Southern Christian doesn’t disqualify President Jonathan. Neither does his being married to a dame who speaks damn poor grammar nor his membership of the PDP for that matter. What disqualifies him, in my opinion, is that he hasn’t shown himself to represent the break from the past that Nigerians yearn for. So, for all those who keep asking, “No, I would not vote for Goodluck.”