Why Buhari should not dodge the debates

By dan onwukwe on 03/02/2015

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THE decision of the campaign organisation of the All Progressives Congress(APC)Presidential candidate,General Muhammadu Buhari  not to participate in the Presidential debates for the February 14 election, has elicited quite a torrent of debate of its own. It is not for nothing.Last week,Mallam Garba Shehu,a brilliant journalist and Head of media and publicity of Buhari’s Presidential campaign surprised many when he said that the APC Presidential candidate would not take any part in the debates put together by the Nigerian Elections Debate Group(NEDG).The debates went underway on Sunday with the Vice Presidential candidates of some of the registered political parties.     The Buhari Presidential team has alleged “premeditated bias” on the part of the composition of the debate panel.It said it was unlikely Buhari would receive fair and reasonable questions from the panel.He was also reported to have said that he would not stand in a

debate before journalists who have maligned his person and cast aspersions on his family.Is his refusal to take part in the debate a way of showing his hurt openly? I don’t know. The Buhari campaign has also expressed its fears that that the debate panel might take unfair advantage of President Jonathan’s incumbency and tilt the debate in the President’s favour.All of these  allegations have been strongly denied by Mr.Taiwo Alimi,chairman of the working committee of NEDG.

From the foregoing,the key questions to ask are:why are  presidential debates  so crucial in this election? Why is Buhari dodging the debates? What will these debates mean to Nigerians,especially eligible voters? These are legitimate questions. It must be said that the stakes are  high in these elections than previous ones.That of the presidency is indeed much more higer.Impressions would be critical.    Two  things  are not

debatable:The Presidency is not a prize to be won.It is a duty to be done.Second,a leader’s authority comes from the public’s belief in his right and ability to govern.Therefore,the essence of Presidential debates will be fully appreciated as a big opportunity to evaluate the policies,preparedness and if you will,the dimensions,of those who seek to govern.It is a time for the candidates to ask the electorate for their prayers,for their strenghth and support,and more importantly,for their voice and their votes.And without their mandate,this will not be possible.

We know that public speaking or oratory is not the strenghth of Buhari.Neither is  his intellectual ability.But this must be said:the best leaders are not necessarily the best debaters. After all,in 2011,Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau,the present Minister of Education  was by far the best debater,but he was not even the second best in that election.

Nonetheless,Presidential debates is a time to talk about leadership,to examine the character of each candidate,his vision and the future of the country. For Nigeria and Nigerians,it couldn’t have come at a  better time than now.And,for Buhari,even much more.But,it appears he has failed to seize the moment.Both Buhari and President Jonathan need these debates to prove their worth.For Buhari,instead of shying away from the debates,he needs them to  answer questions that have dogged his presidential ambition.

The reasons given by his representatives are far from convincing to me.Day after day,stories have appeared,weighty issues raised linking him with possible improprieties.These controversies are not about to go away anytime soon.He needs to clear the air on some of them.If he decides to shy away from these debates(I know his camp is already saying after all,President Jonathan  did not take part in the debate of 2011),time and

circumstances have changed,but the negative perception of millions of Nigerians about Buhari still persists.For instance,there have been reports that if became President he would be a sectional Presidential  whose main agenda is to divide the country along ethnic lines.Some say he doesn’t have the intellectual fecundity to engage in a robust debate.Other insinuate that he has a bristle temper and cannot be cool under pressure,that doesn’t have what it takes to stay unpresidential,a man without substance,arrogant and even egoistical.Some have questioned if he is truly the  man Nigerians and the international community can trust if given political power?

Trust entails leveling with the people before the election,not what the candidate can do after the election..These could be cheap shots that Buhari can use the platform of a Presidential debate to correct.You end up playing fast and loose with facts when you shun the platform that can help you put issues in proper perspective.

If Buhari remains abdurant and refuses to debate,it is not unusual anyway.Ex-American President,Lyndon Johnson rejected a Presidential debate with conservative Republican Senator Barry Goldwater in the 1964 Presidential race.Public speaking was said not to be his forte.Also,in 1968,Richard Nixon turned down a debate with Sen.George McGovern.His refusal was said to be as a result of his woeful performance against JF Kennedy in the 1960 Presidential debate where Nixon appeared nervous and deferential to his challenger.

He lost the election.It was an episode many Presidential candidates don’t fail to watch the reruns to gain useful lessons on the presidential debates and how to avoid same mistakes and buoy their confidence.Gerard R.Ford said in his autobiography that the Nixon-Kennedy debates helped him overcome anxiety and lack of confidence during his debate with Jimmy Carter in 1976 presidential debate.Ford lost the election anyway.

I advise the Buhari’s campaign team to use the tool used by Ford by positioning their man before a lectern,and fire the toughest questions they could find on any conceivable issue he may be asked if he changes his mind to participate.I guess he would be ready to face Jonathan this Sunday.

We need no reminding that our country is facing unprecedented challenging times. Buhari says the solution is “change” in the present leadership of President Goodluck Jonathan.How he wants to do that remains  within his campaign trail.Nigerians want to watch him in a life television debate, how,in practical terms,he intends to make this change happen.

There are many undecided voters,otherwise known as “floating voters” who need to watch Jonathan-Buhari debates to make up their mind on who to cast their votes on Feb.14.

 

Source The Sun

Posted on February, 3 2015

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