The race to the 2023 elections is getting more interesting as the four leading presidential candidates unveiled their manifestoes to familiarise Nigerians with what they intend to do if elected president.
On Sunday the citizens also had the opportunity to listen to the candidates during a town hall meeting organized in Abuja by Arise TV in partnership with the Centre for Democracy and Development.
However, many Nigerians who were eager to interact directly with the candidates were disappointed, as two of the leading presidential standard bearers absconded from the event.
The political gathering was not the first in 2022. A week to the Osun governorship election Channels Television in partnership with Situation Room organized a debate which featured five governorship candidates in the state.
The candidates included the incumbent Governor Adegboyega Oyetola, who was seeking re-election on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC); Senator Ademola Adeleke of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); a former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives and candidate of the Labour Party, Yusuf Lasun; Dr Oyegoke Omigbodun of the Social Democratic Party (SDP); and Dr Akin Ogunbiyi of the Accord Party.
Political debates and town hall meetings give the electorate the opportunity to hear directly from candidates who are expected to discuss key issues prior to elections. Some Nigerian politicians boycott such events, most times without giving genuine reasons.
Daily Trust in a report however, gave a run down of some notable politicians who at one time or another absconded from debates and town hall meetings.
The APC presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu, was absent from the town Hall meeting organised by ARISE TV on Sunday.
The presidential candidates of the New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP) and Labour Paty (LP), Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso and Peter Obi respectively were in attendance, while Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State stood in for the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar.
On why Tinubu was absent, the spokesman for the campaign council, Festus Keyamo, Tinubu had earlier turned down similar invitations from other TV and radio stations, and therefore could not give preference to Arise TV.
He said, “The busy and hectic campaign schedules of Asiwaju Tinubu will not permit him to honour all such invitations by different radio and TV networks, hence our decision for him not to start with one TV station and later ignore others.”
In reaction to Buhari’s not attending a debate organised by the Broadcast Organisation of Nigeria (BON) in the buildup to the 2019 general elections, Atiku, also the PDP presidential candidate then, pulled out of the exercise.
He said he did not believe in challenging an administration where President Muhammadu Buhari, the man at the helm of affairs of the nation, was not present to defend himself or his policies.
He said, “We came here for a Presidential debate, not a candidacy debate, and I, Atiku Abubakar cannot challenge or question an administration where the man at the helm of the affairs of the nation is not present to defend himself or his policies. After all you cannot shave a man’s head in his absence.
In a statement, the vice president said he was physically present at the venue of the debate but decided not to participate because Buhari refused to honour the invitation.
In a similar development, Atiku sent his running mate, Governor Okowa, to represent him during the town hall meeting organized by Arise TV on Sunday.
President Muhammadu Buhari, who is at the tail-end of his second tenure in office, stayed away from a presidential debate.
In 2015, Buhari, who was moving to unseat the then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan refused to feature in the presidential debate organised by the BON.
The spokesperson for the directorate of media and publicity of the APC presidential campaign organisation then, Garba Shehu, said the boycott was due to the “unhidden bias and campaign of calumny by some key organisers of the programme, against the corporate political interest of the party (APC) and its candidates”.
Shehu alleged that the Nigeria Election Debate Group (NEDG)-powered debate was fraught with fundamental errors from the outset, by wearing the toga of government control, especially being composed mainly of agencies and allies of the incumbent PDP administration.
In October 2022 the presidential candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), Dr Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, shunned the Arewa Joint Committee interactive session with presidential candidates.
The former Kano State governor further alleged that his team was in possession of credible information that some people behind the event had compromised, saying it would be used to “clandestinely endorse” another candidate from northern Nigeria.
Arewa Consultative Forum, Arewa House, Sir Ahmadu Bello Memorial Foundation, Northern Elders Forum and Arewa Research and Development Project, organized the presidential interactive session.
In a letter signed by the NNPP campaign spokesperson, Abdulmumin Jibrin, and addressed to the organisers of the joint session, Kwankwaso explained that he had already arranged campaign activities for the date and his technical team was still working on his policy document, on which the engagement was based.
In 2011 former President Goodluck Jonathan refused to attend the NN24 Presidential Debate.
Responding to comments the development generated then, the Jonathan/Sambo Campaign Organisation said that its principal could not attend the debate because he could not jettison the Nigerian Election Debate Group (NEDG) which has been organising several debates since 1999 in favour of another platform “on the eve of crucial national election.”
The organisation said the president who had not concluded his tour of the 36 states could not accommodate new appointments then.
The organization said, “The Jonathan/Sambo Campaign Organisation has watched with utter consternation, efforts by some individuals and groups to feed the Nigerian Public with inaccurate and distorted information to suit their selfish ends.”