A former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar; a former Kano State Governor, Ibrahim Shekarau; and other presidential aspirants interested in contesting in the 2019 election have challenged President Muhammadu Buhari to a debate ahead of the poll if they emerge as their parties’ candidates.
The other presidential aspirants who have challenged the President to a debate are a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Prof. Kingsley Moghalu; a former presidential candidate of the KOWA Party in the 2015 election, Prof. Remi Sonaiya; Publisher, Sahara Reporters, Mr. Omoyele Sowore; Prof. Iyorwuese Hagher; and Prof. Funmilayo Adesanya-Davies.
According to the presidential aspirants, if they emerge as their parties’ candidates for the next election, they will engage in any presidential debate they are invited for and would like President Buhari to make himself available for such debates should he also emerge as the candidate of his party, the All Progressives Congress.
Buhari had in 2015 shunned the last round of a presidential debate organised by the Nigeria Elections Debate Group, which was attended by the then President, Goodluck Jonathan (Peoples Democratic Party), Sonaiya (KOWA Party), Martins Onovo (National Conscience Party), Godson Okoye (United Democratic Party) and Chekwas Okorie (United Peoples Party).
But for the next election, Atiku said he would take part in any presidential debate if he emerged as the PDP candidate.
In a message on Twitter, he gave kudos to the Independent National Electoral Commission for recognising debates as a vital part of democratic process, saying “debates are a vital part of the democratic process.
“Our democracy and governance will be better enriched when voters have the opportunity to make the needed distinction in the offerings of those who apply to govern them.”
When asked if he would be ready to face other presidential candidates in a debate, including Buhari, if he emerged as the APC candidate, his media aide, Mr. Paul Ibe, said, “His Excellency, Atiku Abubakar, will make himself available for a debate.”
Former Presidential candidate of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, also said it was important for those seeking to occupy the office of President to participate in a debate.
This, he said, would go a long way in assisting the public to make informed choices about those who want their votes.
Shekarau, who is also seeking to contest for the Presidency on the platform of the PDP, spoke through his Media Adviser, Mallam Sule Ya’u Sule, on Friday, saying he was “prepared to participate in a presidential debate anytime anywhere.”
He said, “It is like attending a job interview, which will provide the prospective employer with an opportunity to assess individual candidates; Nigerians deserve to be given the opportunity to hear directly from those who seek their mandate to occupy the highest office in the land.
“If you will recall, His Excellency is not a stranger to debates as a trained teacher and public servant long before he became a politician. He has been involved in explaining and executing policies and plans on how to make this country better.”
Also, Moghalu, a presidential aspirant on the platform of the Young Progressive Party, on Friday, expressed his readiness to confront Buhari in a debate ahead of the 2019 elections.
In a telephone interview with Saturday PUNCH, he said, “Yes, I am fully ready to face the President in a debate. Broadly, the areas that will be of interest to Nigerians are the economy, security, the fight against corruption, health, and education, among others.”
Moghalu, who expressed worry over the rising incidence of incessant killings and unemployment in the country, said his ambition to contest for the presidency in 2019 was borne out of the realisation that past leaders had failed.
Sonaiya, who has also expressed interest in contesting in the next presidential election, said if she emerged as her party’s candidate, she would “definitely participate in a debate,” adding that Buhari “should participate too as it is a duty; it is one of our duties to strengthen democracy.”
“If you talk about strengthening democracy and so on, this is one way to do so and I think that even if there is no law that compels a candidate to participate in a debate, every candidate should see it as a responsibility.
“It is one of the platforms to engage with the people. I participated in the debate the last time so there is no reason for me not to participate again,” she said.
According to Sowore, he cannot wait to debate with President Buhari on issues affecting Nigerians.
He said, “I can’t wait to debate with President Buhari, I think Nigerians are anxiously waiting for such an important moment in our political history. A popular debate will afford the President an opportunity to state to the Nigerian public where he thought he performed well and also present us an opportunity to lay before the Nigerian people our programmes of action to lift Nigeria to progress and prosperity.
“I decided to run against the President because I came to the conclusion that he has failed in every ramification and ought not to be re-elected to office again for another four-year term.”
Hagher, who hopes to contest for the presidency on the platform of the Social Democratic Party, said he was “ever ready” to have a presidential debate with Buhari, adding that “even if it is now, I’m ready for him. I don’t want to wait, let him come out, he is a colossal failure.”
Another presidential aspirant on the platform of the PDP, Adesanya-Davies, also said that she was ready to face President Buhari in a presidential debate should both of them emerge as candidates of their parties.
Adesanya-Davies told a correspondent that she would like to take the President up on issues concerning the economy, education and security, especially why the Christian girl, Leah Shuaibu, had not been released by the Boko Haram sect.
She explained that though the President did not participate in the 2015 presidential debate, Buhari should be able to be part of the 2019 presidential debate to explain certain things to Nigerians.
“Certainly yes; I am ready for a debate if I emerge as the candidate of my party; the PDP. I know that before the 2015 election, President Buhari did not go for any debate. He should not dodge the debate this time if he emerges the candidate of his party.
“He (Buhari) should not only be talking to me; he should be talking to the entire Nigerians. We need him to explain why he should be the President and also the Minister of Petroleum. Why did he give a person like Babatunde Fashola multiple portfolios when one portfolio is already difficult to handle?
“At such a debate, I will like to discuss the economy and education. We will like to talk about security; we have yet to find the Christian girl (still with the Boko Haram sect),” Adesanya-Davies said.
The presidential aspirant also queried the age and physical ability of the President, saying, “We will talk about the incumbent’s age and his health; why is he coming back again without considering his age and health?”
Buhari must take part in presidential debate –Secondus
Meanwhile, the National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, has said that Nigerians must insist that the presidential candidates must engage in a debate before the conduct of the 2019 election.
He, therefore, asked President Buhari to be prepared to partake in the debate which he said would afford Nigerians the opportunity to hear from all the candidates and then compare their abilities and potential.
He said, “Presidential debates are used to judge the ability of the candidates to perform in office. Body language has no role in what candidates will do while in office.
“President Muhammadu Buhari is the incumbent President. It is an advantage for him to tell Nigerians what he has done in the past four years or so.
“He will tell them the roads he has started and finished, the airport he has built, the security he has provided, jobs he has created and what he has done to secure the naira against the dollar and so on and so forth.
“So, he should get prepared. Nigerians must insist that whoever wants to lead them must be ready to debate with one another. We don’t need accidental leaders and unprepared Presidents anymore.
“Debates afford candidates to sell themselves to the voters. Any candidate that runs away from the debate has failed from the beginning.”
We won’t force him, says APC
But the Spokesperson for the ruling APC, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, told Saturday PUNCH on Friday that the party would not force whoever emerges as its presidential candidate to go for any debate.
He also described such debates as not compulsory.
He said the ruling party didn’t “have a candidate yet” and that it would allow the eventual candidate’s campaign office to decide on the matter.
He said, “The presidential campaign will decide on that (if to take part in a presidential debate or not), not the party.
“If we get a letter of invitation, the party will sit down with the campaign organisation and look at it. There is nothing in the campaign rule that says you (as a candidate) must do it.
“You have to look at it strategically. It has to be part of your own strategy whether to do it or not.”
We can’t say if President will debate or not – Buhari Presidential Campaign Organisation
The Spokesperson for the Buhari Presidential Campaign Organisation, Mr. Festus Keyamo (SAN), said that he was also not capable to speak on whether Buhari would take part in a presidential debate or not.
He said that the campaign group had yet to take a decision on the issue.
“I will not be in a position to make any commitment on that. This is because as a team, we have yet to sit down to look at it. I’m not mandated to speak on it,” he said.