#NgTheCandidates: Engendering Issue-Based Campaign, Implications for Atiku, Buhari – By ThankGod Ukachukwu
It is not gainsaying to opine that debates are expedient for our electoral process much more in a developing country’s democracy where mudslinging, strife, fake news and propaganda are the order of the day. The absence of President Muhammadu Buhari (APC) and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar (PDP), the top contenders from an oversized number (73) of presidential candidates from the presidential debate drew backlash and criticisms from voters. However, The Candidates, a town hall event organised by Kadaria Media provided an opportunity for four selected presidential candidates along their running mates to engage and interact with citizens and shed lights on their campaigns and tell Nigerians why they should vote for them.
Having concluded the programme which was spread out over four weeks with the appearance of Alhaji Atiku and Mr Peter Obi, his running mate in the final session, it is in order to take stock of that unique medium where candidates were put on the spot to provide insights to anxious voters whose PVCs are the tickets for the candidates to secure the highest office of the land in the spirit of engendering issue-based campaign.
The euphoria of Alhaji Atiku’s appearance has not died down and I was one of those who were dismayed that he declined to participate in the presidential debate in which President Buhari also refused to participate. However, The Candidates became an avenue to juxtapose the top contenders’ performances, a sort of proxy for the debate to enlighten citizens as we approach Election Day.
An unbiased assessment of President Buhari’s performance in the townhall can be extrapolated from reports in Nigeria’s mainstream media. According to pro-democracy group, Democracy Support Coalition, in the Vanguard newspaper, they “lauded President Muhammadu Buhari for his sterling performance at the Town Hall”. Meanwhile, in The Punch, it was reported “Twitter users are less than pleased with the performance of the president” and that “while President Buhari answered some questions, Vice president Osinbajo answered others or provided more insights into the president’s explanations.” Bayo Oluwasanmi gave a scathing and unpatronizing assessment of Buhari’s performance on the night on Sahara Reporters. He stated that “ Buhari was aggressively incoherent, completely unintelligible, proven repeatedly that he had absolutely no idea of what he was talking about”. To surmise from the foregoing, it was a poor outing for President Buhari, nonetheless his supporters careless. That is a story for another day.
In contrast, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar had the opposite experience because of a good showing. Alongside his running mate Mr Peter Obi, they showed poise, good grasp of issues, calm confidence, coherence, and tact and provided answers eloquently. In fact, many remarked that they were surprised at his performance since many haven’t heard him speak for long (approximately 2 hours) in such focused live interaction. Across social media platforms, his supporters went into frenzy on the night singing his praises while the opposition were quick to commence fact checking of the responses the duo provided. Though they claim some of the responses were false, it did not in any way diminish the fact that he bested President Buhari with regards to the town hall. He elucidated on the thorniest issue of corruption, which had hitherto his dash to the United States in the days leading up to the town hall cast a shadow on his candidacy. For the first time, Nigeria heard directly from the horse’s mouth on the issue of the ownership of his flagship companies and whether he used his time in public office to enrich himself. His explanations had it that he bought shares in Intels Logistics, which was lawful at that time when Nigeria was promoting indigenization of companies and never used his office to gain advantage over competitors. He boldly stated that he is the best amongst all the presidential candidates given that he has more experience than his contenders and is business friendly and supports a private sector led economy. Overall, his appearance on the #NgTheCandidates bolstered his candidacy and his campaign has been gaining steam.
Even in developed democracies, the impact of debates and discussion forums on voters’ choices is not an exact science. There is no definite research, which links debate to election victories and such research have not even been carried out in Nigeria. So one cannot say with certainty the implications for the presidential election. But notably the town hall had some significant positive impact for Alhaji Atiku. And for Alhaji Atiku and the PDP campaign, they have their job cut out for them, to translate that success to endear voters to their party within less than 3 weeks to the polls. Given that most of the 84 million registered voters didn’t watch those town halls, reside in the country sides, are uneducated to make high level deductions from the performances of the candidates, President Buhari and Alhaji Atiku are still going head-to-head in the polls and will have the few days to election to woo voters.
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