CHAIRMAN of the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) Mahmood Yakubu has said that the electoral body does not have the power to compel any candidate to attend election debates.
Yakubu made this known during a consultative meeting with media executives in Abuja on Thursday.
The INEC boss stated that although debates are to get citizens informed, they are democratic rights which could not be forced on anyone, including in advanced democracies.
He, however, noted that there were unspoken consequences for any candidate who refuses to participate in electoral debates.
“I am not sure we can compel someone to attend the debate. You cannot do that. Even in most advanced countries, you can’t compel someone to do anything in a democracy,” he said.
“Debate, just like voting, is a democratic right. We know debates are to make citizens be better informed.
“However, there is an unspoken consequence for candidates not participating. I also understand that some candidates prefer not to attend in order to avoid making mistakes that would drive voters from them.”
While commending the job the election debate group and the media are doing to advance the country’s electoral system, Yakubu charged them to be non-partisan.
He also called on civil society groups to engage all presidential aspirants in the debates, saying the Commission received a lot of complaints from candidates that were not invited during the 2019 elections.
“We are, however, happy with the job the election debate group is doing. The effort of the media in this aspect should be supported, but they should also be non-partisan.
“Many political parties have come to complain to us that they are not invited to debates. In 2019, we have over 70 presidential candidates and now we have 18.
“I know it will be difficult to take all of them along but we should try to accommodate them.”
As Nigeria l prepares for the 2023 elections, the leading presidential candidates have been urged to attend the debates so that citizens would be better equipped to make informed decisions at the poll.