© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Why the idea of NEDG/BON debates must be permanently killed
By Tope Fasua
THERE is only one question to ask; why would Nigeria have three presidential candidates debating ideas on its most popular platform in the year 2019, when it had 11 candidates debating ideas and showing the country what they had to offer in 2015? It cannot be that the political space has shrunk, can it? No, it expanded instead, what with the licensing of many more political parties and the scramble for the number one seat in the land by many a new entrant.
Could it be that Nigeria’s population has reduced and the NEDG/BON people couldn’t find people to debate? Or perhaps that someone in that organization believes Nigerians no longer need ideas – maybe because past ones were never used? What justification can we find, for a deliberate, unilateral, arrogant, cavalier, shrinking of the space for expression by an organization which has ‘Nigeria’ in its name, however, formed?
The infamous, lopsided, and fraudulently-put-together debates of the 19th of January have come and gone. Three candidates attended, even though the debate was apparently not for them. Any of the candidates could as well leverage on their appearance and the unmerited prominence it affords them (all but one in my view). It will be their good luck. But there is no honour in being featured on a dishonourable and fraudulent platform. As alluring as it may seem, the three candidates who showed up at the debate, were in effect used as props, to prop up the waning integrity of the NEDG platform (pun unintended). It came to pass that they were used to try and purchase legitimacy where there is none.
The real aim of the NEDG this time is to make what should be a pan-Nigerian concern, into a simple Buhari/Atiku affair. Both men have largesse to disburse. Buhari currently holds the purse. There is money to be made for the masquerades behind NEDG/BON if they played the game right and gave Buhari a soft landing. Atiku also has money and some say he stands the highest chance of upstaging Buhari.
What NEDG and its masquerades have no right to do, is to prejudge an election, to predetermine an election for people, and summarily lock out other legitimate parties that had something to say. The NEDG has no right to unilaterally preserve secured positions for the APC and the PDP; the two infamous political parties, conjoined at the brains, that has turned Nigeria into a complete basket case over 20 years. They know better. They were warned, but they went ahead anyway… with the usual impunity for which Nigeria is now globally recognized.
And for this reason, the idea of an NEDG/BON debate should be permanently killed and forgotten, its promoters should be openly shamed, and they must never be allowed to try and wangle their ways back into the consciousness of the people of this country whether in 2023 or anytime before. NEDG should henceforth be known as a contraption that threw Nigerian people under the bus, opened us all to insult, worked hard to maintain a terrible status quo or even a reversion to a despicable status quo ante, and probably positioned for pecuniary benefits even if the country is going to the dogs. They couldn’t be bothered.
For emphasis, I have been vocal about this travesty. Why would nine presidential candidates debate in 2003, eight in 2007, five in 2011, 11 in 2015 and then three, just three, in 2019? Are we no longer running a democracy? Do the people no longer matter? How else can people be represented when the political space is shrunk by a single debate organizer which decides to pander to the whims of paymasters, puppet masters, moneybags, godfathers or custodians of raw power?
The NEDG today epitomizes and symbolizes the plunging of Nigeria into mediocrity in all spheres. Its conduct shows that even private entities have been dragged down into the mire of impunity by their public dispensers of largesse. Given the fact that the fame and success of that arrangement is an agglomeration of everybody’s efforts, and indeed the investment of emotions by everyone over the years, it should now be stated that NEDG – The so-called ‘Nigerian’ Elections Debate Group, is the number one enemy of the Nigerian people because it has actively shut out the voices of the people, and deprived them of much-needed hope, catharsis, expression, variety of ideas, and even a much-needed intellectual entertainment via the debates.
I place it on record that I wrote to INEC extensively on this and I retain all acknowledgements. I believe INEC advised NEDG to ensure ALL POLITICAL parties were given a level playing field as required by the law of the land, but INEC was defied or ignored. That will also be determined in court, because I have let INEC know that this is a first salvo towards the rigging of the next elections, and we shall proceed to court with INEC as a party to this charade.
NEDG/BON is not an entirely private entity because BON itself contains ALL federal and state government broadcasting agencies – radio and TV – which are funded with taxpayers’ money. Therefore my right and the rights of all other candidates and indeed all right-thinking Nigerian has been summarily breached. It behoves on NEDG to be extra careful but I reckon they started to feel above the laws of the land, just like many people in government now conduct themselves.
The charade of a debate and the ensuing drama played to the favour of those of us who were cheated, some of whom are exploring redress through our cumbersome judicial architecture. NEDG/BON and its promoters were fawning over Atiku/Buhari thereby apparently putting down and devaluing the candidacy of all else – including the 3 poor fellows who eventually attended and were almost called houseboys and housegirls by those who refused to go.
The genuflection of NEDG/BON blew up in its face. First Buhari sent Professor Sagay to say he will not be debating with political neophytes, lightweights and toddlers. Then Atiku got to the venue, sized up the three candidates in attendance and chose to ignore them. He said he came to debate with Buhari and Buhari alone. Between he and Buhari they rubbed salt into the injury of Nigerians and insisted that the elections are all about them, and not about poor Nigerians whose lives need to be urgently improved. I believe it is a moment of shame for a discredited platform called NEDG. For me, the way it turned out was a victory for the downtrodden, and the war for the reclamation of the soul of our nation has just begun.
The ideal scenario if NEDG/BON had any iota of respect for Nigerians, or any desire for a better nation, would have been to organize a very transparent process, and ensure that as many who express interest in debates are invited. It’s not a big deal to plan an elimination process. They could even make the money to fund it through a process of paid voting. If political parties have swollen to 91, from 24 in 2003, and candidates have risen to 73 (though more than 40 are placeholders), from 14 in 2015, they ought to know that something tectonic has shifted in our political terra firma.
No organization, no King Kong, can stand in the way of what has been unleashed and not be obliterated. If NEDG was anywhere near honest and refused to capitulate the usual cowboy-hood that has seized many things Nigerian lately, they would have organized series of debates and entertained the people intellectually, and helped greatly to elevate the quality of public discourse. But no, not them. The contraption is populated with people who Nigeria will do best to relegate in a dark, distant past. They will still hear from us.
NEDG could have served Nigerian people. But it chose this time, to sell its soul to the Buhari/Atiku axis of mediocrity.
Tope Fasua is the Presidential Candidate of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP – THE COMPUTER PARTY)