Presidential candidates in the Nigerian February 2019 elections had their first chance to face each other in a town hall meeting/presidential debate organised by the Osasu Show Symposium in Abuja. The event held at the NAF Conference Centre, Gwarimpa, Abuja on Thursday 22 November.
Conspicuously absent were the leading candidates, President Buhari of APC and main opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar of the PDP inspite of confirmation that they would attend the debate. Atiku however was represented by his campaign spokesman, Segun Showunmi and Donald Duke of SDP was also represented by a campaign aide.
This year’s symposium with the theme “Nigeria Rising! Establishing social accountability between electorate and leaders” would be the second edition of the annual event organized by the Osasu Show. The debate was broadcast live on AIT and streamed on social media platforms.
The convener, Ms Osasu Igbenidion is the daughter of Chief Lucky Igbenidion, ex-governor of Edo State 1999-2007.
Other presidential participants in the debate were,
(1) Obiageli Ezekwesili, Allied Congress Party of Nigeria
(2) Tope Fasua, Abundant Renewal Party of Nigeria, and
(3) Alistair Soyode, YES Electorate Solidarity
The audience had several dignitaries that included governor of Abia State, Okezie Ikpeazu; transport minister, Chibuike Amaechi and Senator Dino Melaye (PDP, Kogi West) among several others.
The debate gave the candidates the opportunity to explain their candidature and vision to the gathering of mostly youths in the hall, and to rob minds with other candidates on the myriad vexed issues confronting Nigeria.
Responding to the question posed to her on why she “wanted to be President of Nigeria” and what “uniquely” qualifies her to aspire to that role, Mrs Oby Ezekwesili who was the first candidate to speak replied,
“Our country needs to be rescued. I don’t want to be president of Nigeria because there is an office to occupy. I want to lead a process of rescue for my country from the precipice in which it finds itself.”
Continuing she said, “Being the poverty capital of the world is a slur on all of us. That India which is 7 times our population has now come behind us in terms of poverty rating is terrible.
“When you look at the fact that things are not going to get any better because we are trapped in bad economic policies which means we are not going to grow the economy as much as we need to, then you know we must rescue Nigeria.
“The operation rescue Nigeria that I lead as a candidate of ACPN is really not about attaining office. I don’t care about title, I care about the fact that there is a problem to be solved. And we can’t sleep on the wheel. I also believe that it goes beyond rhetorics. I know what it takes for countries to grow and achieve inclusive growth. In terms of my competence, character and capacity, I am well positioned to find solutions to the problems that ail us.”
When the question was put to PDP, Segun Showunmi answered,
“His Excellency, the former Vice President, Atiku Abubaka comes to the table with significant experience in the private sector, civil service and at the highest levels of government and he is also a policy expert.
“In 1999, Obasanjo/Atiku presidency inherited a nation that was just coming out of a pariah status. It couldn’t even write a letter of credit and be respected by banks across the world. Nigeria was divided and depleted after its journey through years of military dictatorship and especially MKO Abiola the failed democratic experiment. Nigeria was highly indebted and economy spelt gloom.
“When Obasanjo/Atiku came on, they realized that it was important to put policies that would endure. Some of those policies are still instruments by which many things are happening today. To mention a few; EFCC was created to make a way for Nigeria to get a re-certification so that letters of credit can be written by our banks and be honoured, and growth in the economy can take place in that direction. We did the Procurement Act because we found out that Nigeria was buying almost everything more expensively than anywhere else in the world.
“We also increased wages at the time. We also moved the country in the direction of sustainable growth through liberalization and privatization of key sectors which brought business discipline to those areas and expanded the capacity to create jobs.
“When you bounce together all of these with the fact that Atiku has been in the civil service, he’s been a former vice president, he’s a consummate author, he speaks to restructuring, I dare say nobody can be a better president for now than Atiku Abubakar.”
The APC government of Muhammadu Buhari came under scathing attacks from the other candidates, but it had no one to defend it. A mild drama however ensued when Minister of Transport, Chibuike Amaechi, out of protocol, attempted to seize the moment to address the meeting.
Afterwards, he went further to attempt a reel out President Buhari’s achievements in office but was met with the resistance by the audience.
Overwhelmed by the apparent anti-Buhari chants, the Minister caved into the pressure and took his seat.
The second group of discussants included Samson Itodo, co-founder, Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA); Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu, (Abia); Hamzat B. Lawal, founder/CEO of Connected Development (CODE), Senator Dino Melaye and Chibuike Amaechi.
The event closed after a 4-hour session. Organizers of the show say they hope to have a third edition of the symposium before the presidential election fixed for 16 February 2019.