Atiku Abubakar: Between “Candidacy” Debate and “Presidential” Debate!

There have been mixed reactions on the decision by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) presidential flagbearer, Atiku Abubakar not to participate in the Presidential Debates organized by NEDG/BON. This was clearly a missed opportunity by the former Vice president (personal opinion). However, this is not the main point of this piece.

In explaining the reason behind his absence on the debate (even after arriving the venue from his hurriedly shortened visit to the United States), the former vice president took to twitter with this opening statement – “We came here for a Presidential debate, not a candidacy debate, and I, Atiku Abubakar cannot challenge or question an administration where the man at the helm of the affairs of the nation is not present to defend himself or his policies”. The above assertion tends to suggest that a “candidacy” debate would mean a debate between candidates for an election without the incumbent which in this case is the sitting President. On the other hand, a “Presidential” debate will then mean a debate among candidates for a presidential election where the incumbent president also participates. While the absconding of candidates (particularly incumbent Presidents) from participating in Presidential Elections are not new, this assertion by Atiku Abubakar needs to be understood. The following points will suffice in trying to interrogate this new term in our political lexicon.

Firstly, presidential debates (and any political debate for that matter) are generally desirable for the opportunity they provide for candidates seeking political positions to explain their programmes and policies to the people. Though one-on-one confrontations may ensue between candidates, especially involving the incumbents or a candidate of the party in power, this is usually not the crux of such debates. What could be deduced from the refusal by Atiku Abubakar to participate in the debates of last Saturday would seem more to suggest expectation of a debate that allows him to engage President Buhari in a confrontation-style debate. Considering this above point of view over and above the main essence of a political debate, Atiku Abubakar missed out on the greater good and promise of the NEDG/BON Presidential debate for the 2019 elections.

Secondly, the assertion that last Saturday’s debate without President Buhari amounted to a candidacy debate posits that the it was useless sharing the stage with other candidates. More like an assumption that the candidates who appeared for the debate lacked electoral value for potentially emerging as President. While this might sound politically correct, it is a spite on the faces of electorates who many have sympathy across candidates and parties. This is suggests that the candidates who appeared for the debates were not worth a giving a challenge on the basis of ideas and programmes for the electorates.

Thirdly, two wrongs don’t make a right. The absence of President Buhari from the debates does not in any way justify Atiku’s refusal to participate as a protest to Buhari.

Nigerians were simply denied the opportunity of weighing the options they have in the coming elections in the most convenient manner.

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