Alhaji Atiku Abubakar abandoned a live television debate on Saturday, because President Muhammadu Buhari, who he wanted to ‘attack’, was not available on the programme as well.
The debate was organised by the Nigeria Elections Debate Group and the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria and last December, it featured vice-presidential candidates.
Atiku who returned today from a visit to the United States sees himself as Buhari’s main rival and a contender to the throne of Aso Rock.
In a statement, he asked President Buhari “to choose a date and time for a debate where he will be present and I will be there, hopefully with the other candidates as well”.
President Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo featured on another TV programme on Wednesday, where the duo gave account of the achievements of the administration in the last three and half years, and what the government will do if re-elected.
The past two days has equally been filled with activities for Buhari as he campaigned in Kogi, Delta, Edo, Enugu, Kaduna, and today, the campaign moved to Minna in Niger State and Jos in Plateau state, where mammoth crowd received him and party leaders.
But Atiku was disappointed that Buhari did not come for the debate.
“We came here for a Presidential debate, not a candidacy debate, and I, Atiku Abubakar can not 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”, said Atiku.
“After all you cannot shave a man’s head in his absence. I do not believe in attacking a man who is NOT here to defend himself.
“As a leader and former vice president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, let me first apologise to all Nigerians, my fellow candidates and the moderator for the the APC Presidential Candidate’s absence in this debate. His non-appearance is a slight on ALL of us and our democracy.
“Secondly, with all due respect to my fellow candidates, Fela Durotoye, Oby Ezekwesili, Kingsley Moghalu and to the moderator Mark Sugar and with apologies to all Nigerians here and at home expecting an interesting debate, I regret that I will not be able to go on with this debate due to President Buhari’s absence.
“I however challenge President Buhari to choose a date and time for a debate where he will be present and I will be there, hopefully with the other candidates as well”.
Present at today’s debate were Obiageli Ezekwesili, the presidential candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, Fela Durotoye, candidate of the Alliance for New Nigeria and Kinglsey Moghalu, who represented the Young Progressives Party.
However, if Atiku had thought his boycott of the TV debate would spin some PR dividends, it turned out otherwise.
The Punch reported that Twitterati condemned his action and Buhari’s, saying it was disrespectful to Nigerians.
From Twitter posts, Atiku was even more savaged than Buhari.
One Twitter user, Wale Gates, said: “Atiku’s advisers didn’t get this move right at all. This was your “See I’m here, I care, I feel your pain, I can hear you, the President couldn’t be bothered” moment and you blew it”.
Another post by Igala King said: “People are more angry at @atiku who flew in from the US, landed at almost 0300pm, changed & was at the venue of #2019Debate at 0615pm than they are @MBuhari who is Abuja but refuses to take a 5min drive from Aso Rock to the venue? Lmao”.