Plans for a television debate this Saturday between the two leading presidential candidates in the country are today rooted in intrigues as handlers of President Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar engage in a game of intrigues.
Buhari, the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC has yet to commit himself to the debate planned for by the Nigerian Election Debate Group, NEDG, a coalition of government and civil society groups. Buhari’s campaign spokesman, Mr. Festus Keyamo told Vanguard yesterday that the decision on a debate has yet to be taken.
“The decision on whether to attend the debate has not been taken and it is a decision that is to be taken by the Presidential Campaign Council, PCC and it is not a decision that I can take,” Keyamo who serves as the director of strategic communications of the Buhari Campaign said.
With Buhari wavering, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP candidate is also shockingly wavering, saying that he would not attend a debate without Buhari.
“We will not come to any debate without Buhari,” a top source in the PDP campaign told Vanguard yesterday. The source who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that it would be a waste of time for Atiku to attend a debate without the incumbent.
“Who are we going to debate with? If not Buhari who are we going to debate with,” the high-level source said.
There are indeed no indications that any of the two candidates are preparing for the debate.
While Buhari’s alleged aversion to a debate has been the butt of media speculation in the last few weeks, the apparent decision of Atiku not to commit himself to a debate with or without Buhari is one that is bound to surprise many.
At the vice-presidential debate last December, the APC’s Yemi Osinbajo put up an appearance that has drawn commendation in some circles. He, however, was not expected to do very poorly given his antecedents as a professor and lawyer.
However, with his principal, Buhari generally reputed to be a poor speaker, especially of late, it has been the expectation of the opposition to roast him in a debate.
The expectation of Buhari staying away from a debate has been egged on his poor accessibility to the Nigerian electorate and media. After a rather unpolished interactive media session in his first year in office, the president has stayed away from the periodic interaction with media executives that was taken for granted in the time of all his predecessors.
However, Buhari’s seeming aversion to debate only started four years ago. At the onset of his political career in 2002 he did not mind the keg light. In 2003, 2007 and 2011, he regularly attended the presidential debates even where the incumbent or the main candidate of the ruling party avoided such.
In 2003 when President Olusegun Obasanjo as in 1999 opted out of the debate, Buhari was present. He attended the 2003 debate with seven other candidates including an estranged wife of the then president, Major Mojisola Obasanjo (rtd.) who contested against her husband on the platform of Masses Movement of Nigeria.
In 2007, five of the candidates were invited, but only Buhari, the ANPP flag bearer and Prof. Pat Utomi of the African Democratic Congress, ADC attended.
Attahiru Bafarawa, Democratic Peoples Party, DPP Umaru Yar’adua and Orji Uzor Kalu of the Progressives Peoples Alliance, PPA boycotted the debate were the others invited who, however, boycotted for sundry reasons.