Error at the Finishing Line By Olawale Olaleye

imageThe decision by the All Progressives Congress and its presidential candidate, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari to jettison all debates is both arrogant and scornful to the voting population, writes Olawale Olaleye

With the benefit of hindsight, the tendency for an average person or persons to abuse a sometimes undeserving goodwill, fritter or throw it to the dustbin is inexplicably high. And typically, this has been the lot of the Nigerian leadership, even from time immemorial. Many a time, those who were choked with staggering goodwill, trusted with power or given the benefit of the doubt often ended up huge disappointment.

There is no doubting the fact that a majority of the Nigerian people feels that the country deserves better than what it has witnessed in terms of leadership in the last five or six years that President Goodluck Jonathan has assumed office. Indeed, like a few leaders, who savoured uncommon or rather undeserved grace, Jonathan stepped up the ladder of leadership with such a robust goodwill that he was overwhelmed. But evidently, steering the Nigerian ship is not a shot his ilk can call.

It is no wonder, therefore, that a menacing opposition has since been riding roughshod over a sitting administration, the weight of incumbency regardless. The choice between Jonathan and former Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari, given a different scenario is clearly a no-go-area. Societies the world over have gone past their age of ideas. In fact, in a post-modernist setting, the issues would have started from the kind of ideas that raised them in the first place before addressing the age of their ideas as it were.

Unfortunately, since the options have been limited between an allegedly clueless choice and a fast aging idea, a majority of Nigerians, situating in context some other salient factors, thought that trying out the other option would not be a bad idea since the one at hand has shown, at least, that the weight of Nigeria is way beyond him and his now obviously confused team.

Perhaps, it would be trite to conclude that Buhari has never had it so good since 2003 that he has kept a sustained shot at the presidency. With his acceptance now traversing the six geo-political zones at least as evident in some of his rallies, the thinking that he would give a better showing in this election is therefore not misplaced. If in 2011 with a relatively new party and feeble war chest, he could pull as much as 12 million votes, then, those who say he would be PDP’s nemesis in this month’s election are alluding to common denominations.

Ironically, with about nine days to the presidential poll, the “black mentality” seems to have set in. He appears to be savouring already, a sense of victory and satisfaction. He seems to have begun to see himself as the president already with the kind of aura that typifies the office dotting his whims and caprices.

Calling the bluff of critical stakeholders, which the ruling party has consistently reminded the people as being his lot is gradually becoming the order of the day. He might have started to even think that he is the messiah that the Nigerian people desperately seek and that the presidency is his birthright with a most auspicious opportunity served right on his lap.

The way Buhari, his team and the party have dismissed the possibility of attending a debate with President Jonathan is to say the least, arrogant and scornful to the Nigerian people, the voting population especially.

The APC in its first statement announcing the development and signed by Garba Sheu, head of the campaign media team, said the party’s candidates would not partake in the debate organised by BON because it was designed to embarrass Buhari and the APC as it was allegedly organised by agents of the government. This was followed by another pull out from the debate put together by the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), Channels Television and Arise TV.

Director of Communication and Strategy in the Buhari/Osibanjo Campaign Organisation, Mr. Dele Alake hinted at this development while speaking on Channels Television, where he said the APC was pulling out of the debate because it had intelligence reports that suggested that the organisers were sponsored by government and the PDP

To cap it all, the APC in yet another statement said instead of participating in the PDP-controlled presidential debate, Buhari has opted for town hall meetings to directly interact with Nigerians from all walks of life.

The APC said Buhari alongside his running mate Professor Yemi Osinbajo will interact and explain to citizens the policy thrust of their envisaged administration should he win the presidential election and how the set objectives will be achieved. APC noted that the town hall meetings had already kicked off in Lagos on Monday with the interaction between the candidates and the organised private sector.

However, the most disturbing part of the needless debate drama was the covert attempt by the APC information machine to demonise the media as part of the conspiracy to “embarrass Buhari.” This, clearly, was where they missed the point and erred expressly. The APC is arguably nothing without the media and can therefore not play double standards because it wanted out of the debate.

If the media have been its strength and provided cover where necessary over the years, to drag it into disrepute because it could not sufficiently justify the reason its candidates are dodging debate is nothing but sheer ingratitude. That NPAN, Channels TV, Arise TV and even The Nation and Leadership Newspapers known to be owned by members of the opposition amongst other reputable media organisations are working for the government is seen by many as preposterous, lame and inane.

What more could the APC and Buhari have asked for even when the leadership of the PDP had practically conceded everything that pertains to organising the debate to them, including the selection of the panelists and the venue? Besides, the news of the debate had been announced by international television stations including the Arise TV. There is nothing more to this except that the APC is simply living true to type and relishing in its stock in trade – propaganda – which unfortunately has a life span.

Four years ago, President Jonathan played a similar “hide and seek” but received some good bashing from members of the public before he eventually debated against himself at a session organised by his own people like Buhari’s people are organising town hall meetings. It is needless to recall how the opposition described his effort at avoiding a debate for no other reason than the fact that he could not successfully engage others on the issues that were germane to the survival of the country and the result is the four years of an alleged poor delivery by the Jonathan administration, minus the years bequeathed on him by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.

Why then are Buhari and his professor running mate traveling this ignoble road? If they cannot stand before their own people and articulate the solution to the change they discuss with as much excitement, why should the Nigerian people take them seriously? They talk about experience and the fact that they have done it before, but if they are not worried about running on the credibility of an aged record, why not gladly discuss the contemporary ideas and showcase the kind of change that is about to happen upon the people?

Readers should please take note: the APC is likely to roll out soon with “better reviewed reasons” its candidates are opting out of the debate and without regrets. For instance, the party may likely remind the Nigerian people how in the lead up to the 1979 election, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe and Alhaji Aminu Kano – all opted out of a debate for the same reason of bias. The APC will remind the Nigerian people how former president Olusegun Obasanjo refused to debate in 1999 and how the late Yar’Adua did not debate in 2007 before Jonathan too followed suit in 2011.

For these reasons and without alluding to the demerits of what is clearly a leadership failure regardless of who is involved, the APC would celebrate these un-dignifying excuses and justify it within the picture of an entirely different scenario in the Nigeria of 2015. Perhaps, APC would do well if in this case, it could cite instances in the US, UK, France, Canada and other civilised democracies of the world to corroborate its stand.

After all, it is always quick to cite examples from those countries whenever it suits the leadership. A former governor of Lagos State and one of the national leaders of the party, Bola Tinubu did exactly this a few days ago when the presidential campaign train stopped by in Lagos. From Ronald Reagan to Winston Churchill and Charles De Gaulle, Tinubu bored the audience on how these aged men rescued their country in times of crises. Examples on how such men avoided debates on rather condescending excuses will also suffice.

There is no doubting the fact that the APC is taking this goodwill for granted as evidenced by its uncoordinated responses. First, it dismissed the certificate issue as if it should not have been brought up at all. Now, it is dismissing the debate controversy and hinting at clearly untenable excuses just to pull through it.

Certainly, it is not a way to end a rather promising campaign by asking the voters to go to hell even when the election has not held. Nothing here shows or has proved that the APC is better than the PDP by all standards, with the exception of a few promising characters the party seems to boast.

The campaigns have been devoid of issues and the one opportunity that could have seen the candidates show the stuff they are made of has been bungled. If this is what they call leadership, it is flawed; if this is how they want to run Nigeria, it is not acceptable and if the resort to blackmailing institutions just to have their way is the calling of their regime, then, they need to be told that Nigeria left that bus terminus a long time ago.

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