By Dr. Anthony Fernandez
The presidential debates organized by the so-called Nigerian Election Debate Group (NEDG) is scheduled to start today. Ordinarily, it would have been unnecessary to devote a penny worth of ink on this charade, but a drivel in defence of the NEDG and by extension President Jonathan, written by one Reno Omokri and amplified by Pat Utomi, himself a presidential candidate, on his Facebook page has made this rebuttal imperative.
The fact that the three major opposition candidates have resolved to boycott the debate has put paid to any claim legitimacy and credibility that the NEDG would like to bask in. I shall take Omokri’s point in defence of the NEDG line by line and show how empty and inane it is.
1) Omokri is surprised that the trio of Nuhu Ribadu, Ibrahim Shekarau, and Muhammadu Buhari had decided to boycott the NEDG because, according to him, “the President did not participate in the NN24 debate broadcast on the DSTV network”.
Omokri is “disappointed by their actions and most especially by the action of General Buhari in joining the other two candidates because he at least is a former leader and ought to have been guided by nationalistic motives in the things he does”. My question to Omokri is: why didn’t President Jonathan, for nationalistic reasons, attend the NN24 debate?
2) According to Omokri, “The reason given by the trio is that they are boycotting the BON debate because the President did not attend the NN24 debate which they claimed is more credible”. He goes on: “But the question that begs an answer here is this-Are they debating for the President or for Nigerians? Leaders ought not to be reactionary. It has been said that leaders do not do things as a reaction because another person has done something. Rather they do things out of an exercise of their will by electing to make a choice based on their principles. That is called being proactive. If we are to be reactive then our actions are being controlled by the person we are reacting to.” What nonsense. My question to Omokri is: If Mr. Presidents feels he has the prerogative to attend the debate he wants, why can’t Omokri and his ilk extend the same prerogative to other candidates? If you must know, Mr. Omokri, they are debating the president and for Nigerians. That debate was meant to be an appraisal of Jonathan’s tenure and by extension PDP’s 12 years of misrule.
3) According to Omokri, “The Presidential debates are meant for the education of Nigerians and boycotting them to pay back the President for not attending the NN24 debate only portrays the trio as being more interested in settling a political score than in communicating to Nigerians.” Omokri, why is that if the president boycotts a debate, it doesn’t amount to settling a political score?
4) Hear Omokri again: “One other aspect of the reason they jointly gave for refusing to participate in the BON debate goes to the heart of our national attitude to our own culture and institutions. Saying that they have little confidence in the institutions that make up the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON) but have confidence in NN24 gives me pause to wonder if these Presidential candidates have national pride. Leaders ought to promote the culture and institutions of their country. They should never portray their institutions in bad light because if they do then what do they expect outsiders to say? If you price your mother at 10 kobo, who will buy her at 1 Naira?”
I crave the indulgence of readers to quote Omokri extensively because there is no way to understand the extent of his foolishness unless we read all he has to say. In Omokri’s words, “Politics aside, how are we projecting Nigeria positively if we have our Presidential debate on a station exclusively hosted by a foreign network? And not just a foreign network, but on DSTV a South African Pay Per View service. What then is the essence of democracy? Is it not the government of the people by the people for the people? How many of “the people” can afford to watch DSTV? How many of “the people” can afford to watch online? Only a very small percentage of Nigerians who are invariably the elite can afford this. So are we now practising a government for the elite? For those who will see reason in the statement signed by the Presidential campaigns of the trio, I want you to answer this very basic question: OTHER THAN, NIGERIA WHICH OTHER NATION HOSTS HER PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE ON A FOREIGN NETWORK?”
This is Omokri continuing his diatribe: “Nigerians are too quick to denigrate her own institutions. In the U.S. for instance, once the candidates emerge, the Presidential debates are organised by the Bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates (which is soon to transfer its powers to the Citizens Debate Commission) on the Public Broadcasting Service which is an American network that is freely available without subscription so that even the poorest American can afford to watch it.”
“In the United Kingdom, it used to be the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that exclusively hosted the Prime Ministerial Debates. But last year, for the first time, other British networks were added including ITV and BSkyB (British Sky Broadcasting) (after my first note on this subject some emailed me mistakenly referring to BskyB as an Australian network due to the fact that James Murdoch is the non executive chairman of BskyB and owns a 38% stake in the firm, however, BskyB is a British Network operating exclusively in Britain see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bskyb).”
“Even in South Africa where DSTV originates from the government will not for one second consider hosting their Presidential debates on a foreign network. For those who may not know, NN24 is completely and totally hosted by DSTV which is a South African network under the regulatory control of the South African Broadcasting Commission (SABC).”
“So first of, it was wrong for any of our leaders to have agreed to participate in the NN24 debate. And they did not have to participate only on the BON debate. If they say they do not trust BON, there are a number of Nigerian stations with their own networks such as African Independent Television (AIT) and Channels Television on which they could have had their debates.”
“The trio of Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and General Buhari should not punish Nigerians because of their grudge against President Jonathan.”
My response to Omokri, whom I hear is responsible for running President Jonathan’s Facebook page, and is his voice in the international community, is this:
1) Omokri says ab initio “it was wrong for any of our leaders to have agreed to participate in the NN24 debate”. Really? Is he aware that his principal, President Jonathan, agreed to participate in the debate initially but with some conditions? First, he insisted on getting the questions beforehand; he also insisted that the audience should not be allowed to ask questions. After initial hesitation, the organisers acceded to the president’s request. They even set the date and time to suit the president. Yet, he refused to show up and did not offer any reasons or apology. He did not let Nigerian know he refused to show up because NN24 is a Nigerian station on a foreign network!
2) When did President Jonathan realise that DSTV is a foreign station and therefore he can’t reach Nigerians through that network? For those who are not aware, President Jonathan has campaign ad running nonstop on almost all DSTV channels, including Africa Magic (English, Hausa, and Yoruba).
3) President Jonathan has been president since pay 2010. He hasn’t held any press conference or granted any interviews in Nigeria. The only time we heard from him was on CNN with Christiane Amanpour. Talk about national pride and promoting the culture and institutions of your country.
4) Let Jonathan go and face Nigerians and account for his stewardship in the last one year. Nigerians have heard from the opposition. From March 7-9, there was a presidential policy dialogue in Abuja organised by the Murtala Muhammed Foundation. Ribadu, Utomi, and Shekarau were there. Jonathan was a no-show, even though he was expected. All the local channels were there. But much more important, Nigerians, particularly the teeming population of unemployed youth, were there to listen to their president and the man who wants to continue in office come May. Then of course there was the much talked about NN24 debate where the president was AWOL. On Friday, March 25, Nigerian youth, under the auspices of What About US provided another forum for the president to redeem himself, but he brushed them aside. That debate was shown on Channels TV, which the last time I checked was 100% Nigeria owned.
5) Come to think of it, where was Omokri in 2007? I am sure he is old enough to remember that the man who became president that year, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, did not take part in any debate; neither did his running mate, Governor Goodluck Jonathan. The NEDG has been organising debates since 1999, why did they not insist that Yar’Adua and Jonathan attend the 2007 debate?
6) By the way Omokri, the trio of Ribadu, Buhari and Shekarau are boycotting the debate not because they don’t trust BON as a government agency. The import of their argument is that the president can’t pick and chose the debate he wants to attend and expect others not to do the same; that since the president is not “comfortable” with debates organised by certain platforms, the opposition has the right not to be “comfortable” with the platform he has chosen. If you notice what is happening on NTA with Jonathan/PDP campaign stories, you will understand why nobody will be comfortable with BON and its so-called debate.
The less said about Omokri, the better. I should be questioning Pat Utomi who thought it necessary to post this hogwash of an afterthought and give it much attention on his platform.
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