Buhari Absent as Atiku Pulls out of Presidential Debate

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APC: President has taken advantage of other platforms

Ezekwesili: we’ll rescue Nigeria from poverty

Moghalu promises to end protracted strikes in tertiary institutions

Atiku: Buhari must be present to defend his policies

Nseobong Okon-Ekong, Vanessa Obioha in Lagos, Deji Elumoye, Onyebuchi Ezigbo and Shola Oyeyipo in Abuja

The much advertised 2019 Presidential Debate organised by the Nigeria Elections Debate Group (NEDG) and Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) held yesterday without the participation of the two leading candidates, President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

The absence of Buhari and Atiku drew angry reactions from the other candidates present, with the presidential candidate of Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, saying their nonappearance was a statement of their “exit from governance”. The other candidates spoke in similar tones.

But in a statement last night, the APC Presidential Council said Buhari could not attend the debate because he had met Nigerians on other platforms and answered pertinent questions. The council also claimed the president’s busy schedule was part of the reasons for his absence.

Atiku said he left the debate venue because Buhari was “not present to defend himself or his policies.”

In a dramatic twist, Atiku walked out of the debate while he was about to be introduced. The moderator, Mark Eddo, was set to introduce the PDP candidate when a female protocol officer quickly passed a note to him, apparently, announcing his exit.

Shocked by the content of the note, Eddo said, “This is live TV and anything can happen.” He moved on to introduce the Young Progressives Party (YPP) candidate, Kingsley Moghalu, as the last candidate for the debate. He later revealed that Atiku actually came for the debate but walked out at the last minute.

The session, which offered presidential candidates an opportunity to present their policies before a live audience, featured the presidential candidates of ACPN, Ezekwesili; YPP, Moghalu; and Association for New Nigeria (ANN), Mr. Fela Durotoye.

Moghalu: We’ll end protracted strikes, introduce free education

Muoghalu pledged to put an end to the lingering strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) over infrastructural development of public universities, if elected.

According to him, “We’ll make secondary school education free throughout the country.”

He declared, “We will invest heavily in the transformation of public schools in the country. Today, education has about seven per cent of our budget, in my presidency we will begin the first budget in 2020 by allocating not less than 20 per cent of the budget to education.”

Muoghalu said his government would do away with the situation where about 80 per cent of the education budget was spent on recurrent expenditure by reforming the sector and making sure that the bulk of the money went to school infrastructure.

He stated, “I will establish a national ambition upon which all Nigerians can unite. We will restructure this country constitutionally so that it fulfill its potentials.

“We will establish effective national security. We will work with women as equal partners, they will not just be in the kitchen or the other room. We will work with our young people the youths of this country.

“We will break the backbone of poverty in this country by establishing education and literacy for all the citizens of this country with the right access, establishing skills training centres in all the 774 local government areas of the country and we will provide access to finance. We will restore Nigeria’s strong image in the world.”

Moghalu, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, said he was not surprised that the leadership of APC and PDP declined to debate with other candidates in the presidential race. He said, “They believe the people of Nigeria have no choice and no voice. They believe you will always come back to them.

“The second reason they are not here is because they cannot answer intricate questions on the economy. They have promoted a season of entitlement. The two leading political parties are the same. One is a kettle, one is a pot.”

Ezekwesili promises to rescue Nigeria from poverty

oby ezekwesili

Speaking at the debate, the presidential candidate of ACPN, Obi Ezekwesili, assured that if voted as the Nigerian leader in the 2019 election, her government would lift 80 million Nigerians out of poverty.

She said her mission was to rescue the country from widespread poverty. “Nigeria is in dire strait,” she said, and “there is massive leadership failure,” which is behind the sufferings of children, youths, and women and the massive poverty.

“This is a historic moment. This is the moment. The citizens of this country can change the direction of this country. I am not in this race because I want to be called Madam President, but because Nigeria needs a leader that really cares and is capable,” Ezekwesili said. “Our plan is to lift at least 80 million Nigerians out of poverty. When you look at Nigerians who are poor, it is clear that they earn below N700. We need to improve their productivities. When people earn they lift themselves out of poverty.”

She said her government would give input to the people, particularly those in the agricultural sector.

The former education minister also promised to reduce the cost of governance.

On education, she said, “We will focus on technical education, teachers quality is at the heart of how effective education is, so we must moderate teaching. We must train teachers…

“One key thing that needs to happen to education is that we need to be structurally balanced. We have to be analytical to know what matters most.”

Ezekwesili said, “The public schools are the basics to lift people out of poverty. The education of the government schools will be paramount in my presidency.” She stated that her government would focus on identifying learning gaps in the system, improving the quality of teachers, including their remuneration, as well as setting up curriculum reforms. She also highlighted the importance of the private sector’s role in the dynamics of public education.

Commenting on the absence of Buhari and Atiku at the debate, Ezekwesili said, “They have simply announced their exit from governance. We showed up for this debate to show that it is time for a new type of governance in this country. We are here because we believe our country needs to be rescued. I represent a new mindset.”

She added, “It is important for us to acknowledge that there is a political class that needs to pave way for our country. The idea that the people will be subordinated to the whims and caprices of our politician is a total anomaly. Today, as we focus on competitive ideas that will move our country forward, if the two dominant political parties care about the Nigerians people, they would come here in other to have a contest of ideas on how we will fix Nigeria.”

Durotoye promises free secondary education

Fela-Durotoye

The ANN candidate, Fela Durotoye, said if elected, his government would introduce free bus transportation that will convey children from their homes to school and back. “We will strengthen the school programme and ensure that any parent who keeps their children at home will be arrested.”

Durotoye saw the absence of the candidates of the two leading parties as a God-given opportunity. “Their absence,” he said, was a sign “that the future is here and old things have passed away. Pride comes before a fall. Anytime you tell the people that they do not matter, it shows that you are a ruler and rulers do not explain to the people what they are about to do for them. The time is here to be free from this bad coin that has two sides. Leadership is about character and people who respect people.”

Each of the candidates fielded questions from the moderator and social influencers on YouTube on various issues.

Popular young YouTube comedienne, Emmanuella, inquired from the aspirants how they intended to improve the quality of education in government schools.

Why Buhari was not at presidential debate

The absence of Buhari and Atiku had long been foretold, as APC had clearly said the president will not take part in the debate, offering, instead, to feature Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.

This request was turned down by the PDP, which contended that its candidate will only participate in the debate if Buhari was present.

Atiku partly honoured the invitation of the debate organisers by coming to the Transcorp Hilton venue, but had to leave when it became apparent that Buhari would be absent.

But Director, Strategic Communications, of the APC Presidential Campaign Council, Festus Keyamo, SAN, said in a press statement last night, “Buhari, could not attend the Presidential Debate organised by the Nigeria Election Debate Group and the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria, which held today, Saturday, January 19, 2019, for the following reasons:

“Firstly, out of several opportunities afforded our candidate to interact with the Nigerian people directly by different organisations, our presidential candidate has taken full advantage of another town-hall meeting organised by another group which held on Wednesday, January 16, 2019. He was also joined at that town-hall meeting by our vice presidential candidate who is also the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, SAN. Nigerians from all walks of life who were physically present and through online platforms asked uncensored questions which were adequately answered. It was also transmitted live by various broadcast networks in Nigeria.

“In addition, the busy and hectic official and campaign schedules of Mr. President clashed with this programme. Today, Mr. President commissioned the Baro Inland Water Port in Niger State and campaigned in Niger and Plateau states where his time was over-stretched by the tumultuous and mammoth crowds in both states, (as seen by Nigerians on live television) and only returned to Abuja late this evening.

“Whilst we thank the organisers for the invitation, we want to assure Nigerians that we shall continue to hold these debate groups and Nigerians in high esteem which our candidate has demonstrated during past election debates when he honoured similar invitations. Nigerians will also recall that a few weeks ago, our vice presidential candidate, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, also attended the debate organised by the same organisations.

“After all, he has his own eight years of crass and grand corruption as Vice President to defend before the Nigerian people.”

Atiku: Buhari must be present to defend his policies

In a brief statement explaining his decision to exit the debate, Atiku said, “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 affairs of the nation is not present to defend himself or his policies. 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 APC presidential candidate’s absence in this debate. His nonappearance 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.”