By Deji Elumoye and Chuks Okocha
The Senate has proposed a bill to make it mandatory for presidential and governorship candidates as well as their deputies to participate in political debates with effect from 2023 elections.
The bill, which seeks for an Act to amend the Electoral Act, CAP E6 to gives legislative backing for the Independent National EIectoral Commission (INEC) to organise and conduct such debates was sponsored by Senator Abdulfatai Buhari.
Buhari, while leading the debate on the bill at plenary yesterday said “if the bill is considered and passed by the Senate, it will strengthen our democracy and bring it in conformity with the practice of other renowned democracies of the world.”
He cited example of the United States where it has become customary for the main candidates of the two largest political parties; the Republican and Democrat to engage in debates, noting that the exercise has enabled the electorates not only to know about the personality of the candidates but also about their lifestyle, belief, reaction to national issues and foreign policy.
“All this information will inform the electorates on the position to take during election. In fact, the exposure made possible by mandatory political debate will definitely save the country from electing a tyrant,” he stressed.
According to him, “this Election Debates Bill, if passed into law shall be used to sample the candidates’ knowledge on a wide range of issues, like a detailed analysis of how they intend to drive the economy, foreign, health and education policies among others.”
Contributing to the debate, Senator Ibrahim Oloriegbe opined that, “when aspirants are tested through series of debates, their employers, which is the electorate, would be able to assess their capability for the job they are applying for.”
Also speaking, Senator Solomon Adeola said the the bill would give Nigerians a clue about aspirants and their capabilities to govern the country.
Senator Danjuma Goje, on his part, however submitted that an independent body, not INEC, should be allowed to conduct the debate, saying “if INEC assigns mark and announce winners of the debate, it may affect candidates’ chances during elections.”
Also speaking, Senator Barau Jibrin said even though debate served as platform to showcase candidates’ capabilities, it should be made optional, but Senator Matthew Urhoghide said the debate should be made optional.
In his remarks, Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, noted that INEC already has enough responsibilities, and therefore should not be given another one capable
of overburdening the commission.
Lawan also warned that INEC, being a government agency might face some difficulties in organising the political debates, especially from candidates in the opposition parties who may decline participation in such exercise.
“Going the way of other countries, independent people and those who desire to be part of organizing the debate, right from now, should remain non-partisan.
“If they show any partisanship now and, in the next three years, want to organise debate, it will cause some difficulties in getting people to participate.
“Debate is an opportunity for the candidates to present themselves to the people, and for the voters to x-ray the candidates and make good or bad judgment about them” he emphasised.