Viewers Rate Arise Presidential Town Hall High, Set Agenda for Candidates

•Urge others to honour  invitations to address public

•Nigerians divided over performance of key presidential hopefuls

Chuks Okocha, Emmanuel Addeh and Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja

Sunday’s Presidential Town Hall meeting organised by Arise News Channel and other partners has received staggering feedbacks from Nigerians both home and away. Majority of the viewers rated the first in the presidential series high, but they also set agendas for the presidential hopefuls.

The programme was aired in collaboration with the Centre for Democracy Development (CDD), The Cable, Premium Times, The Guardian, Daily Trust, Nigerian Union of Journalists, and Nigerian Guild of Editors. Many of those who watched it on Sunday night assessed each of the candidates, who showed up for the town hall series. Some of the commentaries carried partisan colouration. While others tried to maintain some level of objectivity. But in all, the commentaries reflect the diversity of the people, political views and beliefs. Many of respondents claimed victories for there their candidates while faulting other candidates’ performance.

Those who made it to the event were the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) candidate, Rabiu Kwankwaso; the Labour Party (LP) candidate, Peter Obi; Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Atiku Abubakar, who was represented by his running mate, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State; and Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) standard bearer, Kola Abiola.

Spokesperson of the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), Sulaiman Abdul-Azeez, while rating the performance of the presidential candidates, said any assessment at this point might not be sufficient considering that the major contenders, Bola Tinubu of All Progressive Congress (APC), was absent and was not represented, while Atiku did not appear in person.

However, Abdul-Azeez claimed that Okowa’s submissions generally lacked depth on matters around security and the economy, stressing that he appeared to have limited grasp of the poverty level in the country, particularly, in the north.

Abdul-Azeez said, “The debate, as I view it, was significantly dominated by presidential candidates of NNPP,  Kwankwaso, and LP,  Obi. Obi and Kwankwaso dwelt extensively on the crucial issues of security and economy, with both admitting that the current manpower of the Nigerian military was grossly inadequate.

“Kwankwaso revealed that he has made adequate arrangements to increase the number of military officers from 250,000, which, to me, may be farfetched.”

A lecturer at the Nnamdi Azikwe University, Awka, Dr. Christian Okeke, said, generally, both Obi and Kwankwaso did their best speaking on the two core areas, which formed the focus of the debate, as well as relating their experiences to their plans if elected. Okeke said there were many things Nigerians took home from the town hall meeting.

He stated, “It is rather unfair to assess their performance based on the variables being thrown around. Both men had diverse and peculiar experiences as former governors and may not have similar degrees of eloquence and mental capability. I am convinced that two of them have tangible things to offer and can deliver results if elected.

“However, Mr. Peter Obi, during the debate, showed extreme mastery of events of the past, first as it concerns his days as governor and, two, as an expert in the field of economy, going by his background in the banking sector.”

On his part, a legislative consultant and public affairs commentator, Mr. Akinkoye Oyeniyi, described the town hall meeting as “kind of a reunion of PDP” members.  Oyeniyi added that the three top candidates showed they had the capacity to take on the top job.

He said Okowa performed well even as a vice presidential candidate representing his principal, and that showed how prepared PDP was this time around to do the right thing. To him, Okowa’s performance showed that he could fittingly perform his duties as vice president, while standing in for his principal as acting president, especially with his clarity of points and precision in articulation of facts.

Oyeniyi added, “Kwankwaso was a super performer yesterday (Sunday) after Okowa. Though he was hitherto rated below expectation but proved himself to be informed beyond people’s expectations. I think he should be in second place.”

He noted that Obi would have been the top candidate or runner-up, but his churning out of “verifiable inconsistent facts” was a terrible blow to his chances.

Spokesperson of the PDP Presidential Campaign Council, Dino Melaye, in his remarks, lauded the efforts put in place by Arise News, saying, “I’m proud of the set up and it came out successful.”

Melaye, however, suggested the screening of the audience to “avoid the embarrassment of yesterday” in subsequent editions.

On the performance of Okowa, Melaye insisted that the PDP presidential running mate won.

He stated, “Governor Okowa stole the debate. He spoke to issues. He demonstrated in-depth knowledge of the economy and security. He stood out far above Peter Obi of the LP and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the NNPP. I suggest that Peter Obi and Kwankwaso should get another appointment from Okowa for that erudite lecture and, probably, pay for another education.

“For instance, Peter Obi said PDP destroyed the country, but he, Peter Obi, should remember that he left the PDP just in May 20, 2020, as Okowa told Obi, he was part of the PDP. Again, Obi said he does not send any money to anybody, but Okowa reminded him that he flies private jet and Obi had no answer to Okowa throughout the debate.

“Okowa was the only person that was not faulted during the fact checks. He remains the only person that spoke to issues. The Delta State governor showed that Atiku didn’t make any mistake in his choice as vice presidential candidate. He showed that the presidential ticket of the PDP is on a mission.”

Director, Strategic Communication of the Presidential Campaign of the PDP, Bashorun Dele Momodu, said the presidential town hall meeting was elucidating and a welcome idea.

Momodu stated, “One of the presidential candidates stood out. Though he is not a presidential candidate, but he represented his principal. I’m talking about Governor Okowa. He stood out. I received many calls on his performance.

“Governor Okowa showed brilliance. He performed brilliantly. He demonstrated that Atiku Abubakar did not make a mistake in the choice of Okowa as his vice presidential running mate. He spoke to issues and in fact, lectured some of his colleagues on the economy and security issues.

“He remained the only one, who was fact-checked and not faulted. Okowa showed the experience he has garnered from his position as governor.”

Writing on his Facebook page, Mr. Temitope Ajayi, one of the men on the media team of the APC presidential candidate, Tinubu, said, “Governor Okowa impressed me yesterday with his performance at the Arise News Town Hall. Very measured and presidential.

 “He stayed above petty politicking and didn’t play to the gallery on many national, security and economic issues. He displayed what recommends him as better choice for Atiku as running mate over and above Governor Wike.”

 But Director General of Voice of Nigeria (VON), Osita Okechukwu, said Obi topped the chart on issues.

Okechukwu said regarding Obi, “He convinced a lot of people that he knows our ailments. He resonates as a candidate well-prepared with facts and figures to confront gross unemployment, poverty alleviation, and fixing our economy.

“Okowa, though acting, was second on issues. He was able to advance the manifesto of his principal. Kwankwaso was third on issues, but lacked the details to convince many.

“Abiola was more or less scratching issues on the surface. He benefited from the town hall design; he could have been exposed if it was a public debate. But on fluency and flow of communication, Abiola came tops, followed by Kwankwaso, Okowa and Obi in that order.”

In his assessment of the candidates, Head, Department of Mass Communication, BAZE University, Professor Abiodun Adeniyi, said while Abiola lacked institutional experience, Okowa was easily irritated by criticisms, while Obi should put in more efforts to vary his ideas.

Adeniyi stated concerning the son of the late politician, Moshood Abiola, “Kola Abiola tried but was let down by the lack of institutional experience, plus the absence of rigour in contextualising issues before him. The lack of holding a meeting, which he was consistent about, isn’t enough to cause insecurity, especially, in the face of no-solutions to joblessness, proliferation of light arms and small weapons, governance limitations, over-population, and much else.

“He could have done better with better preparations on practical causes and solutions to problems, in relation to unconvincing governmental responses. The good thing is that there will be a next time.”

Adeniyi added that Okowa spoke from a “gubernatorial pedestal, and officialdom”, which is not unexpected.

“He was assured, but easily irritated by criticisms of his party by peers. He might do well avoiding a closeness to personal affronts in the future,” he advised.

On Obi, Adeniyi said, “Typically, he’s voluble and self-believing and ever ready with using his acclaimed pious and Spartan features as evidence of his capacity. He can still improve with further consultations with literatures, just so he can vary his range of ideas, and to avoid repetitions from a long campaign rhetoric.”

Analysing Kwankwaso, the lecturer said, “It was a good effort, as a former governor, an ex-this, ex-that, with some confidence in rendition. He might, however, do well going forward if he avoids the temptation to be condescending, from looking at Kano as just his, for keeps.”

A lawyer, Mr Sam Amadi, described the town hall as a huge success. Amadi stressed that the meeting provided an opportunity for Nigerians to assess their leading candidates, their grasp of the issues, and their proposed interventions.

He said one of the high points of the event was the degree of civility and respect among the candidates, which contrasted with the vitriol and violent language of some of the supporters outside.

Another important insight from the town hall, Amadi stated, was that Nigeria had the best collection of credible and competent presidential candidates now than at any time before.

Amadi said, “Any of those on the platform will probably do a better job than President Muhammadu Buhari, because all of them have a better profile and capabilities than Buhari, when he ran in 2015. This is some good news, in the sense that we can be sure that whoever wins in February 2023 from this slate of candidates at the town hall can do the job with structural political support from the political class and civil society.

“I think that Okowa did well in terms of articulacy and grasp of policy issues that relate to governance. He looks like a very smart person. He won the trophy for the night. The only regret is that he is not the presidential candidate. Therefore, the great performance may not rub off on Atiku Abubakar.

“Governor Kwankwaso gave a good account of himself and clearly understands his manifesto. He has good fit with his politics of the Talakawa. One wished he had teamed up with Peter Obi to provide a bigger political disruption of Nigeria’s political landscape.

“Peter Obi didn’t wax as eloquent as expected. But he made up with authenticity. His retelling of his legacy as governor of Anambra State is always a knockout. It underlines believability, which is critical in winning the votes.

“Kola Abiola showed that he could be president. His views align with the traditional politics of the PRP. He has a few bold propositions. I was proud of him as the son of MKO Abiola. He did not disgrace that name.”

But Amadi said Nigerians did not hear about any breakthrough ideas on how to fix security and the economy. He said there were only regurgitation of old thoughts and some hazy declarations.

According to him, “The worst is that none of them could answer my question about the structural nature of Nigeria’s economic crisis and how to resolve these structural problems that aggravate the local effects of global economic cyclical booms and bursts. This failure shows that the presidential campaign councils are not effectively dealing with the rigorous policy work required for transformation, post February 2023.”

A media expert, Mr Bolaji Ogundele, argued that debates do not win elections, stating that being able to communicate publicly does not equally mean that the candidate would perform when it gets down to the actual work.

Ogundele kicked against the institutionalisation of public political debates in the run-up to elections, stressing that it would be a waste of time and resources.

He said, “Of the four personalities that appeared yesterday, I was only impressed by the outline of two of them, the two being the vice presidential candidate of the PDP and the presidential candidate of the NNPP. They were the ones, who actually touched on issues.

“They recognised the problems with Nigeria and they tended to understand what solutions will be given, but again, like I said, you might be eloquent but not efficient at solving problems.

“So, analysing issues and proffering solutions may not at the end of the day translate into being able to handle the myriad problems that Nigeria is currently going through. That’s my opinion.”

In his remarks, leader of South-south Awakening Group, Joseph Ambekederemo, stressed that he was not impressed by the performance of the participants at the town hall meeting.

Ambekederemo stated that if Sunday’s event was a measure of what to expect when any of the candidates became president, then, Nigerians should not expect much in the coming years.

He stated, “I wasn’t impressed. It was watery. The responses were not it. We have a very big problem on our hands. It didn’t show seriousness. I can’t even rate any of them. If these are the candidates we have, then, the future is bleak.”

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