Barely three days to the start of presidential debate, organised by the Nigerian Election Debate Group, the All Progressives Congress backs out from the exercise claiming that it would be treated unfairly by the federal government media and sympathisers of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party in the team
| By Olu Ojewale | Feb. 9, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT |
PERHAPS, a lot of Nigerians did not see it coming. But on Thursday, January 29, barely three days to the start of the presidential debate organised by the Nigerian Election Debate Group, NEDG, the All Progressives Congress, APC, presidential campaign council formally announced that General Muhammadu Buhari, the party’s presidential candidate would not take part in the programme. The scheduled six televised vice-presidential and presidential debates would hold on Sunday, February 1 and Sunday, February 8.
According to Garba Shehu, spokesman of the APC presidential campaign council, the decision to boycott the NEDG’s presidential debate was borne out of bias and a campaign of calumny against Buhari and other APC candidates by some key organisers of the debate. Shehu said the APC candidate would be available to attend any other of such debates organised by independent bodies.
The APC alleged that that the NEDG, as a body, was an organ of the federal government with mainly agencies and allies of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. The statement said in part: “A salutary inspection of the composition of the NEGD brings into focus the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria, BON, National Television Authority, NTA, Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, FRCN, and the Africa Independent Television, AIT, owned by a PDP chieftain.”
The APC, therefore, recalled “the avalanche of inflammatory statements, misinformation and blatant lies being propagated by some of these media against our party and candidates, contrary to the Koffi Annan brokered Abuja Peace Accord, and the failure of these aggressors to desist and apologise,” left it with no option than to stay clear of any premeditated smear campaign that could be inimical to its “prospective electoral success.”
Shehu said that the decision to boycott the debate should not be seen as disrespect to Nigerian voters or an alibi for the party to dodge public scrutiny, but must be viewed as an honourable way of not being party to any activity that could distract, demean, denigrate or derail the fast-moving train of the party. He described the APC as a party of progressive intellectuals, genuine technocrats, successful businessmen and women as well as eminent and courteous people of honour, who would never condescend to the level of “sadistic gutter propaganda” in the “name of political exigency and crass opportunism.”
The APC presidential council spokesman said it was regrettable that many government-controlled media had rejected some of the APC’s promotional advertisements on one excuse or the other. He similarly pointed out that, until a court upturned it decision recently, the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, shutdown some telecoms portals for soliciting legitimate campaign funds from members of the public for the APC.
“Aside, elements close to sitting President Goodluck Jonathan have commissioned series of derogatory and death threat advertorials against the person, family and associates of the opposition leader, General Muhammadu Buhari, to which the APC had sent letters of complaint to the Inspector General of Police, the director general of State Security, Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria, APCON, Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and the erring media that published or aired such offensive adverts or documentaries.
“None of our letters of protest has been attended to by the authorities. So, whatever the incumbent president wants to do with the instrument of state to harass members of the opposition into humiliating submission would not work. The APC/Buhari campaign is now a people’s movement. The more they try to undermine it, the more popular we are with the populace. We are not shadow-chasers or moonwalkers. The APC is concerned mainly with the lack of unity and security in Nigeria; plus the growing decimation of lives, property and territory of our great country due to preventable insurgency; the slumbering economy; decaying educational system; absence of jobs; poor public health; and the cancerous institutionalisation of corruption in our national life. You can’t fool the people all the time. Nigerians will vote out their oppressors on February 14,” Shehu’s statement said.
Reactions to the withdrawal of the APC from the debates have been mixed. Taiwo Alimi, chairman of the NEDG, said he was yet to be formally informed about the APC decision. Alimi assured that no member of the interviewers would have access to questions until the time of debate.
Some supporters of the PDP said it was typical of the APC to complain against every institution of government. “My problem with the APC is that there leaders don’t trust any government institution in this country from police, even to the INEC. Since the debate is going to be open, I don’t see how it can be manipulated as the APC is saying,” said a source who does not want his name in print for fear of backlash.
Olatunji Oladipo, a public commentator, said he supported the APC action because the day the peace accord was being signed in Abuja, January 14, he saw Sola Omole, director-general of NTA and member of the NEDG clapping for President Jonathan while he was addressing the gathering. “He cannot be a member of unbiased debates,” Oladipo said.
Besides, the character damaging documents being shown by NTA and AIT should be enough evidence to Buhari that he was going to be in the midst of opponents. But Onyekachi Ubani, a lawyer, said on radio programme that he would have loved to have all the 14 presidential candidates to participate to explain their programmes to the public. “This is the only forum they all have to convince those who have made up their minds on the candidates of their choice,” Ubani said.