The absurdity that has characterised election debates in Nigeria reared its ugly head again on Sunday, February 12, 2023, when the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) presidential candidate, Rabiu Kwankwaso, was left to debate himself after other candidates were a no-show.
The former Kano State governor cast a lonely figure on the podium prepared for the four frontline presidential candidates including Peter Obi, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and Atiku Abubakar of the Labour Party, All Progressives’ Congress (APC), and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) respectively, to talk about their programmes for Nigerians.
The presidential debate, co-organised by the Nigerian Elections Debate Group (NEDG) and the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), was held at the International Conference Centre in Abuja.
This is by no means a new development as far as election debates in Nigeria are concerned as history is replete with examples of presidential candidates blatantly refusing to honour debate invitations.
Tinubu made it clear at the start of the campaigns that he would not honour any debate organised by any entity other than his campaign council and has gone on to make good on his words. This may explain the APC presidential candidate’s refusal to show up, and the lack of communication to that effect comes as less surprising compared to others.
Meanwhile, explaining the reason for his non-appearance on Sunday, Obi, who had tweeted his intention to attend the programme earlier in the day, blamed his absence on a faulty aircraft.
In a statement issued by the Obi/Datti campaign organisation on Sunday night, it was stated that the Labour Party flag-bearer had travelled to Ondo State from where he planned to jet to Abuja for the debate. However, he was forced to make a detour to Lagos after his aircraft suddenly developed technical challenges.
“After an engagement in Akure, Ondo State, he meant to head for Abuja for the debate but was advised otherwise due to technical issues with the aircraft which made the pilot decide to head for Lagos instead.
“It must be noted that in anticipation of Mr Obi’s arrival, senior members of the campaign and the party had gathered at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, venue of the programme,” the statement read.
As for Atiku, as of the time of filing this report, his party and his campaign council were yet to explain why he didn’t honour the invitation.
This may not be far-fetched as the former vice-president, like Tinubu, had also stated last year that he would stop honouring debate invitations.