Those who participated in the debate are Vice President Yemi Osinbajo of the All Progressives Congress; Peter Obi of the Peoples Democratic Party; Gani Galadima of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria; Hajiya Umma Getso of the Young Progressives Party, and Khadijah Abdullahi-Iya of the Alliance for New Nigeria.
While people have continued to criticise the exclusion of scores of other political parties from the debate in which only five out of over 70 parties participated, the main issue about the debate has been the reported spurious claims made by some of the speakers.
Many analysts of the debate have faulted some of the figures they reeled out to buttress their arguments while speaking on their parties’ blueprints for economic development and agenda to improve Nigeria.
Their comments have thus elicited flaks from Nigerians, especially among the intelligentsia and leading bureaucrats.
A legal practitioner and former National Secretary of Labour Party, Dr Kayode Ajulo, demanded an investigation into the figures bandied by the speakers.
While faulting some claims made by some candidates at the debate, he urged the organisers to make public false allegations made in order not to deceive Nigerians.
One of the vice-presidential candidates was said to have claimed in two instances that Turkey and Indonesia were members of BRICS nations. Yet, no one at the forum was able to correct this, while the audience kept clapping.
Ajulo said, “The vice-presidential candidates during the debate made several claims that ought to be pointed out in order not to mislead viewers. The acronym BRICS stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. One candidate submitted that Iran and Afghanistan are two countries with terror incidents above Nigeria. This is also wrong; not to mention the fake statistics that Nigeria has a meagre two million vehicles which is utterly wrong.
“As of 2017, the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics reported 12 million cars in Nigeria. Does it mean that 10 million of those cars got bombed by Boko Haram or probably got condemned in accidents within or after one year?”
Another legal practitioner and President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Malachy Ugwummadu, said, “Considering that the debate was a major contact point with the candidates, it was a major disservice by the speakers to give inaccurate information and data to Nigerians.”
To some critics, while Obi came with facts and figures, Osibanjo came with blame and complaints. Others argued that Osinbajo dropped figures from the World Bank to drive home his points while Obi, a former governor of Anambra State, dropped several figures without backing them up with sources.
The President of Nigeria Voters Assembly, Mashood Erubami, said although the debate was necessary to guide genuine voters to know which party to vote for, the right party could not be singled out based on the presentations made by the candidates.
According to him, most claims made by the speakers could not be verified, including using unsubstantiated data and foreign-owned statistics either from UNICEF, European Union or World Bank when no new survey was carried out.
Erubami, in an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH, said, “Nigerians are already used to claims that we are one out of every five Africans (unconfirmed)…Nigerian population is above 180 million or above 200 million without mentioning the specific census the figure was derived from. Who says we are not more than that?”
To him, Obi “sized up other vice-presidential candidates apart from Osinbajo who was quoting official figures, before he started using his unconfirmed figures to bamboozle participants at the debate, most of whom were clapping in ignorance.”
While describing the economic statistics quoted by Obi as incorrect, especially if checked against the realities of the Nigerian economy, Erubami also faulted the claim that fuel subsidy was a scam.
The National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, a pan-Yoruba sociology-political organisation, Yinka Odumakin, also affirmed that some of the claims made by speakers during the debate were false.
In an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH, Odumakin challenged the media to dig out the inaccuracies in the statistics reeled out at the debate.
“The media have a critical role in digging into issues like this so that the public is well informed. Our children should be able to quote data supplied by leading politicians. “The issue of some gaps about some figures given by Obi may be permissible in statistics where ‘about’ and ‘around’ are tenable. But outright lies about figures by Vice President Osinbajo are indefensible. Our politicians must be honest with facts and figures,” he advised.
But in his reaction, a legal practitioner and human rights activist, Ebun-olu Adegboruwa, analysed the debate from the economic statements made by the PDP and the APC vice-presidential candidates and gave them a pass mark.
He was particularly enthralled by Obi’s comment that “You don’t need to shut down your shop in order to chase a thief” and Osinbajo’s reply that “You cannot leave your economy to looters or else there will be no shop at all.” Olu-Adegboruwa said the valid statements aptly summarised the true state of the Nigerian situation, from which all Nigerian leaders should draw some valuable lessons.
He said, “Peter Obi is a million times correct that a war against corruption needs not lead to the poverty of the people. America, Britain, Germany and others are fighting corruption, but not at the expense of economic growth. Take it or leave it, the war against corruption of this present administration has virtually crippled our economy.”
According to the civil rights activist, genuine investors and manufacturers have been scared stiff as all it takes is just for an opponent or competitor to rub citizens “with the tar of corruption and you’re finished.”
Adegboruwa said, “Let the government go back to the drawing board, fine-tune and re-strategise in this area. Nigerians love the administration of Muhammadu Buhari for its stance against corruption. Nigerians love Muhammadu Buhari and Yemi Osinbajo for their unblemished character and sterling leadership qualities, but they need to work on the economy.” He said Osinbajo was also “correct and ten million times that no economy can flourish in the hands of looters.”
He added, “No matter the level of prosperity of a nation, if the leadership cannot face corruption squarely and tackle it, whatever gains the economy may record will be frittered away by the wicked kleptomaniacs.”
Ugwummadu believed the debate was “a positive development in that the electorate, who are the employers of public state actors, must be given sufficient knowledge and information about the applicants seeking to occupy the exalted offices.”
Ugwummadu’s problem with the debate was that “it wasn’t a comprehensive engagement because whereas we have 91 political parties presently, we didn’t have up to a quarter of that number assuming, as always, that not all the political parties are going to field presidential candidates.”
This, he said, remained a serious omission because the Nigerian people truly deserved to be introduced to the alternatives that were available, other than the existing and traditional contestants.
“Secondly, it’s a gross violation of the fundamental rights and discrimination against those who were excluded from the exercise under Section 42 of the 1999 Constitution and it can be challenged,” the CDHR president said.
With the criticisms, analysts expressed the hope that in future debates, speakers would be more mature and accurate with facts and figures.
Although they noted that election debates in Nigeria might not substantially influence or affect election results, only through sound engagements that credibility would be entrenched in the nation’s dealings including in the polity.
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