Who is going to hold our presidential candidates’ feet to the fire?

Posted by News Express | 19 November 2022 | 618 times

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There is a saying that it is better to shut your mouth when you have nothing to say than to open your mouth and prove it. This is one way of reading the aversion of our main Presidential front runners to TV debates and interviews. Two of the leading candidates have shied away from many debates so far and from the look of things might never engage in any. Their handlers believe that they have more to lose by subjecting their candidates to debates which might expose their inadequacies. One spokesman actually, and somewhat cynically, said Nigerian presidency is not won through debates. That may be true to some extent. After all, we have someone in Aso Rock now to prove the point. But that same argument can be used by proponents of TV debates because nobody wants a repeat of the situation where someone got to Aso Rock without being subjected to the rigours of debates thus denying the people the chance to have his political agenda dissected. Democracy has evolved over the years to the level where candidates are assessed through constant exposures to the people. TV debates and interactive Town Hall sessions have proved a veritable tool in probing the essence of a candidate. No one wants a pig in a poke anymore. We currently have one whose direction of leadership was shrouded in secrecy until it became too late. That is one too many. Prof Pat Utomi made the case for many Nigerians when he said a certain minimum number of presidential debates should be deemed necessary for those who want to occupy Aso Rock. A debate highlights many things including the level of your preparedness for leadership beyond ‘emi lokan’ in all its variants. A good, interactive presidential debate will reveal passion, commitment to serve and temperament. More importantly, it will show the thrust of your administration. It is one thing to have experts write a manifesto. It is another thing to be able to own it. The degree of ownership of a manifesto will show during these series of interactive debates. We will also get to see how you rate among other presidential candidates.

Although nobody can give what they don’t have, leaders can be persuaded to give of they have or made to share from what they would rather hoard. This is what Town Hall interactive meetings and public debates can do. However, In the absence of public debates or even in addition to them, pressure groups need to step up to extract promises from the candidates. It is in this light that I want to mention a call I got from a respected colleague shortly after my last article. He had called to commend my article on Afenifere and to comment on why the once revered organization came to the sorry pass it now finds itself and what it can do to change the narrative for the better. It was inevitable for someone acknowledged nationally and internationally for his cerebral contributions to public discourse through his articles, that the conversation would veer in the direction of the coming presidential elections; especially given the fact that he was once very close to one of the leading contenders. In his usual incisive way, he dissected the chances of the front runners and suggested the likely winner. Although I shall keep his ‘expo’ to myself for now, his analysis has made me look at the unfolding scenarios in the political space in a new light. But he said something which got me thinking and is the theme of this article. ‘Now that things are still very fluid, we must hold the feet of the man inching towards the throne to fire. The nearer we get to February, the more things will crystalize, and the more reluctant he will become to giving concessions’. Since the rest of us don’t have the insider advantage which he has, and might not be able to zoom in to one candidate, it safe to hold the feet of all the leading candidates to the fire and get whatever concessions we can get from them. Who knows? It might even influence the outcome at the polls. For example, the socio/political groups should meet collectively with each of the leading candidates to extract concessions that are common to them and privately for concessions that are peculiar to their groups. Those concessions can then be used to canvas votes for the favoured candidate. In other words, rather than complain about Muslim/Muslim ticket, the Christian body should use that apparent weakness to secure concessions that would be compensatory. Ditto the Muslim body, ditto the Business Community. It is called lobbying in the presidential system.

Hitherto, the type of lobbying we had was to get your person to become the Finance Minister or Secretary to the Government or even the Vice President.  We all now know how that would pan out. We would make individuals rich and influential without necessarily altering the political or economic trajectory of the country. I will use the account of a Netflix documentary on how Qatar won the bid for the World Cup as an illustration. As to be expected, countries bidding to host such a prestigious tournament as the World Cup, would make overt offers to FIFA and covert offers to those powerful delegates whose votes would decide the outcome.  It was said that many European and Latin American countries used their votes to get Arab projects and arms deals for their countries while African delegates negotiated for themselves and used the power of their votes to make themselves richer with their countries benefitting nothing. It is a pattern that is all too familiar with African leaders who get to the world stage where they can use their clouts to bring relief to the poor but instead use that same poverty as a bargaining chip to make themselves rich. It is a pattern that is all too familiar with every electoral cycle in Nigeria where negotiations are made for positions and not for needed projects. It is a pattern that has to change if we want to make democracy meaningful to the collective and not just to individuals who have already been fattened by the system.

•Muyiwa Adetiba is a veteran journalist and publisher. He can be reached via titbits2012@yahoo.com

Source: News Express

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