For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, debate – Margaret Heffernam
[To the general public, who have kept asking and whom we owe an explanation]
Since the reinstatement of the Students’ Union in 2010 thereabout, the Union of Campus Journalists, University of Ibadan – as an existing independent, registered, recognized and revered institution has continually conducted Presidential Debates. Presidential Debate, as it is, provides students and even management bodies the best insight into the plans, intelligence and aspirations of presidential candidates. Like a former president said in reaction to the new development, the Press is a civic organization and conducting debates for aspirants is a civic responsibility.
What does the world outlook say about a Presidential Debate (PD)?
26 September, 1960, Richard Nixon and John Kennedy debated live on television on CBS with CNN reporting that sixty-six million persons watched the first debate on television alone. Eventually, more than half of voters said the televised series of four debates had shaped how they cast their ballots; six percent said they voted specifically according to their impression of the debates according to MBC. As reported by Stelter Brian on September 27 2016, “a record-breaking audience of over 84 million people watched the first 2016 presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton (minus the majority who did online streaming).” Just recently, the 5th Democratic 2020 presidential debate held on November 21, 2019 at the United States and like others, is organized by the “nonpartisan commission that governs presidential debates.”
For vivid clarity, in the United States – the standard for modern democracy – “it has become customary for the main candidates to engage in a debate. The topics discussed in the debate are often the most controversial issues of the time, and arguably elections have been decided by these debates.” Still extracting from CPD: The Commission on Presidential Debates: An Overview (retrieved on September 28, 2016), “candidate debates are not constitutionally mandated, but they are now considered an intrinsic part of the election process.”
Thus, given the high regard given to it in democratic societies, one would wonder why the press – who has been faithfully fulfilling this civic duty since time immemorial to promote the democratic process of elections and help students make informed decisions – would suddenly announce at about 4:17pm that the Presidential Debate scheduled for 4pm has been cancelled.
REACTIONS TRAIL THE CANCELLATION
According to the messenger of bad news, after apologizing, “due to some unfortunate reasons, the Students’ Union Presidential Debate has been cancelled owing to the failure of both presidential aspirants to show up.” Immediately, a young man, in his late 20s, probably a post-graduate students had asked, “did the aspirants provide any reason for not showing up?” to which the moderator answered no.
On stepping outside, two ladies who explained they were coming from KDL asked their friends why they were stepping outside. They in turn replied that the debate had been cancelled. Lo! And behold, one of the oncoming ladies asked, “they cannot debate, and they want us to vote for them.”
Another asked, “is it that they are both afraid to debate or what?” while many kept reacting to the news, the organizing media team had to troop back to the office, to return all materials they had prepared for the debate. While the Press keeps getting several reactions via phone calls especially, what was on everyone’s lips remained, “what is the business of the Electoral Commission with Presidential Debate?”
Did the press find out from the aspirants why they would not be coming?
No! while one dignified the press with a reply, the other blacked out. The press, through the general secretary had invited all (initial) four aspirants for a “preparatory discussion” on November 4 which they all graced weeks before the election date was ever shifted in the first place. That, was the first notification of the presidential debate to the aspirants. The date could not be fixed, firstly owing to lack of communication from the electoral commission and the foreshadowing of the possibility of a shift. Eventually, when we were sure the date has been fixed, the press paid a graphics designer and the Public Relations Officer II of the Union reached out to both aspirants (after the other two had been disqualified). One responded, the other blacked out (first time). Notably, the aspirant that blacked out was over 30 minutes late for the meeting earlier mentioned. To make it formal, the Union wrote an official invitation letter to both aspirants. Lastly, the press in its magnanimity composed a text and sent to both aspirants as the last reminder, the night before the Presidential Debate. While one replied, the other, same aspirant, blacked out (again).
In all this, is the press so lacking or ignorant not to know there is an undemocratic machination to foil its efforts?
Yes! The press knew.
It began on Thursday, sometime in the evening, an insider had called to notify the President that a woman had called, claiming to be from the Electoral Commission and had warned aspirants not to attend any presidential debate. The president, who obviously was stunned consulted his ancestors (former presidents) – as he calls them – to know what transpired during their time.
Indeed, the Electoral Commission in 2016 had issues with the Press. While the true reason was not publicized, the Union (press) had declined the invitation from the Electoral Commission (which came in just exactly the night to the Press Night) to conduct the customary Press Night. After much a-do, the Press Night was moved. However, the Presidential Debate had held already without any controversy. Not only was the Electoral Commission warned against the late notice, it was also brought to its notice that the Union ought to be carried along from the outset of the election process, which is the only way to confidently boast of a free, fair and credible election.
In 2017, the mistakes were effectively rectified and according to the 30th president of the Union, he had a very good relationship with the Electoral Commission, with no issues whatsoever. Not only was the press duly notified, it was also effectively carried along. Presidential Debate held at Faculty of Arts LLT while the Press Night held at Trenchard Hall with no iota of controversy whatsoever.
SO WHY WAS IT CANCELLED THIS TIME?
“Ehen”, a pressman had begun. “How far the presidential debate. I heard from a member of the electoral committee that they didn’t approve it. Plenty talk sha.” She had messaged the President via whatsapp on Friday at exactly 11:45am. After laughing, the president had replied, “they don’t have to. They have no power over the presidential debate.” “That’s what I said, but he said everything concerning the election et al must go through them. That the candidates may not even come sef,” she replied.
Perhaps, the press needs their consent to conduct interviews too, since all concerning election must go through them. Even INEC in a power-drunken state has not and cannot utter such. It is totally unheard of. In the process running to 2019 election in Nigeria, Kadaria Ahmed hosted a number of presidential candidates on a show on NTA tagged THE CANDIDATE in January 2019. She had, in the same vein moderated Nigeria’s presidential debate in 2011. Not even once did she, or the media houses she represents had to notify INEC before going ahead to host these shows and debates.
Also, two friends had hooked up with the president on Friday to inform him that the Electoral Commission had instructed aspirants not to show up. However according to them, there is an unpopular opinion that it is believed the move is to prevent Mr. Olofinlade Ebenezer from debating as he is not a good speaker. Clearly, several Uites have on occasion questioned the neutrality of the Electoral Commission with many always finding reasons to believe every of their moves is coloured to favour an aspirant.
While the Press might believe innocently otherwise, we are in no position to publicly defend the actions of the Electoral Commission, not especially when we have not been carried along, at all.
Meanwhile, even if that is really true about Hessy, is Mr. Akeju Olusegun also paranoid about speaking? Clearly not! He is a member of the Literary and Debating Society of the Hall and has even spoken at Jaw war – University of Ibadan largest speaking contest. Thus, the assertion of a Uite (in reaction to an explanation of the reason deduced) that “they’ve both got no balls” is perhaps more true in the case of Akeju. He must have failed to show up too, clearly afraid of what the Electoral Commission might do. That you are a law student (what should set you free) and know your rights, privileges and limits perhaps does not mean that you can differentiate between dealing with the severity of disobeying an official order telling them not to attend (which none of them got) and the voice of a woman which can easily be passed off as informal and capable of character impersonation.
WHAT DID IT COST THE PRESS?
To organize the debate, the press labored to lobby and thankfully got Large Lecture Theatre, Faculty of Arts; excessive lobbying with the Security Unit and the approval of the Chief Security Officer for security personnel to maintain order (even with a late notice); four hours of drafting salient and technical questions for the debate (ended up with 33) addressing issues on campus, tertiary institutions and Nigeria at large; preparing the Media Team for live update on Instagram, Twitter, whatsapp and Facebook (directly to the Students’ Union page). To everyone who contributed to the above, we are sincerely grateful for your help. We value it a lot and would not underestimate it all. Beyond the efforts, the time wasted without any acceptable reason whatsoever cannot be recovered. Indeed, grounds would have been covered for many in project writing.
Indeed, the father of all gratitude goes to the Dean of Students – a father in deed – who not only granted full support towards the presidential debate, but also approve it and had been following up since even to the point of trying to mediate in the crisis. We truly and wholesomely value your support.
To other pressmen and the generality of Uites, while we did our best to ensure we perform our civic responsibility, we sincerely appreciate your efforts in assisting with preparations and also turning up and we plead forgiveness for the obstacle we could not overcome.
“… just like Adam and Eve, anywhere that you go I will follow/And you know/As I follow you to eat up the seed, we shall reap what we sow.” – Tuface Idibia
In the end, our (in) actions say everything that there is about us. That the Electoral Commission went behind the Press to notify the aspirants not to show up for a hugely significant program, personally endorsed by the Dean – in full recognition of the importance of the debate – and as well by the CSO who in spite of the inconvenience approve security personnel for the event knowing its high significance is unacceptable by the Press.
While not dwelling too much on that, dear aspirants, what are you contesting for again? Many have tagged both aspirants especially for not speaking out as opportunists, when their opponents were disqualified by standards unexisting in the constitution. While perhaps there is little they could have done in form of solidarity or lobbying (given the power behind the directive), the only term which best describe their most recent action and attitude (of one especially) is “sheer cowardice.” Dear Uites, while Aluta is in no way what we request from our to-be Number One, if they cannot speak with strong, determined and resilient voice now, when will they ever be? Mind you, it is not for us to judge them and request you not to vote them at all, but just perhaps, we need to look elsewhere and wait for when we can have true and visionary leaders contest before we can get our hopes up. The Union clearly, at this salient point needs charismatic, proactive but rational leaders, not those who will withdraw into their shell at the first crow.
Still among the reactions that trailed the cancellation, a former president had mentioned the fact that aspirants in unison in 2015 election had written the Electoral Commission to postpone the election in the wake of Mayowa Alaran’s unfortunate incident. [full story will be added soon]
While a lot really needs be said, we stop here first. The names missing, of the two aspirants in relation to their attitudes (especially the one that keeps blacking out) will be made known soon enough.
Thank you for reading to the end.