Why Presidential Debate Criteria Should Be More Transparent

by:

The 2019 Elections

Nigeria Elections Debate Group (NEDG) has defended its decision concerning the parties to participate in the 2019 elections presidential debates.

Responding to criticisms of its debaters list from both included and excluded candidates and from individuals, NEDG says it selected five political parties through an “independently administered multi-stage process”. This produced Muhammadu Buhari’s APC, Atiku Abubakar’s PDP, Kingsley Moghalu’s YPP, Oby Ezekwesili’s ACPN and Fela Durotoye’s ANN as the quintet to be involved in the debates.

NEDG’s selection process comprised of two stages:

  • “an independent online poll” and
  • “distribution of survey questionnaires per state, to professionals, artisans, students, etc; respondents were within the voting age and spread across urban, semi-urban and rural classifications”

The “third stage” of the “multi-staged” process was the aggregation of the results and sending out invitations to the chosen ones.

Notable among those not in the five are Donald Duke of SDP and Omoyele Sowore of AAC. The latter arguably has as many supporters as other candidates outside PDP and APC. Hence, it is interesting to know what questions NEDG and BON asked in its online polls and questionnaires.

Like Durotoye, Dr Ezekwesili has called on the organisers to include Sowore (who announced his candidacy at least 7 months before Ezekwesili) in the debates, hailing him as doing much to rally youths and get them interested in the elections.

She recommended that at least 25% of the candidates be involved in the debates. Were that to be the case, we should expect about 8 presidential debaters instead of the present 5.

Enlisting candidates for elections debates should not be based on an arbitrary percentage of total contestants, however. There should be clear transparent criteria  for qualifying. As many candidates as meet those criteria should be able to debate.

NEDG says it already planned to select only the top 5 parties (not candidates) from its process before commencing the online polls and distributing questionnaires that eventually produced them. But despite enumerating the stages involved, the process is not necessarily clearer. Can it publish the results of the questions it asked audiences to aid clarity and transparency? It would be less frustrating if candidates who want to debate but are left out know precisely why.

What’s the fuss over elections debates anyway? There is a chance that at least one of the five – the one whom everybody insists must debate – will not participate, following latest comments allegedly made by Prof Itse Sagay. While there is a sizeable portion of the population interested in listening to candidates defend their positions on TV, there is a significant proportion who are either unaware of the existence of these debates or couldn’t care less. This may have something to do with the location of majority of Nigeria’s about 10 million out of school children and uneducated, rural adults, and which presidential candidate recent history show them to have regularly voted for.

Debates are important and we should build a culture of having them more regularly. To make them relevant, however, transparency is necessary to show that participants are selected fairly and deservedly. Otherwise, even the more enlightened people will tune off.

The vice presidential debate holds from 7pm on Friday, December 14. It should feature Yemi Osinbajo (APC), Peter Obi (PDP), Umma Getso (YPP), Alhaji Abdulganiyu Galadima (ACPN), and Khadijah Abdullahi-Iya (ANN).
The presidential debate is scheduled for Saturday, January 19, 2019. Follow @inquizimedia on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

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Featured image: TheCable

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