•  Why I went back on arrival at venue – Atiku

•  Ezekwesili, Moghalu, Durotoye knock 2 absentee debaters

•  Sowore supporters storm venue, protest exclusion of candidate


From Aidoghie Paulinus, Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja and Henry Okonkwo, Lagos  


Last night, Nigerians on social media, especially the Twitter, registered their disappointment on the inability of President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubarkar, to participate in the 2019 Presidential Election Debate. 

The debate, which was organised by the Nigeria Elections Debate Group (NEDG) in conjunction with the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON), was to feature the five presidential candidates of the APC, PDP, the Allied Congress of Nigeria (ACPN), Young Progressive Party (YPP) and Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN).

But only three out of the five candidates participated in the debate as President Buhari did not show up while Alhaji Atiku came to the venue and later stormed out, refusing to take part in the debate, giving the absence of the president as reason.

But some Nigerians who took to the social media condemned the action of the candidates of the two main political parties, saying that they were grossly disappointed by their failure to participate in the debate to marshal out how they intend to make the country better.

On one of the tweets, Dr. Dipo wrote: “Ezekwesili – present, Durotoye – present, Atiku – absent, Buhari – absent, Mogalu – present.

“Disgraceful and disrespectful for Buhari and Atiku to have ignored this debate. #2019Debate.

“How can you miss one of the biggest opportunities to convince those you want to lead and those you’re asking to vote for you? It is very disgraceful. And saying more than half of the voters are illiterates doesn’t cut it. Shame! #2019Debate.”

Also Tunji Lardner wrote: “The no show of PMB and Atiku is quite simply disrespectful to 200million Nigerians. This generational disdain is the red line between doddering relics of the military-political complex and the quantum possibilities of a future Nigeria. Vote for the future. Yours!”

Popular social media personality, Frank Dunga, also wrote: “Wait… so the two presidential candidates that have ruled Nigeria before are not present at the only debate by the Broadcasting Organization of Nigeria to tell Nigerians why they should be given another chance?”

Adedeji Majek wrote: “Yeah, because they feel the people of this country will vote them in regardless, and we will, because we don’t learn and we haven’t felt the brunt of bad leadership enough,” while Aisha Yesufu wrote: “Nigerians are being disrespected and they don’t know they are being disrespected. They actually give themselves up to be disrespected. What a shame! BuTiku is one and the same and not debating.”

Also three of the candidates who participated in the debate, Dr Oby Ezekwesili,  Kingsley Moghalu and Fela Durotoye,  presidential candidates of the ACPN, YPP  and ANN  respectively,  berated President Buhari and Alhaji Atiku for shunning the debate.

In their separate speeches at that debate, the presidential candidates said that the absence of Buhari and Atiku, who are the standard bearers of the APC and PDP respectively, showed their disdain for Nigerians.

Ezekwesili said: “I am not surprised they are not here.  They have just simply announced their exit from governance.  For the Nigerian people, this is a moment to make a clear judgment.

“If the two dominant parties care about the Nigerian people, they would come here for the contest of idea on how to fix Nigeria. For the Nigerian people this is a moment to make a clear judgment whether we are connected to the issues that matter to the Nigerian people.  We showed up for this debate not because we are new entrants into politics, but because we believe that it is time for a new kind of governance for Nigeria.”

In her remarks during the debate, Mrs Ezekwesili said that Nigeria is in dire situation and needed to be rescued urgently. 

“The trouble with our country was identified by Chinua Achebe, one of the illustrious sons of this country who is now late when he said that the problem with Nigeria is simply and squarely the failure of leadership,” Mrs Ezekwesili said.

She observed that whether it is the North, South, East or West of the country, there is massive poverty.

“We have no business being the world capital of poverty. It is urgent for us to change the direction of our country,” she said.

Similarly, Moghalu noted that “like my two colleagues, I am not at all surprised that the leaders of the APC and PDP have decided to turn their back on the people of Nigeria and tell them finally that they never amounted too much in their eyes.

According to him,  “there are two reasons they are not here.  One is arrogance.  They believe that the people of Nigeria have no choice. They believe that you cannot move away from them.  They believe that they have kept you in bondage.  They kept you in bondage for far to long and it is time for us to send them a message.

“The second reason they are not here is that they cannot answer the questions. They want to come to power with a sense of entitlement, but not a record of performance.  They cannot answer the intricate questions of the economy, the intricate questions of the governance and security. It is a record of failure on both sides.”

Also speaking during the debate, Moghalu said that he was confident that on May 29, this year, he would be sworn in as the 8th President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“With the support and the votes of the Nigerian people, that will happen because I am putting myself forward to serve you, Nigeria and Nigerians,” he said.

Moghalu also said that it was time for a different kind of leadership in the country to mount the saddle, adding that his government would have a kind of approach to Nigeria’s problems that the nation had never seen before.

“And that is a foundational approach that addresses the root causes of our challenges,” he stated.

Durotoye also said: “Pride always come before a fall. And any time you believe that you have no need to tell the people what you are going to do, it means that you are not there to serve them in the first place, that you are going to rule over them. 

“This has been consistent over the last 20 years.  We have had 20 years of rulership.  And rulers don’t explain to their subjects what they want to do. It is time to be free.  What we have now is the time for us to be free of this coin that has two sides.  I believe that Nigerians have a clear choice.”

On his part during the debate, Durotoye said that Nigeria, undoubtedly, is one of the most blessed nations on earth in terms of human, natural and mineral resources.

“Why haven’t we fulfilled our nation’s potentials? Well, because we have been ruled and not led,” he said.

However, the PDP candidate, Alhaji Atiku, who arrived at the Transcorp Hilton venue for the debate at about 7:00p.m, had told journalists that he would make himself available for the debate if Buhari attended.

Atiku who had his body wired in readiness for the debate, went in and exchanged pleasantries with the other presidential candidates, before storming out from the venue.

The former vice president later in a statement he personally signed gave reasons he suddenly declined to go into the debate.

“We came here for a presidential debate, not a candidacy debate, and I, Atiku Abubakar, cannot challenge or question an administration where the man at the helm of the affairs of the nation is not present to defend himself or his policies.

“After all, you cannot shave a man’s head in his absence. I do not believe in attacking a man who is not here to defend himself. As a leader and former vice president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, let me first apologise to all Nigerians, my fellow candidates and the moderator for the APC presidential candidate’s absence in this debate. His non-appearance is a slight on all of us and our democracy.

“Secondly, with all due respect to my fellow candidates, Fela Durotoye, Oby Ezekwesili, Kingsley Moghalu and to the moderator Mark Sugar (Mark Segun Eddo) and with apologies to all Nigerians here and at home expecting an interesting debate, I regret that I will not be able to go on with this debate due to President Buhari’s absence. I, however, challenge President Buhari to choose a date and time for a debate where he will be present and I will be there, hopefully with the other candidates as well,” he explained.

Earlier, Atiku told journalists at the venue that: “I am walking out because I expected to come and debate with Mr President. The president has been in office for the past three and half years. He is not here to defend that record. 

“So, who am I going to debate with? If he is on his way, when he comes, I will come back. In any case, I will have an opportunity to address Nigerians because there are other interviews in the plan. I came back from the US to participate in this debate, but the president is not here.”

Also speaking, the Senate President and Director-General of the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, who accompanied Atiku to the venue, said: “We have always made it clear to the organizers that our candidate is ready to debate with the president.

“When we were told in Washington DC that the debate will take place, we thought the president will be here. Our candidate is ready to debate with the president anytime he is ready.” 

Meanwhile, supporters of the presidential candidate of the of the African Action Congress (AAC), Omoyele Sowore, yesterday stormed the venue of the debate to protest the non-inclusion of their candidate.

The youths, who carried placards with inscriptions such as “No Sowore, no debate,” “Say no to media capture,” chanted songs such as “Sowore is our man,” “Nigeria must be freed.”