Deepening Nigeria’s democracy with presidential debate

By Tope Templer Olaiya
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Nigerians across the world will on Sunday, March 22, be treated to an interesting spectacle void of hot air that has pervaded the 2015 electioneering campaigns. It is the Nigeria Elections Debate Group (NEDG) presidential debate.
With bated breath, Nigerians look forward to seeing the best and worst from not just the leading presidential candidates, President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd.), the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, but a roll call of all 18 presidential candidates standing for March 28 election.
Followers of Lagos Governorship Debate already have their appetites whet to the stimulating engagement expected to herald the live debate.
The expectation is high because the entire country is the panel and though actual measurement of impact may be tentative, especially in a developing country where there are challenges of illiteracy and access to mass media, the performance of the candidates ordinarily reshapes the conversation and can significantly influence voters’ choice.
The essence of a presidential debate would be fully appreciated in a society where the people see it as an opportunity to evaluate the policies, preparedness and demeanour of those who seek to govern them. It must, however, also be warned that a great leader may not be the best of debaters.

Buhari and Jonathan

Buhari and Jonathan

Chairman of the NEDG and Director General of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Mr. Sola Omole, during his sensitization visit to The Guardian newspaper, said the debate, which will be held in three sessions, 12noon-2pm, 3pm-5pm, and 7pm-9pm, will be broadcasted to over 300 million audiences across the world.
Omole, during his visit to The Guardian, said the mission of the NEDG is to ensure the debate process becomes a strong component of Nigeria’s democracy. “All over the world, this is what happens before any presidential elections. We want to make the debate culture a part of our growing democracy and we have initiated discussions with the National Assembly to propose a bill in order to legalize presidential debates ahead of general elections.”
The culture of televised presidential debates is one of the many cultures that were copied from the United States of America (USA).
The first ever debate in the USA between rivals for elective political office can be traced to 1857 when Abraham Lincoln insisted on having a debate with Stephen Douglas on “the virtue of the republic and the evil of slavery”. Abraham Lincoln lost that election but a history in political debating had already been made.
Lincoln would later win the presidency in 1860, in an election, which featured no political debates. In fact, there were no debates between presidential candidates until 1952.
The culture of televised debate would later become formalised with the televised debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960. The handsome and more charismatic John Kennedy won the televised debate while an earlier radio debate had been won by Nixon. Nixon was said to have appeared rather “shifty” on television and that contributed to his loss of the election.
If televised debates could prove the downfall of a candidate who otherwise could have won in an election, why bother to participate in it? President Lyndon Johnson refused to debate with Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964; he was leading in the polls, and public speaking was not his forte.
Just as John McCain was about to do in one of his 2008 presidential debates when he said he was attending to legislative matters in Congress, President Jimmy Carter in 1980, refused to participate in the first presidential debate because it included independent candidate John Anderson.

MKO Abiola (waving) and Tofa (left) at 1993 debate

MKO Abiola (waving) and Tofa (left) at 1993 debate

He, however, attended subsequent debates and that memorable question by Ronald Reagan did him great damage: “Are Americans better off today than they were four years ago?” The state of the economy and the American hostage crisis in Iran suggested it was the right question that would nail the coffin of the Carter presidency.
On the home turf, the highpoint of Nigeria’s experience with presidential debates and the last time Nigerians enjoyed something really close to an exciting debate was during the 1993 presidential elections. It was a memorable encounter between the late Chief MKO Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC).
At the end of that debate, it was clear who among the duo was better experienced, much more intellectually capable and more endearing to the electorate in terms of readiness for the job being applied for. That is what a debate, under these circumstances, is: a job interview.
Unfortunately, there won’t be a remake of the 1993 feeling. Voters would be denied this opportunity for comparison, assessment, interaction, excitement and drama that comes with a debate of any sort, as Buhari announced on Tuesday that he be shunning the debate on Sunday.
It would be recalled that the APC had said it will not participate in the previously scheduled public debates on national television and radio stations organised by the NEDG, long before the elections were postponed from February 14 to March 28. The party had alleged that NEDG, which is co-ordinating the debate, was fraught with fundamental errors from the outset, according to Malam Garba Shehu, the Director Media and Publicity of the APC Campaign Organisation.
Clarifying his stance, Buhari, in an interactive session with journalists, said there was nothing worth debating with the president, which has failed to live up to the expectations of Nigerians. According to him, the mere fact that Jonathan had to rely on Chad, Niger and Cameroun to tackle the menace of Boko Haram speaks volume of the failure of the PDP-led administration.

Jonathan debating alone during the NESG 2011 edition

Jonathan debating alone during the NESG 2011 edition

Reacting, the Director of Media and Publicity of the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation, Femi Fani-Kayode, claimed the APC took the decision to boycott the debate simply to shield from Nigerians and the international audience its candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari’s intellectual laziness and inability to constructively engage contemporary national issues in a live television and radio debate.
It is not only political gladiators that are bothered about the seeming intransigence of Buhari to debate with Jonathan as the two leading contenders for the 2015 presidential elections. Citizens like Niran Akintunde are also showing similar concern and what it portends to the electioneering process.
In his Facebook post recently, Akintunde said: “Yes, I am supporting Buhari but ask me what does my candidate think about local government autonomy or creation of state police, I would not know. This is really a shame, I must admit. But beyond rhetoric, both Buhari and Jonathan have really not helped Nigerians to be able to decide wisely.
“I expect the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to make political debates compulsory as part of the electioneering process in the interest of the electorates because at the moment, mediocrity is found in both the Jonathan and Buhari camps.”

Shekarau, Ribadu and Buhari during the NN24 2011 presidential debate

Shekarau, Ribadu and Buhari during the NN24 2011 presidential debate

Many political watchers have complained to a great length the seeming absence of issues in the campaigns of the two leading political parties. Sadly, in the few days before March 28, the campaigns might never rise beyond the present disenchanted state, which is focusing greatly on personalities rather than issues. They argued that only a presidential debate would change the narrative.
Reacting to concerns by the APC, who had earlier pulled out of the debate earlier scheduled for February 8 over the integrity of the process, Sola Omole said efforts have been made by organisers to make the debate credible.
“The debate platform, which is designed by the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) comprises of all radio and television stations across the country. With our over 300 membership, it is going to be the largest broadcasting session ever.
“Over 4,000 questions were sent in from across the world and it has been polled and vetted by our technical team to avoid repetition. The questions have been kept secret from our panelists, which would only be delivered to them minutes before the debate begins. At the same time, it is the same questions that will be asked from all the contestants, while the debate is going to be aired live so there would be no filtering.”
The chairman of the debate group added that the contact committee of NESG has been in touch with the APC leaders to carry them along and explain the whole process of the debate. He, however, noted that with or without the APC participating in the debate, it would still go on as scheduled on Sunday.

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Towards strengthening Nigeria, UK trade relations in dire times

By Tope Templer Olaiya
GOING by facts and figures, Nigeria’s economy is in dire strait. The picture of a robust economy painted which rated the country as Africa’s largest economy with about $510 billion yearly Gross Domestic Product (GDP), appears to be cloudy, because reality checks and outlook have proved otherwise. There are cogent reasons to be worried. Reason: The exchange rate is today N228 to US$1; statutory allocation to federating units has plunged by about 50 percent, leading to delay in salary payments by state governments; and loss of over N4 trillion in foreign direct investment.
Nigerians were jolted to reality when last December, thousands of federal civil servants celebrated yuletide without payment of their salaries. This brought to the fore the burgeoning list of state governments owing salary arrears for several months and still counting.
The sliding fortunes of the economy was exacerbated by huge losses recorded recently in the capital market, where over N4.5 trillion portfolio investments evaporated in a couple of months. Indeed, economy watchers needed no rocket science to know that the rebasing testimonial of being the biggest economy in Africa was, perhaps a ruse.
Economic analysts have blamed this spiral downward trend on the devaluation of the Naira, which was government’s kneejerk approach to the crash in oil prices.
Managing Director/CEO of Juhel Nigeria and President, Enugu Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (ECCIMA), Dr. Ifeanyi Okoye, said the nucleus of the problem is the fact that Nigeria, despite its much-touted size, still operates a mono-economy, depending solely on oil.
“As the price of oil started coming down, our Naira started tumbling. This impacted the economy, as people have to re-strategise. As far as the pharmaceutical sector is concerned, more than 98 percent of raw materials used are imported. This has affected the prices of goods in the country. So, the prices of drugs will definitely go up a little bit. However, we believe it’s going to stabilise.
“Given the mono-economy nature of Nigeria, the government’s effort to decentralise the economy will definitely take care of the problem. By the time this goes full circle, the economy will become stronger. Nigeria, of course, has been trying to ensure that agriculture is not just about feeding ourselves but also exporting our products. The strategy of trying to make manufacturers stronger by making funds available at affordable cost is good; but we have to encourage the government to go ahead with that and make it permanent, not bringing it as an intervention.” he said.

Cameron and JonathanAmidst the hot air and tension that have characterized the run-up to the decisive general elections later in the month comes the window of opportunity for businessmen and investors to make a strong head start in 2015.
Despite drawbacks to business activities since the beginning of the year, which is not unconnected to the election fervor, the United Kingdom-Nigeria Economic Forum, billed for London in July 29, will set the tone for a fresh direction, weeks after a new administration would have been inaugurated in May 29.
The fourth in the series of the trade, investment and business conference held in London by the Nigerian London Business Forum, UK (NILOBF), is coming on the heels of a hugely successful Greater London Business Conference on Nigeria held in September last year.
NILOBF is the official business chamber and trade association, comprising Nigerian, British and non-British companies doing business with Nigeria and UK, including subsidiaries of Nigerian companies and institutions doing business in the UK. Investors, trading partners from around the world who are desirous of meeting Nigerian business leaders in London with a view to doing business in Nigeria forms a large chunk of the conference participants.
The NILOBF’s key objective is promoting and attracting bilateral trade and investment relations between the two countries by bringing together business people from Nigeria and the UK, who seeks new investment opportunities, develop long-term business relationships and finalise existing business deals.
Running with the epithet ‘Meet in London, do business in Nigeria’, the event seeks to provide the platform for serious networking with potential Nigerian, British, and global business partners and investors.
According to the country director of the forum in Nigeria, who is also the Registrar/Chief Executive Officer of the Institute of Credit Administration (ICA), Prof. Chris Onalo, “organisations that oil the wheels of the economy in areas of commerce and industry, trade and investment, such as export credit guarantee agencies, major project funders and loan providers, high-profile agencies responsible for growing and connecting businesses to top commercial opportunities are among the prime business entities NILOBF is bringing together for the July 29 event.”

From right: Dr. Chris Onalo, Director of the forum; Mrs. Florence Ajimobi, wife of Oyo State governor; Governor Abiola Ajimobi; Maryanne Jemide, Publisher, Nigerian Watch Newspaper, UK; and Alistair Sorodoye, CEO/Founder, BenTV, UK during the presentation of Honorary Member Award to Oyo State governor.

From right: Dr. Chris Onalo, Director of the forum; Mrs. Florence Ajimobi, wife of Oyo State governor; Governor Abiola Ajimobi; Maryanne Jemide, Publisher, Nigerian Watch Newspaper, UK; and Alistair Sorodoye, CEO/Founder, BenTV, UK during the presentation of Honorary Member Award to Oyo State governor.

A cheery development, which would be explored at the conference, is the promise by the Nigerian-British Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) and UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) to work together to attract more investments into Nigeria. This was made known recently during a send-forth luncheon organised by NBCC in honour of the outgoing Director of UK Trade and Investment  (UKTI), Mr. Mike Purves in Lagos.
President of NBCC, Adeyemi Adefulu, said the relationship between NBCC and UKTl had evolved, adding that the two bodies were committed to attracting more British companies into Nigeria. He noted that Nigeria has image problem and that Purves, through UKTI, had worked with the chamber in promoting business opportunities in Nigeria by encouraging UK companies to look beyond the challenges in the country.
Purves described Nigeria as one of the best destinations for business with its position as the biggest economy in Africa. He said Nigeria’s major resources are not oil and gas but its human resource and diversity.
Nigeria’s relation with its trading partners across the world is a mixed bag of risks and opportunity. Often touted as Africa’s biggest economy, though ranked 26th in the world in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) after rebasing, and with an over 167 million population, the country still remains an investor’s delight in spite of seemingly unfavourable business climate like insecurity and infrastructure deficit.
Nigeria is a middle-income, mixed economy and emerging market, with expanding financial, service, communications and entertainment sectors with eyes set on potentially becoming one of the 20 largest economies in the world by 2020.
Its re-emergent, though currently under-performing, manufacturing sector is the third-largest on the continent, and produces a large proportion of goods and services for the West African region. As a result, it is a busy hub for business activities.

Ona 2

Prof. Chris Onalo

One of its biggest trading partners is the United Kingdom. Presently, Nigeria is UK’s second largest trading partner in Africa after South Africa. The drive for improved trade and economic relations was the kernel of discourse at the Greater London Business Conference on Nigeria last year, the epic event that was put together by the prestigious Nigerian London Business Forum in UK.
With the theme ‘Nigeria in the MINT’, the conference had in attendance government agencies and Nigerian companies drawn from various local chambers of commerce. The term, MINT – Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey – was originally coined by Fidelity Investments, a Boston-based asset management firm and popularized by Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs, who predicted the MINT countries as the next most powerful economic bloc.
Onalo, the renowned professor of credit management in his presentation at the conference, urged the Nigerian government to work closely and pragmatically through its relevant agencies with the British government with a view to creating further improvement on efforts to remove needless obstacles perceived to be seriously hindering a robust business, trade and investment engagements of business people of the two countries.
There is need for the government of the two countries to make less stringent, special requirements to be met by business people for business visa applications so that the people in the two countries can easily and frequently meet and interact with each other in order to encourage appreciable economic, trade and investment expansions between the two countries.
For instance, conscious, stimulating and industrious effort was made by the Late Peter Carter, British Deputy High Commissioner to Nigeria in a meeting which was co-ordinated by the Nigerian London Business Forum (NILOBF) at the British Residence in Kaduna (Lord Lugard’s House) in 2014 to re-lunch bilateral relations between the British High Commission in Nigeria and the chambers of commerce of both Kaduna and Kano states.
The incidence of Visa Denial of members of the chambers of commerce of both states by the British High Commission and to avert a possible reoccurrence in the future was a critical part of the agenda of that meeting. He expressed regret at the experience of those members of the Chambers of Commerce (from both Kaduna and Kano States), who were denied visa to attend the last Nigerian London Business Forum (NILOBF) trade and investment conference in London, United Kingdom, and apologized on behalf of the British government.