14 December 2014
Five candidates for the Number Two position in Nigeria lined up this evening on national TV for a debate. The word “debate” is used very loosely here. There was a lot of talk, but precious little substance.
The candidates were incumbent vice president Yemi Osinbajo of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Peter Obi of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Umma Getso of the Young Progressives Party (YPP), Ganiyu Galadima of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN) and Khadija Abdullahi-Iya of the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN). Only the first two have a chance of becoming the next vice president of Nigeria and the other three looked completely out of their depth.
It is still not clear whether President Muhammadu Buhari will participate in the presidential debate, but these things don’t matter that much to Nigerians. And the organisers of the debate seemed to demonstrate how the charade was detached from the reality of the people the candidates claim they want to serve by the debate being hosted at the five-star Abuja Transcorp Hilton. The majority of Nigerians would not even dare get into the car park at the hotel, let alone stay in one of their rooms where prices range from £190 – £468 a night.
Watch the debate below:
The moderator said that none of the candidates had seen the questions before hand. However, Osinbajo seemed to have a tablet on his lectern and seemed to scroll up and down whenever questions were asked. Was he looking at his briefing notes? Was an aide providing answers to the questions electronically? It was hard to tell. He was the only person that seemed to have a proper answer to the question on fuel subsidies. He said removing them would come at a cost to Nigerian consumers and that people needed to ask themselves how much they wanted to pay for petrol.
But the real question was why none of Nigeria’s four refineries was functioning at full capacity, hence the need to buy imported petroleum which is meant to be subsidised by the government. No other candidate raised this obvious issue. All Obi offered on subsidy was: “Do the right thing and the price will come down”. It was telling that he didn’t explain what the “right thing” was. He most likely didn’t know.
Obi had his best moment of the night when challenged by the vice president over the former Anambra State governor’s criticism of the current administration in which he said that “fighting corruption was not an economic policy”. Obi, who has been disparaged in some quarters as an “Onitsha market trader”, landed the first zinger with: “You can’t shut down your shop and be chasing criminals”. This raised some cheer among his supporters in the audience. Osinbajo showed he could think on his feet with this counter: “If you allow criminals to steal what is in the shop, there would be no shop”.
Obi spent most the evening throwing around GDP figures even when asked questions that were not related to that issue or when asked what his government would do differently. He made sense when he said manufacturing was the route to increasing Nigeria’s GDP. The VP, in response to Obi’s claim that nothing had been done by the current administration, reminded the audience that Obi’s party was in power for 16 years. But very few Nigerians would be in the mood for the ruling party’s endless blame game. They have been in power for nearly four years and running for reelection. They should be judged on their record in office and not on how well they highlight the problems caused by the PDP.
Obi didn’t do well in highlighting how the ruling party has failed. He only did so in closing when he said Nigerians had the decision to make on whether they should continue with failure. But the real issue for Nigerians is that while the current regime has failed, the alternative represented by Obi is also one of previous failure. Obi’s principal, the former vice president Atiku Abubakar was part of a government that failed between 1999 and 2007. Obi had eight years as governor of Anambra State and he did little to transform the state with all the resources in the commercial centres of Onitsha and Nnewi. A man who talks a lot about the GDP of China, Indonesia, Malaysia and so on, did not in eight years do much to transform the economy in his state.
So the choice before Nigerians in 2019 is whether to replace a bunch of failures with another bunch. The Chartists movement in Britain in the 1800s held that the vote meant nothing if it didn’t result in improvements in ordinary people’s lives. The evidence from tonight’s debate shows that voting for any of the people that showed up will end in typical disappointment as it has done since 1999.