By Jide Afolabi
Debates by candidates vying for political offices in Nigeria are gradually gaining momentum. It is not new in developed nations. It has been adopted here in Nigeria and we are growing by the day.
Political debates ordinarily are expected to provide the electorate with information on which candidate to vote for. This is so because it provides the candidates the opportunity to present their manifestos, relate directly with most voters, and show their qualities.
It also provides an avenue for candidates to throw jabs at each other, raise allegations on governance, leadership, party structure, and assessment of the governing party and in some cases, sitting office holders who are contesting for another term in office.
Political debates are important to our democracy in marked ways. It allows the electorates to state their intention and enables citizens to access comprehensive information that will help them in analysing and deciding who to vote for. It is also helpful in presenting candidates to the electorate and allows some exposure to their backgrounds, plans, possible strengths, and weaknesses.
The recent debates in Anambra, Ekiti, and Osun states lived up to these expectations. Debates have become part of our election calendar. It usually marks an end to the campaign period. They are usually organised, moderated, and broadcast by different news media often, private broadcast media.
In recent times, Channels TV, Arise TV, BBC Yoruba, and others have been very effective in organising political debates in Nigeria.
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Yoruba organised a political debate for the governorship candidates of the All Progressives Congress, Gboyega Oyetola, the Peoples Democratic Party, Ademola Jackson Nurudeen Adeleke, Accord Party, Dr. Akin Ogunbiyi, Social Democratic Party, Architect Goke Omigbodun and Labour Party, Rt. Hon. Lasun Yusuf. Arise Television, Crown FM, Ife, and the popular news television, Channels followed suit.
It was a classical debate on Channels TV where all invited five candidates out of the 15 candidates in the election were present. Issues on governance, security, education, infrastructure, jobs, youth, and women empowerment among others were raised.
While some in-house participants were cheering some candidates, others were shouting some candidates down. One of such moments was when the sitting governor and the APC governorship candidate, Gboyega Oyetola were responding to the issue of the state-owned helicopter bought by his predecessor and ‘former boss’, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola. Perhaps, the audience knew what his response would be. Their response forced the governor to state the location of the helicopter.
In all honesty, I did not envy the governor. He received punches from all other candidates. At some point, he capitulated, forcing him to raise his tiny voice forcing him to reveal what was hitherto secret.
By all standards, Rt. Hon. Lasun Yussuff was adjudged to have performed better than other candidates but, the focus was on the two major candidates, Gboyega Oyetola of the APC and Ademola Adeleke of the PDP. Realistically, the winner of tomorrow’s governorship election is between these two candidates. There have been arguments on whether debates determine the eventual outcome of an election. In 2015, the then President, Goodluck Jonathan, and others attended the Presidential Debate. Then General Muhammadu Buhari emerged winner of the election. In 2018, Oyetola attended the Osun governorship debate and later won the election. This shows that political debate may not necessarily determine the outcome of the election but in most cases, it helps the election fortune of eventual winners.
Three major issues were prominent during the debate. They were security, debt/loans, and employment. In all these, the governor capitulated. It also calls to question, his integrity.
For instance, on the debt status of the state, Oyetola claimed that he has not obtained a loan since he assumed office rather, his government has been repaying the loans obtained by previous governments. According to the Gross Domestic (GDP) data report released by the National Bureau of Statistics, at the end of 2020, Osun state had a total debt of N192.82 billion; an increase of N89.02% from the 102.01 billion in 2016. According to Dataphyte reports, under the Gboyega Oyetola-led administration, the state’s debt increased by 11.41% between 2019-2020, making Osun the 7th most indebted state in Nigeria.
On security, the governor failed to come clean on the status of its helicopter. At first, he dismissed the allegation that the helicopter had been sold and that it was with the manufacturers for repairs in Port Harcourt. The governor later lamented that 300,000 USD was needed to fix the helicopter, saying that it was high and was not economically viable. This deflated the earlier position of the governor that the helicopter was being repaired.
On jobs, the governor was hit badly by the PDP candidate who accused the Oyetola-led government of extorting applicants by asking them to pay for forms. Official statistics indicate that the unemployment rate has increased since Oyetola assumed office in 2018.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) data report, as of 2017, the unemployment rate in Osun was 19%. In 2018, the figures increased to 24.7%, then the current 37.3%. This shows an upward trend in the unemployment rate. In the last three years, the unemployment rate in the state has increased by 96.47%.
There have been analyses of how Osun electorates would possibly vote by different social and political commentators. The debates may not determine the eventual winner however, they would help electorates in forming opinions on the major candidates in the election.
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