Nigerians have continued to react to the refusal of the All Progressives Congress, APC presidential candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) to participate in the debate organized by the Nigeria Election Debate Group, (NEDG).
The Director of Media and Publicity of the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation, Femi Fani Kayode claimed the APC took the decision to boycott the programme simply to shield from Nigerians and the international audience its candidate’s intellectual laziness and inability to constructively engage contemporary national issues in a live television and radio debate.
The Senior Special Assistant to President Jonathan on Public Affairs, Doyin Okupe said APC boycotted the debate to save Buhari from shame, as he does not have record of performance, education and eloquence needed for a debate to match Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP).
The United Progressive Party (UPP) presidential candidate, Chief Chekwas Okorie, said that refusal by Buhari to participate in the scheduled debate was a great disappointment and advised him to jettison his advisors’ voices and participate in the scheduled debate.
It will be recalled that the (APC), on Thursday, said it would not participate in the ongoing public debates on national television and radio stations organised by the Nigeria Election Debate Group (NEDG), alleging that NEDG, co-cordinating the debate, was fraught with fundamental errors from the outset, according to a statement signed by Malam Garba Shehu, the Director Media and Publicity of the APC Campaign Organisation.
Meanwhile, NEDG has said that no party or group had written to say that it was not interested in participating in the elections debate. Mr Taiwo Alimi, founding Chairman/Consultant of the NEDG, said this in an interview with newsmen after a meeting in Abuja on Friday preparatory to the conduct of the debate.
He said the NEDG had the acknowledgement copies of reminders sent out on Friday.
He assured that the body still remained very credible and non-partisan.
“So far, all the political parties are attending the debate beginning from Sunday; there is no party that has written to the NEDG saying that they were not going to take part. Just earlier today, our secretariat sent out reminders to all the participating political parties and they all signed that they received our letter. Not one is saying that they will not come, all the parties will attend,’’ he explained.
Alimi further explained that the NEDG is made up of Nigeria Guild of Editors, National Alliance for Credible Elections in Nigeria, Association of Young Professionals, and National Council of Women Societies.
He also named the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria made up of all privately and government owned media houses in Nigeria.
“Therefore, given the composition of the NEDG since 2003, it is an organisation with integrity, with trust, with competence and with experience. It remains the largest platform for debate in Nigeria and Africa. Therefore, there is no such thing about being government owned. All the privately owned media houses are part of the NEDG”, he stressed.
He emphasised that the NEDG was the greatest platform for those who want to let Nigerians know what they will do, how they will do it.
Mr. Isaac Ighure, General Secretary, Nigerian Guild of Editors, said the meeting was to fine-tune arrangements for a hitch-free conduct of the elections debates, adding that Nigerians had responded positively by sending in 6000 questions so far.
Ighure said the questions would be considered and harmonised by the Questions Harmonization Committee of the NEDG.
He said the group had, however, forwarded all the thematic areas that question may be drawn from to all participating political parties to help them prepare.
“As we speak, the committee on the collation of the question is still meeting. So, how possible is it that you will leak question that has not even been collated.
“We should dispel the notion that the NEDG is favouring some political parties and leaking questions to them: in any case, every candidate is going to answer the same questions.
“Do not forget that there is nobody scoring anybody; you are presenting your manifesto to the electorate, they are the ones to decide, not the NEDG”, he said.
He disclosed that the group had also made arrangements with health providers to take care of any emergencies but stressed that the group does not hope for any.
Earlier in a press statement, the group stressed that no particular media house or group of media houses, government or private, was influencing the group’s activities.
The statement signed by Mr Tony Akiotu, Chairman, Media/Publicity Committee of the NEDG, said the Chairmanship of BON which rotates among government media, was now being considered for amendment to include private media.
He said that the question template is usually made available to all parties and no party is favoured over another.
Akiotu said the leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) had been reached concerning the purported boycott of the debate and hoped that party’s candidate would attend.