by Ebuka Obi-Uchendu
TV host EBUKA OBI-UCHEDU, shares a stream-of-consciousness narrative from his hosting of a presidential debate.
“Good evening Nigeria, we are live from the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre in Abuja.” Kicking off the nation’s first youth-centred presidential debate with those words was surreal for me. What seemed like a really tall dream just a few months earlier had finally come alive.
I have always been fascinated by debates. Watching how the Americans do it, with the moderator completely in charge, always made me want to host one someday. If nothing else, I liked the fact that I could tell someone running for president to shut the hell up simply because his or her time was up.
It seemed impossible though, seeing that Nigerian politicians and debates are supposedly strange bedfellows. But as Elections 2011 drew nearer, firstly there was every reason to see that this time, it would be different, even if not necessarily perfect. Second, the Nigerian youth had become more politically conscious than ever and apathy had become a thing of the past. So, I kept the faith, and retained the mental picture.
Most of that mental picture became real on the 25th of March, when I hosted the very first youth presidential debate in Nigeria. Several youth organisations had come together to support the ‘What About Us’ campaign, which was the theme for the debate. The budding literary legend, Chimamanda Adichie, had also agreed to moderate the debate, and the buzz on both mainstream media and social networking sites, was crazy. I was nervous…
As the 7:30pm kick off time for the debate approached, while we were still trying to process the fact that President Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP and General Muhammadu Buhari of the CPC, had both neither confirmed nor ignored our invite, we got word that Professor Pat Utomi of the SDMP, had fallen ill and also had to cancel; right after Pastor Chris Okotie of the Fresh Party said he would not come for ‘security reasons’ (don’t ask me).
Mallam Nuhu Ribadu of the ACN and Chief Dele Momodu of the NCP had arrived but Governor Ibrahim Shekarau of the ANPP was on his way. It was not great news, knowing that Nigerians could tell you “I’m on my way” a whole day before they even embark on the trip. It was a live show and there was no way we would not go on air as planned.
It was eventually time to go live and we had been informed that Governor Shekarau was on the airport road, heading for the venue. We needed to stall the debate for 15 minutes but still go live. I was instructed to improvise and interact with the audience, to buy time.
Young Nigerians achieved against expectations – both with the organization and delivery on the one hand, and with viewing and responding on the other; and that for me, shows where Nigeria is headed.
Those 15 minutes eventually, became the highlight of the entire night for me. Being able to ask young Nigerians questions on live television and getting back quick intelligent answers on the spot unrehearsed. I dare say that some of the youths I got to speak with, sounded more prepared to rule Nigeria than a good number of our 19 presidential candidates. Unlike some candidates who asked to see the questions before they would attend any debates, these young Nigerians spoke off the top of their heads and impressed. I was thankful for Governor Shekarau’s delay.
The debate eventually kicked off and its unique nature was obvious: the questions from youths across the country, the video questions and audience participation. At the end of the day, millions of young Nigerians had been given the opportunity to watch these candidates speak on issues that specifically concern them. I, for one, particularly liked that the issue of the NYSC was debated.
Today, the debate is history and without a doubt, a huge success. Young Nigerians achieved against expectations – both with the organization and delivery on the one hand, and with viewing and responding on the other; and that for me, shows where Nigeria is headed.
Did I hear you ask who won the debate for me? Well, if you are talking fashion, then it had to be Shekarau. His all white everything was very eye catching. I rest… Y!