by Osisiye Tafa
06: 50 pm – Security details loiter around the Shehu Yar-adua Centre. A steady stream of cars enter and exit. It is the venue of the ‘What About Us?’ debate – the highly anticipated presidential debate on youth matters. It has gathered a lot of buzz on social networking sites in preceding weeks. The event was slated to begin at 7p.m.
At the strike of the hour, the props are set and all wait anxiously for the words –Lights, Camera, Action! People mill around, chatting and engaging in quasi debates.
07: 20 pm – One of the organizers comes onstage and explains that the debate will kick off for 8 pm, owing to the late arrival of some candidates. At 7:30 pm, there is a rendition of the National Anthem. The compere – Ebuka Obi-Uchendu of Glo Concert and Big Brother Nigeria fame steps out to warm the crowd. The live feed starts to run, as he randomly questions people in the crowd on their expectations. Twenty minutes later, he hands over to the moderator – the amiable and witty writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
The candidates – Mallam Nuhu Ribadu of the Action Congress of Nigeria, Bashorun Dele Momodu of the National Conscience Party and Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau of the All Nigeria People’s Party step out to applause (the only time applause is permitted in the cause of the debate). The sitting arrangement is pre-determined by picking numbers from a bowl. The debate kicks off in earnest with a brief opening statement by Chimamanda.
The debate consists three sections interspersed by short breaks. The first section involves select policy areas. The policy areas include power, education, corruption, economy, security, poverty, wealth creation and employment. The moderator calls out an area of policy and a debater is expected to explain how he plans tackle it. This does not give room for confrontation, but they find a way around it. Ribadu fires the first salvo. After Shekarau proposes a higher teacher to student ratio as a personally tested policy to improve education, he replies ‘But Kano state has the poorest WAEC performance and 50% of the kids are not in school’.
Soon, the candidate’s styles show: Shekarau provides articulate answers and is prone to reel out statistics.
Ribadu fancies throwing jibes at his candidates: ‘I am not sure you were posted to Oyo’ at Momodu’s claim of NYSC redeployment, and ‘The president wastes our money buying jets to fly the first lady…’
And Momodu inadvertently puts a humorous slant to issues: ‘Even if he wanted to roast a whole cow, the president’s kitchen will not cost two million pounds’.
In the second section, they field questions from the online spectators – a feat made possible by the collaboration with Google. Questions come in for the incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathan, who is conspicuously missing. The utility of the NYSC program, low quality of our degrees and unemployment constitute topical issues.
The final section involves fielding questions from the audience.
Thirty seconds is allotted for the candidates to make their closing statements. Ribadu calls on the youths to vote for change as is happening in other countries. Momodu reminds all that he has ‘delivered before’ and will do so again, while Shekarau in classic statistic fashion reminds the youths that they constitute 70% of the demography and thus a lot lies on them in the forthcoming election. The candidates are asked to shake hands and the debate comes to a close.
Everyone left the debate hopeful at the turn Nigerian politics has taken; candidates now debate on ideas and pose for photographs after. I hope that all candidates will embrace this change. At the end of the program, the youths were applauded – for organization, their stellar display and their belief in a greater Nigeria.