by Isioma Osaje
The excitement was palpable as young Nigerians waited somewhat impatiently for the kick off of the “What About Us” Presidential debate. As voted by the Nigerian youths, six candidates were invited to the debate – President Goodluck Jonathan (PDP), Mr. Nuhu Ribadu (ACN), Chief Dele Momodu (NCP), Prof. Pat Utomi, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau (ANPP) and Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (CPC). I didn’t expect the President to be in attendance and I wasn’t surprised when he declined. It wasn’t a full house, but three out of six was something to be proud of.
Scheduled to begin at 7pm (GMT) – the debate, like others before it – ran a little late. As promised, novelist Chimamanda Adiche was assigned the duty of moderating the debate that had Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau and Chief Dele Momodu in attendance. I instantly knew we were in good hands. This debate was by no means the first of its kind, but it held a lot of significance for the youths of this country. For several young Nigerians, the performance of the candidates at the different debates would determine who we’d cast our votes for come April.
Formalities concluded; our Presidential candidates sought to impress us. If Shekarau was the erudite scholar, Ribabu was the zealot – albeit not as eloquent as the former – and in keeping with his businessman persona, Momodu was the affable host. Like a skilled warrior Chimamanda probed the candidates, asking well thought out and far reaching questions. As for the candidates, let me say this – they are maestros in the art of “dodge ball”. In what soon became a trend at last night’s debate, the candidates consistently deflected questions thrown at them.
At some point during the debate, Mr. Momodu told the other contestants that if elected, he had positions for them in his government. As expected, that drew diverse humorous reactions from the audience. I can’t help but ask: “is that why we are here?” Watching the debate, one could see the candidates were relaxed and at ease. No doubt, it must have been the comfy couches they lounged on for the duration of the debate. Mallam Shekarau – as we have come to expect, thanks to prior debates – impressed us with his eloquence. However he was in the habit of saying a “sit down” planning session was needed to solve most of our nation’s problems. If at this point, the candidates still say they will need to “sit and plan”, you can’t help but weep for Nigeria.
Not one to be outshone, Ribadu spoke with conviction. He scores an A+ for passion, but unfortunately all my doubts were not completely assuaged. Mr. Momodu, a businessman to the core, analyzed Nigeria’s problems with an eye unclouded from indulging in the game of politics. The candidates all agreed that the Nigerian youth is too important to be sidelined, given that 75% of the Nigerian population is made up of people 35 years old and younger.
The candidates speeches showed that they each had different priorities for the nation. Most notable amongst these were Shekarau’s views on education and Ribadu’s on electricity and the over dependence of Nigeria on the oil sector. Momodu’s major priority, as deduced from the debate, is youth empowerment and job creation. All these are laudable, but this certainly isn’t the first time we’ve heard such pledges. We hope if elected, the candidates will fulfil their campaign promises.
I believe the organizers of the “What about us” Presidential debate delivered on their promise. Last night we witnessed a debate focused on problems concerning the youth and Nigeria as a whole. Whether or not the candidates performed as expected or anticipated is another subject entirely. The important thing is this – this debate has revealed the strengths and shortcomings of the participating presidential aspirants. The ball is now firmly in our courts. Dear young Nigeria, I urge you to vote wisely. There is no doubt that this nation seems headed for disaster, and the April elections will determine if we sink or swim.
Remember R: Register, S: Select, V: Vote and P: Protect.
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