For an assessment of the four candidates who debated last Saturday, Journalist Nicolas Ibekwe’s scorecard is quite precise. The quality of the conversation in Osogbo, to put it kindly, fell short of expectations. Low on policy arguments and more a palace-chiefs kerfuffle for and against rotating Governorship to benefit the state’s senatorial zones, those for whom this was their first view of an electoral debate would not be looking forward to more.
The September 22 elections in Osun state will be contested by five major candidates: Fatai Akinbade of the African Democratic Congress (ADC), Moshood Adeoti of the Action Democratic Party (ADP), Gboyega Oyetola of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Iyiola Omisore of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Senator Ademola Adeleke of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). For reasons that have got him mocked and chastised, the latter failed to show up to the debate his place at the podium empty for the entire period of the conversation moderated by Seun Okinbaloye, Channels TV’s political anchor. Adeleke, if he had been present, could have done something to liven up the bland affair; a dramatic unveiling of his WAEC result would have quelled current anxiety in his party and provided more talking points beyond the back and forth about zoning.
Mr Oyteola, the APC’s candidate, showed up to the event late and, presumably with the entitlement that goes with being the ‘anointed’ of the incumbent, thought little of the need to apologize for his lateness. As the outgoing Aregbesola’s chief of staff, Oyetola is supposed to be the organizer who ensures that operations in the Governor’s office run like an efficient network of machines. Suffice to say lateness was not a good demonstration for leading a state that has teetered between local dysfunction and federal distraction. Like Uche Nwosu in Imo state, another chief of staff making the transition upon anointment, Oyetola may already see himself as the “incoming Governor” which would make showing up to the debate more a courtesy that bears no implications for his rubberstamped destiny. And like those who wave and cheer to Nwosu in Imo state, many also believe this for Oyetola.
It is desirable for candidates to debate before elections. Among other benefits, audiences not voting in elections get a feel of the contestants’ policies and lessons can be transferred. Good debates are products of prepared contestants who rehearse their points and are composed and confident in delivering them. But a culture of good debates cannot be artificially created. The public expected to listen and act directly on the proceeds of the debate have to be actively engaged themselves. If the voting public are neither interested nor discussing the issues, all analysis of debates will be for record purposes only. Politicians know this and take advantage by sticking to the bare minimum: “Good governance is turning the state’s economy around, payment of salaries, job creation and youth and women empowerment”, one of the cliché’s of the day from Adeoti.
Debates by aspirants to leadership positions will bear most fruit when they can be held to the things they say by those going to the polling units. Without that fear, candidates like Oyetola can turn up late and pledge to the incumbent, stick to a populist script on zoning as Akinbade did, or, like Adeoti, express frustration all day for not being favored by the Governor. If the debate is to have purpose, poll figures conducted after should reflect the feedback of the public on whom they thought spoke to their interests and should give likely outcomes for the main event. The viewing public, for the time they will spend watching, deserve to be able to employ the words and mannerisms of the debaters for or against them on Election Day.
We don’t even know how many Osun people watched the debate. On account of reviews of the candidates’ performances, it is unlikely a lot will be anxious to look up highlights on YouTube. Factors other than the ability to unambiguously explain one’s policy and leadership ideas determine elections and that is fine, but if the view is that it does not matter – as the candidates seem to have shown – then everyone with an interest in ensuring accountability of public officials must retain rolled up sleeves and dusty boots.