Presidential candidates of five political parties are set to take on themselves at a televised debate in Abuja.
The debates organisers, which include broadcasting organisations of Nigeria, listed five presidential aspirants who would take part in the debate when it kicks off at 7:00 p.m. at Transcorp Hilton Hotel.
Fela Durotoye, Atiku Abubakar, Oby Ezekwesili, Muhammadu Buhari and Kingsley Moghalu are the five aspirants invited to take part in the debate.
Debate organisers told PREMIUM TIMES Saturday evening that all the candidates have confirmed participation.
President Buhari, candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, was in Niger and Plateau States to commission projects and campaign today.
Mr Abubakar, who is of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, returned to Nigeria from his widely publicised first visit to the United States in 12 years.
Mrs Ezekwesili and Mr Moghalu also made campaign stomps for themselves over the past 24 hours.
The debate comes five weeks after Vice President Yemi Osinbajo took on the running mates of the remaining four presidential candidates in a similarly televised video presidential debate on December 14.
The economy was the major topic discussed at that debate, with security and foreign affairs getting sparse mentions.
Organisers are not saying much of what they might know about the scope of tonight’s debates, but security is expected to be thoroughly discussed this time around.
The Boko Haram insurgency remains a potent threat in Nigeria’s northeast, and so is banditry and kidnapping in the northwest.
Earlier this week, the National Bureau of Statistics said the country’s inflation had risen to 11.44 percent, marking yet another worrisome development on the economic front.
Notwithstanding the main topics of concentration, PREMIUM TIMES would bring you live updates as the debate unfolds. It is expected to last for two hours from 7:00-9:00 p.m.
Moderator Mark Eddo takes stage. He says what is needed from the candidates are solutions that will uplift the nation.
He welcomes on stage Eddi Emesiri, the executive secretary of the Nigeria Election Debates Group.
Mr Emesiri delivers a prologue that will usher in the introduction of the candidates.
A representative of the Nigerian Civil Society Situation room, Clement Nwankwo, is called to make an opening remark. He urges candidates to respect rules of election.
The candidates are called in alphabetical order.
The candidates of Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, Oby Ezekwesili, is the first to be brought on stage to a thunderous applause.
She is followed by Alliance for New Nigeria candidate Fela Durotoye and Young Progressives Party candidate, Kingsley Moghalu.
President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives’ Party and Atiku Abubakar, candidate of the People Democratic Party, who were invited for the debate are absent. They are among the five presidential candidates expected to sell themselves to Nigerians at the much anticipated event.
The National Anthem is now performed by Singer, Timi Dakolo and debate starts momentarily.
While the candidates debate in the hall, supporters of a presidential candidate, Omoyele Sowore, are protesting outside the venue against the non-inclusion of Mr Sowore and his running mate in the debates.
The three candidates participating in the debate Kingsley Moghalu, Fela Durotoye and Oby Ezekwesili have made their speeches, explaining why they are running for president.
President Muhammadu Buhari of the APC and Atiku Abubakar of the PDP are not participating in the debate.
The moderator said Atiku was in the hall but he decided at the lat minute not to participate.
The candidates are now going to answer questions on the economy.
The candidates are going to speak for two minutes on the economy.
Ezekwesili says her plan is to lift 80 million Nigerians out of poverty.
Moghalu says he will reduce government spending by going into a programme of recruitment and training. He said he will recruit 1.5 million policemen over the period of four years. Going to train those in the civil service.
Ezekwesili says she will revisit the Oronsaye Panel Report.
Each candidate has 10 minutes to give opening remarks. Young Progressives Party candidate Mr Moghalu was first to introduce himself. He says he will drive a youth led government.
ANN candidate Mr Durotoye goes next. He says he is the best man for the job.
Allied Congress Party of Nigeria’s Ezekwesili is the last of the three to make the first remark. She says she understands the political context of Nigeria. She says she is running for office to fix the Nigerian system. The former Minister of Education who described her self as a technocrat says he has the competence and character to rule the country.
Moderator Mr Eddo says PDP’s Abubakar was at the hall moments ago but left. “Mr Abubakar and his campaign director and Senate President Bukola Saraki were at the venue moments ago but left shortly perhaps after discovering President Buhari was absent”. He had earlier said he will only participate if Mr Buhari was on ground.
“I traveled back to Nigeria to debate Buhari but he is not here,” Mr Abubakar who returned from the US earlier today told journalists on his way out of the Abuja Venue of the event.
Meanwhile, YPP candidate Mr Moghalu is reeling out his economic plan if elected president. He tailors his plan around diversification of the economy. Mr Durotoye again goes next. He tailors his plan around agriculture.
Mrs Ezekweili says she will lift 80 million Nigerians out of poverty. Se says the best way to lift Nigerians out of poverty is by improving their productivity. She says her government will lift women out of poverty enormously. She says her government will remove barriers to productivity.
Mr Moghalu says his government will retrain people to be allowed in the federal civil service. “In two years my government will bring down the cost of current of expenditure in two years.”
Also on cutting cost for government, Mrs Ezekwesili promises her government will base her plan on analysis. She says her government will work with the private sector to cut down costs.
Mr Durotoye now taking questions on the deficiency of our taxing system. He says his government will reform the civil service institution in a way that Nigerians will get value from paying taxes. “We must reorient our people on how to pay tax,” he says.
On job creation, Mr Moghalu says his government will create incentives for digital work in rural and urban areas through technology. He says he will develop a startup nation through the ICT. “N500 billion will be sourced for job creation through the private firms,” he says.
Mrs Ezekwesili says she is not surprised President Buhari and PDP’s Atiku are not here. She says the duo just announced their exit by not attending the debate.
Mrs Ezekweili had earlier in an interview described APC’s Buhari and PDP’s Atiku as the old political class in what she described as BUTIKU team. She says our country needs to be rescued from the stronghold of a political class represented by Buhari and Atiku.
Mr Durotoye interprets Buhari and Atiku’s absence as the coming of a new era. “The future is here. It’s time for Nigerians to choose because old things have passed away. A pride comes before a fall. That is what it means,” he says.
Mr Moghalu also says he is not surprised the duo missed the debate. “They are not here because of arrogance. They believe they can do without you. They believe we are trapped. They are not here because they can not answer the questions,” he says. They are in the class of old politicians that have a sense of entitlements but have no record of performance. He describes their absence as total failure for the PDP and the APC.
“One of them is a kettle and the other is a pot and they call themselves black,” he says.
The trios description of Buhari and Atiku’s Absence is welcomed by the crowd with rounds of applauds.
Mr Eddo, the moderator, delves into the challenges of insecurity in Nigeria. The country currently ranks number three in the global terrorism index.
Mr Moghalu says his government will tackle corruption in the military. He says his government will tackle poverty in the North East which is feeding violence in the regions.
Mr Durotoye says his government will ensure proper welfare of the armed forces and the police. His government he says will integrate security intelligence with locals.
Mrs Ezekwesili says her government make it clear there is a new sheriff in town. She says there is no consequences for killing Nigerians. He promises to set up a SWAT team that will be based on intelligence and technology. She also proffers global collaboration as a way to fight insurgency.
On illegal migration, Mr Durotoye says his government will invest in strengthening our borders through technology and work with other countries on repatriation of illegal migrants.
Mr Moghalu takes question on how he will tackle kidnapping. He says his government will invest on training and bringing in 21st century security force.
She says her government will use skill acquisition programmes to create more jobs.
Mr Durotoye stresses the need for a complete overhaul of the curriculum of the education system so as to get young Nigerians job ready when they leave school.
Mr Moghalu, on struggle for Biafra, says he will make all Nigerians feel they are Nigerians. He attacks Buhari’s administration for skewed appointment of heads of security agencies in Nigeria. He says his government will be tailored on total restructuring.
The former minister of education is the first to go. Mrs Ezekwesili says education will become the new oil in her administration. Her government she says will make compulsory child education. She emphasizes the need for teacher’s training and says most of our teachers are semi qualified.
Mr Durotoye says his government will ensure the development of specialization among teachers. “We will ensure infrastructure and quality environment for education,” he says.
Mr Moghalu says his government will prioritize education. The YPP candidates says he will run an educational system driven by technology and original research. Mr Moghalu, a professor says he will end ASUU strike in Nigeria.
On the rise of degradation of government schools in Nigeria, Mrs Ezekwesili, a former world bank official, says her government will focus on the welfare of teachers so as to avoid incessant strikes.
ANN candidate promises to provide transport systems for students in government schools. Mr Durotoye who described himself as a product of public school system says his government will arrest parents who do not allow their children go to school.
Moghalu says he will make secondary school in Nigeria free if elected.
Mr Moghalu says his government will ensure universal health coverage in Nigeria. He says he will allot 15 percent to health in line with the Abuja declaration.
Nigeria hosted the Heads of State of member countries of the African Union (AU) in 2001 who made the “Abuja Declaration” under which the leaders pledged to commit at least 15 percent of their annual budgets to improving their health sector.
Since the declaration, Nigeria has not attained the pledged funding benchmark as the federal government has never voted more than six percent of its annual budget to the health sector.
The highest percentage since the declaration was in 2012 when 5.95% of the budget was allotted to health.
In the 2018 Budget proposal President Muhammadu Buhari presented on Tuesday to the National Assembly, he allocated N340.45 billion, representing 3.9 percent of the N8.6 trillion expenditure plan to the health sector.
The allocation is less than the 4.16 percent and 4.23 percent made to the health sector by the administration in the 2017 and 2016 budgets.
In July 2013, Nigeria again hosted over 50 African Heads of State in a special summit that was tagged ‘The Abuja +12 meeting”, which reviewed the progress made on the promise of the Abuja Declaration on health funding.
Mr Moghalu went ahead to attack previous government for not keeping up to the Abuja declaration of 15 percent for health budget.
He says N11 billion was budgeted for Aso rock clinic in just three years and yet there is no syringe or simple drugs there. He says the Basic health care provision fund is yet to be activated.
He also attacks government officials who frequently embark on medical tourism.
On health, Mrs Ezekwesili says her government will expand the National Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS. She says her government will end brain drain in the health sector.
Mr Durotoye tailors his plan for health to revamping the Primary Health Care system. He says the best way to solve the issue of health in Nigeria is by strengthening the PHCs. The ANN candidates says he will ensure total free health for citizens above 60 and under five.
Mr Moghalu says he will fund his plan by partly selling the NNPC.
Mr Abubakar, the PDP candidate, has repeatedly divulged his plan of selling NNPC as a quick way of revamping the Nigerian economy.
So far the three candidates are doing well in running an issue-based debate. They are yet to take shots at each other as was the case during the vice presidential debate when Peter Obi of the PDP and Nigeria’s Vice President and Buhari’s running mate, Yemi Osinbajo, did not leave any opportunity to take a swipe on each other unused.
The next segment will focus on corruption.
YPP candidate again speaks on uniting Nigeria. He talks about inclusive government. He believes his government will based on equal rights for all Nigerians and not on prejudice.
Mr Durotoye starts his plan on corruption by taking a swipe on Buhari led administration. He described the current administrations’ corruption mantra as selective.
He says his government will run a transparent campaign on corruption. He says he will make sure the judicial and security system is enforced in the fight against corruption. He also said he has plan for hastening corruption cases so it will not be stalled.
Mrs Ezekwesili says her government will ensure conclusive prosecution of corrupt officials.
On education of the girl child, Mr Moghalu says the topic informed her decision to choose a female vice president with passion for the girl child. “We will make sure that our young girls are protected against early maraiages.”
Mr Durotoye describes girl education as a priority for his government.
Mrs Ezekwesili, co-founder of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign, reels out challenges that keeps girls out of school. She says her government will provide incentives for parents so they can send their children to school.
She says it is the community that will enjoy from education of the girl child.
Candidates’ final statement
Mr Moghalu provides an electric statement that urges Nigerians to vote out the old order.
He says the APC and the PDP has brought our country to a sorry state. “The future will not be shaped by recycled leaders,” he says.
In an eloquent recap, Mr Durotoye says power shifts in Nigeria every 20 years. He gives a historical break down. He says this is time for a change.
Mrs Ezekwesili says this is the time for a new direction for Nigeria. She describes her leadership as that which will border on compassion and care. She urges Nigerians to vote for her.
The moderator, Mr Eddo, announces the end of the debate. He calls the candidates together to hold hands together.
The debate is currently coming to an end on a high note as Singer Timi Dakolo is called up again to perform.
Just as the event was kick-started with his scintillating solo performance, singer and guitarist, Timi Dakolo, steps up on stage again to give the crowd a memorable closure for the debate. The singer performs his motivational “great nations.” as both candidates and attandees hold hands.
Dakolo’s haunting voice throws the crowd into a peaceful silence. Eventually, the crowd joined him in the song.
“We rise, we believe in this nation… we believe in Nigeria and the hope she holds…”, the singer sings.
His performance ends as chants and claps reigns. The event nearing conclusion on a high note.
BON Director gives the three candidates certificates for attending the debate.
Still not heard enough of Timi Dakolo, the singer is now invited again on stage to close the event with a performance of the national anthem.
He starts this time softly but raptly, with the first two stanzas of the national anthem. His haunting voice and slow chords captivates the crowd’s attention as he signaled the end of the event.
The debate is final ended by the moderator.