By Tonnie Iredia
Each time I come across a statement by the different support groups and campaign managers of some political parties, I am immediately reminded of certain issues that are yet to change in politics and elections in Nigeria.
One of them is the ease with which the closest sect of loyalists to Nigerian leaders complicate their tenures.
It has become the practice for candidates who had during electioneering campaigns rolled out numerous programmes and policies to renege on or deemphasize them once they assume office.
Each of them is always able to do so even without blinking because of the covert influence of ‘cabals’- a recent more popular nomenclature for powerful loyalists who position themselves to call the shots from the corridors of power.
Painfully, most of the shots which clearly portray absolute power hardly help the respective principals to sustain the built-up hopes and expectations of the electorate.
It is certainly unwise for leaders to allow their followers to drive their dreams or to in any way suggest that they are incapable of making independent decisions.
During the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan such political loyalists were quite active dissuading the then president from decisions he would ordinarily have made; a good example being the cancellation of his planned visit to comfort the Chibok community where hundreds of young female students had been abducted.
Indeed, every opportunity was seized at that period of insecurity to use ‘security advice’ to rationalize every action or omission by government.
At a point, the nation’s independence anniversary celebrations were moved from the Eagle Square into the Villa.
Could it be true that our military were incapable at the time of securing the Square? No one appeared to have fully appreciated the propensity of such decisions underscoring the invincibility of the insurgents and inflicting more fear on the public.
When therefore the then opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) promised to change the precarious situation, not many found cause to doubt the party’s campaign team but it didn’t take long for the APC to fully inherit the same trait we had all thought belonged to only the PDP.
Those who have keenly followed the activities of the Buhari administration would readily agree that the president is always patient with his appointees allowing each one, ample opportunity to exercise his or her discretion while implementing their assignments.
Despite several public outbursts, he gave the immediate past service chiefs more than enough room to make it.
But vice president Osinbajo has not been that lucky. After the opportunity he had during Buhari’s long medical leave to the UK, there was no more.
Those who imagine that it was close loyalists of the president that worked against Osinbajo have a point because how he has been handled is not consistent with Buhari’s liberal posture of delegating duties to subordinates.
Those who argue that Buhari did not need to handover during trips not exceeding 21 days are probably enjoying the cabal status because everywhere, the standard practice is for a president to handover if he or she would be away for even one day.
The 21-day limit in our Constitution is when his refusal to handover is to be formally challenged by the legislature.
Supporters of our current leading candidates for the 2023 elections are already showing signs that they are anxious to set up the dreaded cabal team if their principals are elected.
Nowhere else is this more obvious than the ruling APC where handlers of Candidate Bola Ahmed Tinubu are not allowing the man to be himself. Presidential debates, the world over constitute the highest and most exciting form of political broadcasts.
Understandably, that is the form which creates room for diametrically opposed viewpoints to be canvassed by candidates in one forum for meaningful comparison by voters for informed decision making.
Although some of our candidates in the past, always out of fear, shunned presidential debates, Nigeria cannot continue to replace debates with boring party talks in which everyone makes claims that are not interrogated by others.
That format is certainly unexciting, though it can coexist with other forms.
The decision of the APC candidate to shun political broadcasts organized by Arise TV is unfortunate.
To start with, Arise TV is today closest in proactive performance to John Momoh’s leading Channels TV, making it obvious that it can easily attract viewers. Besides, the station is just one of the organizers of the programmes which include many other credible organs.
As a result, having a misgiving with just one of the organizers is insufficient to deprive Tinubu from using such a popular platform to attract votes through a good debate.
The controversy as to whether or not Section 22 of our Constitution compels the candidate to appear in a debate should not be used to hold-on to the letter rather than the spirit of the law.
This is because if any candidate is free to ignore any medium, such a candidate would be deliberately stopping the particular medium from performing a constitutional mandate.
This is why Tinubu should attend every debate especially where his competitors are present. To be the only absentee among the select few is open to several interpretations by different people.
More importantly, the impression being created that Tinubu cannot stand a debate is not only untrue, it is a seed sown and frequently watered by some of his followers who are probably nursing the secret ambition of serving as cabals.
The performance of Tinubu at Chatham House last week shows clearly that he is quite fit to speak to any audience.
He even danced with vigour to Kizz Daniel’s ‘Buga’ after the Chatham House outing. Indeed, the question that was best answered at the Chatham forum was the one on his real identity and credentials which he personally answered.
His decision to ask one of his followers to answer the question on foreign policy for example was unnecessary having himself in his opening remarks clearly stated the expedience of predicating foreign policy on domestic policy.
In other words, his decision to delegate some followers to answer some cheaper questions only showed that he was anxious to formally compliment some of his powerful followers.
In fact, the argument that the candidate wanted to show that he is a man who is good at delegating powers is exceedingly weak because before he is elected as president, he has no presidential powers to delegate.
This does not derogate from the fact that he has a powerful team of former and present governors etc.
Perhaps it is necessary at this point to draw the attention of the APC to the ‘Uses and Gratification Theory’ in Mass Communication which has since established that people deliberately seek out the particular medium which satisfies their specific needs.
Therefore, it is viewers and listeners in the case of broadcasting that ultimately make a choice of which medium to tune to and which of its programmes to get exposed to.
For this reason, APC ought to pursue her public enlightenment and voter education schemes by utilizing every opportunity to reach the different segments of the society.
It is self-hurting to unwittingly ignore any medium because that would automatically shut out voters who prefer to patronize the particular medium that was so treated.
Undoubtedly, other competitors who do not engage in such discriminating practice would at the end of the day gain more media leverage and greater public attention.
The point to be made is that the period of political broadcasts is not a time for fighting media enemies, real or perceived. Rather, it is a time for aggregating all available chances for selling a candidate.
The personal appeal by Tinubu on Channels TV for undecided Nigerians to quickly make up their minds and vote for him as the most credible candidate according to him is stronger than several press releases; it would be strongest if made in a debate.
As previously articulated by this column, other candidates particularly Peter Obi who has always spoken, should never shun opportunities to further elucidate on their campaign promises and manifestos.