The culture of election debate in Nigeria


According to the International Growth Centre, a global research Centre, “Well-functioning democratic structures and strong political governance are central to economic development. However, a lack of information about elections in younger democracies can weaken the accountability of elected politicians and, consequently, decision-making.” Political information can be difficult to access in developing countries because of fledgling democratic structures and poor media penetration. Citizens may vote for candidates with little knowledge of their policy stances, qualifications, previous performance, or potential remit.  The IGC research in Ghana and Sierra Leone revealed that “voters showed improved awareness of specific candidates, their policies, and general political knowledge for several weeks after viewing a debate.” Furthermore, “participants reported that debates helped inform their choices at the ballot box. They were more likely to vote for candidates who shared their policy priorities and for higher quality candidates.” Election debates are therefore very important for political accountability.

In Nigeria, the culture of election debate has been cultivated since 1999 and is being nurtured by the media and civil society organisations. The Nigeria Elections Debate Group is a coalition of broadcast organisations, civil society organisations and professional groups who are committed to the deepening of democracy in the country and the entrenching of an enduring democratic culture through organised television debates since the return to democratic rule in 1999. Since then, the group has put together debates to enable the Nigerian electorate to have the opportunity to hear firsthand from aspiring presidential candidates, their intentions and aspirations through an equal opportunity platform. The NEDG has since transformed into a broad based non-partisan, non-profit making organisation with the primary mandate of organising and hosting live televised debates for all presidential, vice presidential and governorship candidates in Nigeria.

Ahead of the 2023 general elections and even before the official flag off of campaign period on September 28, 2022, many associations such as the Nigerian Bar Association and Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria have used the opportunity of their annual conventions to invite presidential candidates in the forthcoming general elections to come and talk to their members and by extension, the Nigerian public.

Recall that at the NBA Annual General Meeting, which was held in Lagos in August 2022, the presidential candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party and the Labour Party, Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi respectively, were present at the event. The vice-presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Kashim Shettima, was also present to represent the presidential candidate of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.


While many of the participants hailed the Labour Party candidates during their appearance on August 22, the dressing of Shettima became a needless distraction and an issue, especially on the social media with many knocking him for wearing ill-fitted suit and canvas shoe. Of course, this was robustly defended by the APC loyalists.

On October 12, 2022, the presidential candidate of the African Action Congress, Omoyele Sowore, and Obi attended the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria’s conference in Abuja. Other presidential candidates present were Prof Christopher Imulomen of the Accord Party and Prof Peter Umeadi of the All Progressives Grand Alliance. Tinubu and Atiku were absent. Although the running mate of the PDP and New Nigeria Peoples Party candidates represented their principals at the event.

The first in the series of political debates ahead of the 2023 general elections took place last Sunday, November 6, 2022. It was tagged, “Presidential Town Hall Meeting on Security and Economy.” It was organised by Arise News Channel, in collaboration with Centre for Development and Democracy and other partners, such as the Vanguard, Premium Times, Leadership, Daily Trust, and Nigeria Union of Journalists. At the meeting were Obi; NNPP presidential candidate, Rabiu Kwankwaso; PDP vice-presidential candidate, Ifeanyi Okowa, who stood in for Atiku; and the presidential candidate of the Peoples Redemption Party, Kola Abiola.

I have been interviewed on the outcome of the town hall meeting by no fewer than three media stations, both print and electronic. In fact, I was on Daily Politics with Idayat Hassan, the CDD Executive Director on Monday night on Trust TV to review the debate. Earlier, I had been interviewed by a THISDAY newspaper correspondent and was also on Citizen 93.7 FM Abuja to discuss the inaugural presidential debate. I’m amused by the intrigues and drama that played out during and after the programme. The unruly behaviour of a section of the participants who disrupted the take-off of the programme by over an hour by their shout of “no representation by proxy” is reprehensible. The altercation between Obi and Senator Dino Melaye was also uncalled for. However, it is totally not unexpected that such a high profile event would take place without some issues.

Most unfortunately is the accusation levelled against the organisers for the replacement of the APC candidate with that of the PRP when the former could not attend or send a representative. The explanation that it was based on the availability of Kola Abiola, and the fact that many other candidates that were approached to take over Tinubu’s slot turned down the offer based on shortness of time for preparations fell on deaf ears. Some of those who took to the social media to call out the organisers wished they were the one appointed to take Tinubu’s slot and not Abiola. What these critics failed to know is that the organisers reserve the right to invite people based on their discretion. Many have also queried why LP, NNPP, PDP and APC candidates were shortlisted to be the first batch of the candidates to be grilled and drilled at the town hall meeting. They chose to ignore the organiser’s claim that it was based on their online and offline survey conducted ahead of the town hall. Not even the assurances that all the 18 candidates would have equal opportunity to feature at the town hall meetings, albeit in batches, was able to placate the aggrieved.

Truth be told, those who pick holes in the organiser’s methodology and decisions should note that town hall meetings and debates are just a few of the opportunities available to them to sell their candidacy. They can organise rallies, get canvassers to work the phone for them, use billboards, organise road shows, use political advertisements on radio, television and social media to market themselves. It is not an aberration or anomaly to have dominant political parties in every democracy. The truth is Nigeria is a de jure multiparty state but de facto a two-party country i.e. APC and PDP. How many Nigerians know that though the Democratic and Republican parties are dominant in the United States, there are indeed 209 state-level ballot-qualified political party affiliates in the US as at December 2021? Likewise, despite the domination of the Conservative and Labour parties in the United Kingdom, how many people are aware that as at August 2, 2019, the Electoral Commission of the UK showed the number of registered political parties in Great Britain and Northern Ireland as 408?

I can safely predict that the next President of Nigeria shall come from any of these three presidential candidates: LP, APC, and PDP. The NNPP candidate will be a beautiful bride to be courted in the event that none of the earlier mentioned three wins on the first ballot. The possibility of a run-off in the 2023 presidential election is very high. This is why I have enjoined the Independent National Electoral Commission to embark on political education on how a winner emerges in an election, especially the presidential election as contained in section 134 of the 1999 Constitution. As for the APC presidential candidate who wished not to participate in any election debate, the electorate will have the final say. By the way, all organisers of election debates should engage sign language interpreters in order to ensure that the deaf are able to follow through the proceedings.

– Twitter: jideojong

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