In what would clearly be the first salvo towards rigging the 2019 elections, the Nigerian Election Debate Group (NEDG), leveraging on the auspices of the publicly-funded Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria
(BON), and using the platform of Channels Television, chose – with much impunity – to shrink the political space by announcing that it shall be hosting only 5 political parties for the grand debate of presidential candidates on the 19th January 2019, starting this Friday, 14th of December, 2018 with the vice presidential debate.
At a time when the love for motherland, as well as the need to rescue Nigeria from the abyss has led to the formation of many new parties and the stepping forward of many presidential candidates, the BON/NEDG/Channels TV coalition chose the path of exclusion, and opted to muffle the voices of vibrant political parties and their candidates using a very opaque and alarmingly secretive system in a time when every Nigerian platform is learning to be more open, inclusive, accountable and transparent. This they did by hosting a poll in which people are meant to vote blindly without being able to preview results. Before the curious and evidently manipulated ‘poll’, other platforms such as NigeriaVotes, citizenspoll.co.uk, and the Centre for Democracy and Development, among others, had conducted their polls on which political parties people desire to see at the debates, and they made their results very open (evidence attached). It was therefore jarring to see the poll by a supposedly prestigious BON/NEDG/Channels TV coalition where Nigerians were meant to vote for 10 parties of their choice rather than just one, and where we could not preview the progress of the vote. The poll was equally ended arbitrarily and observers already expressed opinion that the results will be equally arbitrary. The BON/NEDG/Channels TV group has lent itself to manipulation by the incumbent government and this is a sad day for Nigeria’s resurgent democracy. Asking people to vote for 10 parties also lends the process to ‘adverse selection’ whereby people may choose to vote for ineffectual parties just to DUMB DOWN the debates. What a strategy!
As can be seen in attached evidence, the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP), has always emerged among the top 4 political parties that Nigerians want to see in the debates. We believe we were deliberately excluded because our out-of-the-box views are not wanted by the Nigerian status quo, who want to continue to see Nigerians feed from the gutters while they maintain existing advantages. We urge that Channels TV and its founder/Chairman not lend themselves to such travesty, or jeopardize their hard-earned reputation because of pressure from places of power, or the need to maximize profitability. We therefore urge that this upcoming debate be immediately jettisoned and reviewed.
BON FUNDED BY TAXPAYERS
The Broadcasting Organizations of Nigeria (BON), being the secretariat of the NEDG, is a publicly funded organization despite being a conglomeration of broadcasting bodies. It is funded by taxpayers of which all presidential candidates are among. It is only fair that except they opt out, all presidential candidates be availed the opportunity to air their views and proffer urgent solutions to the Nigerian quagmire. BON is not some big boys’ club, or a secret society. It should be subject to the wishes of the Nigerian people and not take whimsical decisions. The current Chairman of the BON, Mr John Momoh should know better and advise the body accordingly. In fact, his reputation is put in double jeopardy as the chairman of Channels TV, Nigeria’s long-time award-winning TV station. It just cannot be worth it to sacrifice hard-won goodwill and global repute this easily.
A SHRINKING SPACE FOR DEBATE
In the age of social media where everyone has learnt to express themselves and everyone has a platform, it is totally unadvisable to shrink the space for debate. Why did the poll request for people to vote for the best 10, only to randomly announce 5 parties? Why not even 10 parties? Was it all a decoy? The below has been the trajectory of our presidential election debates since the return to democracy in 1999:
1999 – 2 Parties (AD/APP coalition and PDP) contested, both candidates were invited. PDP candidate did not show up for debate
2003 – 20 political parties fielded candidates, at least 9 debated (evidence attached)
2007 – 18 political parties fielded candidates. At least 4 debated
2011 – 20 political parties fielded candidates. At least 8 candidates were invited for debate (evidence attached)
2015 – 14 parties contested. ALL presidential candidates were invited. At least 11 attended (debate was done in two batches.
2019 – About 70 parties are fielding candidates. At least 30 candidates are not stepping down for anyone. On what basis is BON/NEDG/Channels TV inviting only 5 for debates which are now more crucial than ever, given the perennial failure of our recycled leaders? Is this the beginning of electoral fraud and de-marketing of parties that may not be ‘playing ball’?
It is therefore sad and alarming that Channels TV will have anything to do with the shutting down of the political space at a time when the burgeoning youth population of Nigeria deserve and demand more intellectual engagement on the political space. It is noteworthy, that on the advise of the Independent National Electoral Commission and out of its own magnanimity, Africa Independent Television (AIT) is presently giving a platform of 90 straight minutes of prime time to ALL presidential candidates, and 60 minutes for their running mates. We believe INEC should be able to advise BON/NEDG/Channels TV on this upcoming debate and their subtle disenfranchisement of many parties and their candidate. Relevant sections of the 1999 Constitution as amended, as well as the Electoral Act (as amended), as it pertains to giving a ‘level playing field’ to all parties, may be relied on. INEC is also hereby copied. INEC must rescue itself, and the next election from this terrible credibility overhang.
We urge once again that the upcoming debates be stopped and the entire process/format reviewed, because the process thus far has confirmed that indeed this era is more punitive, closed, nepotistic, brazen, lacking in credibility, intolerant, opaque, and unfair than ever before. We are also beginning to see that the predictions of those who believe that the next elections will not be free and/or fair is already coming to pass. In the event that the organizers of this upcoming charade ignore this communication, we shall be forced to escalate our actions. The long-suffering, patriotic, intelligent people of Nigeria do not deserve this disrespect and cheating.