Monday, February 9, 2015

Let the debates begin

by Eze Onyekpere 
Do Nigerians expect debates by candidates who are expecting to take over governance at all levels after the February 2015 elections? 

What will be the purpose of these debates and what will they seek to achieve? Who should moderate these debates and how will Nigerians determine the credibility of the answers proffered by the candidates? 

These are trillion naira questions that demand deep dialogue, introspection and answers. The answers to these questions will help Nigerians to deepen democracy, make the right choices and set the agenda for governance and development over the next four years.

It is imperative to point out that debates need not necessarily be in the format of getting the candidates into a room to face each other or to espouse their ideas for some hours or minutes. It could be in the form of media engagements or even advocating and or responding to issues raised by opponents at rallies and other political forums. 

It could also come in the form of issues raised by persons and institutions that are not candidates contesting for office; for instance, the issues raised by Prof. Chukwuma Soludo in his recent article on the Nigerian economy.

Yes, Nigerians need to sit back and watch the candidates seeking office especially at the highest levels including presidency, governorship, etc, debate on the core challenges facing the nation. It is a biblical aphorism that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. A debate will allow Nigerians watch their President espouse ideas and ideals of governance without a prepared text; observe his demeanour, countenance and his ability to think out of the box. 

Yes, prepared statements and speeches are easy to read; although we have seen Presidents murder prepared speeches. A debate will even facilitate our understanding of whether the person who seeks to lead understands the intricacies of the manifestoes prepared for their party by its intelligentsia. 

Yes, paid intellectuals may prepare a party position paper – whether those to execute the position paper understand and believe in its contents is another matter altogether. It also allows us to gauge the intelligence quotient of the men that seek to lead us. 

The critical questions that will be thrown at the candidates will be topical and of relevance to the survival of the Nigerian nation and its citizens. They will range from the prevailing economic and social challenges to the big picture of asking the candidate to showcase the Nigerian dream.

In the debate, we may find out that the front runners are not the real men of ideas that will move our dear country to the next level and this offers us the opportunity to rethink and may be focus more on the men and women with greater lucidity and problem solving ability. We will be able to separate the wheat from the chaff and eventually make informed choices at the ballot. 

Nigerians expect a debate because we are part of the international democratic community; which is based on dialogue, logic and the power of persuasion. It will facilitate the demystification of primordial sentiments of religion, ethnicity and geography and pave the way for a ballot based on reason.

But who should organise the formal debates? The organisers must have and be seen to have credibility; they must be impartial and neutral and the outcome of the election should not directly affect their livelihood. 

Thus, the issues raised by the Buhari Campaign Organisation about the composition of the Nigeria Election Debate Group should not be the end of the proposed debates. The issues raised should be looked into by the organisers. If there are panel members that the Buhari campaign is uncomfortable with, they should be removed and replaced with neutrals. But the media to transmit the debate should not be a problem – whether it is the Nigerian Television Authority or African Independent Television or any other station. 

What they will transmit is the live coverage of the event. Indeed, it should be possible for presidential campaign teams to sit down and vet the moderators and come to an agreement so that no candidate will feel shortchanged.

The current and ongoing campaigns have not focused on the critical issues that will allow an undecided voter to make a choice. The campaigns have been negative, mainly focusing on the low points of opponents; have been abusive and in some instances, have been opportunities for hate speeches. The campaigns have been short on the forward looking positions of the parties and candidates.

The logical framework of addressing issues and challenges has been lacking in the campaigns and to a great extent, fallacies have been thrown at undiscerning Nigerians. Unfortunately, many Nigerians are falling for the fallacious arguments. The first major strand of fallacy has been the deployment of argumentum ad hominem (abusive and circumstantial); “the fallacy of attacking the character or circumstances of an individual who is advancing a statement or an argument instead of trying to disprove the truth of the statement or the soundness of the argument.” 

This will not lead the country anywhere; issues need to be responded to as they arise. The response of the Minister of Finance, speaking for the Peoples Democratic Party candidate to Prof. Chukuwma Soludo is a good example of an ad hominem response.
There is also the challenge of argumentum ad populum (popular appeal or appeal to the majority): “the fallacy of attempting to win popular assent to a conclusion by arousing the feeling and enthusiasms of the multitude.” 

Candidates try to latch onto popular challenges facing the nation, promise heaven on earth without telling the electorate how this will be achieved, the cost and where the money will come from. This is mainly done by the opposition and it is a clear example of this fallacy. 

Every candidate should be able to have a costed and realistic plan indicating the sources of the financing. Otherwise, campaigns will become forums for empty promises and disseminating a wish list of the parties.

This is the kind of fallacy that leads candidates after winning elections to state that they could not solve a national challenge because they underestimated the level of decay in the system. 

Opposition candidates are usually very guilty of this fallacy. Nigerians should also be wary of argumentum ad misericordiam (argument from pity or misery); “the fallacy committed when pity or a related emotion such as sympathy or compassion is appealed to for the sake of getting a conclusion accepted.” Nigerians partly fell for this when we voted for the man who ‘had no shoes.’ 

There are also argumentum ad baculum which is “the fallacy committed when one appeals to force or the threat of force to bring about the acceptance of a conclusion.” Those threatening that Nigeria will burn if their side of the divide do not win are employing the ad baculum argument.

Fellow Nigerians, we need a real national debate; a debate that is civil and not abusive; a debate not based on threats; a problem solving debate that will enlighten us sufficiently to make the rights choices. May God continue to bless Nigeria!

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