ABUJA – On the heels of the controversy surrounding the ongoing presidential debates in Nigeria ahead of the 2023 general election, the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) has called on the National Assembly (NASS) to take steps to enact a law to make participation in presidential and governorship debates mandatory part of Nigeria’s electoral process.
The CNPP in a statement signed by its secretary general, Chief Willy Ezugwu, recalled that in the history of election debates in the country, it is either that some candidates deliberately refused to attend the debates or they were excluded by the organisers based on their prejudices.
According to the CNPP, legalizing the presidential and governorship debates will go a long way in helping the electorates to make informed decisions on the choice of the chief executive officer of a state or the Federal Republic of Nigeria or even the choice of a lawmaker to represent his or her constituency.
The CNPP added that in advanced democracies, like the United States where Nigeria borrowed her presidential system from, debates are not constitutionally mandated but they are considered an intrinsic part of the American electoral process such that no serious contender in the United States presidential race can afford to stay away from any scheduled candidates’ debates.
It noted that while Nigeria has been holding presidential and governorship debates, they have been everything but organized and mandatory for candidates to appear.
It observed that in Nigeria, media organizations and nongovernmental bodies have attempted to set up platforms for presidential and governorship debates but participation remained at the discretion of the candidates or that of the organizers, adding that over the years, organizers select preferred candidates they considered to be top contenders and unjustly excluded the rest of the contestants, thereby failing to provide a level playing field for all candidates to participate.
The CNPP believes that for election debates by candidates to achieve the intended purposes, there is a need to make governorship and presidential debates mandatory for all candidates and their political parties to participate.
It said that candidates’ debates should be consciously made a veritable platform for the general public to screen persons seeking to represent them at any level in government through elections and as an avenue to increase political participation in the country.
The CNPP, therefore called on the National Assembly to immediately set up modalities for making it customary for the candidates to engage in a debate as part of Nigeria’s electioneering process, especially at the presidential and governorship levels in the first instance, adding that this can be achieved by enacting a law for the establishment of a National Commission on Election Debates (CED), with a mandate to organize debates for candidates in Nigeria.
“The commission should be empowered to appropriately sanction candidates that fail to participate, including imposing severe penalties in form of fines, among others.
“If it takes Nigeria a constitution amendment to achieve this, it will be a legacy achievement worth leaving by any administration as the overall gains of establishing such a Commission for the purposes of developing and deepening the Nigerian democracy cannot be quantified in monetary terms,” it said.
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