By: Joy Odor/Abuja
The Bill that will make participation in political debates compulsory for all candidates into the offices of the President and Vice President as well as those of the Governors and Deputy Governors of various States has passed second reading in the Senate.
The bill, which seeks for an Act to amend the Electoral Act to give legislative backing for the Independent National EIectoral Commission (INEC) to organise and conduct such debates was sponsored by Senator Abdulfatai Buhari (APC Oyo North).
Senator Buhari, while leading the debates on the bill, which was read first time on the floor of the Red Chamber on Tuesday, November 19, 2019, said “if considered and passed by the Senate, will strengthen our democracy and bring it in conformity with the practice of other renowned democracies of the world.”
He cited example of the United States where it has become customary for the main candidates of the two largest political parties; the Republican and Democrat to engage in debates, noting that the exercise has enabled the electorates not only to know about the personality of the candidates but also about their lifestyle, belief, reaction to national issues and foreign policy.
“All this information will inform the electorates on the position to take during election.
“Infact, the exposure made possible by mandatory political debate will definitely save the country from electing a tyrant,” he stressed.
He said the Election Debates Bill, if passed into law shall be used to sample the candidates’ knowledge on a wide range of issues, like a detailed analysis of how they intend to drive the economy, foreign, health and education policies among others.”
In his contribution, Senator Ibrahim Oloriegbe (APC Kwara Central), said, “when aspirants are tested through series of debates, their employers, which is the electorate, would be able to assess their capability for the job they are applying for.”
Also, Senator Solomon Adeola (APC Lagos West), said the the bill would give Nigerians a clue about aspirants and their capabilities to govern the country.
But Senator Danjuma Goje (APC Gombe Central) stated that an independent body, not INEC, should be allowed to conduct the debate, pointing out that “if INEC assigns mark and announce winners of the debate, it may affect candidates’ chances during elections.”
In his own, Senator Barau Jibrin (APC Kano North) said even though debate served as platform to showcase candidates’ capabilities, it should be made optional, but Senator Matthew Urhoghide (PDP Edo South) said it should carry some elements of compulsion.
President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, in his remarks, noted that INEC already has enough responsibilities, and therefore should not be given another one capable of overburdened the commission.
Lawan also warned that INEC, being a government agency might face some difficulties in organising the political debates, especially from candidates in the opposition parties who may decline participation in such exercise.
“Going the way of other countries, independent people and those who desire to be part of organizing the debate, right from now, should remain non-partisan.
“If they show any partisanship now and, in the next three years, want to organize debate, it will cause some difficulties in getting people to participate.
“Debate is an opportunity for the candidates to present themselves to the people, and for the voters to x-ray the candidates and make good or bad judgment about them” he stressed.