The two major presidential candidates, President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, APC, and Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, stayed away from yesterday’s presidential debate organised for five selected candidates to showcase themselves to the electorate.
In their absence, the trio of Oby Ezekwesili of Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, ACPN, Fela Durotoye of Alliance
for New Nigeria, ANN, and Dr. Kingsley Moghalu of Young Progressive Party, YPP, took the centre stage at the debate
organized by the Nigeria Election Debate Group, NEDG, in conjunction with the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria, BON.
The debate, moderated by Mark Eddo, was staged at the Congress Hall of the Transcorp Hotel, Abuja.
Atiku, who flew in from the United States, appeared for the debate but stepped aside from the stage on the grounds that Buhari was absent.
*The drama that led to his pulling out of the event started as he was being fitted with microphone preparatory to the debate.
He explained that he could not debate issues arising from Buhari’s policies in his (Buhari) absence.
Speaking as he walked out, Atiku said:
“I am walking out because I expected to come and debate with Mr. President. The President has been in office for the past three and a half years.
He is not here to defend that record. So who am I going to debate with? If he is on his way, when he comes, I will come back.
“I came back from the US to participate in this debate but the President is not here.”
The Senate President and Director-General of the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation, Senator Bukola
Saraki, who accompanied Atiku to the TranscorpHilton Hotel venue of the debate, also said:
“We have always made it clear to the organizers that our candidate is ready to debate with the President. When we were told in Washington DC that the
debate will take place, we thought the President will be here. Our candidate is ready to debate with the President anytime he is ready”
In a statement he released after he walked out, the PDP presidential candidate said: “We came here for a presidential debate, not a candidacy debate, and I, Atiku Abubakar, cannot challenge or question an administration
where the man at the helm of the affairs of the nation is not present to defend himself or his policies. After all, you cannot shave a man’s head in his absence.
“I do not believe in attacking a man who is NOT here to defend himself. As a leader and former vice president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, let me first
apologise to all Nigerians, my fellow candidates and the moderator for the APC Presidential Candidate’s absence in this debate. His non-appearance is a slight on ALL of us and our democracy.
“I, however, challenge President Buhari to choose a date and time for a debate where he will be present and I will be there, hopefully with the other candidates as well.”