In this interview with KAMARUDEEN OGUNDELE, the Chairman of Buhari Media Organisation, Niyi Akinsiju, defends the President’s absence at the 2019 presidential debate penultimate Saturday
President Muhammadu Buhari did not attend the 2019 debate for presidential candidates. Don’t you think this is an affront to Nigerians?
The President sent his apologies because he couldn’t get out of Jos early enough. For him, it was a clear-cut case of intention to be available but was constrained by earlier confirmed official engagements. Nigerians are witnesses to the fact that he was out of town. The President has so much to say and has been going around campaigning to the frustration of the Peoples Democratic Party that thought he would not be able to go on campaign. Therefore, they became frustrated. The whole thing is that the PDP lacks strategic thought. They see things on the surface.
When the APC was strategising on how to go about the campaign, they were reading blind meaning to it. They forgot that campaign must have messages and momentum. The people are embracing the President anywhere he goes and they are excited about his presence. Comparing the reception of the president with the PDP is like comparing the day and night. Atiku could have used the advantage of the President’s absence to have a full day being the second most popular candidate. But we were not surprised that he fled the venue of the debate because from our analysis of their manifesto and what they bandy about as their blueprint, there are no fundamental initiatives; no fundamental direction in terms of thoughts and ideas. They know it lacks substance and has been a difficult thing to sell to Nigerians. They have abandoned talking about issues in the last few weeks because they know Nigerians are not receptive in whatever they are doing. He ran out of stage because he had nothing to tell the audience.
Was it not deliberate that the President shunned the debate to avoid confronting Atiku who had to withdraw because the President was absent?
Atiku’s defence has shown that all he came to do at the debate was to attack the President, thinking that would give him credibility. He couldn’t engage the other three participants. The debate wasn’t a Buhari-Atiku thing. The debate is to present your views to the people and let them judge. Anyway, Atiku’s absence has also reflected the shallowness and emptiness of the PDP’s campaign. They have embarked on pedestrian engagement and petty roadside articulation. The same PDP that said the APC was not campaigning because it planned to rig was the one now saying the President was being overstretched after he had covered eight states at a stretch. That is not how to campaign. You campaign on issues such as education and health; you campaign on the history of your performance, your integrity and so on.
What issues would the President have raised in a debate with Atiku?
The PDP had ruled us for 16 years. They should be talking about what they did in office and if they delivered on their promises. We can show them where they are coming from and their wickedness to Nigerians while in office. We can show them how they pushed Nigerians into poverty. By 2012, they had pushed more than 112 million Nigerians into extreme poverty living below $1 a day. Between 1999 and 2012, no fewer than 800 multinationals closed down their businesses in Nigeria. We can talk on how they held close to $1tn and could not start or complete any road project in their 16 years of history.
We can also talk about how they inherited about 6,200MW of power in 1999 and left it at 1,400MW in 2015 with a debt portfolio of $63bn. We can go on and on to talk about the shenanigans the PDP is all about.
Do you really have any justification for the president’s absence?
The President has apologised and explained his absence. He was in Niger State and left for Plateau State. It was in the news that the crowd that received him was so huge that he could not even address them. Leaving the venue of the campaign was a huge effort. It took him time to get out of the place and travel to Abuja. Knowing that time was against him, he sent word to the organisers that he wouldn’t be able to attend. That is respect to the people – that is acknowledging that people are waiting for you. That is different from the man who was at the venue of the event and decided not to participate. That is a man that took Nigerians for granted. What Nigerians wanted him to showcase was his so-called Dubai blueprint that has turned out to be a farce. Everything around it has been demystified as a complete thoughtlessness, hollowness and hopelessness. If you have fundamental issues to engage; if you have reflected on the problems and challenges of this country and you have evolved practical and creative solutions to them, you will be happy to present them to the people directly. If you have robust ideas, you will be excited to participate even without the incumbent. It shows that individual does not have anything to say and does not respect Nigerians.
Did the President regret not attending the debate because of Atiku?
History is on the side of Mr President. Of all the serious-minded presidential candidates, the President has made himself available over the years. He made himself available in 2003 when former President Olusegun Obasanjo was the incumbent; Obasanjo did not show up for debate. In 2007, the President made himself available but the late President Umar Yar’Adua, who was the PDP candidate, did not turn up. In 2011, the sitting President, who was also the PDP’s presidential candidate, Goodluck Jonathan, refused to turn up for the debate. If you have made yourself available three consecutive times and the other party did not make its candidate available, of course, you won’t respect such party. The President has shown consistency and commitment to the debate, and therefore, cannot be afraid of engaging anybody in a debate. Atiku has never turned up for debate. He was the candidate of the Action Congress in 2007. Did he attend the debate?