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Pat Utomi asks INEC to make debate compulsory for candidates

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Pat Utomi

Professor of Political Economy, Pat Utomi, has urged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to disqualify candidates who refuse to participate in presidential and governorship debates. 

Speaking at World Press Conference organised in Lagos on Tuesday, Mr Utomi emphasised that open debates are a way to strengthen the social contract between the government and the people, adding that it also improves accountability. 

“We would like to make INEC insist that anyone who cannot participate in a debate should be disqualified from that election; especially at the presidential, gubernatorial and National Assembly levels.

“We should have open debates, and not one, not two, but multiple debates,” he said.

Political debates are not enshrined in the country’s electoral laws but media organisations and non-partisan groups have often organised debates for major candidates to expound their ideas during elections.

Some candidates have also avoided debates on many occasions to avoid scrutiny by the voting public. 

Mr Utomi’s call to debate might challenge political parties such as the All Progressives Congress (APC) whose candidate, Bola Tinubu, continues to avoid media interactions despite making public appearances. 

It is unclear whether the APC plans to discuss its manifesto on Live Television but the records of the outgoing Buhari regime is not promising. 

In 2019, the Buhari-led APC outing on a town hall meeting “The Candidates” was adjudged woeful by critics due to the president’s inability to coherently answer questions of significant policy and economic importance. The president and his team shunned the presidential debate that held days after in an attempt to avoid a repetition of awkward situations. 

Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) also refused to attend the debate upon hearing of Mr Buhari’s absence. 

Labour Party presidential candidate Peter Obi has been doing media rounds since his emergence in May and is considered the most articulate among the leading presidential hopefuls.