The Nigeria Election Debate Group (NEDG), on Sunday in Abuja, said one of its biggest challenges is the refusal of major presidential candidates to participate in the debates.
Mr John Ugbe, NEDG Chairman, said this at the opening of the national presidential debate, organised by the group in collaboration with the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON), some media organisations, the Transition Monitoring Group and some Civil Society Organisations as well as some foreign partners.
Ugbe added that in spite of the development, NEDG would continue to work tirelessly to promote transparency and accountability, to help the public make informed electoral decisions to grow the country’s democracy.
“For many years, our organisation has been dedicated to providing a platform for the candidates to express their views and answer questions from the public.
“Our goal has always been to promote transparency and accountability, and to help the public make informed decisions.
“However, as we all know, hosting a debate is not an easy task, there are many challenges and obstacles that we must overcome.
One of the biggest challenges the organisation faced is when a presidential candidate refuses to participate in the debate,” he said.
Ugbe said such behaviour not only undermined the democratic process, but also denied the public the opportunity to hear from the candidate and make an informed electoral decision.
He added that the development sends a message that such candidates are not willing to engage with the public, to listen to their concerns, or to be held accountable for their actions.
“It is a great disappointment that this has happened in this particular debate, but we must remember that the show must go on.
“We must continue to provide a platform for the remaining candidates to share their visions for the future and to answer the questions of the public,” he said.
He assured that the NEDG would continue to be a voice for the people, and would not let anyone, not even a presidential candidate stand on its way.
He prayed that the best presidential candidate would win the coming elections, and that the people would always come first.
Also speaking at the event, Mr Auwal Rafsanjani, Chairman, Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), thanked NEDG for the initiative, saying that debates were a form of political accountability all over the world.
He said debates are necessary because they give citizens the opportunity to hear directly from the candidates what they intend to do if elected into office.
“Therefore, all over the world, civil society and media and other non state actors are pushing to ensure that we have political debates as a form of accountability.
“Anybody running away from having political debate is running from accountability and it is not good.
“So, it is absolutely necessary as citizens, as patriotic Nigerians, that those who seek to govern us, should be able to tell us how they will run the country,” he said.
Rafsanjani said without such commitments from candidates, they would do otherwise when they get into office.
He added that transparency is guaranteed through debates because it would be difficult for anybody to deny what they are committed to during debates.
“So, transition monitoring group will continue to push and ensure that not only presidential debates are happening, but also gubernatorial debates.
“For those who have decided to come, it is a measurement of the fact that they are ready to account and we wish them all the best,” he said.
According to reports that out of the four presidential candidates that indicated interest to feature at the debate, according to the organisers, only Rabiu Kwankwoso, presidential candidate of New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), attended.
The presidential candidates of All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Atiku Abubakar and Labour Party, Peter Obi, did not make it to the debate.