The January 19th Presidential Debate was arguably the most anticipated event in the build up to the presidential elections of February 16, 2019. This year’s presidential elections have been unofficially dubbed a straight two-horse race between the incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress and his formidable foe in the person of Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party. This is naturally so because in terms of personality and the party structures, not many people vying for the seat of the number one person in Nigeria can boast of commandeering both.

Therefore, you can begin to appreciate why many Nigerians were really keen on having these two political storms up in our faces on Saturday the 19th. Especially when you consider that the Vice Presidential Debate that held sometimes in December was a straight battle between their deputies, as others were mere fillers and spectators.

However, an opinion I wish to maintain is that our misfortune as a nation going into 2019 elections, is that we have been cursed with having great individuals and characters as deputies of obviously flawed principals. It may be uncontestable in the purview of the average Nigerian than both the APC and the PDP have a better choice for the office in their Vice Presidential candidates. It is as though, they made the choice of their presidential candidates high and drunk at night and only picked the deputies when the hangover was cleared and the sun was out. So the deliberateness of choice is evident in the choice of Professor Yemi Osinbajo and Peter Obi respectively.

As a result of expectations been raised by the presence and fluidity of the Vice Presidential Debate, not a few Nigerians queued up at petrol stations to obtain PMS to power their generating sets, whatever the make. In a country where you celebrate the few moments you see electricity in your home, it is not uncommon to buy fuel as the main source of power. This a debate nobody wanted to miss. An opportunity to closely access the character and astuteness of both septuagenarians vying for the most coveted seat in the country. Many fans of football had to ditch their club loyalties, it was time to be Nigerian first before Arsenal or Chelsea in faraway London. Albeit, by 7pm the match was already decided, fans of Arsenal had more enthusiasm to watch the debate on empty stomachs with a bellyful of smiles.

At 6:45pm, the sound of generating sets being powered up blared the streets of Lagos and certainly all over Nigeria, as many as were unkindly dealt with by whatever Disco company handled their electricity. The streets came alive and Nigerians became patriots again.

What started off as a night of great expectations ended up in great disappointment and despair, even before the debate began, as both men decided there were better things to do than honour the call to reason. A wise friend once told me that: “when you don’t want to do something, you can always get a thousand excuses to get away with it and when you want to do something, a thousand excuses is not enough to stop you.” I will let that sink in a bit and allow you draw your inferences. Of course both men resorted to Twitter to offer excuses and reasons why they could not go through with the debate and neither considered it too much of a big deal to miss.

Nigerians were motified, and it seemed that all of our collective intelligence got insulted by these two larger than life characters. What was prior the debate pitched to hold a great index for determining the direction of not a few informed voters thumb, suddenly became a classroom lecture. At the end of the night, while the debate still continued, many people switched their channels to either African Magic Yoruba or Zeeworld, at least the plot in ‘Twist of Fate’ was not as complicated as this.

In the build up to the debate, a lot of satires and banters have been all over the web space indicative of the average person’s skepticism in President Buhari honouring the invitation. In a sane clime, the president as a sign of respect to a few of us that believe he is not afraid of microphones, he could have honoured the debate or ask for a rescheduling way ahead of Saturday, if he knew it could clash with his campaigns and rallies. He was a no show and most Nigerians, disappointed as they were, were not surprised, at the very least, for the real surprise would have been if he had turned out. I wanted that surprise.

On the other hand, the expectations were different on Atiku as many were really looking forward to having him on the podium. After all, his short publicity stunt of a trip to the United States of America and spending a night in one of the most expensive hotels in the USA had put his name on the front porch of national debates. And his swift return just in time for the debate means he had all intentions of attending the debate come what may. However, H.E Alhaji Atiku Abubakar did come to the debate venue and once he was informed that the incumbent was a no show, he took off without looking back. In local parlance that would read: “he pick race like whu dysentery dey worry.” His excuse? He could not bear the ignominy of debating with the small boys as a big masquerade.

The decision by the former Vice President to abandon the podium on the excuse of the absence of his arch-nemesis reminds me of school life. Those days of ignorance, there was always what is known as formation during exams. The subjects would be shared according to ability and interests and the formation of information flow well crafted. That way, everyone’s success is critical to the formation. Once in a while, an evil genius of an invigilator would discover the formation scatter it. The moment it is scattered, everyone else in the team, except the one whose job it was to prepare for that particular paper and feed the rest of the team, is left in limbo. In such a case, one by one the team begins to submit and leave the hall because there is nothing much to do. Like the Nigerian proverbs would say: “breeze has blown and the fowl’s anus is exposed.”

Quote me not, I did not infer to say that Atiku’s preparation for the debate had been centred on the appearance and answers to be supplied by Buhari. And like a student of formation, when he got into the hall and realised his partner had called in sick, he left with a running stomach. Maybe, you can qoute Kingsley Moghalu instead when he said: “one is kettle and the other is pot but they both call themselves black.”

However, as insulting and degrading their conspicuous absence at the debate is, we must appreciate that it does not mean much to the outcome of the elections. The politicians know this and that is why they take rallies and campaigns much more seriously. Nigeria is not the United States of America nor the United Kingdom, whose democracy is an over seventy feet tall giant. Ours is at best a millipede; very fragile, primitive in structures and abilities. While debates and public polls mean a lot and can do a lot of damage to the ambitions of politicians in such climes, here it is a different reality, unfortunately. We must appreciate our democracy as it at present, we haven’t grown in the past twenty years. If at all we grew an inch of height at any time, like in 2015, then we receded two inches almost immediately.

It may be an established fact that in the history of presidential debates, Nigeria is going to have to pick between two Presidents that did not honour the debate. For the first time we know for certain, before the results are counted and collated, that we would have a president who did not attend his debates.

However, come February 16, 2019, it would not be an issue of elections but of choice. It is the choices that face us as a nation and at the end of the evening, nobody can dare say we did not have a choice at a better alternative, whichever way the pendulum swings.

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