By Dayo Komolafe, News
The Nigerian Elections Debate Group (NEDG) was founded in 1999 to deepen Nigeria’s fledgling [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”10″]democracy at that time.
The NEDG is a coalition of broadcast organisations, civil society organisations and professional groups that are committed to the entrenchment of an enduring democratic culture in Nigeria via organised television debates since the country’s return to democratic rule in 1999.
Since then, the group has been putting together debates so as to enable the electorate to have an opportunity to hear first-hand the views, intentions and aspirations of aspiring presidential candidates through an equal opportunity platform.
It was, however, in 2003 that the bodies, which mooted the idea behind the group’s creation, actually merged to form the NEDG.
Eight years later, 2011 to be precise, NEDG became officially registered and its certificate of incorporation at that time was signed by some organisations.
The signatories are Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), DAAR Communications, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Alliance for Credible Elections, Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and Transition Monitoring Group.
The stakeholders in the NEDG project have since been expanded to include Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), National Council for Women Societies in Nigeria (NCWS), Electoral Reform Network, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre and Centre for Democracy and Development.
NEDG has since developed into a broad-based non-partisan, non-profit making organisation with the primary mandate of organising and hosting live televised debates for all presidential, vice-presidential and gubernatorial candidates in the country.
Observers particularly note that the debates provide the opportunity for Nigerians to evaluate and estimate candidates of different political parties as well as their parties’ programmes, policies, manifestos and plans.
They add that the NEDG forum also provides a unique opportunity for the candidates to address millions of Nigerians in their homes simultaneously, an advantage which campaign rallies cannot provide.
It is pertinent to note that the NEDG has successfully organised debates in the lead-up to the elections of 2003, 2007 and 2011.
The group is now planning to organise vice-presidential and presidential debates on Wednesday, Jan. 28, and Thursday, Jan. 29, respectively as a prelude to the Feb. 14 presidential elections.
Prior to the two debates, the NEDG has organised the Town Hall Meeting, in which the managers of the parties’ presidential campaign organisations highlighted their candidates’ strengths and plans for the citizenry.
In the Town Hall meeting held on Saturday, Jan. 24, only the Director-Generals of the presidential campaign organisations of Kowa Party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), United Progressives Party (UPP) and the Citizens Popular Party (CPP) participated
They spoke on different aspects of the manifestos and programmes of their parties so as to guide the electorate in making informed choices at the polls.
However, Mr Sola Omole the Director-General (D-G) of the NTA and Chairman of NEDG’s Board of Trustees, who noted that only four of the 14 invited parties attended the meeting, said that the group could only invite parties but could not compel their participation.
“All that we can do is to invite everybody, which is what we did and so, participation and attendance is left to them.
“This is a platform that we are providing free so that political parties can come and educate Nigerians about their programmes.
“My hope and appeal is that everybody should take advantage of the opportunity,” he said in an interview after the Town Hall meeting.
The other members of NEDG’s Board of Trustees include Chief Raymond Dokpesi, Chairman of DAAR Communications, Malam Ladan Salihu, D-G of FRCN, Mrs Sally Mbanefo, D-G of NTDC and Malam Abubakar Jijiwa D-G of VON.
Mrs Eugenia Abu, a member of the board, told a news conference after a recent meeting of the board that the coming vice-presidential and presidential debates would enable the electorate to make better choices in the Feb. 14 elections.
“That is the belief of NEDG and that is the much reason why it was set up.
“So this year, it is expected that carrying the political parties along to the debates would ensure that Nigerians see all of them and listen to issues-based debates.
“This is what NEDG is working so assiduously to achieve,’’ she added.
Another member of the board, Alhaji Abubakar Jijiwa, VON’s D-G, said that “we are going to use independent, credible people to draw questions for the presidential candidates.
“The questions are the things that are natural for candidates to tell Nigerians about their policies and what they are going to do if elected.’’
Jijiwa said that the group believed that the instrumentality of the debate would give Nigerians the opportunity to make informed choices while casting their votes during elections.
“The debate is the option we are giving to Nigerians in order to shun rancour, bitterness and bad language.
“We are using the platform of the election debate group to bring into the homes of Nigerians three categories of debate via television and radio,’’ he said.
Jijiwa said that the first category involved the town hall meeting, while the second and third categories were the vice-presidential and presidential debates.
He stressed that the vice-presidential and presidential debates would also serve as a platform to remind the country’s leaders of their electoral pledges and statements during their discourse.
“It is something that we will keep for retrieval purposes.
“Down the line, we can also play back some of these debates and ask some of our leaders to account for the things they promised to do,’’ he said.
All in all, political analysts argue that election debates are gradually becoming a permanent feature of Nigeria’s political landscape, adding, however, that pragmatic efforts should be made to develop and standardise the initiative in line with global best practices. (NANFeatures)
By Dayo Komolafe, News