After what was generally thought a woeful outing of President Muhamnadu Buhari and the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo of the All Progressive Congress, APC at THE CANDIDATES, it was the turn of the leading opposition candidates, Alhaji Atiku Abubarkar and Mr. Peter Obi on Wednesday 30 January, 2019. The Candidates is a creatively intelligent get-around alternative to presidential debates that often frighten incumbent Nigerian presidents to a flight. So rather than have the presidential candidates face a moderator, and face themselves standing before a rostrum, they are allowed the relaxation and little pleasure of sitting down but constantly discomforted by the ransacking questions they get to hear and which they are required to provide answers to.
This platform, “THE CANDIDATES” moderated by Kadaria Ahmed a model broadcast journalist, very well spoken with a profound sense of research, a missing, if not jettisoned branch of broadcasting that has been sacrificed to artificial, self-conscious act of speaking, Kadaria comes into the profession and to this particular task, with a general knowledge of social and political issues, the dare of a lioness and the courage to ask the forbidden questions that ransack the memory and forces out answers. Where they do not altogether jolt the guest to jaw dropping embarassment.
The Candidate is jointly sponsored by some foreign partners, the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, Radio Nigeria and was also live online on the Internet. It seemed designed to take away the pressures of typical presidential debates by featuring only the Vice and the Presidential candidates, both on a joint platform like their joint party ticket in an unsparing interrogation. But it became an inquisition as Kadaria appeared to have made this seem. She sought more to uncover them to their last covering than to give them the pleasure of a television show to shine on.
Alhaji Atiku Abubarkar came in a complete overflowing blue babariga, a two layered set of clothing that immediately established his northern cultural dressing as a Muslim Fulani. Mr. Peter Obi on the other hand, came in what is called in local Nigerian parlance, in a Senatorial outfit, a type of modernised French suit, leaving his Nigerian identity lost to a neuter culture, a thing without a definite name.
The pretty moderator, Kadaira on her part, was cultural in her dressing but in a more modernised style that makes her adaptable and acceptable as an African personality without looking typically a northern woman that she is. She is a Fulani lady of the Uthman Dan Fodio lineage who was so self-assured like the poetess daughter of the Caliph himself. Kadaira’s spilling confidence among the top echelon of the Nigerian political society dominated by a sea of men that she was not shaken by; not even when the audience sought to distract and intimidate her. She would not by any stroke of political genius reduce the interrogation to our politicians’ favourite rudderless brick brat of accusations, so she kept stopping Mr. Peter Obi in particular, mid stride to keep the discussion “serious” and away from accusations.
Kadaira Ahmed so overplayed her controlling sense of: you are on my show; that she became too interruptive of Mr. Peter Obi whom she felt a need to be shoddy with inspite of his polite gentlemanliness that he exhibited much more than his principal, Alhaji Atiku Abubarkar. Since she could not readily rattle a sparklingly brilliant Peter Obi who never seemed to need any time to reflect before he made a mincemeat of her questions with telling analogies. This doubly delivered the message in memorable blows that kept fetching him endless applauses from the audience who sometimes orchestrated some. Some of those applause were we sometimes suspect; as there is a discernible PDP cheer leaders in that audience apart their lead political field Marshalls that included the Senate President, Atiku’s campaign Director General.
For instance, Obi sees no point, no truth in being told that he deported beggars away from his Anambra state as its former governor. “Not true” he said. “How can i that bring in people be driving others when my wife is from Akwa Ibom.” This completely took the wind off the moderator’s sail; such that it could not deliver the stigma intended. Accused of putting Anambra state’s money into the purchase of shares in private companies where he had intetests, Obi rolled out figures in the huge sums of return on investment that accrued to his state from investing Anambra’s money across banks and stocks that he put their money to.
As though that was not enough, Obi demanded to know which governor in Nigeria so enriched and saved up so much for the future financial security of their states? That became another killer to the moderator’s assault. Worried that his principal Atiku would be boxed to a corner with the earlier rejection of Atiku by his own former principal that he was Vice President to, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Obi further came to Atiku’s unsatisfactory explanation. “The case of Obasanjo is like in football. A referee may have awarded a goal in error. But today with the benefit of a playback technology, he could make amend.” Again the audience came to a roaring applause. Thence, Kadaria kept keeping Obi in needless endless check.
From keeping him in check, Kadaira then decided to abandon Mr. Obi in a rude manner that seemed to suggest an attempt to make him redundant such that Obi had to request if he could come back into the inquisition by answering some questions, for that was what it became. That day’s “The Candidate” could certainly not be called an interview. At its most polite, it could only be called an interrogation. What it really is is an inquisition. To say that the moderator came to the event only to be professional will amount to ignorance in the understanding of sub-texts; in overlooking her deft use and application of well-tarred undertones.
Kadaira came very badly at Alhaji Atiku Abubarkar with assaulting questions that all sought to cast a smear on his already badly perceived image. The moderator seemed to have come to reinforce the ruling party’s smear campaign by her line of questions and how long she dwelt on the corruption issues around the presidential candidate of the PDP. She nearly got at Atiku who kept getting on edge and enduring the public blows from a much younger Muslim woman that kept assaulting his sense of superiority of age, social status and expected religious deferrence. Many times Atiku was constantly moved away from his majestic sitting posture in reaction to almost doing a HOW DARE YOU BRAT ASK ME THAT! But she was doing her job, and he was there to answer questions.
Since he was on live Television, the most Atiku could do whilst answering questions bothering on the foundations of his morals and wealth; such as going against the civil service rule that never allowed for keeping another job whilst in service. How was it then that Atiku as a customs officer could be running a logistics company side-by-side? Though Atiku reduced it all to buying shares as a civil servant, but she came back to the same line of question, insisting that Atiku was not only into logistics, but that he operated a monopoly, and wondered what manner of business operation that was.
It was at this overstretched moment that Atiku who had managed so well the assaults on him, was forced to remind moderator Kadaira how old she was at the time in question? A very wrong thing to say. But a much wronger and unprofessional response from Kadaira followed that she was not as young as she looked. This was equally unnecessary.
This was the problem of the moderator. She went into too much power game, reminding herself almost per-second-per-second that she was the one in charge of both the presidential candidates and the heckling audience. She was constantly more in her fighting boxing gloves than she was a sailing navigator and a host among her guests that every television host is expected to hospitably be in broadcasting. It was also this attitude coupled with her inquisition of Atiku and Obi as having a policy document that does not quite answer the HOWS of executing the plans, and a policy document that only thinks about private businesses and business owners that does not consider the society’s poor. Atiku simply asked her if she was a socialist. Her own high wall fell down when in reaction she said she was not a business person.
Atiku Abubarkar came off this inquisition as a man who when overstretched could blow his top. Not only did he show some deadly facial expressions that left his visage frightening, he virtually appeared like a man with no shred of humour; and profoundly communicated so much bile. But he also came off sufficiently brilliant and particularly rich in experience which he drew so much strength from; both from his experience in business, in the public service and his philanthropy that never goes beyond his Adamawa State.
The confluence of these three tributaries and the way he managed to communicate them in little expressions as a man of few words delivered his points each time he spoke. He no doubt has claimed more grounds than he ever had as a media absent veteran politician. Whatever he lost by refusing to debate without his major rival, President Muhamnadu Buhari present, he has amply gained in this rare public outing that has put flesh on the public ghost that was Atiku Abubarkar.
But one could not but discern from his type of answers that ATIKU’S MORAL REFLEX IS CHALLENGED AND LACKS THE REQUIRED MORAL ARMAMENT. Peter Obi who very much complemented him, turned out looking too much a street Smart Alec than the moral buffer and backbone he was supposed to be to his badly perceived principal.
In all, both of them, Presidential candidate Atiku Abubarkar and the Vice Presidential Candidate, Peter Obi came off looking like a right pair of scissors that might be able to cut through the fabrics of our national economy which the APC has shown no answer to; as these two businessmen have experientially demonstrated in their articulations; which Mr. Obi’s brand of clumsy voice almost diminished in its lack of clarity.
Chike Ofili, Lead Consultant, Reputations Consulting, a social brand marketing communications management consutancy, is author of OUR UNSPOKEN TIES and THE WEIGHT OF WAITING, has been Chairman, Association of Nigerian Authors, Lagos.