By Jonathan Ugbal
Nigerian journalist and activist, Citizen Agba Jalingo has said that those preventing presidential candidates in the 2023 general elections from partaking in debates and shielding them from asking questions should be viewed as enemies of democracy.
Jalingo, who is the Editor-in-Chief of CrossRiverWatch stated this while speaking on Arise Television’s flagship program, “The Morning Show” on Thursday where he lamented that the continuous reward of that behavior by Nigerians at the polls contributed to the situation the country faces now.
The Presidential Candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Bola Tinubu was the focus of the discussion after the party’s presidential campaign council accused media outlets of being partisan and insisted that their candidate was not obligated to attend televised debates.
Two veteran journalists, Dele Alake and Bayo Onanuga have led the media campaign of the candidate. They said media outlets making an issue out of the absence of the APC candidate were basically showing their political leanings.
And, Citizen Jalingo said, “Nigerians that are pandering to that kind of bad behavior are simply feathering the best of birds that will soon begin to hunt us.”
He said some legislatures have even given legal backing to debates since the first widely reported debate in the United States of America between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy (JFK) in 1960.
“We need to start to look at the morality and the suitability of political debates. Since the 1960 debate between Nixon and JFK, in some countries, that has been given legislative backing to make sure whoever is asking for that top job will come and face the people, and the employers to ask them questions.
“Whoever is against this kind of practice in Nigeria, I think should be considered an enemy of democracy. Because, if that is the case elsewhere, then (President Donald) Trump would have arrested everybody at CNN and locked them up because of the way they were digging after his heels every morning,” Jalingo said.
Jalingo who described the action as akin to gagging freedom of expression and the press wondered why two veterans will have that posture especially as some of their colleagues have been victims of press repression in the past, yet, pander to sentiments that many felt have been left behind over two decades ago.
However, he said that the continuous reward of public office to those who failed to appear before Nigerians to be asked questions may have fueled the current situation.
“If you go down memory lane, in 1999, President Obasanjo refused to attend the presidential debate. In 2003, the same thing happened. He said he wasn’t going to debate and he won the election. President Jonathan also avoided one of the debates in preference for another, he also won the election and Buhari also came and decided that he was not going to participate and he won the election.
“Maybe they are seeing it as a pattern for them that, ‘ignore them, that is not how to win elections.’ If you have enough money to share, you will always go to the booth and vote for them,” he said.
The activist who said he felt “very offended” that people he considered as very respected members of the media industry could back such narratives urged journalists to push to ask more questions so that the younger ones in training will get inspired to continuously view journalism as a tool to shape society positively.