Thanks for the debate, now share the rice!

Thanks for the debate, now share the rice!

By Wole Olaoye |

Debates are good to help the electorate make informed choices in the coming elections but rice is also good to satiate the hunger of millions of Nigerians, especially when the rice is free. Don’t let me confuse you, so late in the year. Let’s peel off the leaves and savour the menu.

Oluyemi Oluleke Osinbajo and Peter Gregory Obi thrilled us last week in the first in the series of debates between vice-presidential candidates of political parties. Both men stole the show although five parties were represented. The other parties and their candidates that showed up were the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), Abdulganiyu Galadima; Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN), Khadijah Abdullahi-Iya; and Young Progressives Party (YPP), Umma Getso.

The debate, organised by the Nigerian Election Debate Group (NEDG) and the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON), was a good start. Although, there are several questions one would have liked to hear at the occasion, that does not remove anything from the great job the organisers did. The design of the set could also have been done differently so that the anchor would not have to back the audience. But let’s give it to the organisers, that was a commendable effort.

If your faculties are not blinkered by raw political partisanship or tribalism, you have to agree that both Osinbajo and Obi did well. When I visited some social media sites after the debate, I immediately noticed the usual Nigerian resort to ethnicity. Many of the commentators were not even concerned with the substance of each candidate’s discourse. All they were interested in were the cliches and stereotypes they could fling at will at their perceived enemy. In al election so crucial to the destiny of the country, I thought this resort to primordial trenches was a luxury we could ill afford.

My deduction from the debate was that we are confronted with a choice between capitalism and capitalism. PDP is unapologetically capitalist while APC is also capitalist but with welfarist pretensions. Now, for a country to prosper under capitalism, the system has to be efficient and corruption minimised. Not surprisingly, that issue cropped up when Peter Obi carpeted the ruling APC for devoting all their time to chasing corruption instead of running the shop. That was sweet, and the audience applauded. Osinbajo showed his quick wit with an immediate reply: if thieves are given free rein to steal from the shop, there would eventually be no shop to run!

Like in every debate involving an incumbent and others, the incumbent has a head start because he has all the latest figures and facts. That is why co-contestants are better advised to do their homework before getting to the podium. Obi deployed quite a number of figures to buttress his points that APC was not doing well. Unfortunately his fantastic point about cost and distribution of petrol was decapitated by the fact that the figures he relied on were wrong.

For example, his claim that there were two million vehicles on Nigerian roads is wrong; a cursory google check would immediately reveal that the answer is 11.7 million. Some of his other figures were also wrong. So was his claim that intra-African trade was 9% as against the true position of 15%. In logic, once the syllogism is based on a wrong premise, what follows it cannot be true.

Some analysts have argued that Nigerian politics is not logic.

To the credit of Osinbajo, Obi, and, to some extent, Abdulganiyu Galadima – we witnessed a debate largely devoid of gutter language and open display of ill-breeding.

Does Obi look like someone ready to be Vice-President tomorrow? My answer is a definitive yes. Does Osinbajo cut the image of someone who knows the VP job he is currently doing? Of course!

And someone was so impressed that he asked me why these two men were not the presidential candidates of their parties. I answered that there was an unwritten clause of Turn-By-Turn Nigeria Limited in the Nigerian constitution. However, I have no answer to Peter Hitchens’ famous question: “Is there any point in public debate in a society where hardly anyone has been taught how to think, while millions have been taught what to think?”

While thanking the organisers of the political debates and looking forward to even more professionally packaged episodes in future, let us now examine the small matter of rice as hinted at the beginning of this piece.

This year alone, the Nigerian Customs seized over 200,000 bags of contraband rice in various parts of the country, with a total of 124,407 bags seized in the first half alone. In the same vein, a total of 11,319 cartons of chicken and turkey were seized and destroyed during the period. The practice where the Customs made burn-fires of seized items must be discontinued forthwith. I am advocating nothing less than a presidential order instructing the Customs to distribute all seized food items among the IDP camps and orphanages all over the country. It is stupid to burn food which could provide nourishment to millions of people.

We look forward to hearing the president direct the Customs to share in an audit-able manner, all the seized bags of rice and turkey and chicken and fish and whatever else, among those who desperately need them in the IDP camps and orphanages. Why incinerate what could be a life-line?

Credit: Daily Trust

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