A fierce war of words between Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Dr Peter Obi, the Vice-Presidential candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party occurred yesterday as Nigeria’s first TV debate among political party candidates ahead of the February 16 presidential election took place.
All Progressives Congress’ Yemi Osinbajo and Peoples Democratic Party’s Peter Obi tactically turned the vice presidential debate held in Abuja yesterday into a sparring match as they expressed their knowledge of the economy and other national issues.
During the debate organised by the Nigeria Elections Debate Group (NEDG) and the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), Osinbajo utilised his hands-on knowledge and involvement in running the nation’s economy to project a capacity for effective leadership while Obi made generous use of facts and figures.
The three other Vice presidential candidates at the debate – Young Progressives Party’s Hajia Umma Getso, Alliance for New Nigeria’s Hajia Khadijah Abdullahi-Iya and Ganiyu Galadima of Allied Congress Party of Nigeria – all strove to communicate their readiness for the responsibilities of a vice president.
However, during the live television debate, skewed audience cheered and jeered, eliciting threats by the organisers to sanction errant members of the audience.
The five vice presidential candidates all managed to project the preparedness of their political parties and presidential candidates.
During the largely economy-focused debate, the five participants proffered solutions for the various social and economic problems bedeviling the nation with one of the high points being the exchange of barbs between Osinbajo and Obi on the issue of petroleum subsidy.
While Young Progressives Party’s Hajia Umma Getso pointedly noted widespread perception that petroleum subsidy is “a scam”, Osinbajo noted that even advanced economies sustain some forms of subsidy for logical reasons.
According to Osinbajo, without subsidy, the price of petroleum could go as high as N220, adding that the prevalent fraud in Nigeria’s fuel subsidy system has been effectively curbed as the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation now procures fuel abroad.
“Today, the NNPC is the sole importer of petroleum, so it is from the balance sheet of the NNPC that the subsidy is being taken.
“Now, let me say that if today you are to remove subsidy, petrol price could go as high as N220 per litre or higher.
“There is no country in the world, not even the wealthiest ones, that don’t run some type of subsidy or the other,” Osinbajo stated.
In his own response, PDP Vice presidential candidate, Peter Obi alleged that the APC administration’s pattern of fighting corruption has cost the nation jobs and economic progress.
“It is not that you cannot fight corruption, but you can fight it more aggressively while addressing economic issues. For example, in 2015, unemployment was 24 per cent, today, it is 40 per cent.
“In 2015, we attracted $21bn in Foreign Direct Investment but we attracted only $12bn last year; our GDP was $500bn in 2015 while per capita was $2,500 today it is under $1,900.
“If you look at our stock market, we have lost over N2tn in one year, so that is not a policy. You’re just fighting corruption, you are not creating jobs.
“You cannot shut down your shop and be chasing criminals,” he said, eliciting Osinbajo’s response that “if the assault by thieves continues, there may be no shop to look after.”
Earlier, Obi had criticised the Buhari/Osinbajo administration over petroleum subsidy, waving it off as a subsidization of inefficiency that should be done away with.
“Why are you actually subsiding? Nigeria has one of the lowest car ownerships in the world; it is 10 per 1,000. So, we have only two million vehicles and you’re paying almost a trillion when you have 87 million people that are poor,” he said.
As the debate progressed, Nigerians keenly followed online, with some identifying lies and mix-ups in the candidates’ presentations.
For instance, on Twitter, an activist, Sega L’éveilleur, using the handle @segalink, faulted Osinbajo’s statement that “major cause of poverty is corruption”, noting that while corruption also exists in developed countries, Nigeria is far behind in productivity.
Another twitter user using the handle @Ayourb criticised PDP’s Peter Obi for lying.
“Why is Peter Obi a compulsive liar? He just said there are two million vehicles in Nigeria. But according to the NBS (National Bureau of Statistics) data, there are 11 million vehicles in Nigeria,” he stated.