A bill seeking to make election debates compulsory for presidential and governorship candidates has scaled second reading at the senate.
The senate voted in favour of the electoral act amendment bill at Thursday’s plenary session.
Sponsored by Abdulfatai Buhari who represents Oyo north, the bill also seeks to mandate vice-presidential and deputy governorship candidates to participate in such debates.
Candidates in elections in Nigeria are currently not mandated to participate in any; in fact the two leading candidates in the last presidential election shunned the exercise.
The bill empowers the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to organise mandatory debates for the candidates to “help boost and strengthen he electoral process”.
Most of the lawmakers agreed making the debates mandatory for candidates will help in their assessment, and improve Nigeria’s electoral process.
Buhari, the sponsor, said it will also be used to sample the candidates’ readiness on a wide range of burning issues, “as is being done in other developed countries”.
“Voters learn from the debate, and are more accurately able to judge candidates and get additional information about them,” he said.
“It also helps the candidates to speak on a wide range of issues as the national assembly is doing with ministerial nominees.
“If the ministers can be assessed, it is logically imperative for the president and others to be adequately assessed also.”
Ibrahim Oloriegbe representing Kwara central likened candidates in elections to prospective employees, and said the electorate “as their employers, should be able to test them through a series of debate to cover key areas of the economy”.
Adeola Olamilekan representing Lagos west said the bill is simply telling Nigerians: “Know your candidates.”
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“It will give Nigerians an idea about the capacity of the candidates to govern the country,” he said.
There was, however, some opposition to the bill, including from Barau Jibrin who is from Kano north. He said the debates should be made optional and not compulsory.
“Maybe somebody could not attend the debate because of sickness. I believe it should not be mandatory, but optional,” he said.
Danjuma Goje representing Gombe central also said the debates should not be within the jurisdiction of INEC.
”Most times, candidates are assessed and awarded marks during these debates. So if INEC is doing that, that means the election has already been determined,” the senator said.
The red chamber subsequently referred the bill to its committee on INEC for further action.