The presidential candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), Oby Ezekwesili, has described the absence of President Muhammadu Buhari, candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, from the presidential debate as a mark of their exit from the race.

The candidates of the Young Peoples Party, Kingsley Moghalu, and his Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN) counterpart, Fela Durotoye, also took a swipe at the candidates of the APC and PDP, saying their inability to answer questions from Nigerians forced them out of the debate.

The three candidates momentarily put aside their ideological differences to characterise the two contestants as arrogant and disrespectful of the Nigerian people they aspire to serve.

Reacting to their absence from the debate, Ezekwesili said she was not surprised at the decision of the two politicians, saying it was an indication of their disregard for the people they aspire to lead.

Her verdict was greeted with loud cheers among the audience as they jeered the absenting candidates.

She said, “It is now clear to Nigerians that those aspiring to lead them are not accountable to them and it is now time for the citizens of this country to take charge of the destiny of this country. So we stand before you today, not because we are the best but because we are determined that it is time for Nigeria to be rescued from poor governance and bad politics.”

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On his part, Durotoye said within the last 58 years of independence, Nigeria is yet to gain freedom but has been ruled by people who do not believe in explaining themselves to the subjects.“This is why we need to change the rulership system to leadership where leaders will be accountable to their followers,” he said.

The candidate of the YPP, Moghalu, said one of the reasons the candidates of APC and PDP were not present at the debate was simply due to arrogance, and their belief that Nigerians cannot do without them.He said; “They are also not here because they cannot answer the questions that will be posed to them.”

But Atiku who was initially sited at the venue of the debate but decided to withdraw his participation, has explained reasons behind his decision to withdraw from the debate.

He said, “I cannot challenge or question an administration where the man at the helm of the affairs of the nation is not present to defend himself or his policies.”Abubakar, in a statement issued while the debate is still ongoing, apologised to Nigerians, saying President Buhari’s absence at the debate is a slight on the country and democracy. 

Atiku at the debate venue

Abubakar said; “I do not believe in attacking a man who is not here to defend himself. As a leader and former Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, let me first apologise to all Nigerians, my fellow candidates and the moderator for the APC Presidential Candidate’s absence in this debate. His non-appearance is a slight on all of us and our democracy.

“Secondly, with all due respect to my fellow candidates, Fela Durotoye, Oby Ezekwesili, Kingsley Moghalu and to the moderator Mark Sugar and with apologies to all Nigerians here and at home expecting an interesting debate, I regret that I will not be able to go on with this debate due to President Buhari’s absence.

“I however challenge President Buhari to choose a date and time for a debate where he will be present and I will be there, hopefully with the other candidates as well.”

On his part, President Buhari attributed his absence at the event to his hectic schedule.

Speaking through Festus Keyamo, spokesman of his campaign, Buhari said  “the busy and hectic official and campaign schedules of Mr. President clashed with this programme."

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