A bill seeking to make election debates compulsory for presidential and governorship candidates on Thursday scaled second reading at the Senate.
Lawmakers also voted in favour of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.
Its sponsor, Abdulfatai Buhari (APC, Oyo North), said the bill also seeks to mandate vice-presidential and deputy governorship candidates to participate in such debates.
Candidates for elections in Nigeria are currently not mandated to participate in any debate but the bill empowers the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to organise mandatory debates for the candidates to “help boost and strengthen he electoral process.”
Lawmakers who contributed to the debate agreed that making debates mandatory for candidates will help in their assessment and improve Nigeria’s electoral process.
Buhari 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. 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,” he submitted.
Senator Ibrahim Oloriegbe (APC, 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.”
Senator Adeola Olamilekan (APC, Lagos West) said the bill is simply telling Nigerians: “Know your candidates. It will give Nigerians an idea about the capacity of the candidates to govern the country,” he said.
There was some opposition to the bill, as Barau Jibrin (APC, Kano North) said 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.
Concurring with Jibrin, Danjuma Goje (APC, Gombe Central) also said 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.
President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan referred the bill to its Committee on INEC for further action.