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Edo 2024 Governorship Debate: The Trap My Candidate Must Avoid, By John Mayaki

CAMPAIGNS for the September 21st governorship election in Edo State have begun in earnest, drawing big crowds to rallies, town halls, scheduled meetings, symposiums, workshops, and debates, among other events. All these activities, except debates, can be conducted without being challenged face-to-face by voters with sporadic questions. A governorship debate is a test of stagecraft as much as substance.

For any candidate who lacks the substance required for leadership or governance—statecraft, the ability to articulate thoughts clearly, and relevant experience—he must do everything possible to avoid being set up to disgrace himself or to test his capacity and capability. Alternatively, he might attend and exhibit his ignorance and unpreparedness. Either way, it’s a trap for him, but it’s also the necessary test of leadership needed for selecting our leaders in a democracy.

For my beloved candidate, you must remain calm and composed because debates are not rallies where you can simply mutter some words and leave. You must stay calm and not let seasoned moderators like Seun Okinbaloye get under your skin, especially when asked about specific localities like Akoko-Edo. Remember, you can’t access this oldest local government area from Iruekpen on your way to Benin but through Irua, en route Agbede-Aviele-Auchi if you’re coming from Udomi.

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Dear candidate, you have enough time for rehearsals now—including understanding what it means to divide or create a local government or LCDA as it was done in Lagos state under the administration of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. The moderator may also want to know how long it would take you from Udomi to Akoko-Edo, and your reply shouldn’t be 20 minutes because from Udomi to Agbede alone takes more than 20 minutes, let alone reaching Auchi or Akoko-Edo. Even assuming a smoothly and neatly tarred road without potholes from Esan to Akoko-Edo, you wouldn’t arrive there in 20 minutes as you recently postulated in one of your outings.

All this advice has become necessary so that you cannot later claim the debate, if you have the gumption and temerity to attend, was a setup or a trap. Although it’s not even compulsory for you to debate anyone to become a governor. I know that‘a the thought running your mind.

If you change your mind, there are questions you should simply avoid completely, especially when they relate to museums or zoos—in other words, animals or artifacts. Unless you are now fully convinced about the distinctions between museums and zoos in Africa and here in Edo State, these topics are potential pitfalls.

Again, don’t be carried away because governorship debates are typically serious affairs and lack the liveliness of campaign trail events. Do not allow your aides to advise you to say “not under your watch,” because Akoko-Edo people are also waiting to tell you on election day that “not under their watch” will you become governor and watch them remain the oldest, largest, and underdeveloped local government area in the country. You need to retract that statement with a well-worded apology already.

Let’s leave the local issues and move to national concerns. When asked about national or state debt, you must understand that you will have nobody to hide behind like in a campaign rally. Here in the debate hall, you are on your own. You must address the question in a measured manner and allow those who want to fact-check your response to do so. Although I know you know the answers—correctly, too.

And then, questions about the state’s gross domestic product (GDP)—if you have no answers, look at the audience with a bemused smile and share a story from your youth, like how you fetched water from the river and why you’ve decided to create boreholes for your people now that you’re older. That answers the question, as providing clean water contributes to the state’s GDP. Don’t you think so?

As my candidate therefore, prepare thoroughly, stay composed, and ensure your responses are thoughtful and well-informed. Debates are a unique platform to showcase your leadership qualities and vision for Edo State. Except you plan to abscond and walk your way into the elections hiding your inadequacies. I wish you all the best, either ways!

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