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Nigerian presidential candidates make false claims at town hall debate

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Ahead of Nigeria’s presidential ballot in February 2023, local broadcaster Arise TV organised a debate with the leading candidates, including Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigerian People’s Party and Peter Obi of the Labour Party. AFP Fact Check spot-checked claims made by the various contenders.

The so-called “town hall” debate held on November 6, 2022, brought together leaders and representatives of various political parties hoping to sway millions of Nigerians who go to the polls on February 25, 2023, to elect a new president, governors and lawmakers.

Filmed in Nigeria’s capital of Abuja in front of a television audience, the moderated round table covered issues like security, fuel subsidies and the economy for more than two hours. Audience members were invited to ask questions.

Atiku Abubakar, the candidate of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party, was represented by his running mate and governor of the southern Delta state, Ifeanyi Okowa.

Meanwhile, the ruling All Progressives Congress’s candidate Bola Tinubu was absent. His campaign spokesman, labour minister Festus Keyamo, said Tinubu would not participate in events other than those organised by him or his party.

With Tinubu and Abubakar absent, Obi, Kwankwaso, and Kola Abiola, a presidential candidate of fringe opposition People’s Redemption Party (PRP), argued why they each deserved to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari next year.

But not all the claims they made were true.

National Security Council meetings

Abiola, who is contesting an election for the first time, claimed that Nigeria’s current security challenges were exacerbated by the failure of the National Security Council (NSC) to convene since 1999.

When Abiola was told that the NSC had been meeting, he doubled down on his position, arguing that the membership prescribed by the Nigerian Constitution had not sat since 1999.

Section 25 of the constitution says members of the council must include the president, vice president, chief of defence staff, minister of internal affairs, minister of defence; minister of foreign affairs, national security adviser; the inspector-general of police “and such other persons as the president may in his discretion appoint”.

But AFP Fact Check found Abiola’s claim to be wrong.

On June 22, 2012, former president Goodluck Jonathan summoned an emergency meeting of the security council after returning from a trip to Brazil. Jonathan called a similar meeting on May 10, 2013. Other meetings of the NSC were also held in April 2014 and April 2015.

The NSC has also met under Buhari, most recently on July 28, 2022, and October 31, 2022.

A screenshot shows a Channels TV report on the NSC meeting held on July 28, 2022, taken on November 17, 2022

Best Nigerian governor in healthcare?

Obi, who is among the three leading candidates in the race, reeled out his achievements as governor of Anambra state in southeast Nigeria from 2006 to 2014.

“I was number one in health. I won the Bill Gates prize,” Obi said.

This is misleading.

Contrary to his claim, multiple media reports published on July 13, 2013, explained that Obi was given an award and a 120 million naira (about $76,300 at the time) cash prize by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for being the best-performing governor in the eradication of polio in Nigeria’s southeast. The region has only five states.

A screenshot shows a report on the award given to Obi, taken on November 17, 2022

The foundation is yet to respond to AFP Fact Check’s request for comment.

Kano state debt

Kwankwaso, the presidential candidate of the New Nigeria People’s Party, claimed that he left Kano state in northern Nigeria debt-free in 2015. Kwankwaso said he met huge foreign debts in 2011.

“I was leaving in 2015, Kano had zero debts, we never borrowed for the eight years I was governor,” he said during the event.

Kwankwaso was the governor of Kano from 1999-2003 and from 2011-2015.

But his claim is false.

Data from the Debt Management Office (DMO) shows that Kano state had external debt — money borrowed by a government from a foreign source — of $63.94 million in June 2011 when Kwankwaso took over as governor for the second time. This reduced to $59.79 million by June 30, 2015, a month after he stepped down as governor.

A screenshot showing Kano state’s external debt as of June 31, 2011
A screenshot showing Kano state’s external debt as of June 30, 2015



Kano also had domestic debt totalling N5.86 billion as of December 31, 2011; this increased to N65 billion by December 2015.

A screenshot showing Kano state’s domestic debt as of December 31, 2011
A screenshot showing Kano state’s domestic debt as of December 31, 2015



Domestic debt represents the money government borrows locally from banks, individuals and companies through the sale of government securities such as treasury bills and bonds, among others.

AFP Fact Check has debunked several false and misleading claims linked to the 2023 election. You can find our coverage here.

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