Investigating Engagement Strategies in the Presidential Media Debate of the 2023 General Election in Nigeria

Cite this article as: Abubakar, M.T. & Omowunmi, O.O. (2023). Investigating Engagement Strategies in the Presidential Media Debate of the 2023 General Election in Nigeria. Tasambo Journal of Language, Literature, and Culture, (2)1, 89-97. www.doi.org/10.36349/tjllc.2023.v02i01.011.  


This study examines the engagement strategies used by the three leading Presidential candidates during the media debate of the 2023 general election in Nigeria. Drawing on appraisal theory, the study analyses the language used by the candidates in negotiating their interpersonal positioning and convincing the listeners. The data was obtained from the interviews conducted by the Nigerian Economy Summit Group (NESG) titled ‘Dialogue with Presidential Candidates on Nigerian Economy’ on January 13th and 16th, 2023. The study employs a descriptive survey to identify the engagement strategies used by the candidates to evaluate the economic situation and other issues in Nigeria. The findings reveal that the candidates deployed various engagement strategies including proclaiming, denying, and describing objects of appraisal. The study highlights the importance of politicians using appropriate language and communication strategies to engage the public effectively during media discourse. The study’s outcomes will contribute to the existing literature on political communication and engagement strategies, and provide useful insights for political candidates and campaign terms.

Keywords: Media discourse, appraisal theory, language use, politics, speakers/listeners

DOI:  www.doi.org/10.36349/tjllc.2023.v02i01.011


The 2023 Nigerian Presidential election is expected to be the most fiercely contested election in the country’s history. Given the past elections’ significance including the 2015 election that ousted the incumbent and saw the ruling party’s defeat, this election has attracted considerable media attention. The emergence of a candidate who separated from the major opposition party has further intensified the election’s political dynamics, making it a notable event for political analysts and researchers. This study aims to explore the engagement strategies deployed by the candidates and their effectiveness in influencing voters’ decisions, contributing to political communication and engagement strategies literature.

The media has been a key or major player in any political contest either in Nigeria or global communities where democracy is being practised. Political media is formed to communicate and facilitate the production, dissemination, and exchange of content that are politically oriented to the public for criticism or debate. It has also been seen as a platform by politicians to air and showcase their candidacies and their party’s manifestoes. According to Bamgbose, (2023), ‘the media is greatly instrumental in the decision of the government and the realization of good government’. The media in some cases is seen as the fourth tier of government as it plays a vital role in checkmating the activities of the government and its policies. Either printed or unprinted, the media informs the public through news gathering. It orientates the public and conscientious the masses. To Dominick, (2002), ‘mass media outlets are saddled with the responsibility of news gathering to provide information to a mass audience’. The public is the source of such a gathering, and it is this same public that gets the feedback. Therefore, the press serves as a middleman between the government and the governed. Chiluwa, (2012), notes that ‘news strives during the peak of military rule and the transition to democracy in Nigeria. The media played important roles in debate in the polity.

Political discourse has always been the centre centre of media debates. The media plays a critical role in shaping political orientation and participation, acting as a bridge between the government and the public. Through the media, citizens can evaluate and assess their representatives, and engage in a give-and-take dialogue with the elites. The media provides a platform for politicians to reach out to the public to critique and debate the policies of the ruling party and political parties’ manifestoes. Media outlets have created a level playing field for politicians to persuade and influence the electorate to vote for them and their party. However, the discourse disseminated by the media is often described as ‘value-laden’ and ‘ideologically determined’ as it seeks to influence public perception of political ideologies. Bamigbose, (2023), notes that ‘media outlets can create a platform for public opinions through the call-in programme and content sections, allowing for greater public engagement in political discourse

Scholarly Perspectives on Media Discourse

Political discourse and media debates in Nigeria have been examined by scholars, especially linguists, using various theoretical frameworks. Lukman et al. (2017) used feminist theory to examine media discourse on women and political participation, highlighting the social relationship between men and women and their implications for power and aspirations. Presley Ifukor, (2010), analysed the linguistic construction of textual messages in the use of blogs and Twitter during the 2007 electoral cycle, finding a dialectical relationship between the social media discourse and political empowerment. Nwaoke and Uzogba, (2021), investigated the impact of hate-inducing speech in Nigeria, revealing that political leaders are power-hungry and willing to do anything to remain in power. Chiluwa, (2011), studied the media’s construction of socio-political crises in Nigeria, highlighting the roles of news headlinmouldingolding social actions, attitudes, and perceptions. Dunu, (2018) critically examined the role of social media in political communication and citizen participation, revealing that social media platforms have become tools for the spread of hate speech, misinformation and fake news.

This current study analyses the political engagement strategies used in the 2023 Nigerian Presidential media debate to evaluate the speakers’ stances on socioeconomic issues. The paper adopts the engagement system of appraisal theory of Marin and White, (2005) to evaluate the language used by the speakers and the effectiveness of their engagement strategies.


The data for this study is derived from the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, (NESG)’s ‘Dialogue with Presidential Candidates on the Nigerian Economy’ debate which took place on January 13th, 16th and February 13th, 2023. The debate was downloaded from http://www.nesgroup.org and features the three major presidential candidates contesting for the position of president of Nigeria. Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressive Congress, Alh. Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party, and Mr Peter Obi of the Labour Party. These candidates were selected for their vast knowledge and political antecedents in Nigerian political history. Bola Ahmed Tinubu is a former senator and current national leader of his party as well as a two-term Governor of Lagos state. Peter Obi is a two-term Governor of Anambra sState and Alh. Atiku Abubakar was a Vive President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria between 1999 and 2007 and was elected Governor of Adamawa state in 1999. The data was analysed using the appraisal theory of Marins and White, (2005).

Theoretical framework

The theory that is adopted for analysis of this study is Appraisal Theory (AT) put forth by the Sydney University linguist; James R. Martin in the 1990s and later developed by Martin and White in 2005. White, (2011) describes appraisal as a framework for analysing evaluative use of language in which the speaker/writer adopts a particular position or stance and by which they engage with socially-determined value positions and in the process support/uphold and oppose/dispute such positions or the social subjects who hold to these positions. According to Akinwotu and Abubakar, (2020: p, 28), appraisal theory is a breakthrough in the study of interpersonal meaning in discourse analysis, typically, in news (print and non-print media) discourse. Hence, it is considered a combination of Critical Discourse Analysis and System Functional Grammar approaches to linguistic analysis (Liu Lihua, 2009). White, (1998 p. 45) believes that an evaluative use of language is an exceptional means of exploring, describing, and explaining the way language is applied to evaluate, adopt stances, construct textual personas, and manage interpersonal positioning and relationships. It is a method of analysis in which attempts are made to identify and describe the attitude of writers/speakers towards the propositional content of their discourses. The theory has three main systems (Attitude, Engagement, and Graduation), which are in turn subdivided into subcategories focusing on specific attitudinal and linguistic aspects as shown in the framework below:

Fig 1.1 Appraisal theory (Martin and White, 2005 p. 38).

The framework presented above outlines three main systems of appraisal: Attitude, Engagement and Graduation, which are further divided into sub-systems. Attitude is the system for meaning-making and represents the speakers’/writers’ emotions towards a person, things, happenings, or state of affairs. It has three sub-systems: Affect, which accounts for positive and negative emotions; Appreciation, which assesses objects, artefacts, processes, and state of affairs; and Judgment, which evaluates human behaviour based on ethical and normative rules. Linguistic elements like corrupt, virtuous, dishonest, murderous, tyrant, bully, hero, betray, obstinate, indefatigable, abuse, defraud, courage, stupidity, foolishly, eccentric, and maverick are used to make judgments, which may be influenced by experiences, cultural backgrounds, expectations, and beliefs. The second main system, engagement, concerns the resources used by speakers/writers to present the points of their argument. It is subdivided into Contraction and Expansion, which further divide into Disclaim and Proclaim, and Entertain and Attribute respectively. These categories include values such as attribution, modality, hearsay, concession, polarity, evidentiality, hedges, boosters, and meta-discursive.

According to Abubakar M.T (2022 p. 28), speakers use these resources to negotiate their proposals and reveal the statement’s dialogic potential. The third system, Graduation, is concerned with values that provide grading or scaling (Martin & White, 2005 p.  136), it shows the different levels of appraisal power (force) and the involvement of grades of attitude (focus).

Overall, this framework provides a useful way to analyse how speakers/writers evaluate and express their attitudes towards a subject, taking to account various factors that may influence their appraisals.

The engagement system is a crucial component of the analysis presented in this study, as it refers to how a speaker engages their listeners with an alternative viewpoint. According to Miller (2004), the engagement system is the way the speaker presents their argument to the listeners. He notes that engagement can be either monogloss or heterogloss, which conveys the speaker’s attitude towards a certain object of appraisal. Monogloss occurs when the speaker holds an exceptional stance and ignores the multiplicity associated with any other statement/utterance. In this sense, the speaker directly addresses the object of appraisal without considering other viewpoints. On the other hand, the heterogloss system of engagement acknowledges the diversity associated with other utterances. Martin (2005), suggests that heterogloss occurs when a speaker tries to use a source to prove a point and make it more credible.

Overall, understanding the engagement system is essential in analyzing how speakers present their arguments and engage their listeners. By examining whether the engagement system is monogloss or heterogloss, we can gain insight into the speakers’ attitude towards the incredibility of their argument.

Heterogloss engagement can be further divided into dialogic expansion and dialogic contraction. The dialogic expansion involves opening space for dialogic variety or differences in the course of the discussion. This opening space can be achieved through entertaining different positions of authorial voice to a greater or lesser degree using phrases such as. “perhaps., it is possible that ..., this may be, it seems to me…, apparently, or attributing information to acknowledge other viewpoints using phrases like, ‘he argues that, the report says that, many Nigerians believe that’ or distancing oneself from a position using phrases such as, ‘he claims that.., rumour has itthata, scare, or quote.

On the other hand, dialogic contraction involves using resources to close down the space for dialogic choice and to challenge actual or potential contrary opinions by the speakers. This closing space can be achieved by disclaiming previous utterances that are rejected, replaced or held to be weak, using such as, ‘yet, although, but ‘ or proclaiming resources are used to allow dialogic alternatives to be challenged through concurring with other viewpoints by using phrases like, ‘naturally, of course, obviously, yes’ or pronouncing a position using phrases like, ‘I contend, the facts of the matter are…, indeed,’ or endorsing a position using a phrase such as, ‘the reports demonstrate/show/prove that’. Consequently, understanding the difference between dialogic expansion and dialogic contraction in the context of heterogloss engagement is important in analyzing how speaker presents their argument and engage their listeners. By examining the resources use to open or close the space for dialogic choice, we can gain insight into their attitude towards the subject and their willingness to consider other viewpoints.

Fig. 1.2 Engagement System of Martin & White (2005)

Investigating Engagement Strategies in the Presidential Media Debate of the 2023 General Election in Nigeria

The engagement system of appraisal theory is applied to this study to adequately account for stances/positions taken by the speakers to evaluate their stances with their potential listeners/audience. The study, therefore, investigates how the speakers deployed engagement strategies to construct and justify interpersonal positioning and to hold the relationship with their listeners.

Data Presentation and Analysis

This study presents data that are centred on the current Nigerian economy and its social development which have dominated the entire political space. The issues bother on insecurity, infrastructural decay, youth unemployment, CBN’s naira redesign policy, and among other national issues.

Dialogic Expansion Engagement Strategy (DEES): According to White (2001) cited in Abubakar (2021: p,30), dialogic expansion indicates the opening space for dialogic variety or difference. Speakers engage in dialogue to indicate that the current proposition is but several possible alternatives and concurrently indicate that those alternatives are expected and therefore dialogically endorsed or authorized. Dialogic expansion is subdivided into entertainment and attribute.

Entertainment is deployed by speakers to indicate that a formulation or proposition is a range of possible positions and to greater or lesser shows those possibilities. For example, perhaps, this may be… it seems to me…, apparently…). Attribute shows that a proposition is externalized in another authorial voice. This strategy is deployed to either entertain or reject the dialogic alternatives which are assumed to be a general assumption of people. An attribute can be either acknowledge or distance: Acknowledge, on the one hand, is a situation where there is no more indication of possible contribution to a fact. Therefore, the speaker is constrained to rely on already established authorial evidence available for verification. Distance on the other hand shows that an authorial voice is declining to take responsibility for the proposition and to exploit the space for dialogic alternatives. The following extracts were used by the speakers to indicate dialogic expansion strategies in their speeches:

Extract 1:

Despite the adoption of the Petroleum Industry Act 2021, government revenue from oil has continued to decline. (Tinubu, January 2023)

Extract 2:

First, to achieve the economy we seek, we must resolve the pressing security issues. No nation can flourish with terrorists and kidnappers in the midst. (Tinubu, January 2023)

Extract 3:

Our economy is bleak and our challenges are daunting. Restoring confidence in the future of Nigeria as a dynamic economy and stable democracy is a daunting challenge. No one should downplay the enormity of the tasks ahead. (Atiku, January 2023)

Extract 4:

It is patently misleading to compare Nigeria’s borrowing binge with that of developed countries such as Japan and the United States, as one of my opponents in the coming elections did here a few days ago. Those countries export huge amounts of high-value manufactured goods while Nigeria exports very little, mostly raw materials. And theirs are safe-heaven currencies. (Atiku, January 2023)

Extract 5:

It also shows an absolute ignorance of development economics {sic} to state, as he did, that budgeting under him would be based on projected spending levels needed to achieve a growth rate above 10%. A family whose budgeting is based on its spending desires rather than its income would be considered extremely irresponsible. A country’s budget must take into account its projected revenues and its ability to service its debts. (Atiku, January 2023)

Extract 6:

We will vigorously pursue all possible policies and interventions to secure our country, for example-3-level policing structure. (Obi, February 2023)

Extract 7:

We will shift our emphasis from consumption to production starting with a proper reform and improvement of the power sector. (Obi, February 2023)

In the first extract, Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT) used the use of a dialogic expansion strategy of acknowledging to highlight how the government’s economic policy on fuel has led to a decline in revenue and resulted in hardship for citizens. In the second extract, he employed distance to reject the government’s position on building the economy in the face of widespread insecurity, stating that no government can survive without first addressing the security issue. He used the negation ‘no’ to emphasise his rejection. In the third extract, Atiku used distance to reject the proposition that anyone can downplay the country’s economy, using adjectives to describe the economic situation in Nigeria to justify his stance. He also employed a distance in the fourth extract, rejecting Tinubu’s assertion on borrowing by comparing Nigeria to Japan and the United States and using the adjective ‘misleading’ to distance himself from Tinubu’s viewpoint.

Atiku also employed distance in the fifth extract to differentiate his position on projected spending from the previous speaker. He used a comparative sentence to state that the former speaker’s view showed ‘absolute ignorance of development economics’ in extract six, Obi expanded the debate by externalizing the popular assumption that community policing is the solution to insecurity in Nigeria. In extract seven, he associated the economic deflation of the country with the popular assumption that Nigeria is a consumption country, using the phrase ‘consumption to production’ to reject and take a stance on such an assertion.

Dialogic Contraction Engagement Strategy (DCES): This is a sub-division in the engagement system that is used to close down discourse choice and to engage or reject actual/potential contrary opinions by the speaker. This dialogic contraction, according to White (2005), can be divided into disclaim and proclaim.

Proclaim Engagement Strategy: Proclaim is a sub-type of dialogic contraction in the engagement system. Proclaim type involves the resources that allow dialogic alternatives that challenge or confront other authorial interruption, prominence, or interference. A speaker deploys this strategy to emphasise the object of appraisal by either referring to or emphasising the existing evidence. Proclaim type has to concur, pronounce and endorse. It concurs when the speaker agrees with or has the same knowledge as the proposed statement. While pronounce is the authorial voice that emphasizes or disambiguates authorial interventions or interpolations, endorse means the resources deployed to accept as correct intentional or external sources by the authorial voice:

Extracts 8:

Bad monetary policy is, of course, destructive. But even monetary policy cannot carry the load the fiscal arm can. (Tinubu, January2023)

Extract 9:

I do not embrace the conventional wisdom that fiscal deficits by the national government are inherently bad. (Tinubu, January 2023)

Extract 10:

A budget deficit is not necessarily bad. Look at the Japanese example with high government borrowing and low inflation. (Tinubu, January 2023)

Extract 11:

Datti Baba-Ahmed and I are on the same page with NESG but our pact with Nigerians is deeper. It is a combination and consideration of many reports such as that of the NESG, the National Development Agendas {sic}, and wide consultations with Nigerians on the pervasive challenges we face and the possible solutions. (Obi, February 2023)

Extract 12:

But let me say something which I think you will agree with me, the problem with Nigeria is not the paucity of development reports, plans, and manifestations. The problem is the absence of the right leadership to practically appreciate the efforts of organizations such as NESG for a better and inclusive Nigeria through a committed implementation of developed reports. (Obi, February 2023)

Extract 13:

As John C. Maxwell, a renowned leadership expert stated, ‘Everything rises and falls on leadership’. We implore NESG and Nigerians to believe and trust in our leadership so that Nigeria Will Grow Again! It is a new, transformational, and patriotic leadership that Datti Baba-Ahmed and I most sincerely pledge to offer….(Obi, February 2023)

Extract 14:

I was also reliably informed that rather than being paid for your efforts for a better Nigeria, you pay by yourselves to serve! Thank you and God bless you all. A new Nigeria is indeed possible!.. (Obi, February 2023)

Extract 15:

My core belief is that the private sector must be the prime driver of economic progress. However, the government establishes the framework within which the private sector must operate. (Tinubu, January 2023)

Extract 16:

The present administration has invested heavily in agriculture, providing loans and expanding the country’s total area of cultivated land for crops, livestock, and fisheries. (Tinubu, January 2023)

Extract 17:

The Nigerian economy is barely growing. Per capita income, a measure of citizens’ well-being, has progressively fallen since 2015 because of declining output and a fast-growing population. Our people are worse off today than they were in 2015. (Atiku, January 2023)

Extract 18:

Figures from the National Bureau of Statistics show that the public sector accounts for less than 8% and the private sector nearly 79 per cent of national consumption expenditure. Indeed, 85% of the investments in the Medium-Term National Development Plan 2021-2025 are envisaged to be funded by the private sector. (Atiku, January 2023)

In extract 8Tinubu employed the dialogic contraction strategy of proclaim type, using the phrase “of course” to agree with the authorial voice that monetary policy is bad for Nigeria. He further pronounced monetary policy should be replaced with fiscal policy. In extract 9, he employed the proclaim type of endorsement to agree with the authorial voice on the fiscal deficit by the national government, rejecting the opinion of some quarters that the policy is bad. He used the clause “I do not embrace..” to reject the alternative voice and endorse the current issue on fiscal deficit policy by the national government. In extract 10, Tinubu used the endorsed strategy to accept the practice of the federal government in running a budget deficit, relying on the practice of a developed country, Japan, that runs the same system in its economy. He used the phrase, “A budget deficit is not necessarily bad” to endorse the position of the government. In extract 11, Obi used the pronounced strategy to state his position as the running mate of his party and his alignment with the Nigerian Economy Summit Group to revive the dwindling economy of the country. He further employed the use of distance to state that his agenda is deeper to save the country from financial ruin.

In extract 12, Obi used the proclaim-type and disclaim strategies, using the pronouncedunce strategy to state clearly that the problem with Nigeria is the right leadership. He deployed the disclaim strategy to disagree with the formulation that the problem with the country is development reports, using the negation “no” to reject the proposition. In extract 13, Obi used the proclaim-type and dialogic expansion strategy, using concur to agree and align with the proposed alternative statement made by Johnson C. Maxwell that “leadership falls and rises in leadership”. He further used the attribute to represent the proposition he made on the possible leadership his administration is capable of in turning the fortunes of the country around. In extract 14, Obi used the endorsed strategy to construe that an authorial voice is correct, relying on the information about the self-help of NESG in advancing the possibility of a new Nigeria. In extract 15, Tinubu used the endorsed strategy to accept an authorial voice as correct, agreeing with the policy of the government on a private sector-driven economy to develop the Nigerian economy framework. He also used the same strategy of endorsement in extract 16, endorsing the government’s investment in agriculture and agricultural loans. In extract 17. He showed that he declined or rejected the proposition by the Nigerian government that millionaires had been produced through its economic policy. Atiku asserted that ‘Our people are worse off today than they were in 2015’. The comparative adjective ‘than’ was used to reject the formulation. On the other hand, the speaker employed the use of endorse strategy in extract 18. He adopted the statistics put forth by the National Bureau of Statistics on the state of the nation’s economy. He used the interjection ‘indeed’ to indicate endorsement of the statistics on the projected economic development of the Nigerian economy policy.

Disclaim is a sub-type of dialogic contraction to close down the space for interpersonal choice and it is used to challenge or restrict a potential contrary position by a speaker. This is used to deny or counter an alternative position being advanced by another speaker or opinion. To deny a dialogic position, a speaker closes down an alternative position by directly rejecting or replacing other positions. It is counter in a dialogic positioning when a speaker adjusts in a discourse so that any challenge or questioning of a current utterance can be injected. Below are examples of the deployment of dialogic contraction engagement strategies during the debate:

Extract 19:

I do not hold to the mainstream view that all forms of inflation are best tackled by interest rate hikes and shrinking the economy. (Tinubu, January 2023)

Extract 20:

Under the current administration {sic} our people are not working. More than 23 million people are out of jobs. In just 5 years between 2015 and 2020, the number of fully employed people dropped by 54% from 68 million to 31 million people. This is frightening in a country of 200 million people. (Atiku, January 2023)

Tinubu and Atiku employed the disclaim type of dialogic contraction strategy in their speeches during the debate in extracts 19 and 20. On the one hand, Tinubu employed the disclaim type, deny to reject the fact that his administration will continue all the economic policies of the current led administration of the All Progressive Congress. He rejected the proposition by engaging the use of the negative verb, not to emphasise his stance on the high-interest rate to address inflation in the country. While on the other hand, Atiku employed the same dialogic contraction strategy of denying to close down alternative positions being advanced by the incumbent government on the provision of jobs for the Nigerian youth and lifting them out of poverty. The speaker took this position in the sentence, ‘Under the current administration {sic} our people are not working’. The negation not was employed to show his stance. He relies on the records available to him to affirm the claim through the use of a dialogic expansion strategy of acknowledgement.


In this study, the engagement system of appraisal theory is used to analyse the stances or positions taken by speakers and how they evaluate these stances with their potential listeners or audience. The study investigates how speakers employed engagement strategies to construct and justify interpersonal positioning and relationships with their listeners. By applying the engagement system, the study gains insight into the resources used by speakers to present their arguments and how they engage their listeners. This understanding can provide a deeper analysis of the speakers’ attitudes towards the subject and their ability to consider other viewpoints. Ultimately, the engagement system is a useful tool for analysing how speakers construct a persuasive argument and position themselves about their audience. Media platforms have increasingly provided politicians with a wider audience to promote their ideologies and engage with the electorates. The paper examines the engagement strategies employed by politicians during the 2023 presidential debate in Nigeria. The study shows that politicians used dialogic expansion strategies such as acknowledging, distancing and attributing as well as dialogic contraction strategies like concurring, endorsing, and pronouncing. Additionally, they employed the proclaim-type and deny in the disclaim-type of engagement system while interacting with the public through media discourse. The paper recommends that politicians, political analysts, and speech writers employ appropriate engagement strategies when participating in political debates during election campaigns. Future speechwriters in Nigeria may find this paper a helpful resource for crafting effective speeches.


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