APC urges FG to intervene over deteriorating security in Bauchi

• Demands 12 of 27 NWC seats for young members

By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Editor

Without realizing it, the All Progressives Congress, APC, is walking on a quicksand ahead of its national convention.

Irrespective of its posture, the party’s road to the event is becoming increasingly rough and precarious. Last week’s ‘disbandment’ of Governor Mai Mala Buni-led Caretaker/Extra-Ordinary National Convention Planning Committee, CECPC, by a group in the party further brought the acrimony in the fold to the fore.

The body, operating on the platform of Progressive Youth Movement, PYM, had said it was dissolving the Buni leadership and replacing it with another under the chairmanship of Prince Mustapha Audu. For a party that faces legal hurdles including one challenging the legality of its national leadership, the development isn’t such that should just be dismissed with a terse press statement. In this interview, Secretary of the parallel caretaker committee, Mr. Tonye Isokariari, discloses the group’s grouse and what it seeks to achieve in APC.

Last Monday, a parallel caretaker committee for the All Progressives Congress, APC, emerged and you were named as the secretary of the committee. The PYM is driving this process. Tell us what you seek to achieve…

We are young stakeholders in the party. We all have equal rights in the party and equal responsibility in ensuring the party is successful. We are making sure the party gives young Nigerians a springboard to achieve their dreams.

Basically, we have said we want to have a seat at the table. When you look at the political space, people talk about the lesser evil, especially when it comes to elections. And we have realised that we can’t continue to do the same thing and expect a different result as young people. What we decided to do is to tackle it at the party level. If we don’t have proper representation as young people at the party level, we can’t move forward. A lot of us at the PYM emerged as a result of the lack of internal party democracy.

We decided to tackle it in our party. How are we doing this? We need more representation of young people at the National Working Committee, NWC. We have a national convention that has been consistently postponed. Finally, as a result of what we did in Kaduna, they have now chosen February. Now, we are saying that we have 27 seats at the NWC. We are saying that we need 12 of these seats for young individuals of 45 years and below.

That is what we are talking about. We want to ensure the convention holds and we want to be part of the process. The proponents of this movement including myself, who have been running around since January, talking to young politicians to join what we are doing in the party, are not even interested in these 12 seats.

But the impression out there is that what your group is doing is not for selfless purposes…

When people say it is for selfish interest, I laugh. I am not interested in being in the NWC. That is not where I am going. I know certain individuals including Prince Mustapha who is our PYM Chairman who are not interested in any NWC position. That doesn’t mean there are no young people in the party who want to run for this position. But we want a situation where the young people in the party who are the majority have a stake at the NWC.

That is basically what we want to do. We are not fighting anybody. The governor of Yobe State is a leader and someone I respect as an individual and as a governor. But that doesn’t mean we should not speak truth to power as young individuals. Nigerians are looking up to us. Young Nigerians are looking up to us. If we see there is an issue, it is our right to fight to ensure we have a seat at the table because we are the majority. We are competent and we have character. Why are we not there? That is the whole idea about this movement. It is to drive internal democracy within the party, ensure the convention holds and ensure we have 12 seats at the NWC.

Before going public with your demands a few days ago, did you discuss your grouse with the Buni-led leadership and party elders about happenings in APC?

Of course, we consulted with them. No serious-minded party stakeholder will say that he doesn’t know about us. I don’t want to start calling names. They can’t say they don’t know about us because we consulted within the length and breadth of the country. Don’t forget that we have been having town hall meetings across geopolitical zones. We had the South-West meeting in Ekiti. The North-West meeting was held in Kaduna.

This month, we are going to South-South in Calabar. We didn’t just wake up and started doing this. As I said earlier, this movement has been on since January this year. If we don’t do what we are doing, APC would have issues in 2023. The issues are there and you don’t need anyone to explain them to you. What do we want? We want our party to continue beyond the 2023 election. We want to ensure that the calibre of people we produce are the right candidates. We don’t want anointed sons and daughters. We want people who have track record and those we can see. I am talking about those who know what they want to do in whatever position they are vying for.

You have spoken so passionately about fixing the rot in APC, but the party’s Secretary, Sen John Akpanudoedehe, has disowned your group. He said your members are not card-carrying members of APC. Where does that leave the PYM and its vision for APC?

First, I am not going to join issues with Sen Akpan Akpanudoedehe. It is unfortunate that he would make such a statement. I felt that if you claim to be a principled stakeholder in the party, the first thing you should do when you hear such a thing is to quickly gather the people and find a solution. You don’t go about making statements that can affect both you and the party. We are registered members. I am a registered card-carrying member of APC. Not only that, I contested for a position on APC platform at the just concluded Abuja Municipal Area Council ,AMAC, election in FCT. Others are card-carrying members of APC. We have put in our sweat and energy to see that APC is where it is today.

There are so many things we have done for the APC. We seek to add value to APC so that anomalies won’t continue. As I said, it is unfortunate that he rushed out to make such a statement. If we are not card-carrying members of the party, we won’t be here. He even said we are being sponsored. Who is sponsoring us? Sponsored by who? We are very transparent people.

The beautiful thing about this process is that no one person can claim ownership of what we are doing. Everything we are doing is being done by everybody. Everyone is being carried along. When we need to spend money, everybody contributes. We knew they would play this card and that is unfortunate. As a leader, you shouldn’t be reactionary in your activities.

As a leader, the first thing to do is to weigh your options on both sides before you make a decision. Now, you made a statement that you and I know is false. What have you achieved by doing that? And you are a stakeholder in the party. They are trying to make it look as if it is us versus them. No, we are just trying to ensure that at our convention, we must have young people in the party as members of NWC. We are not talking about Youth Leader.

We are not even interested in that position. They can give it to whoever they want to give it to. But we are interested in ensuring that young people of 45 years and below are members of the NWC. At the end of the day, we want to ensure the legacy of the President is not destroyed. If they as stakeholders see this President as a father, they would want to maintain his legacy. If the man has decided that he wants young people to get involved and he has signed the Not Too Young to Run bill into law, why won’t other people in the party help the President to achieve his dreams and aspirations?

What they don’t know is that they can spin this to their benefit. This is a time to gather all of us together and speak to us. Unfortunately, they want to fight. It is the bullying and the braggadocious attitudes that made us sit and say that we do not trust them. I won’t join issues with him because he is a leader in this party, whose position I honour and respect.

The road to APC convention is increasingly becoming too rough. The Buni-led committee has chosen February for the convention while your group opted for February 26…

February can be any day. What day have they chosen? Why not choose a specific date for the convention? If you are going to plan for a convention, February is literally in two months. Certain activities including a timetable should have been put in place by now. It is not just enough to say February. That is the reason I said their actions make us not trust them. Governor Buni had reached out to us through someone because we were told he is in Saudi Arabia and we said when he comes back we would sit down and discuss. We are not running away.

We are people who have personal businesses and things we do. APC is not all that matter to us. We are busy people. So, we are not onlookers or people that are just walking on the streets. We are not contract buyers and beggars. We are serious-minded people who are in charge of things in our different fields. This is the character of the people who run the PYM. When he comes back, we would sit with him and have this conversation. We would tell him that we are not fighting him. All we are doing is to ensure the right thing is done. If he says there is a convention in February, he should give us a date. What are the committees put in place for this convention?

Are you going to make young people members of the committees? Also, if he says the convention is February, there are 27 NWC slots, we need a signed document from the President and himself stating that 12 slots would be given to young people.

That is all we are looking for. Is that too much to ask? Is that not fair?

Something dramatic happened after you made the announcement disbanding the Buni exco. One of the committee members you named, Bello Bala Shagari, dissociated himself from your group. What does that say about your movement?

The person that opted out has a personal relationship with Governor Mai Mala Buni. And he was also the one who was trying to broker a conversion between us and Buni. He likes what we are doing. However, he saw what we did as putting him in the middle. And we appreciate, respect and honour his decision.

That is the reason he said he would rather take a step back for now. People are trying to fan the flame by attempting to break the ranks. Unfortunately for them, these sets of individuals in the PYM are people who had painstakingly thought about the strategy we are using today. We looked at it from different angles. We knew they would try in different ways to break us, but we are always a step ahead of them. They have also gone to Kogi State and got a fake ward chairman of Prince Mustapha’s ward to say he is not a member of the party.

All those theatrics are quite unfortunate. These are some of the things we want to change. We want a party that would give room to young people to be able to speak truth to power without fear or favour. All those theatrics, to say the least, are quite appalling. And I would like to speak to certain young people in the party. What we are doing is for them. We are trying to have a party with a fair representation of young people in the NWC.

If you allow yourself to be used by these individuals who are enemies of the youths, very soon, you would know their true character. On that day, the youths won’t stand beside you. We know them, we have identified them and we know they are going to be demanding money from different people to oppose what we are doing. Very soon people would begin to see their true colour.

If they are going to represent young people, they should do so truthfully to ensure the young man on the street knows that another young man is representing him effectively. They should tread carefully and ensure they know what they are doing because these people would abandon them tomorrow.

Ahead of the convention, there are different intra-party court cases including the one challenging the legality of Buni committee. When these are added to your latest move, it presents the APC as a factionalized fold. Don’t you think all these come back to haunt the party?

In our presentation, we also constituted a reconciliation committee headed by Dr. Hassan. The marching order for that reconciliation committee is to reach out to feuding parties. We have already started. We have reached out to people in Anambra already to see how we can mend fences. We have the energy to do that. We know what the issues are and we are working towards resolving the issues. We are not being factional. What we are asking for is to be brought to the table for discussion. We are not fighting the party. The party is who we are.

So, we want to see that the party is in a good state. Before the convention, we hope to have gone round the 36 states of the federation to mend fences. It is not just in Anambra alone. Out of the 36 state chairmen we are supposed to have, we have about 90 state chairmen. We have various factions. Rivers has its faction. Anambra is factionalized. Zamfara has its faction. Kano is factionalised. There are factions everywhere, but we must be seen to be fair.

We didn’t just wake up and start doing what we are doing. The calibre of people we have, speaks to our commitment and sincerity. There are no government employees among us. So, it is not about somebody wanting to hijack the party. That is not who we are. We had governors reaching out to us, saying they wanted to offer us money to do certain things but we refused. Our refusal was because we have a goal.

To a lot of people, this party you are trying to save is only being kept alive by President Buhari. In fact, many have argued that the party’s longevity is tied to the lifespan of the Buhari administration…

People can say whatever they want to say. The President remains the leader of the party. That doesn’t mean there are no other leaders in the party, who would always be alive to the responsibilities given to them. We are also leaders. That is why we are living up to the responsibilities given to us. Anybody who says that in 2023 APC would explode must be in the opposition. We all know that the President, his vice and certain key individuals have kept this party together.

Even if the President leaves tomorrow, he would still be the leader of the party as a former president. When you have human beings in a cluster, there would be issues. What makes the difference is for stakeholders to look at the issues and resolve them. People want to be heard and they should be allowed to be heard. Allow people to criticise you constructively. Don’t always see criticism as an attempt to bring you down. You must change that mindset and mentality.

Various tendencies in the APC are divided on the direct primary mode of choosing candidates for elections…

PYM wants direct primaries. If you think you are popular, test your popularity among the people. We need to stop the culture of anointing candidates. It has crippled a lot of things and made the party look very weak. We need to stop it. PYM is for direct primaries. Party members should be able to elect their leaders. We don’t want a certain group of people to determine what happens. I had suffered in a direct and indirect primary in APC, but I won’t bring myself into it. If you are a card-carrying member of APC, we want you to elect your leader. If you know you have performed, go and speak to the people. If you have performed, they would vote for you.

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