Our focus is to deepen youth inclusion in politics, discourage apathy – Ahmed
Ismaeel Buba Ahmed, lawyer, and youth leader, currently serves as a senior special assistant on National Social Investment Programme to President Muhammadu Buhari and also member, National Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Committee of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview with INIOBONG IWOK on the side-line of the just concluded APC National Youth Lobby Committee Retreat held in Lagos, he spoke on how the youth wing is strategising ahead of the national convention and the 2023 election, direct primaries, among several other issues in the polity. Excerpts:
What is the essence of the APC National Youth Lobby Committee Retreat?
It is a retreat; you know, after the national youths progressive conference that we had in June this year, we set up regional and lobby committees to lobby stakeholders of the party in every zone in order to include young people in the processes of governance of the party activities, especially at the ward level.
So, we have done the work; the congresses have come and gone, we are waiting for the convention. This is a retreat to bring up all the reports, look at it and see where there is a gap and know what progress has been made and what needs to be done going forward.
Who were the people that attended the retreat?
We have the zonal leaders, the members of the committee that we set up to do the work; about four months ago all of them were at the retreat.
The old guards are refusing to go; what can be done to bring more youths into politics?
Lobby is part of it; participation is another thing. We have to encourage young people to participate in the political process, they should not shy away. They think some people are already entrenched, but there is nobody that is entrenched anywhere; it is just to try and push, that is what we are trying to do.
The view in some quarters is that despite the passage of the #NotTooYoungToRun Bill, not much progress has been made in terms of the increase in number of youths elected into public office. What is your take?
I don’t think the Bill gives automatic opportunity for youths, but it is an opportunity to participate and it has done that and it is from participation that you slowly go into winning. It is not just instantly you win an election; you have to compete. So, it would not happen that way they are seeing it. It is a work in progress; there is a legal framework now that depends on the field work.
So, can we say this gathering of APC youth leaders across the zones is also focused on strategising on how we can have more youths occupying positions in the party and winning elections across Nigeria?
Yes, you can say so; we are working toward the general election and next year’s national convention. To make sure that young people occupy positions in the NWC of the party and going forward, we pick up tickets in the party to run for office in 2023. This is the whole idea about the strategy team and we are going to continue and hold the conservation.
Are you worried about worsening apathy in Nigeria’s election, especially among the youth?
It is because of lack of inclusion, lack of awareness; they believe that the system is for some people and not for them. Our job is to make them believe that the system belongs to them; so that we can all do the work.
What role can the youth wing in APC play in helping to resolve internal crisis in the party in some states?
Somebody in this gathering suggested having a youth reconciliation committee that would go to our elders and speak to them on the need for them to come together. So, it is something we are seriously ready to explore. We would explore and talk to our elders on the need for them to close ranks, come together and move the party forward and do something different. If they don’t have time to do that we would do that for ourselves.
Are we going to see the youth wing in APC throw their weight behind a youth presidential candidate in 2023?
No we may not say that; I don’t know what is going to happen in future, but what we are going to do is to make criteria on the kind of candidate we want, but we are not going to single out an individual unless there is an individual that matches our criteria.
There is the assumption in some quarters that the youth wing is often bought over prior to major elections. Do you agree?
That is not true, all politicians could be bought over, and it is not only the youths, certainly not these young people and not my colleagues. I want to see a young person become president, but our goals are to see that someone that has the interest of young people at heart emerges. I mean someone who is willing to grow the country and the future.
What is the expected outcome of this youth retreat?
We are going to have a polished solution to some of the challenges we have identified. So, in solving some of the challenges we are going to move into implementation immediately.
Are you going to initiate a process to aid young people emerge as candidates at various levels in the APC for the 2023 general election?
We intend to see that we have a lot of governors who are young people in 2023. We intend to see that we can have about 100 members of the House of Representatives emerge out of 360. We intend to see if APC can deliver about thirty senatorial seats to the young people in the Senate. Then a lot of state Assembly seats should also go to youths.
Presently, a lot of local government chairmen are young people. Let’s see how we can begin to move the pendulum as we move along.
What is your take on direct primaries?
I am a party member, the National Assembly has done their part, they have taken it to the President, and so we await the decision of the President on assenting to the Bill.
So, as young people we are loyal to the President, whatever decision he takes. If he assents to the Bill for direct primaries, we are open to it, because we are the largest constituency in the party. If they do indirect or direct primaries, the party would choose the one that is better for them in any circumstances. We are ready for any one the President wants.
But the APC Governors appear jittery and not in support of such a decision. Why is it so?
I think most of the APC Governors are talking about the cost relating to that, they believe in direct primaries the cost shifts to the candidates and it becomes overbearing and on the other hand the members of the National Assembly are also afraid that the indirect primaries give powers to a certain set of people.
Either way, everything has advantages and disadvantages, the best we can do as politicians is to maximise the opportunities and young people have such opportunities.
Are you in support of electronic transmission of election results?
Absolutely, I am in total support of such a measure it would improve the electoral system in Nigeria.
Participate and win so that someone does not change your result half way. Electronic transmission is the best way to go, it is welcome. It increases transparency and transparency in elections helps young people.
Several youths have political ambition and want to join APC to realise it; what is the assurance that the youth wing is working for their interest?
Tell them to come to APC; it is the only party that gives young people an opportunity to fly. They should join us since we got on board to see what we have been doing. Go and check it with INEC, APC has the highest number of people elected into public office in Nigeria, be it state Assembly, Senate, or House of Representatives.
A faction sacked the Buni-led committee recently; how do you react to that?
They are not known members of the party; it does not bother me.