From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
Ismaeel Buba Ahmed, the senior special assistant on National Social Investment Programme to President Muhammadu Buhari, has been on an upward political trajectory, which culminated into his present appointment as the national youth leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Caretaker/Extraordinary National Convention Planning Committee.
In this chat with Sunday Sun in Abuja, the lawyer and youth leader warned that hard times await his ruling party in the 2023 presidential election as the party would no longer enjoy the popular Buhari factor mantra.
He also argued that the future and fortune of his party ahead of the 2023 general elections rest squarely on aggressive mobilisation of the Nigerian youths.
The Kano-born politician equally discussed other range of issues, including the antidote to the escalating security challenge in the country, the secessionist agitations and ultimately the clamour for 2023 president of Igbo extraction.
Does it worry you, as the APC Youth Leader, that most of the security challenges confronting the APC-led government are perpetrated by the youths? Banditry, insurgency, kidnapping, militia, name them…?
It worries me as a Nigerian citizen that we have these challenges, period. The demography perpetrating it is immaterial. We are a young country both in age and demography. So, as a leader in the governing party, it worries me a lot that we have to deal with the issue of security of this magnitude which peels away our focus on development. With meagre resources available it further strains the government and hampers its efforts on other things. So yes, the security situation is really worrisome. Not necessarily because of the demographic. It would not worry me any less if it were women or older people. Challenges are challenges.
What is the most practical solution to the restiveness of Nigerian youths?
The natural answer to that would be to say that there must be gainful employment and a conducive environment for them to seek out their pastures and live up to their potentials. But that is a generic answer. The question has always been how. How do we achieve that? As progressives, we believe in free enterprise and government intervention to support those who can’t support themselves at least for some time. So, I think, the government, since inception, has been trying to come up with some ideas on the best strategy to deal with the issues of unemployment and insecurity. That to me should be the focus. Restiveness will only be mitigated when there is no longer restlessness.
What do you tell Nigerians claiming that the APC-led government has failed in every ramifications, security, economy, anti-corruption, nepotism…?
I will tell them that it is far from the truth. They should wash their eyes off sentiments and critically look at the score sheet. Our infrastructural strides are unequalled by any government in the last 15 years. There is a global dip in economic activity and the world is shifting gears from fossil fuel, that is challenging for countries like ours and yet, we are making massive investments in the economy and social infrastructure of the country. I agree there are challenges no doubt, especially in security. But, we are working on it. These are challenging times for our security agents and they need our support. We need to play our part in providing information and not harbouring criminals within our communities. It is a collective responsibility.
What do you think will be the solution to the spate and spike in ethnic and secessionist agitations across the country?
It is for the leaders or elders in every region, religion, community, corner, society and state in the country to rise up to the challenge and voice out their opinion, stand for the unity of this country and reject the notion of division and hate. And we as young people must not continue with the baggage of hatred inherited from older people. We must chart a new course for ourselves.
Do you subscribe to the speculation that without the Buhari factor, APC will crumble or struggle to retain the presidency after 2023?
APC will not crumble! For us to retain our position though, we must work on gaining the young people on our side more. Engagement is the key. The youths are the key to 2023 elections and beyond. I keep saying that 2023 is going to be a battle for the young people, as it has been clearly demonstrated and I say it every time that President Buhari always comes to the table with 10 million votes in every election he has participated in. But for the first time in 20 years, in 2023 President Buhari will not be on the ballot, and because he will not be on the ballot means we have to go scouting for those 10 million votes elsewhere. At best if the president is giving us some of his supporters, which he, as a bonafide member of the party, will do, the best we can look for is probably 50 per cent of those 10 million votes. This means we have to go scouting for the other five million votes elsewhere. Those five million votes are with the young people and women. In 2023 young people are going to demand what office seekers are going to do for us. They need to know that they have a table, a seat and the decision-making table or else forget it, they will go to the person that will give them that hope. We need, as young progressives, to institutionalise the ideal of being a progressive, because if they say you are an APC member, you should just be more than a card-carrying member. Young people need to come together and say, this is what we are deciding for ourselves. We are going to ensure that it survives. And we can do it by coming together with a road map of what we expect and what it takes to be a progressive to draw other young people into the movement, grow it and deliver both the party, the country in 2023 and beyond.
What is your take on the accusation from many APC chieftains that the Caretaker Committee is attempting to perpetuate itself in office?
The APC Caretaker Committee did not appoint itself and, therefore, cannot perpetuate itself on anything. The party is too big and too advanced for anyone to do that. Our job is to get the party up and running, handover and move on.
What is your take on the zoning of the APC presidential ticket especially as it concerns the increasing demand by the Southeast geopolitical zone?
That is a decision the entire leadership of the party made up of the elders and leaders to decide when the time comes. However, I subscribe to the fact that we must ensure fair play and balance for stability and peace.
Will PDP pose any serious threat to the APC in the 2023 general elections?
As politicians, we will never underestimate our opponents, even a party as confused as PDP. We take every challenge seriously and every challenger seriously. We don’t consider them a threat, but we consider them quite a challenge, as we do to any of our opponents.
Is there any iota of truth in the claims that the APC is now a party divided against itself with the factionalization of the Progressive Governors Forum, other leaders and chieftains of the party?
I am not aware of that. The party is united as far as I know. If you expect us not to have disagreements then that is a pipe dream. We are not divided.
What do you think of the controversy surrounding the continued delay in APC conducting the National Convention to elect the party’s new national leadership?
Controversy? I don’t think there is any controversy. The delay is caused by multiple factors. Our mandate was to reconcile and strengthen the party. Reconciliation is a tedious and painstaking process that involves negotiations with several people and managing interests and egos. And we had issues in almost every state prior to our coming. We are working on most of them. We had to register new members and revalidate old ones. That’s the foundation of everything. Enthusiasm was higher than expected. States kept asking for extensions. We had to put a stop after a while to allow us to clean up and prepare for other activities. So, it is not a delay deliberately done. It is the job that is not something you would do in a hurry. But we must do convention. That is sacrosanct!
Will you subscribe to using foreign machinery to fight insurgent, banditry, kidnapping and other crimes currently crippling the country?
I am not a security expert. I don’t know what that entails. I hear people talk about it freely. It baffles me because I know they don’t have as much intelligence or know-how as the government or the field commanders. I am sure the government will do whatever is necessary. I am more concerned with aggressive local recruitment of security agents both in police and military to beef up the numbers. That is more of what I want to see.
What legacy or legacies do you think President Buhari will leave behind by the time he bows out in 2023?
It is certainly going to be massive infrastructural developments and economic empowerment.
As a presidential aide, what is the truth in the widely believed claim that presidency cabal, not President Buhari, is in charge of running affairs in the country?
It is an utterly false and asinine statement. The president and president alone is responsible for the running of his government as he deems fit. Like they say, the buck stops on his table.
What do you tell those claiming that Nigeria is heading towards a failed state?
I will tell them that doomsday prophecies shall never come to pass. We will overcome our challenges like we always had and this time with a more determined future God’s willing.
How true is the speculation that you are eying Kano Government House come 2023?
Every politician dreams ahead. I am no exception. But the only thing I am eyeing at this point is delivering on the mandate the party leadership gave to me.