By Billy Graham Abel Yola
In this interview with Comrade Elliot Afiyo, the 6th National President of Northern Youth Leaders Forum (NYLF), the umbrella body for 42 Northern groups, bares his mind on the 2023 presidential election.
The forum which has the backing of Northern political, economic, military and traditional Rulers since 1994 has been unarguably the most powerful political group in the North that is firmly rooted and grounded in the rural northern areas accounting for 70% of northern votes.
Among other issues, he speaks on the possibility of changing the dynamics of 2023 elections.
We observed that after the meeting with your patrons, you decided to be silent. What is the problem?
I don’t think there is any silence. Maybe you have not been able to watch or listen to the international media organisations.
The truth of the matter is that our patrons especially the former leaders are divided. While some of the former military leaders are rooting for Obi, some are rooting for Atiku while the traditional rulers are rooting for Tinubu. The patrons are divided into three major blocs and this development is giving us major concern. Thank God that these issues were resolved to a certain extent after our meeting with them two weeks ago.
It is rumored that your forum will finally endorse Bola Tinubu instead of Atiku or Obi. Is it true?
Well, you know that our forum stands for justice and fairness. We have been adhering to that especially in 2003, and 2011 when we stood and supported southern candidates against a northern candidate. We jointly reviewed the political developments with our patrons and putting the collective interest of the nations, the forum was directed to nominate one candidate and present such candidate to our patrons for endorsement.
We had a meeting with our zonal and state coordinators yesterday and a decision was taken that all the state coordinators should organise their state NEC and submit their nominees to the political committee who will in turn submit to the NEC for final presentation to our patrons.
The most important aspect of this decision is that all our patrons have unanimously agreed to drop their personal interests and support whoever that is endorsed.
When are we expecting the final endorsement?
We are meeting with all our patrons at Minna in two weeks time and we will address the press thereafter. Definitely, whoever that is endorsed, becomes the next President by the grace of God and we must have genuine and convincing reasons to justify our endorsement.
But we can see a particular candidate pulling crowd and even some supporters of other candidates shouting his name during their campaigns?
Don’t be carried away by such developments. All the candidates are renting the same crowd. The same people are being sponsored to embarrass other candidates during their campaigns. All our states coordinators used to send reports after every rally in their states. Some APC governors are working for Atiku just like some PDP governors apart from the G5, are also working for Tinubu. What you see or observe during rallies is not the reflection of what is going to happen. Nigerian electorates especially the northern electorates are more enlightened now. They have been listening to Imams and Pastors but will definitely not obey them anymore. The result of the 2023 presidential elections will shock everybody even the key players just like 1993.
Are you saying that the results of 2023 will be contrary to expectations?
Quite contrary to expectations of the conservatives. One thing is sure, if at all the elections would be held, Nigerians from all over the world will feel the sense of belonging, togetherness and brotherliness after the results are declared.
From your analysis, it seems we are going to witness a lot of betrayals?
Are we not witnessing high levels of betrayals now? Looking at what is happening in and around the leading candidates, genuine loyalists are completely barricaded from accessing the candidates but one. The hypocrites, liars, failed politicians are now members of their inner circles. Though 98% of politicians prefer lies to the truth, if you tell them lies, they will embrace and easily believe you, but if you tell them truth, you are automatically a suspect and not worthy to be trusted and as such should be kept at a distance with a concurrent monitoring. This is why today I am not embraced fully by any of them unless after their retirements because I have no any other interest but national interest, therefore, I must tell them the truth.
Is that why you are poor?
I am not poor by any standard. I can eat anything I want to eat, drink anything I want to drink. Sleep in anywhere I want to sleep. I am fully in charge of my family responsibilities. I am assisting the less privileged in the society. I can visit any local government in the North without paying for accommodation, feeding or logistics because at least 20 of our members will be struggling to outsmart each other in paying my bills. Today, if I want to visit any former president, serving governor or traditional ruler, I don’t need to book an appointment because they know that I will never request for anything.
The timing of the backing from Atiku seems late, is there any specific reason why NYLF is taking reconsidering its position now?
The timing is never late because we need just two weeks to pass any message down to the rural North.
Secondly, there are so many political developments that warrant reassessments;
putting into consideration the unity, peace and progress of the nation which can only be guaranteed by justice and fairness. These reasons will be known to the public after the ongoing consultation process.
But the NYLF being a northern group seems to be off course, as your action seems inconsistent with the original mandate of projecting the northern interest since the candidates for consideration are from the South?
NYLF is purely a Northern interest group formed to project the northern interest but within the national interest.
This infers that the Northern interest being projected must be within the national interest. This implies that the national interest encircled the Northern interest and this Northern interest must be projected within the confines of the national interest no matter who becomes the President.
From past experiences, Northern interest is more projected under presidents of southern extractions.
We strongly believe that justice and fairness are the only antidotes to chaos and violence. Which means we must ensure that justice is not only done but seems to be done at all cost even if it negates the Northern interest which is impossible.
This is why we supported Obasanjo against Buhari in 2003 and Jonathan against Buhari in 2011. When Jonathan refused to project the National interest in 2015, we proved to him that sometimes, Northern interest could be projected to enforce the national interest. This is what we want to do in 2023. We cannot allow our political future to be destroyed and in the same vein we cannot allow the future political interest of the Southerners to be mortgaged. This is simply the justice and fairness we are talking about which is the National interest. It is the golden rule. Don’t do to others what you will not allow others to do to you.
What should we be expecting from your Forum given this position?
Expect a just and fair decision which will usher in a brand new and best president that all Nigerians will be proud of.
How soon considering time is of the essence?
We are still consulting. We must meet with some former leaders across the country. We have some serving governors such as Bala Mohammed of Bauchi, Yahaya Bello of Kogi, Umar Ganduje of Kano, Nasir El-rufai of Kaduna and Darius Ishaku of Taraba.
Some of our patrons are also insisting that we meet three of the G5 Governors.
We will also meet with the the national Chairmen of the four leading political parties in the country. We have some Emirs such as the Sultan, Etsu Nupe, Kwandi Nunguraya and Emir of Katsina to consult.
Why a meeting with the G5 Governors and what do you make of their stance?
To us, they are the most patriotic Nigerians because they are speaking their minds from their hearts publicly and openly unlike the other governors who pretend to support their presidential candidates openly but working against them secretly.
So Governor Wike is a patriot, in your opinion?
Of course yes. In any ramification you view it, Wike is a good leader. Believe it or not, he is a type of leader this country needs.
Wike, Bala Mohammed, Ahmed Lawan the Senate president, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, Alh. Mohammed Babandede and Senator Orji Uzor Kalu possess good character traits that can be compared with that of Sadauna of Sokoto and Tafawa Balewa as demonstrated in 1957 conference. If they believe in something, they say it and back it up with open and public action without minding whose ox is gored.
Only at times they say or do some things that are not necessary, but they are humans.
It is a known fact that you are very close to Atiku. What will you do if he is not endorsed by your forum?
My closeness with Atiku will never stop me from carrying out the mandate of the forum. Relationship, tribe or religion will never be considered by me when it comes to national political or economic interest. I was close to Atiku and we belong to Adamawa State, yet I worked against him in 2007. My house in Kaduna was completely burnt down with four of my cars because of Atiku.
My house in Abuja and Yola were revoked and taken away because of Atiku. Yet I supported him in 2014 without asking for a dime. I only complained to him through Garba Shehu the present presidential spokesman. Nothing was done and I am not bothered. I supported Bala Mohammed against Atiku before PDP’s primaries because our forum endorsed Bala Mohammed.
A strong and united forum was handed over to me 14 years ago and by next year June, I will be completing my third term of five years and I must handover a more united, vibrant, focused and virile Forum to my successor by His grace. This is why I must not compromise the national to ethnic, regional or religious sentiments.