As Nigeria marked June 12 as Democracy Day, the Advocacy for One Nigeria Initiative held a symposium and launched a social media app called Tribe Naija. In this interview, Mr Kola Abiola, the brain behind the initiative, reveals to ONWUKA NZESHI his dissatisfaction with the current political system in Nigeria and the need to unite and change the system, using technology
What’s the motivation for the event?
Over the years, unfortunately, things have been falling apart in Nigeria. We’re tearing apart and I felt I needed to do something to halt that trend. I felt I needed to do something that can cement what we are as Nigerians.
The easiest way to do it is to appeal to 70 per cent of the population, which is the demographics between 18 and 42 years of age. If we lose our youths and lose the generation zee or the millennial generation, I think, it will be a problem for this country. That is where our talents are and that is the future of this country. I feel it is important to hold that segment of the population together.
I want us to speak to each other because by speaking, we will erase the divides and we will understand each other better. I think to a great degree, we will see that happening soon. We have a lot more in common than we think and that is why this app has been developed. I have been on it for a while. It started about 12 years back but in the last two years, we have been able to develop it to this stage. Thank God we are here today.
How are you going to reach people at the grassroots, who are not familiar with mobile app technology?
I think that is where we sometimes make mistakes. Today, people buy 15 times more data than voice and because of the data, it allows the reach. So, you will be surprised that even your drivers and your cooks have access to social media platforms. I jog the streets every day and I see even security guards looking at something on their telephones – that’s data. Now, because of data, it has expanded the reach down the pyramid of society. We also have on this app, a voice note. You can leave voice messages. You can leave your comments on voice. We can even have language variations also, as we go along. So, the opportunities are enormous and for that, you’ll get a lot more participation than you ever expected.
Is this for a political purpose?
Okay! Very good. I was expecting that and even thought that was going to be the first question. I don’t have….you see, the problem we have in Nigeria is that many people think that everything has to be a means to an end. There cannot be a means to an end if you don’t have a country.
So, first and foremost, I want to unite us; that’s my purpose here. General Shehu Musa Yar’ Adua started PF (Peoples Front); did he end up being the President of this country? Shehu Yar’Adua started PF. My father came in on the same platform; of course, he ended up not ruling the country. So, it is not about whether you’re running for something or you want a political office.
No. I come from a family that is a pioneer in what we do. There’s a way you take the unknown, you make them known. In addition to uniting us, we will bring up leadership and that is what it is all about. The names you hear in your profession (journalism) today, there’s hardly any of them that didn’t pass through Concord. When they were at Concord, did anybody know their names?
Exactly! That is what we are all about. It is not about me. It is just about making sure that we unite this country. My father wasn’t running for President for a divided Nigeria. Yar’Adua didn’t start this thing for a divided Nigeria. I don’t want to see a divided Nigeria because I don’t know any other place but Nigeria.
Running for political office is not my desire. I’m home anywhere I go in this country. I know many of you came here thinking that I was going to make an announcement for entry into politics. I see the rubbish going around on some social media platforms. I’m not even a card carrying member of any political party.
I’ve never been involved politically with any party since my father’s election because I wanted to make sure that first and foremost, he was recognised for what he achieved. It took me 22 years to get that done with the announcement by President Muhammadu Buhari and I’m always going to be thankful for it.
Twenty two years for something I thought will be a no brainer! Twenty two years…and now that he has been recognised, I want to finish the job that they did by making sure that nobody is ever robbed of his electoral victory again and let us keep Nigeria together as one.
Earlier on during the symposium, you talked about getting the young people to think outside the box. What do you mean?
I’m saying that we need to think out of the box. We are still thinking along the same political process that we inherited since independence. What we inherited and still have is a system that throws up two candidates, not of our choice.
Then, we get to pick the best of the worst. What I am hoping we will do with this platform is to mobilise a good number of us to disrupt the process. It’s all about disrupting the process. Now, what do I mean? You’re at the age of disruption. Now, can you imagine having 51 per cent of the voting public on a platform? Right? You do everything online and you’re already online anyway.
You don’t have to pay for a form. All you need is to use that same platform to begin to organically grow leadership from among you.
We have the thumbs up, thumbs down and other applications that helps you to identify participation, quality of content and as we go in time, you grow from a tribe member, to a bronze member, to a silver member, to a gold member and then to a Diamond member. These are the type of people that will grow into leadership positions.
So, please don’t let us make the mistake about the system; there’s no system. We have inherited a system. It is time to make sure we turn that system on its head. The system just throws up what they want us to have and we have to pick from what they throw up for us to vote for.
We will change that on this platform because our numbers will count and we will have a say. You will know exactly the numbers we have at ward, local and state basis through this platform. I am committed to making that happen.
What exactly do you think is wrong with the current system?
The biggest fraud in this system is the delegate’s election. It’s the biggest fraud because if four of us are running for office, the delegates collect from all four of us and a godfather will go and tell them where to vote eventually. In many cases, even the defeated candidates are called in for a discussion to step down and be settled somehow and that system continues.
But when you have your own troops, you’re not elected by his own troops because your own troops have nominated you off the platform. Can you see the difference it would make? We can’t continue to rely on that old system. We need to create a system that will give you a direct say in what is happening and you will know exactly what your numbers are at every point. What is the minimum age of legislators in the State Houses of Assembly? It’s about 32 or 35.
Okay, your Federal House? And then, in the Senate? And then, your governors?
These numbers are all good but have they made an impact or made a difference? No, because they come out of a system that throws up just what they want us to have and we have to pick from what they want us to vote for. We will change that on this platform. We will change that. Okay?
We will change that because our numbers will count and we will have a say. You will know exactly the number of members you have on a Ward,
Local Government and State basis on this platform. That is how to change the system. I am committed to making sure that we turn this political system on its head. General Yar’adua used to tell me, ‘Kola, you must know what you have.’
One other thing he always tells me is that the only authority you have to challenge the government is a party; any other thing you do on the street is illegal. So, the party is the only authority and the party comes from numbers. Let us speak to each other irrespective of our religion. Let us speak to each other irrespective of our backgrounds
When you talk about completing the Yar’Adua bridge, many would think you want to start from where your father stopped by seeking political office. Is that correct?
No! They started a democratic legacy and I want to see it completed to make sure that nobody is deprived of his mandate again. My father had about 210 traditional titles all over Nigeria. At that time, he didn’t even have a National Honour until this one given to him two years ago. So, it is about always giving and always believing in Nigeria.
Everything we do, we put Nigeria first. Anything we create is about Nigeria, whether domestically or in the Diaspora and that is the whole essence of the Abiola brand. At the height of it, we were the largest private sector employer because we had offices in every corner of Nigeria. That is what this is all about and that has to continue.
Are you impressed with the kind of democracy we have today?
No, because it is not what they died for. It is not what they put their lives on the line for and I want to make sure we get up to the standard that they will be proud of in their graves. That is what I mean by completing that bridge.
How can we improve our democracy?
You guys have to get involved; you don’t appreciate the power that you have. If you come collectively and use that power, we can achieve it. I believe that it will develop with the app that we have created and you will see it. Let’s have the numbers and understand that there is no difference. All that we are looking for is leadership and good governance.
Assuming the app attracts millions of Nigerians and they invite you to lead them, would you?
You have to have leadership from the ward to the top. It is about that. If we change it progressively, then you’ll see what is going to happen. It is not about the head because if the head is good and we don’t have anybody down the line, who is he going to govern?
Look, if I’m the President today and I have all the good ideas but I don’t have the right people in the right places; people that can make the ideas succeed, it is still a failure.
So, that is why I keep saying that it is not about me but about all of us. I want to make sure that we develop a system that can make a lasting impact in this country. We need to turn the narrative on its head and I’m hoping that with this, we will do that and make Nigeria a better country.