Mr. Elliot Afiyo is the national chairman of the Northern Youth Leaders Forum (NYLF), an umbrella body of 42 northern youth organisations. In this interview with CLEMENT EKONG in Yola, he speaks on the 2023 general elections and why north should support any candidate from the North-East. Excerpts:
NYLF has been in the process of producing past and present presidents since 2003. Recall when NYLF nominated and presented late former President Musa Umaru Yar’adua in 2006, former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2010 and currently, President Muhammadu Buhari in 2014. What informed the reason for your nominations?
In 2003, there were forces from the North for one reason or the other, wanted a change because they believed truly to some extent, that the North was being marginalised economically. But we felt that that will be a breach of the political agreement signed with former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999. It was a serious issue. But thank God, former Military President Ibrahim Babangida and former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, were able to douse the tension and brought peace and understanding. Even at that, it was a difficult task to convince the northern youths to dump Buhari for Obasanjo in 2003. In 2006, we were able to convince Yar’adua to accept to contest in 2007. He reluctantly agreed but some two term northern governors opposed the decision and wanted to break away. They were subsequently faced with an option either to remain in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or decamp to the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). Before then, ANPP had already endorsed Buhari. They were also threatened by the Federal Government through the then Chairman of the EFCC who went to the National Assembly and told the Senators that all of them had one or two cases of corruption, weighing the available options, they decided to remain in PDP.
So, what happened then?
In 2010, it was Obasanjo that persuaded the Northern politicians to allow former President Jonathan to contest and serve for only one term. But in 2014, Jonathan reneged on this agreement and decided to contest and the north felt cheated, belittled and ignored. Then meetings of the northern political, religious, youth and traditional leaders were held in Sokoto, Kaduna and Kano and after these meetings a final and unanimous decision was taken to remove Jonathan by all means either democratically or otherwise.
From your account, this was where the campaign for a Northern president started from?
Yes, a decisive awareness campaign was initiated towards the 2015 presidential elections. In order to prove the political worth, value and supremacy of the north, Buhari was supported by the entire North-West, North-East and North-Cen-tral Youth, religious and traditional leaders irrespective of political, religious or ethnic leanings and against all odds, Buhari won convincingly in the three geo-political zones in the North. Even Jonathan’s political field commanders from the North were involved in this political conspiracy against him. The defection of some Northern governors to the APC was part of this conspiracy, while some remained in PDP to work against the President from the inside. Note that we supported and voted for Buhari in 2015 not because we considered him as the best candidate for the North, but because he was the only option and available best candidate to be used to politically chase out Jonathan in order to maintain and sustain our political supremacy and power.
During your NEC meeting in Gombe State, you advised PDP and APC to zone their presidency slot to North–East and South- West respectively?
What is your reason for taking this decision? From the analysis I gave you, you will realise that the decision of Jonathan to contest for the second term against the initial political agreement in the PDP, brought President Buhari and by extension the APC to power and consequently all these security challenges we are witnessing and experiencing today in the country. That was what brought the alliance between the North and the South–West. If Jonathan had respected this agreement, APC wouldn’t have come to power because the North would have voted massively for the Northern candidate who would have come from the North-East. In the same vein, we were told that there is an existing agreement in the APC that power should be shifted to the South–West after Buhari. We therefore insist that such agreement should be respected so as to avoid a boomerang effect and consequences. All these agitations for restructuring, true federalism, Biafra or Odua Republic are as a result of injustices. Let’s just avoid them by ensuring justice to all. The North-East that was denied that opportunity in 2015; should first of all be pacified and the South-West that have entered into an agreement with the North in APC, whether right or wrong, should also be considered. That was our honest reason. Remember that there are Igbos in APC when such agreement was written, signed and sealed. They did not bother to challenge that agreement when it was being sealed because of their belief then that APC could not have won the presidential election. I was shocked to see some of them gathered to demand for the APC ticket in 2023.
But the South-East is claiming that it is their turn since they have not produced any president in this political dispensation?
I don’t really understand how it became their turn. The political agreement in PDP is between the North and the South not among geo-political zones. It is left for the south to decide which zone to produce the president. Let the three geopolitical zones in the south decide which of them to produce the president in 2023. We have some politicians from the North-West such as Aminu Tambuwal, Rabiu Kwankwaso, Ibrahim Shekarau and Sule Lamido, who are rumoured to have interest in 2023 presidency, is it justifiable to have another president from the Northwest in 2023? As I said earlier we are in a democratic dispensation and so the only asset the northerners are left with in this enterprise called Nigeria is political supremacy and power because of our collective determination, political unity coupled with our numerical strength. Once any of these things is affected, the north has nothing left than to become pushovers and readymade vessels in the hands of the southerners. In order to sustain and maintain this asset, it requires nothing but justice, fairness and sense of belonging by all northerners irrespective of geopolitical zones, ethnicity and religious belief. It is injurious and morally unjustifiable and unacceptable for somebody to come from the northwest to contest for the presidency in 2023. The North-West has produced two presidents and a vice president, we believe it is the turn of the North-Central or North-East to produce the president or vice president which must be fully endorsed and supported by the Northwest. Fortunately, we have over two million of our members from the North- West and they have agreed not to support any candidate from the zone in 2023 in the best interest of the north.
So, which politicians are NYLF considering for 2023?
For now, six politicians have directly approached us and we have not penciled down any. But you will agree with us that we have the Bala Mohammed, Atiku Abubakar, Danjuma Goje, Prof. Babagana Zulum, Ahmed Lawan, among others from the North-East. If any of these politicians is chosen to pair with Governors Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, Ben Ayade of Cross River State, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi, Mr. Peter Obi, Senator Rochas Okorocha, Orji Uzor Kalu, among others, we will have a near perfect ticket. From the South- West, we have Tinubu, Fayemi, Osibanjo. If any politician is chosen to pair with El-Rufai, Ganduje, Lalong, Bagudu or Babandende, we will have a good combination.
Are you then saying that the political battles for 2023 have started in earnest?
The political battles for 2027 has been concluded already and you are here talking of 2023? Recently, there was a meeting in Abuja, where the only agenda was 2027 presidential arrangement. These politicians have their short, medium and long term plans just like our economists.