Muyiwa Alakija, a former student union leader is one of the newly appointed Youth Ambassadors of the United Nigeria Forum (UNF), an emerging group within the All Progressives Congress (APC). Among other things, the group which has just been inaugurated in Lagos is trying to mobilise support for the APC’s national membership drive and revalidation exercise scheduled to take off today (Monday), by making the Youth Ambassadors the face of the party at the grassroots. Alakija spoke to reporters recently about this development. Deputy Political Editor RAYMOND MORDI reports
You have just been appointed as a Youth Ambassador of the United Nigeria Forum (UNF), an emerging group within the APC. What are the responsibilities attached to this position?
Basically, the responsibilities attached to the position are cumbersome. But, I would say that it is not too much, particularly when you recognize that it has to do with planning. If you look at the situation in Nigeria today, you will discover that the youth has not been getting actively involved in politics that much. They have a different perception of politics. Given the fact that we are in the technological era, they engage more with themselves on social media. We believe that the elders have not done enough, but that is where it ends; we do not take steps to participate in the political process and thereby make our input in the system. So, my major responsibility is to engage with the youths, to encourage them to participate actively in the political process. They cannot continue to sit on the fence and believe that there would be a miracle somehow and things would change. We cannot continue to blame the elders forever. We must recognize that the elders are not perfect and position ourselves in such a manner to make them see that we have something embedded in us that we can contribute to the system. So, my major role is to engage with the youths in every aspect. This would span the broad spectrum of the various categories of them, both the intellectuals and non-intellectuals. We need to change the narrative, not only in politics but in life generally, for people to recognize that we all have something to contribute to making the country great. Our reaction should not just be that we want to check out of the country because things are going from bad to worse, but we must also to offer solutions to make Nigeria a better place.
The APC has indicated recently that it wishes to triple its membership during the forthcoming national membership drive and revalidation exercise. What strategies do you have in place to realise the above objective in your locality?
The strategy I have mapped out transcends my locality. The basic thing is that millions of Nigerian youths are not members of any political party; millions of Nigerian youths do not a voters’ card; millions of Nigerian youths that have voters’ card do not go out on election day to cast their vote, and they have the perception that politics is all about expressing our views on social media. But, you and I know that politics is not only done on social media but that we need to be actively and directly involved in the political space before you can make an impact positively. So, my strategy is simple; I am coming out with a plan to reach out to millions of Nigerian youths at the grassroots level in Oshodi/Isolo Local Government, in Lagos State and the national level. I want to raise my voice loud and clear that it is time youths started getting involved in politics. Now is the time because it is not enough for us to say “Not Too Young to Run” (an act of parliament that reduced the age limit for running for elective office in Nigeria) and go to sleep. If you say “Not Too Young to Run” and you are not a member of a political party, how do you participate? That is the first phase. Now, since I stand for the APC, when it comes to the time to register to become a member of the party, I will also make sure that I encourage thousands of them to register. When it is time to register to vote, I will also encourage them to acquire a voters’ card to be able to actualize their ambitions. Finally, when the time for election comes, they would also be mobilised to go out and vote. In other words, my job is to ensure that I engage the youth at all levels — through face-to-face interactions, through social media and other platforms — to explain why they need to get involved. But, I am going to use more of the social media to engage them because millions of youths are active there. As my party has said it wants to triple its membership base during the registration exercise that is coming up very soon, I am going to engage with them to explain why they must come on board. My plan is to reach out to an average of seven million youths in Nigeria.
Given that the youth, who form the bulk of the voting population, do not usually turn out on election day, how do you intend to change that narrative?
As already indicated, we need to engage them directly and through social media, to create an awareness of the need to change their attitude to politics. This is the best way we can convince them to participate actively in politics. The reason why youths don’t come out most times is perhaps that they don’t believe in the system. When you don’t believe in the system and you continue to sit on the fence, you don’t make any difference and the system will continue to get rotten. We are going to reach out to them more through the grassroots. We are developing a system or structure whereby we will have several youth ambassadors in every ward, youths of reputable characters who can talk to them and they will listen. Through repetition of the same message in several media platforms, there is a tendency for them to have a rethink and toe the path of effective participation. It’s a huge responsibility, which is not going to be achieved overnight.
During the inauguration of the UNF, the Southwest regional coordinator spoke extensively about bringing more youth, women and professionals into the party. Do they have what it takes to survive in politics, given the emphasis placed on money in Nigerian politics?
We should aspire to build our integrity and get to a level we will not need to spend too much money to win elections. It has happened before in Nigeria; President Muhammadu Buhari does not have money, but people clamoured for him in 2014/2015 because of his integrity. They felt that he is a disciplined and incorruptible man who has fought corruption before during the military era. Nigerians voted for him because they also saw him as a man who has tackled insurgency too as military Head of State and has a lot of positive attributes that the country requires to chart a new path. As a result, Nigerians from all walks of life supported him, not because he had a lot of money to throw around but because of his track record as a man that can be relied upon to deliver. For the youth that may have the ambition to contest for one elective position or the other, should take consolation in that. A good name is better than riches; they should take steps to build their integrity and people will put their trust in them because of what they have done within their communities. Integrity has contested before against money and triumphed; I believe it can still happen again.
What are the positives that we can take away from the recent #EndSARS protests?
I supported the EndSARS protest. If you look at my social media platforms, you will see all the messages I posted in support of the protest. It is a wakeup call for the political class, as well as the Nigerian youths themselves. It signalled the end of the era of docility because now the consciousness is there. Many youths are now aware that they must get involved to make the next general elections in 2023 a turning point our political history. But, the truth is that we cannot achieve 100 per cent result through protest alone. Every war that has been fought, including the First World War and the Second World War, at a point there would be a need to sit at a round table to negotiate. So, it is high time we strategized to find out what we can do in addition to achieve our desired goal. Now that the preparations for 2023 general elections are gradually taking off, the consciousness that has been created among the youths is such that many have realized that they must be actively involved in the process. If we continue to shy away from joining political parties, how are we going to realise our goals and aspirations? On the other hand, the political class is also conscious that the youths are now alert to their responsibilities as citizens and will continue to utilize that power in future.
What are the chances of the APC in Lagos and the country at large in the next general elections, given the growing perception that the country is becoming more insecure, the economy in bad shape and the fight against corruption wobbling?
If we say that the APC as a party has not performed well in over two decades in Lagos and close to six years at the federal level, we are deceiving ourselves. Though there may be some lapses here and there, the party has done creditably well in Lagos and the federal level. If we are talking of corruption, it is clear that there is an improvement in that regard since the emergence of the President Buhari-led administration at the centre. There are certain policies that the administration has put in place since it came on board that has helped to checkmate corruption. These are policies the previous government was reluctant to implement, such as the Treasury Single Account (TSA) and many others. As a result, corruption has reduced. On the economy, it would seem the party is not performing well, but in reality, it is doing a good job. There is a global depression and the international market price of commodities like crude oil, which is our major source of income, has dropped drastically. It is when you have money to spend that you will be able to execute projects and lay a solid foundation for the economy. When there is no money, you have to improvise and manage the little one you have. If you compare the revenue of the government before the advent of the APC in power and situation since 2015 when it took over, you will realise that the difference is more than 250 per cent. That is why the Buhari administration is trying to harness alternative revenue sources, by focusing on agriculture and local production of many items. The border closure is a policy that has impacted positively on the economy by creating employment and reduced importation of rice and other commodities. On security, the government is working and I believe that would get there; it is not a day’s journey. So, the chances of the party in 2023 are very bright, I must say. In Lagos, the chances of the party are very clear. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has been performing well and the level of development in the state is self-evident. He has done well, with the way he has continued the implementation of ongoing and abandoned projects, related with the youths and has managed many crises during the period he has been on the saddle. His developmental projects cut across all sectors of the economy.