Comrade Elliot Afiyo is the National Chairman of the Northern Youth Leaders Forum (NYLF), the umbrella body of 42 Northern youth organizations formed in 1990. Afiyo is the third National Chairman of NYLF and also the Secretary General of the Association of West African Monarchs and a senior Pastor in the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG).
In this interview with BILLY GRAHAM ABEL in Yola, Afiyo revealed that NYLF would consider supporting candidates for 2023 presidency from the South and northeast exclusively. He singled out Atiku Abubakar, Bala Mohammed, Bola Tinubu, Nyesom Wike, Orji Uzor Kalu, Peter Obi, among other notable politicians, as formidable candidates that the Forum could back to grab the reins of power in 2023.
The Northern Youth Leaders Forum also warned northern governors and the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 not to impose another round of lockdown on Nigerians considering the lack of stimulus packages for the average Nigerian in the last nationwide lockdown and the unbearable hardship it brought on them in view of the millions of jobs crippled.
NYLF has been involved in the process of producing Presidents since 2003. What informs your decision?
In 2003, there were forces from the north that for one reason or the other, wanted a change because they believed to some extent, that the north was being marginalized economically and in terms of infrastructural development.
But we felt that will be a breach of political agreement signed with Obasanjo in 1999. It was a serious issue. But thank God, former President Babangida and former head of state 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 presidential election.
In 2006, we were able to convince late President Yar’adua to accept to contest in 2007. He reluctantly agreed but some northern governors opposed the decision and wanted to break away. They were subsequently faced with an option either to remain in PDP or decamp to 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 almost all of them had one or two cases of corruption against them. As such, they decided to remain in PDP. In 2010, it was Obasanjo that persuaded the Northern politicians to allow former President Jonathan to contest and serve for only one term. Based on this understanding, an agreement was reached and accepted by 13 senior politicians. This agreement was signed and the original copy collected by one of the governors from the south-south
In 2014, former President Jonathan reneged on this agreement and decided to contest; the north felt cheated, belittled and ignored. The attention of former President Obasanjo was drawn to it and Obasanjo thrice warned Jonathan on the consequences of his action and thrice Jonathan rebuffed Obasanjo. 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.
A decisive awareness campaign was initiated towards the 2011 presidential election. 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-Central youth, religious and traditional leaders irrespective of political, religious or ethnic leanings and against all odds, Buhari won convincingly in all the three geopolitical 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 conserve, preserve, maintain and sustain our only best asset, that is, political supremacy and power. In 2019, we knew quite alright that Atiku will definitely win the election but he will not be given his mandate based on the political conspiracy against him despite our efforts towards uniting him with Obasanjo in 2014.
We consequently decided as a Forum, not to waste our resources, time and energy to support him. We could not also campaign for Buhari because we were not happy or satisfied with the performance of his administration especially the security situation in the North, as a Forum, we directed and supported the state chapters in the areas of mobilization and election of individual candidates instead of parties. That was why PDP won in some states and APC also won in other states. Many people didn’t understand the political mathematics and scheming that resulted in these victories and defeats, but we knew what we did.
So what Bishop Kukah said was right?
Of course, yes, the only part of Bishop Kukah’s Christmas homily that I don’t expect from him is tagging Islam as having a pool of violence. That shouldn’t have come from any enlightened or educated elite not to talk of coming from a Bishop and a member of the peace committee. I am a senior Pastor in RCCG. Should I come now and say Christianity is a religion of criminals because before now, vices such as kidnappings, rituals, cultism, armed robbery, 419 or assassinations were mostly carried out by Christians who bear the names such as Paul, Silas, Peter, Gideon, Mark and even Joseph? Nobody preached or invited me to leave my church to RCCG.
Jesus personally appeared to me and asked me to leave and join RCCG because my spirit was down and discouraged as a result of the violence I witnessed in my former denomination. Violence is carried out by both Muslims and Christians. We had witnessed violence even inside churches. Presently, we have Muslim leaders, Sheikhs and Imams that are speaking and condemning these killings and other violent acts more than Pastors and Christian leaders.
The Sultan of Sokoto is the Fulani leader, as well as, the head of the Muslim Ummah in Nigeria. When the conference of Bishops including Bishop Kukah visited him in the early 2020 at Sokoto, he told them point blank that he was disappointed in them because nothing was working and they said nothing.
I remember vividly when the Association of Christian Traditional Rulers paid him a courtesy call in his house in Abuja, he told us that he will never be silent when people are being killed because he is a Fulani and a fellow Fulani is the President. He once said any herder found with AK47 riffle should be arrested.
How many of our Christian leaders come out to condemn the senseless killings in Nigeria? I am from Adamawa state and from Girei Local Government, all my elder brothers lived and studied in Girei. They were accommodated and fed by the Fulani who are Muslims until they completed their studies. What moral ground or right do I have now to condemn the Fulani or the Muslims that they love and practice violence?
During your NEC meeting in Gombe, NYLF advised the PDP and APC to zone their presidency slot to North –East and South-West respectively, what is your reason for taking such decision?
From the analysis I gave you, you will realize that the decision of Jonathan to contest for the second term against the initial political agreement in the PDP, brought 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 former President 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 Oodua 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.
Some are arguing that it was donated to the South-West in 1999, the South –West through Abiola paid the price, it was not donated. If I may ask, where were the South Easterners when these agreements were being written by the PDP and APC. We breached the agreement of PDP and we are paying the price now. If we break that of APC, we may pay a higher price by saying bye to Nigeria. Let me be frank with you, an average Northerner will be more comfortable with an Igbo as President than a rigid Northerner. The reason is very simple. A president of Igbo extraction will be 90% loyal and be willing to play to the gallery and the dictates of the Northern powers than a Northerner who may ignore them, no president of Igbo extraction will summon the courage and boldness to try.
We have some politicians from the North-West such as Tambuwal, Kwankwaso, Shekarau and Lamido who are rumored to have interest in 2023 presidency, is it justifiable to have another president from the North 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 one of these three things is affected, the north has nothing left than to become push –overs and ready-made vessels in the hands of Southerners. In order to preserve, 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 North –West 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 North-West. 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. Don’t take this as a political threat, if anybody from the North –West believes that they can dominate other two zones in the North because of their preponderance in number, let them try it and see in 2023. I strongly believe and truly too that even a Fulani man from North –East would never vote for any Fulani man from the North –west in 2023
So who are the politicians NYLF is considering for 2023?
For now, six politicians have directly approached us and we have not pencilled down any. But you will agree with us that we have the Bala Mohammed, Atiku Abubakar, Danjuma Goje, Prof. Babagana Zulum, Ahmad Lawan etc from the North –East. If any of these politicians is chosen to pair with Governors Nyesom Wike, Okowa, Ben Ayade, Raymond Dokpesi, Peter Obi, Rochas Okorocha, Orji Kalu, etc, we will have a near perfect ticket. From the South –West, we have Tinubu, Fayemi, Osinbajo. If any of them is chosen to pair with either 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 battle 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.
Recently, the federal government through the PTF says it is considering another lockdown because of the second wave of COVID-19 …
(Cuts in) I think it is right time to warn the federal government and indeed all northern state governors not to consider any form of lockdown. We have extensively discussed this issue in our last NEC meeting in Gombe and came to a conclusion that if any of the state governors in the North imposes any lockdown because of COVID-19, such state should prepare for end lockdown protest by the northern youths which will have far more worse consequences than EndSARS protest and the consequences will be better imagined.
Most Nigerians and in particular northerners depend on daily labor and trade to feed themselves or cater for their families but here are state governments locking down their states without making adequate provisions for their people. Some even locked up the palliatives sent by the federal government in their warehouses, can you imagine how many people died of hunger and starvation during lockdown in northern states?
How many were sick during lockdown? How many families were separated during lockdown? How many businesses were closed? How many people lost the sources of their livelihood and jobs?
Credit: The Sun