Mr. Rex Adebanjo is the presidential candidate of Youth Party of Nigeria (YPN). In this interview with LEO SOBECHI, he insists that youths have the biggest potential to transform Nigeria at this time, stressing that the 2019 election provides an opportunity for young people to rescue the country
Why do you believe that the youth would make a difference in 2019 election?
Nigeria’s situation is like the analogy of the frog. If there is boiling water and you drop a frog into it, it will jump right out. But if you leave it in cold water and slowly turn the fire on, the frog is going to boil to death.
We are in a slow-boiling-frog situation. Everyone acts as if nothing is going wrong, while there is an upcoming explosion underneath all of us.
Either from the divisions, the herdsmen, IPOB (Indigenous Peoples of Biafra) or militants in the Niger Delta, something will break, because the capacity of the government to contain it in terms of revenue is shrinking.
Everyone is talking about corruption. That is a small part of the problem. It should not be a president’s focus. An independent agency can always deal with that. There is population time bomb in itself.
We are now seeing people committing suicide. I was driving and saw three people just lying on the street; no one cared. They were probably just giving up.
It is when they die and smell and become intolerable that someone will report that there is a dead body on the street somewhere, to go and pick it up.
We have people like that in our system. When you hear about an uprising, it is just one trigger away.
It happened in Tunisia; one guy set himself ablaze because he could not take it anymore; the thing, is, you could have an uprising like that, because it is spontaneous, it is not organised.
It happened suddenly, it doesn’t really lead anywhere. It is not structured. I think we have this last window in 2019 for a peaceful transformative transfer of power to solve our problems.
And that mandate is what I am trying to lead around a few things that I have identified and think the youths need to rely on.
The first thing I think is for the youths to try to assess and understand their own power in terms of numbers, come together on a unified platform or maybe around a unified candidate and then pursue specific objectives; you might call it manifesto and that has nothing to do with personalities.
We keep looking for a messiah, whether it is (Ahmadu Bello) Sardauna, (Obafemi) Awolowo or (Nnamdi) Azikiwe.
We are so focused on individuals rather than, like every other country -France, US- that have fine common principles that whoever is there must implement.
It is almost like a blueprint, the master plan, free education, whoever is there must do, like 43 per cent of the budget must go to education, things like that, invest in security.
It seems as if we are designed for failure because if you look at our problems and the root cause, it is almost mathematical that it is guaranteed to fail. You talk about the security problem; people don’t see how it affects commerce.
If you can’t go to your own village and invest, either because you think there are village witches or you say they don’t like you, who would invest there?
So, how do you expect foreign investors to come to Nigeria when they can’t even come and monitor their investment because they don’t feel safe? I am a Nigerian; I will like to invest in Zamfara or Borno. I don’t know what opportunities that are there because I can’t even go there.
We don’t know how fundamental security is to production and investment, yet we pay policemen less than N50,000 a month and we give them a gun.
I admire policemen. I think they do an amazing job. For you to have a gun and all they do is still beg for money on the streets is just self-respect.
It shows a lot of restraint on their part. It is madness that we let that kind of thing happen. In any other place that is the core thing.
I would say, for instance, if there is any serious government, you judge it from what they say about education and what they say about security.
You need to triple the pay of the policeman. It can be done; the money is there. It is about priority. You need to triple their number, of course, under a state police regime.
The fact that we don’t even have that is scandalous. I don’t know why there is even a debate about it.
The people who are going to bear the biggest brunt if the country implodes are the youths.
They are the youngest and the ones who are going to suffer for the longest period. At the same time, they have the biggest potential to transform the nation at this time.
Everyone says this is the time for the youths, but no one has ever tried to articulate how the youths should get involved and to what objective.
That is what I am trying to do. I think the youths are the one demographic, because of social media and things like that, that can actually bridge the faultlines that have allowed this kind of nonsense to thrive in Nigeria.
The masses are not united. They are split along ethnic and religious lines. It is ridiculous that what you call the Fulani herdsman has a common interest with an Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) agitator, but they will never realise it, because if this leads to a conflict, there is a meeting point for them.
Look at every economic index, the Fulani herdsman is at the bottom of the totem pole though a Fulani man is at the top as president and the irony of all that should not pass anyone.
Buhari becoming president of Nigeria is the worst thing that could have happened to the Fulani, because he has now raised old fears among a whole new generation of Nigerians that is now poured out against the Fulani.
The majority of Fulani people who are going to bear the brunt of that are not benefitting from the supposed power that the Fulani man apparently holds. This is the message that I am trying to get across to the youths.
They need to pay attention now more than any other time. If they don’t, in a few years, majority of us are either going to be dead, in refugee camps or living under warlords and area gangs.
There is currently an ongoing war in the country, whether people are reporting it or not, in the MiddleBelt and elsewhere.
The IPOB agitation is there people are not just going to stand back for the army to come and sort out all of that.
These are going to build up to some kind of conflict. But even if you take that out and you have a marginal change in government, all our problems are going to quadruple unless someone figures out a mass programme to solve them
Think of the masses of the youths in the north. The government needs to take ownership. These people are not going to save themselves.
Someone has to step in and say, “we take all of you and we will build you into industries, where there is training.” They have to adopt these numbers of youths, almost as if the government is now their parents, both for job training that has a value chain that is sustainable.
You would think that a Buhari, who has such a large following in the north, would have figured out how to create artisan industrial parks. We are 180 million people; we all need to eat, clothe and be sheltered that is commerce.
Just train them in mass areas of land that the government has until they acquire the skill and a certificate. Then they can go into the market themselves and become gainfully employed.
You need mass programmes like that, including free and qualitative education. There are no ‘ifs and buts’ about it. That is why I am concerned because the people who are going to suffer the most are the youths.
If they don’t pay attention now, there might not be a Nigeria in four years.
What informs your choice of party and agenda?
It is called the Youth Party of Nigeria (YPN), very recently registered party. I had no connection to them. I was just enamoured that a group of young people had taken the initiative to actually establish a party that did not have a godfather and was trying to have credible youths without godfathers to stand for elections.
I decided to work with this group to have the youths converge there. They have a very fantastic system, which obviously the time has come.
It is democracy through electronic system. You can go there and vote. You do your primaries like Big Brother Nigeria. If you look at their manifesto, it is well thought out. They have been at this for a long time.
Why do so-called young people run away from competition and choose to mushroom on platforms? Are you not worried about the idea of zoning certain posts to particular parts of the country?
It is a most wicked thing to do. You look at how this zoning thing works. Look at all the presidents we have had, they are perfect gentlemen, but you can’t say they are most dynamic personalities from their parts of the country.
Starting from Balewa, Shagari, Yar’Adua, Jonathan and Buhari. Even if you want to pick a northerner or Fulani man, will there be a consensus that those were their best candidates? Of course not! Any committee that wants to pick somebody is going to pick a pliable person because they want to have influence on them.
I have seen this up close. It has nothing to do with PDP or APC; it is just the way the system is, even when the Alliance for Democracy (AD) was supposed to pick its candidate in 1999. You would ask, why did they not pick a Bola Ige? Because he was too radical! They wanted a Falae because they felt, at least, he would listen.
People always want someone who listens to them and sometimes they are not the best. These are not people who can chart their own course. And when they get into government, a cabal imprisons them.
The system in a federation where you have to zone is designed to fail. Not that you can’t be inclusive, you have to because we are a diverse country.
The first thing is to make the centre not so attractive so that it does not become a life and death issue.
That is why power devolution is the first agenda to any salvation to this country. You have to devolve power to the states and the local governments so that there is greater accountability. This has nothing to do with revenue sharing.
You need to unleash the dynamism of the nation through devolution. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo likes to talk as if it is just good people we need in government.
My argument is, imagine if there are one thousand Osinbajos in every local government doing what he is doing at the federal level. That is what we need.
Nigeria is one place that looks like we are trying to grow a plant and we are watering it from the leaves, rather than from the roots.
It makes no sense. You have empowered the centre so much that everybody just feels that the centre is where he or she has to be.