By Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye
The lawmaker representing Kabba/Bunu Ijumu Federal constituency, Tajudeen Yusuf, and the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) senatorial candidate for Kogi State in the 2023 elections in this interview, speaks on various issues including what happened during the recent governorship election in Ekiti State.
Kogi is an APC state and with all the challenges you’re facing, what are your chances come 2023?
First of all, let me correct the narrative. Yes, we have an APC governor but Kogi is a PDP state. First of all, the last election that produced the governor was adjudged worldwide as a charade. So, in as much as we are law abiding citizens, we have gone to court and it has given its verdict but that does not deny the fact that, that election falls short of every standard. An election where helicopter could be used to chase voters and ballot boxes were snatched! However, I’ll answer your question directly. The people have tasted both sides. There’s a saying in Yoruba that if you do not marry another wife, you will not know the value of the first one.
The APC has been in power for seven years now. It’s a simple logic, are we better than where we were before they came to power? My people in Kogi are determined this time around to rescue themselves from the shackles of this bad governance of APC, so I have no doubt in my mind. Even from the primary elections, is it not funny that PDP had more aspirants? It is natural that usually, people go to the ruling party because there’s the tendency that if you win the primary, there is a possibility or chance of winning the election. But go and check across Kogi, PDP had more aspirants than APC. What it means by implication is that people are galvanizing towards the party they believe will carry the day, given that we have a very free and fair election. And I’m sure by His grace, with the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS that INEC is using, and if they are true to that and are sincere, then I’m sure that we’ll have a resounding victory come 2023.
What are the things you have put in place to convince the people that you will represent them well in the Senate come 2023?
This is what I keep telling people that if someone who has been in office comes to seek for re-election, you should not just listen to him, you should check what he has done. Juxtapose what he’s saying. If you have not been in office, before you come to campaign, we should look at your antecedents and compare with what you’re saying. So, I’m privileged to be a third term House of Representatives member, so it is visible. I am not saying I’ve done excellently well, I am convinced there’s room for improvement; there are areas I want to do better but I can hit my chest to say that by His grace, I have reasonably represented my people well, and that is why I have been privileged to be given this ticket.
What are those areas you want to improve?
I must be sincere to say that I have not done enough in human capital development. I want to really focus on how to come up with policies and projects that will have direct bearing on the living condition of our people and infrastructure. I have been in the opposition party for like seven years. I will rely on my ability to leverage on my relationship with my colleagues in the House to get some additional infrastructure. But unfortunately, because of the very nepotistic APC, if you’re not an ally, certain privileges that should naturally be yours, were denied. So it limits our ability to really leverage that privilege in the House. So, I hope that the Senate will give me a better platform but with PDP at the center, we will work harder even if PDP is not at the center but I pray PDP is at the center.
Speaking of PDP, being at the center, do you see your party coming out of this crisis of the choice of running mate and then there’s the Wike’s factor?
The two questions – the Wike factor and running mate factor are the same. To me, the fact that we could have people speaking out about things they do not like is a reflection of how democratic the PDP is. It means that nobody is cowed, it is a party where you can express your opinion either minority or majority. So, I have conviction that will naturally find a way of bringing us to equilibrium.
The PDP crisis came up majorly because of leadership lapses. The national chairman has not shown leadership. He was too pedestrian and I believe for lack of a better word, a stringer activist that is galvanized by his desire to have his opinion established. So ab initio, if he had shown some degree of neutrality even though he has a preferred person, he would have been boosted to reconcile parties by now but unfortunately, he has lost that privilege. He needs to even be reconciled as the national chairman. So, that is why the onus is now falling on the candidate to do some running around. But it would have been such a good thing if the national chairman had been able to rescue himself from his emotion and be a leader. But I must say that he failed in all ramifications.
Still on that, especially with this picture you have painted, if you want to analyze the presidential candidates for 2023, which other party do you think is likely to win?
I believe that we will resolve it. To me, it will be suicidal, it will be a great disservice to Nigerians if we don’t resolve it. I don’t think I have any other party in mind that I can say is equipped enough to midwife Nigeria out of this quagmire.
How about the Labour Party and the Peter Obi movement, what level of impact can it make in the 2023 elections?
It is for the electorate to determine that but I do not have conviction about that movement. I have my reservation, I have nothing against the personality of the person involved but I have my reservation about that movement. It reminds me of General Buhari in 2015 in all things. In 2015, Buhari’s supporters said if he brings NEPA, we will elect him. I see this attitude that because I don’t want A, I don’t even want to check the level of preparedness of B. That is because I don’t want B, anything but B is good that is what I am seeing. No. I am not too comfortable with such a movement. I respect those who are in it, they have a right to their decision but it reminds me a lot of what happened in 2015.
A member of your party did say recently that it was a mistake to allow Peter Obi to leave the party. Do you share that sentiment with his rising profile today?
When you say it’s a mistake, can you stop him? You can say you wished he was still in PDP but when you say it is a mistake…the man decided to go. Kwankwaso left PDP too. If you look at it presently, you have two very good gentlemen who have deep knowledge of governance and who are running different parties and who were in PDP. You cannot say that as a party, we will not feel the impact of such a thing but you cannot stop a man because he must have his convictions. He must have a reason why he wants to move. He left the party before the primary, so I won’t say it was a mistake but I would say I wish he didn’t leave.
Will 2023 be different from past elections because we witnessed vote buying in Ekiti. What are your expectations? Are you scared and if yes, why?
Yes, I’m scared because I’m seeing the replacement of ballot snatching with vote buying. It used to be that candidates who were not popular sponsor thugs to snatch ballot boxes. I told you of the experience of the Kogi 2019 governorship election, where the sovereign rights of the people to elect their governor was denied. So, I’m beginning to see it being replaced with vote buying. And it goes back to the foundation of our moral values.
The truth of the matter is, when people blame politicians, we forget politicians do not just fall from heaven. They are a product of families, community, society. So when you see the behaviour being exhibited, it is a reflection of the moral situation we’ve found ourselves in. How do you explain that a man leaves his house with an intention to vote for party A and got to the polling unit, and he’s offered N7000, N20,000 to vote against his conviction and he goes home happy? So, we need a lot of value reorientation. That’s why we need leadership at the top that will reflect those tendencies because it is through the people that the society mirrors its values after; the society mirrors who the leader is at that particular time. So, I fear that there will be a repeat of vote buying if it is not curbed.
How can it be curbed? What is the role of INEC in all this?
The role of INEC is education. There is a bill ongoing in the National Assembly that is called the Election Offences Tribunal. The intention is to take all election offences seriously. It is natural that when there is punishment for an offence, it intends to deter others but, when there is no punishment, when those who perpetrate it are celebrated, it is natural for others to follow suit.
So, I believe that one is education, then religious organizations and civil society need not just to say, but to show by example. If you are an organisation, if you talk about this thing and the leadership is seen as contravening those things, your followers will not take you seriously. So, it must be seen in action, deeds and words. There must be a concerted effort by INEC, by civil society, and the international community to bring to bear; the Osun election can be the perfect starting point. If those things are curbed effectively in Osun and the people see the consequences of such things, it would deter them. But not that you should go after party A and leave party B. You will naturally be saying if you have access to the government, you can do things and get away. That’s the wrong signal. If you made the law a leveler that, no matter what if TeeJay Yusuf is involved, the same punishment you meted to me should be meted to a roadside mechanic if he commits the same offense, then it is good.
It’s been almost five months that students have been at home and even your party’s presidential candidate has not said anything, and then we are facing fuel scarcity. What is your advice?
On a more serious note, when people say we are not saying anything, I have a video that went viral where I talked about this ASUU strike some years ago. You know, when you talk about something, and the government does nothing, it takes a lot of grace for you not to lose your steam. If you look at Nigeria as of today, things that are happening and yet nobody is challenging it; 10 years ago, the nation would have erupted in protest.
So, it’s getting to a point that you have a government that displays so much insensitivity. For example, the Owo church attack, the president did not do anything, he didn’t visit there but if it happens in far away Turkey, a statement will be issued immediately or go on a condolence visit outside the country. So what do we do about this?
So, people are getting to a point where they said this man just needs to go. Go to social media, Nigerians are counting the number of days left. So, rather than wasting our energy on this because he will not bulge, I’m sorry but this is my opinion; he did not get the popular mandate of Nigerians, so he is not in any way indebted to us or owe us any explanation. That’s the way I look at it. So people are saying, oh! let this cup pass over us. We have endured seven years. Let’s just endure the remaining months and pray that this will not come upon us again as a people.
So that’s why we are having that lethargy and it is frustration that is driving it because the common things you expect to be attended are not bezzzzing attended to. We have motions on the floor of the House and they are not attended to. Recently, there was a motion on fuel scarcity and I laughed. My colleagues were urging me to say something and I said I am not interested in a motion that will be debated, investigations carried out and reports submitted to the presidency and nothing will be done about your findings.
I need to concentrate my energy to bring a more civil, pro-people government into power that is sensitive to the yearnings of Nigerians. A government that understands that I derive my legitimacy from the people; that’s not what I’ve seen presented.
So, will I encourage people to go on the streets and protest and to be shot? The ENDSARS experience is still very fresh; where people were shot and the government with facts available denied that nobody was killed. So, how do we risk the life of younger people for such?
I mean during the military rule, I participated fully in a lot of student movements. Despite the draconian tendency of that regime, they still acknowledged that people were killed. I was NANS Secretary General at that peak of Abacha’s regime and I participated in the June 12 rallies. They still acknowledged people that were killed but this one said nobody was killed. You find the President’s spokesman come on air saying that no one was killed. You find the army spokesman despite video evidence, denying that they were not there.
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