by Wilfred Okiche
The national youth council of Nigeria has been engulfed by a seemingly endless succession crisis for some time now with about 4 different factions and as many presidents springing up from these factions. The drama came to a climax when former minister for youth development Alhaji Inuwa Abdulkadir was fired for his alleged mishandling of the electoral process of the NYCN.
We sit down with the outgoing president of the NYCN, Mr. Wale Ajani and he gives us an insider’s view into all the drama.
It would seem that your tenure as president of the National Youth Council of Nigeria has come to an end, how come you prefer to be adressed as the outgoing president?
According to the constitution of the NYCN, I was elected for a 3 year tenure, renewable meaning I have the option of recontesting or transiting to a new person elected through a proper congress. Up till this moment, that hasn’t been done even though some people would beg to differ. It is very fundamental that we do not have a factional NYCN where 2 or 3 people will be claiming to be presidents and I think that the way forward is that all the stakeholders sit down at a round table and agree to have a unity congress so that if truly you are popular, then let the delegates decide and if you are not, in the spirit of sportmanship let go and work with the winner.
What year were you elected?
2010, August precisely.
How and when did all this trouble begin?
When I came into office, I was given the mandate to work with everybody. About 4 people contested with me and I tried to engage all of them but some aggrieved ones wanted no part of it and they went to court. In fact the guy who came second went to court before the election and there was a judgement that there should be a fresh congress and believing he was going to win, started writing several letters that the congress must go on. When he now realised he couldn’t win, he joined forces with some others and got a stay of execution based on the judgement earlier but the issue is that the judgement has already been executed so where is the stay of execution coming from? We know that they lied to the honourable court and I wasn’t even carried along so I could not defend my mandate. At that point I decided to resolve the issue out of court.
What was their main grouse with you, was it just grief from losing the election?
Some of them were asking for money which I refused to give. I pressed them for alternatives and they said they wanted a fresh congress so I said if that is the case then I am ready. If I win I wn, if I lose well it wouldn’t be the first time. The problem I learnt is that some elements have been in the NYCN for 20-30 years and are still there.
Why would someone remain in a youth council for 20 years? is there no age or time limit for membership?
The youth policy is quite clear. Youth period is 18-35 years
So lets say I join at 18, 20years later at 38 I shouldn’t be a member of the council anymore
Of course. You are supposed to have groomed people that will take over from you.
Is it that there is no grooming process going on now in the NYCN, no succession plan?
The reality is that people have turned themselves into principalities and powers within the NYCN and that was the main challenge I faced coming in because I had a clear vision of retiring these people but unfortunately they discovered and started fighting back and corruption tends to fight back hard. Even in the civil service where you are earning salary you retire, how much more from a voluntary organization that doesn’t even pay salaries.
So what is in it for all of you guys, why so much rancour for a voluntary organization?
The answer is very clear. It is the political interest that is building all these things. They have politicized the organization that everyone thinks the NYCN is the place to gain some political relevance or meet one or two political leaders. The youth council is supposed to speak for the average chap on the streets, right now we should be actively involved in the ASUU strike but what you find is an organization that survives by giving awards to individuals, paying courtesy calls to political god fathers who have not contributed anything to anybody.
And these things come with some form of financial rewards?
Of course. Unemployment is a very terrible thing. When I came into office I had about 23 excos working with me and only about 4 or 5 were gainfully employed and youth council does not have salaries to pay these people. How then do you sustain them? When I was coming into the council, I had my job, I am still working so I didn’t see it as a full time gig. Some of them just want to make money from council and are waiting for you to spoonfeed them. I told them that throughout my tenure, I wasn’t going to give anyone awards and I wouldn’t engage in any unecessary courtesy calls and that was a problem. When you want to change the status quo you have to be prepared for battle.
Are you interested in a second term in office?
The fact is that I was interested and even gave in for a fresh election but they started playing some pranks so I asked them, if you say that Wale Ajani isn’t popular, why are you saying he shouldn’t contest? And you know what? My predicament started when I came on Rubbin’minds during the fuel subsidy wahala and said it was an evil policy. But I don’t believe in do or die politics and if my ambition has to be sacrificed to let the youth council move forwards, then I am very ready to do that.
You have been accused of leaving the congress in Minna without a word to your delegates who gathered. What is the real story?
I was one of the last people to leave Minna, when everybody had dispersed and like I said tyhere was a bench ruling which I am bound to obey. I decided to get everyone that should know and let them know about it but the (former) minister Alhaji Inuwa Abdulkadir insisted that the elections must hold and I asked him to put it in writing so if there is a contempt of court charge tomorrow, I can tender as evidence. The security agencies had to withdraw their people so in order not to record any casualties, I had to leave. But let me state categorically that a congress must be convened by the president and I never convened any. When I contested and won, the same person that is now saying my election was nullified by the court, is the one that led my campaign but because his candidate for the vice president lost then too, he started fighting. So we know these people, they are not sincere with themselves and they have no other business apart from the youth council.
Do you honestly believe the NYCN is relevant to the Nigerian youth today?
I must confess to you, we have bastardized the NYCN. I remember how I got to know about the youth council; I was the Nigerian delegate to the UN youth general assembly and on getting to New York, I realised that other delegates came from the youth councils of their countries so I asked about the one in Nigeria, hoping to set one up but they told me there was already one and I came back, met the president then who was old enough to be my mother and that was when I decided to be part of it. But the truth is that compared to what other national youth councils are doing, the NYCN has not lived up to expectations. We are more a political youth arm because everything is now run as a cabal. When I came on board, I did a 3-year action plan funded by the UNFPA but anytime I want to start implementing they shut it down because there is no monetary advantage for them. Also brilliant youth who could make changes in the NYCN are reluctant to step in because they see NYCN as all those useless people chasing politicians…
Well to be fair to them, all of this has not exactly set you guys up as shining lights
Yes. I always feel ashamed that I am a part of all this but the truth is that these same people have chosen to sit aside, indifferent while decisions are being taken for them. I choose to fight from the inside and truth is that If I had not been there, nobody would be talking about this crisis on national television. All these things aren’t new but I want to expose them so the Nigerian youth can see the people they have left to be making decisions for them. They have even tried to make sure I don’t admit freshers into council because they know I will admit smart thinking people that will challenge them.