by Hauwa Gambo
Ohimai Amaize is known to many young Nigerians and others for his activism and his work in public office – from the EFCC to his present assignment working for the Minister of Youth Development.
His recent public announcement of his pitching his tent with the PDP drew sharp surprise amongst his observers and associates, and, as part of our major feature this week on reviewing the political process post-PDP convention, we decided to ask him the whys and the hows.
You were a harsh critic of the PDP – how come you joined the party now?
Yes, I have criticised the party in the past but my criticisms were constructive and aimed towards helping the party serve Nigeria better. But like former president of America Theodore Roosevelt said, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.” If you take a look at my track-record, I have never been on the sidelines. Even while I was in the opposition, I was a key youth actor. Where many would rather be satisfied with being mere spectators, I have always dared to step out to become a player on the field and I just demonstrated that again by joining the PDP.
What has changed in the past one year about the party?
Nothing changed. Only my perspective of the party changed.
Are you really convinced as you said that it’s a great party – why?
PDP is a great party. Compared to other political parties in Nigeria, what isn’t great about the PDP? National spread? Structure? The party members? Here is a party that has paraded and still parades some of Nigeria’s finest brains. I maintain that the party is a great party.
Your former candidates, Nuhu Ribadu and Dele Momodu were in ACN and LP respectively and now you’ve moved to the PDP – how do you respond to the criticism about carpet-bagging?
Well, to set the records straight, I have never been a member of ACN, LP or any other party for that matter. So the issue of carpet-bagging is irrelevant here. Nonetheless, it must be understood that Ribadu and Momodu are great Nigerians in their own right and have a right to belong to any political party of their choice just like I have the same right too. If the reason I am expected to be in any political party is because such a party is home to some of my friends or mentors, then I lack the responsibility of decision-making. A patriotic citizen must be able to take responsibility for his or her decisions and actions, and the right to belong to a political party of one’s choice is just one of such rights.
What’s your reaction to the vicious backlash (on social media) to your announcement?
The vicious reactions as you have put it did not come to me as a surprise. I really would have been surprised if there were no such reactions. And the choice of making that announcement on social media was a deliberate move which has given voice to the reality of how opinionated some of our young people who profess to be agents of change can be. Some of the comments that trailed the announcement of my decision to join the PDP have only exposed the crudity that currently dominates our social media space and the extent to which some of our youths would go to demonise those who share different ideas, opinions and ideologies with them. And my disposition to all of these is that I am further gingered to ensure that I exercise with utmost honesty and responsibility, the duties that come with being a member of a ruling political party.
Still, why do you think the responses were that way?
It is very simple. Many of our young people want their opinions to be heard and accepted without subjecting same to the intellectual process of decent debate where only the superior argument wins. What we see on our social media space today is a combination of misappropriated youth anger and a clash of over-bloated egos. It’s all about young people who think they know and are desperate to show their peers how much they think they know. But let me say here as someone who is very active on social media that the social media space is also populated with some of Nigeria’s finest young people and I have been a direct beneficiary of their sound intellectual engagement. I deeply appreciate the efforts of such young people who have displayed great maturity and responsibility in the quality of their engagement with the government and my office in particular.
Many have said you were put under pressure perhaps by your minister – is that the case?
There was no pressure. As a matter of fact, my boss, the Honorable Minister of Youth Development and Supervising Minister of Sports, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi for the first time heard about my decision to join the PDP on Twitter just like my other Twitter followers and he was happy to welcome me to the party fold. Why would he pressure me now when it wasn’t a condition for appointing me to work with him?
Why, in a nutshell, did you join the PDP?
I needed a platform to join hands with other well-meaning Nigerians to realize my change ideology. PDP provides that platform.
The National Youth Leader of the party is said to be a 60 year old – what are your thoughts about that?
I am new in the party and would not profess to know the details behind certain occurrences in the party at the moment, but one thing I also know is that age is not the defining criterion for youth management. The fact that you do not fall within the ‘youth’ age-bracket does not make you incompetent or incapable of leading or managing young people. So all I can say now is: let him be as long as he possesses the capacity to get the job done. But this also brings us to the issue of youth participation. How many ‘youth-age’ members of the party contested in that election? What was the level of their preparation? How far did they go to sell their candidacy to the party? These are issues I would personally consider before jumping to any conclusions.
How would you describe your political ideology?
My political ideology is all about social change.
Do young people who enter public service need to join political parties?
They all don’t have to join a political except they are convinced that joining a political party will help them realize their goals.
Do you intend to run for political office?
The future is long. That is a decision I want to leave to future events as they occur.
You’ve said young people can’t force a “change” agenda unless they make that change happen through politics – could you expand on that?
I have never really said it that way. But if what you mean is my idea of young people stepping out of their comfort zones to become a part of the process, or moving from mere talking to walking the talk, then you are correct.
You’ve complained about this, so we’ll ask it: expand on your thoughts on the quality of engagement and debate online?
The quality of engagement and debate online is really poor and one would have expected more given that young people agitating for social change largely populate the social media. Rather than harness the power of social media as a tool for constructively engaging government and their peers, many young Nigerians have reduced it to a platform for abusing government, government officials and those who share dissenting views with them.
You have been criticized harshly for moves and statements you have made – how do you move past them?
Such harsh criticisms come with the job. I believe my job as campaign manager to a presidential candidate in the last election helped me develop a thick skin for these harsh criticisms. I have also learnt a lot from the constructive criticisms but ignore the negative ones.
What really drives you?
The grace of God. I would have said passion for change but with experience, I have come to terms with the fact that passion alone is not enough.
Your boss has stopped his promised tweet-meets, is this a reaction to the texture of the debate online?
No, the tweet-meets will continue as topical issues of national interests that affect young people emerge from time to time.
Back to the PDP: the party, many have said, has not caused any positive change in over 10 years, what gives you confidence of change moving forward?
It is not true that the PDP has not caused any change in over 10 years. But does this mean we have gotten to a destination where there is no longer room for us to aspire towards greater heights? The answer is no. I am confident, especially under the new leadership of the party that we can always work together as a nation of progressives to move Nigeria forward.
What are the challenges of being in public service?
The challenges of being in public service are tough. It is akin to the challenges of the man in the arena. And again, to risk chorusing the words of Theodore Roosevelt, sometimes your face is marred by dust and sweat and blood. The public service is a place where you must work hard to succeed. It is a place where you make mistakes and come short again and again. But I’m always comforted by the fact that there is no effort without error and shortcoming.
So, what next now after joining the PDP?
For me, the first step towards understanding partisan politics is to join a political party. Now that I have joined the PDP, I want to sit down, learn and understand the dynamics of politics the way it is run in the nation’s ruling party. And if ever I have cause to find anything wrong with the party, I will always draw fulfillment from the fact that I criticize or try to bring change within as an insider who understands the internal realities of the party and not as an outsider who at best would base his or her opinions on mere assumptions.
Thank you for your time, Mr. Amaize.