The Kwara state chairman of Advance Peoples Democratic Alliance (APDA) and one-time commissioner for Works in the state, Engr. Yunus Afolabi in this interview with HEAD POLITICS, MUMINI ABDULKAREEM clears air on issues surrounding the party, alleged role of Senator Gbemisola Saraki and the position of PDP chieftain, Raymond Dokpesi in the formation of the APDA among other sundry issues. Excerpts:
What informed the choice of your new party in the state?
The absence of an alternative political party called for an all-embracing political platform for the unity and progress of this country. It was born out of the need to reawaken the consciousness of our great nation by introducing and pursing the singular agenda of inclusive governance and citizens participation in the democratic process.
You are coming into a difficult terrain because of the political peculiarity of the state, do you entertain any fear?
There is no fear whatsoever because we are matured politicians. I contested an election in 1994 and was a member of the defunct constitutional conference during the late Abacha regime in 1994/95 and thereafter, contested under the zero party system for the council chairman of my local government in Moro, which I won and served till 1996 when I resigned and re-contested under CNC. I won again before Abacha’s death sent all of us home. I have also had the opportunity of being the state PDP chairman and commissioner for Works and Transport during the first tenure of former Governor Bukola Saraki before I served as the zonal treasurer of the PDP, which I combined with the post of principal secretary to the then National Secretary of the party, Alhaji Abubakar Kawu Baraje. All along, I have been in politics and up till this moment, I see no reason why this peculiar situation will bring any threat to us.
Despite your rich political experience, don’t you think the party is coming into the picture a bit late going into 2019?
It has happened before during the time of the ACPN in Kwara state and within three months to the election then when we came up, we contested and made very strong impact. We have enough time between now and 2019 elections in the state and the country by the grace of God.
To win elections in Kwara, you need people with strong grassroots structures, how have you fared on this?
Within the short period we came on board, we already have structures across the state. The absence of a political party in the real sense of the word made it possible for people to quickly rush into APDA for unity and progress of the state. We had been deprived of this opportunity. Long before now, there was no platform to contest election once you are deprived or marginalised by any government in power. This is the time that people have been waiting for and they now have the opportunity to participate fully in the 2019 governorship and presidential elections. And I want to say that we intended to participate in the council election, field chairmanship and councillorship candidates but by the time many of them got to the bank, they were told payment were no more possible by 4pm and they came back here to complain that other older political parties like PDP were processing their candidates forms at KWSIEC office and they want me to assist. I rushed down quickly and pleaded with the commission and backed it up with a letter appealing for extension even by a week but they said the enabling law does not permit them to do so. That was what prevented us from fielding our candidates for the local government election despite the closeness. As for 2019, we have enough time to prepare, get our structures ready and be part of it. Right now, there is no local government or wards that we don’t have structures on ground. Today in Kwara, when you are talking of APC and PDP, you will definitely talk of APDA. We have our offices and I have received calls from people outside Kwara state asking to be part of the party. What makes it easy was because we are not new to Kwara politics, we are matured politicians and have been representing our people, the masses. We are not just taking over any structure that does not belong to us.
A new party like yours needs politicians with the clout to make the difference in the state, who are those behind APDA?
The era of godfatherism has gone and most of us that formed APDA are contemporaries, we levied ourselves to contribute to the party. As part of my own contribution for the party to takeoff was the donation of this office, others donated banners and flags among others as you can see and people continue to make promises. Very soon, you will begin to see our branded vehicles in the state.
Don’t you think this issue of non-participation in the council election will cause people to seek another party?
The people that had the intention of participating have been longing for an alternative platform to contest an election and in as much as the time does not permit now, they are ready to wait for a better time and they are now prepared to be bonafide members of APDA. They have followers and are ready to prove their mettle; they are not ready to go to other parties.
Critics will accuse people like you of looking for recognition in order to be considered for portfolio…
I can’t even think of what position I would be looking for from a ruling government that will prompt me to stand as an opposition. I listen to people and their cries, their plight and the sufferings because of the economic situation. That prompted me to champion this platform and make sure position is made for the deprived politicians who are being marginalised by the government. They should just make sure they stay with this party and make adequate preparations to prove their critics wrong. God is the giver of positions and not man; and Allah (SWT) has plans for everything
Will your party consider a female candidate for governorship in 2019?
Empathic Yes, and I will tell you that marginalisation is not only being experienced in chairmanship or councillorship alone, there are people who could have provided a better governance than we are currently experiencing. But the absence of an alternative platform or political party made it difficult for people with credible character and high integrity who have served the masses better to have the opportunity. But I want to tell you that with the coming of APDA, many people are ready to contest for governorship, presidential and chairmanship seat. Come 2019, we will field candidates for all positions and all that is needed to be done will be done.
Being the former chairman of ACPN in Kwara State and considering your closeness, is this Senator Gbemisola Saraki’s project?
I was not the chairman of ACPN; I only served before Bukola Saraki became the governor. GRS and I were together in APC and she is still there. My membership and active participation in APDA is a personal decision and Senator Gbemisola Saraki or Senate President, Bukola Saraki knows nothing about it and I am not fronting for anyone of them as some people have been insinuating. She should be asked about her political activities going forward.
Did you consult her before making this decision?
No, it was purely my personal decision and I am doing it because I am not new in politics. As a matured politician, I can decide and plan for myself, I am representing the masses. People have been asking me what and where next to go and if I should be going to ask from any other person, it means I am not fit to be a leader.
Raymond Dokpesi was one of the major personalities that floated the APDA but he has returned to PDP, what is the fate of the party now?
Going back to PDP is a decision well known to Dokpesi and because of his intention on position within the APDA. By the party’s constitution, the Board of Trustees (BoT) will come in place after five years but he thought it was possible within this period and he opted for it, but he was referred to the constitution that this was not possible. Also, some people before now thought that probably Ali Modu Sheriff would win the court case which was the reason some of them wanted to leave the PDP. But because of the victory of Ahmed Makarfi, Dokpesi wanted to stay back I believe. I don’t have anything to do with Makarfi or Sheriff and I don’t know what will take me out of this party.
Are you open to merger in Kwara if you have the opportunity?
If you ask PDP this same questions some years back before the merger took place, they would have said no. We as a political party can’t predict tomorrow. If the situation determines various political parties coming together just like the current APC, so be it. We don’t see anything pushing us to a merger with anybody, but nobody can tell the future. For now, we are standing alone and believed this is the alternative party people have been waiting for in the state for unity and progress of the people.
Don’t you think the environment in Kwara is a bit hostile for female governorship candidate?
You see female candidature for any elective positions in Nigeria generally and not only in Kwara state, has not been rosy other than using them as deputies for governors, chairmen and other portfolios, they have never succeeded. But we will continue to make efforts and try. Now in Anambra, APDA is fielding a female governorship candidate and we are hopeful that with God on our side, APDA will have the opportunity of producing the first female governor in Nigeria. We will continue to struggle and no one can tell when God’s time will come. Kwara is not peculiar, it’s a general phenomenon and whatever happens in other places can happen anywhere now in the country. The Anambra opportunity may prompt the people to go for female candidate for any position and females have held various positions in the state except that of governorship. But with growing awareness and sensitisation, that will come to pass and as time goes on, we will produce female governor even within this party. Moreover, there is no rule or constitution-banning female as governor or president. It is even now the trend in most parts of the world and they are doing very well. We are hopeful in Kwara and Nigeria.
How have you been able to carry on with the issue of funding?
Firstly, this party has given more opportunity for female participation more than any other party. We have about 30 per cent available for interested female aspirants, 25 per cent for the youths and 5 per cent for disabled. As a result of this, the party has given younger ones opportunity to contest. We have more females in the county and the problem has been the lack of speaking with one voice or else they can outwit us the males in any election because of their voting strength. On the issues of funding, contribution is being made by both male and females from the state up to the national levels and it will go down the ladder because provision is being made for contribution for the party membership. We don’t have problem, we are very confident of victory come 2019.
What really do you think is the edge for APDA in Kwara?
A viable alternative platform for Kwarans who have been longing for it, that is it. The present system is bad and one of the things we are pursuing is to ensure the masses are well taken care of. By so doing, it has been a voluntary movement from the larger population. We are not going to harbour any stress.
There are other political parties they can go to too instead of APDA?
They are tired of that same system I am talking about and that is the possibility that many political parties may decide to join APDA because of our newness and what we have to offer. We have been receiving visitors towards this who are yarning for citizen’s participation.
What is your message for Kwarans?
They should remain prayerful and continue to rub minds and share ideas on way out. It is time for them to understand that we can now stand on our own, all we have had before now are bygones and we should now sit to plan ahead to have a better future. We will continue to encourage and sensitise our people about what is happening in other parts of the country to make informed decisions.