Former Arewa Youths President and ex spokesperson of the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers and chieftain of Labour Party, Isaac Balami, in this interview with Emameh Gabriel says neither the APC nor the PDP is an option for Nigerians in 2023.
In 2015, you led a movement in the north against the then government of Goodluck Jonathan that brought President Buhari to power. Today you want another change of government under a new platform, Labour Party, because you feel the current administration has failed. Is there any regret for taking that decision?
Will I say I regret? I’m not somebody who regret, rather, I take responsibility for my decisions, my actions and inactions. Remember at that point in time, a lot of people from the South, especially South South, did not believe that President Goodluck Jonathan then can win election comfortably. Because of how big the North is. The strength of the Middle Belt has all the ethnic nationalities in Nigeria, but I can assure you that if you look at the numbers in 2011 and how Goodluck came to be in 2011, you will see clearly that the core North, I’m talking about North West now, didn’t give him that much votes. Most of his votes came from Middle Belt in particular. Middle Belt cuts across 15 out of 19 Northern States. Southern Borno is part of Middle Belt, Southern Gombe, Bauchi and others. Then you go to Benue, Taraba, Niger, Kogi, Southern Kaduna and so on.
But what got us frustrated was that even though we got some few appointments, we were actually undermined.
Who are the ‘we’ that you just referred to?
We the Middle Beltans. We the ethnic nationalities in Northern Nigeria. So by 2015, even the PDP knew that they will not win. This was four years after we supported Jonathan and there was nothing to show for it. The Chibok girls happened, all the bad things happened, we lost more people in the region, there were more attacks and we were not protected. Our people were displaced and we felt Buhari is a retired general. At his age, somebody in the 70s, for God’s sake, what else does he want than to leave a good legacy and imprint his name in the sand of time? So we, most of the Middle Beltans left PDP and went to the APC and that’s how Buhari came to be.
We played our role. Personally, I went from church to church. APC did not pay me a dime to do what I did. Up to 2019 where at least within less than two weeks, I brought about 3000 pastors to the presidential banquet hall in Aso Villa, under the Concerned Nigerian Christian Forum. And we did all that and we thought things will be better off with Buhari but it even became worse.
We mobilised supports, organised the movement with boys brigade, girls brigade, women fellowship and we did everything within our powers to bring Buhari because we, like every Nigerian across the country, were just looking for change. And that was the slogan that they used. We never knew that we were making a huge mistake.
But like you asked, did I regret it? The answer is No! Because today what APC have put Nigerians through is the reason for the reawakening in the country today. It’s the reason why there is more awareness. I will tell you this secret for free. If you want to know how bad things are and how disenchanted Nigerians are, just travel between one state to another. When you meet with police officers or in the North East where you meet with military officers, ask them to tell you genuinely who they want, they will tell you what they want. This is because it’s no longer a thing of personal benefits; it is about survival of this country. The soul of Nigeria has been threatened.
Like Jonathan, Buhari has also failed your people, according to your statement, how would you want to convince these people to trust your judgement this time around and that you are not making another mistake like you did in the past?
The truth of the matter is that at 2015, you will agree with me everybody was looking for a change in the system. We had serious security issues and lives were being lost daily. My village is just next to Chibok. In fact, my nanny, Auntie Ruth, is from Chibok. I understand Chibok dialect and were all EYN, that is Church of the Brethren. Overnight they came and abducted 200 of these girls and about over 90% of them are Christians. We went through pain. We had no choice. We trusted President Buhari, we gave him our all but he betrayed us. He betrayed we, the poor people, he betrayed Nigerians. But as far as we are concerned, the mistake we made then, we can’t make such anymore.
But today, it is a different thing entirely. For me as a Christian, the Bible says he who is faithful a little can be faithful in much.
Why am I so loud and convinced about Peter Obi, the reasons are simple. He was given an opportunity to be a governor of a state, he didn’t embezzle their money, he brought a state from an average in the country to be one of the best in education. He encouraged Innoson Motors and now the company is selling cars to other Africa countries. He was a chairman of a bank and as a governor of a state, he gave over 1000 certificate of occupancy to his people and didn’t allocate a single plot of land to himself or family members. We have seen what other governors have done with their positions in the past and even when they are doing today.
Compare him with other presidential candidates. They are not the same. You can’t compare them. Obi stands miles ahead of them morally. His track records speak for him. Obi is a transparent and well cultured person. Like I have said earlier, his track record speaks for him. This is somebody who worked in UK, ran a business there and got the highest credit rating that any British citizen on earth can ever get. It takes a clean and transparent person to achieve that feat.
Why Obi out of the 18 aspirants who many believe will not win the election for certain reasons?
If we want to be realistic to ourselves, we must begin to tell ourselves the truth. We must look ourselves in the face and tell ourselves the truth. Buhari is finishing his eight years in couple of months. Former President Goodluck Jonathan finished six years, Namadi Sambo served as vice president in six years, North, late Yar’Adua did two years, Atiku did eight years as vice president. Obasanjo has done eight years as president, South West. Buhari has almost completed his tenure of eight years and another Hausa-Fulani man wants to continue from where he stopped.
The country does not belong to one tribe. The country belongs to all Nigerians. Those doing this things don’t know the dangers they are putting the country into. They do not know the implications. That’s why I have a lot of respect for the Afenifere. The leader, Pa Adebanjo has done something that in the next 100 years, the Yorubas will be protected by Nigerians when Obi wins. Why? Because after eight years of Peter Obi, if power needs to come back to the North, but tomorrow if the Yorubas said it’s our turn, trust me, Nigerians and even the Igbos, will say yes, it’s your turn. Because at some point, they were fair, they were just, and that is the only way to go.
You don’t want them to leave the country. You don’t want to give them Biafra. Then if you want them as part of the country, you must give them leadership. You must trust them. It’s about equity and justice. It’s about fairness.
You cannot have a country with this crisis, division and you want a particular tribe to dominate. There’ll be more violence. So anybody who loves this country should stop this nonsense. And wake up and tell each other the truth because the country is bleeding. There’s no place for us to go to. My child called me one day, a 10 year old boy and he said, “I’m the only black boy in my class. I don’t like the way the whites talk to me because they don’t like my colour”.
It took me one week to recover. I schooled in the US, I saw how I was being treated. I came back home to work here. The point is, you cannot be a first class citizen outside Nigeria. And nobody will come from Europe or America to build this country for us. We have to do this ourselves. And that is why when people keep joking because they are close to Atiku or Tinubu and because they can make money from the campaign, I laugh at them. So I’m calling on Nigeria to wake up to the reality on ground and pick their conscience.
All we want is a Nigeria where everybody will have a sense of belonging and feel he or she is important and he or she has a stake. That’s all what the people want. We have to leave our comfort zone and fight this battle. Let me tell you this, there will be free and fair election because Nigerian women and youths would not allow anybody to attack any polling unit. The structure that they said we don’t have, we are building the structure. We have the structure. But let me tell you this, from the depth of my heart, even if Peter Obi doesn’t win, I am happy with my decision and I stand by it. However, if this country is ready for equity, justice, fairness, there’s no reason why Peter Obi should not win because he’s the most competent among all of them.
I was at the North East -Middle Belt summit a couple of days ago and the issue of structure, grassroots mobilsation and others were raised by some persons in the region whose complaint bitterly dominated the conversation. Are you really not bothered, especially when someone like Babachir, the former SGF, directly expressed same worries to Labour Party’s vice presidential candidate, Ahmed Datti?
You heard my speech during the North East stakeholders engagement. We didn’t go there to eat meat pie, and cock or for photo ops with Peter Obi. We were there to tell ourselves the truth. And you saw the level of transparency, how coordinated we were and how nobody was being obstructed to ask any question or give any kind of answers. Everybody in the APC and the PDP have had access to power, and APC is still in power today, at various state level whether is APGA, the PDP and APC or Labour Party, people are still in charge. The point here is that we did these jobs and we know what we have put on ground so far.
We are not playing and you must know this. What do you mean by structure? The people you saw in that hall, are not rented crowd. These are local government chairmen and ward chairmen from party local government areas from Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, Bauchi, Gombe states. You saw them there yourself. They arrived 2-3 am when they heard about the meeting. That is structure, that is commitment. That’s what we have been doing behind the scenes.
The support groups are working, the party is working in our religious groups in Islam and their christians brothers and sisters are working, youth groups are working, social cultural groups are working, civil society groups are also working and watching.
But the point is that we’re just waiting and in next couple of days, we will intensify the grassroots mobilization. We’re already doing it. But is it enough? No! Do we have the resources the APC and the PDP have? No! But what APC spent a billion naira to do have we used N50 million naira to do? Yes!
What they will do with a billion naira, Peter Obi will do N50m. Why? Because there’s acceptability. Nobody is being induced to follow Obi. Look at what happened to PDP in Lagos State. As big as they are, empty stadium. The stadium was partially empty with the structure and the money they claim they have. Without Labour Party’s money, supporters and lovers of Peter Obi had five million man match across four locations in the same Lagos. The pictures and videos are there. Take that population in any of the population of Obi rally in Lagos and put it in that stadium, Atiku will not have that kind of crowd.
You tell us that people that come in their own accord and spend their money and did what they did, will watch you rig election on that day? It’s not possible. So we’re ready. In the areas where we are not strong, we know our weaknesses, we know our strength, hence we are also training our supporters on how to protect their votes on election day.
We are also training against vote buying by money bags political parties. We are ready for them. Vote buying is against the law and we will do everything not only to discourage it but also report any attempt to induce voters to INEC.
If PDP with all their years of experience and all the money they have amassed and the number of governors that they have, cannot even pay to rent crowd because the people are rejecting their money and Obi is occupying every frontiers, you should know this is what will come to play come 2023.
We have seen a situation where a political party forced people to come to their rallies and even forced people to close their shops. We are waiting. This is a wave. This is the wave and anybody who will not join this wave will be pushed away by this wave.