Austin Okai is the national coordinator of the PDP youth frontier, a youth wing of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party.
Mr. Okai visited PREMIUM TIMES recently and in a chat with Sani Tukur and Adebayo Hassan said the national chairman of the PDP, Ali Modu Sheriff, was branded a Boko Haram sponsor by the media due to political motives.
He also spoke about the change of heart by President Muhammadu Buhari on the payment of N5000 monthly stipend to unemployed Nigerian graduates and other matters.
Read excerpts of the interview below:
PT: How did the youth wing of the PDP receive the appointment of Ali Modu Sheriff as the national chairman of the party?
Austin: As of now, we strongly believe that the party is struggling with the problem of its image and so whoever is responsible for steering the party forward at this critical moment should not have a questionable character, or one with any dirty image. Fortunately or unfortunately I don’t know how the media came up with the idea that Sherriff is a Boko Haram sponsor.
We have heard from him and from his reactions; we discovered that it is all politics. Even when he was in the APC, allegations of his being a Boko Haram sponsor had been on. He told us that Boko Haram even killed his own younger brother. So, as a party, we have no option than to rally round him, though there was protest against him at the initial stage.
We have heard from him and we discovered that the man actually has no hand in Boko Haram. It was just politics.
PT: Do you think he can lead the party to victory come 2019. And do you think he can unite the party and save it from disintegration?
Austin: Most definitely, we are talking of Ali Modu sheriff, onetime B.O.T member, two time governor and senator. In fact, as I am talking to you now, he is bringing together other aggrieved members who left the party and I can assure you that he is making in-roads to that effect.
PT: what if he has other motives like running for presidency in 2019?
Austin: It is possible, he is eligible. Though to the best of my knowledge nothing like zoning has been discussed, but I can assure you that the PDP presidential candidate of 2019 will come from the North. However, whether Sheriff would emerge boils down to the party’s decision.
PT: The PDP late last year organized a national conference and the resolution afterwards was that the youth would be encouraged to take over the party; is the party still on course to doing that in the light of recent happenings?
Austin: They must! We are tired of being used and dumped. That conference gave birth to constitutional amendments with many sections and sub-sections being reviewed. We are coming up with the youth wing. It will be a parallel organ just like they have it in the elders’ wing, it will be championed by the chairman of the youth league where youths will have a say. We are very much on ground, the youth must be given a chance.
PT: The president recently said instead of paying N5000 to vulnerable unemployed youth, he is thinking of using the money to provide infrastructure thereby creating employment. Many, especially in the opposition came down hard on the president. What is your take on the matter?
Austin: This matter is not just about the APC, it is about the president who apparently, distanced himself from his own party. We watched on NTA and everybody was surprised that a president elected under the platform of a party and its manifesto and agenda is now saying the promise was made by the APC therefore he cannot pay. It is a sign of complete disconnection between the party and the presidency. That goes a long way to show the rot in the APC.
The VP says they will pay, while the president says they will not pay. This shows lack of organization in the party and it is a huge disappointment on Nigerians, the entire masses and the youth that supported him based on social security which he promised.
PT: What is your view on the current war against corruption?
Austin: everybody believes in the war against corruption, the PDP started it. We have many corruption cases that were tackled by the previous PDP administrations. Take the case of Farouk Lawan, Bode George and many others. The war against corruption must be holistic, all-inclusive and according to the rule of law. It should not be a war built on pure vendetta like that of the APC. They say they are fighting corruption and we see the EFCC turning themselves into courts of law and they take laws into their own hands.
Breaking into people’s houses without court warrants is not rule of law, holding people in custody when they have fulfilled all bail requirements is not the rule of law. The judicial process and policy is in trouble. This is not about APC or PDP, it is about democracy. The international community should come to our aid because the way this war is going, there is nothing like democracy being practiced. So many laws are being broken. Court grants bail to Dasuki, but he was refused. Look at the recent sacking of DGs, VCs and others. It is only the National University Commission that has the power to recommend the removal of VCs and others but we are not having it being practiced. It is surely something else.
PT: But, the Minister of Information reportedly said most of those sacked were undermining the president?
Austin: What do you expect someone like Lai Mohammed to say? Is he not the same man who contradicted the president saying the budget was not padded even after the president said his budget was padded?
The fact is that our democracy is in jeopardy and it is left for the youth to ensure that the future of this country is guaranteed.