Born and raised in the ancient city of Kano, Barr. Ahmed Ismaeel graduated from University of Abuja, Nigeria with a Law degree, a Master of Arts in International Relations and Diplomacy from Webster University in the USA, and an LL.M from University of Chicago, USA. In 2011, he contested the House of Representatives seat to represent his constituency in Kano State. He is a member, Board of Trustees of the All Progressives Congress (APC), and National Chairman of the All Progressives Youth Forum (APYF), a youth body under the APC. He is currently the Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari on Social Investment Programmes. In this exclusive chat with SIGNAL’s THE INFLUENCERS, he talks about youth in politics, the nationwide tension over secessionist agitations, Nigeria’s economic recession amongst other issues.
As a young Nigerian, you have been involved in politics. You have even contested for public office. What makes a successful youth in politics?
I think success in politics is relative so there are no hard and fast rules to it or a clear definition. However, I think if success means the ability to impact the most lives or attain positions sought or have a seat at the decision making tables, then a youth or anyone for that matter will have to be consistent and strive to build network of people but most importantly he has to be known for something. Success will largely depend on starting early, remaining constant and being steadfast in the journey. That ultimately defines the measure of success for a young politician.
What has been your experience serving as one of the youngest members of the Board of Trustees of the All Progressives Congress (APC)? How have you been able to inspire change from within?
The Board never really got off the ground per se but I have been able to use the nomenclature to gain access to other caucuses of the Party, which in turn have allowed us to make strong arguments in favor of the youth inclusion and participation. We have advocated for the constitutional amendment to recognize a whole wing of the party to consist of youth only and make it one of the caucuses of the party where decisions will be made along with. We also proposed alternate deputies for party principals e.g. if the National Organizing Secretary is a middle aged man his assistant must be either a woman or a young man within the definition of a youth and so on…
There were many young supporters of the APC government who expected someone of your caliber to make it into the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, possibly as Minister of Youth. That is yet to be seen. Are you in any way disappointed?
No. We are in this for the long haul. Its a marathon not a sprint. I will be disappointed if we fail as a government to provide enabling environment and the necessary policies to help young people pull themselves up by their bootstraps and make it in any endeavor they deem fit. Be it business, politics, academia or whatever they choose. But I am not disappointed for any lack of personal benefit.
The emergence of a 39-year old Macron as President of France has inspired a new conversation about Nigerian youths replicating that feat in Nigeria. How feasible is this in 2019?
I think its feasible at any time Nigerians want it to be. There are probably more young people in Lagos state alone than there are older people in the whole South West. Ditto all the other zones I guess. The ratio is incomparable. The only challenge may be a unifying message and perhaps even a messenger. Once we can get that, the rest will be history.
What is your take on the Not Too Young to Run Bill currently being pushed at the Federal House of Representatives and the Senate?
I support it. The boundaries of limitation in whichever form or shape to electoral participation should constantly be reviewed in light of prevailing circumstances. With technology and interconnectivity, younger people have more knowledge at their fingertips these days than some adults have in their years of experience. So I support it.
I will be disappointed if we fail as a government to provide enabling environment and the necessary policies to help young people pull themselves up by their bootstraps and make it in any endeavor they deem fit. Be it business, politics, academia or whatever they choose. But I am not disappointed for any lack of personal benefit.
There have been concerns that Nigerian youths could be worse than the older generation they are clamoring to displace from power because they have not demonstrated the character for leadership. What’s your take?
I don’t know where that notion comes from. I think it is very condescending and defeatist depending on who is making the assertion. There are many younger people who have distinguished themselves whenever the opportunity is given. Of course there are those who have been disappointing but so it is which every demography. The women have had outstanding individuals like Amina Mohammed who is now in the UN, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala in certain respects, Hadiza Bala Usman who is NPA now doing great things and they also had Diezani Alison-Madueke or a Stella Oduah who were infamous for other reasons as well. We have had many younger people who have distinguished themselves with positions of authority. I think it is a fallacious narrative that is often created to discourage people.
Many youth bodies like NANS, NYCN etc have been the playground of scandals and leadership crises. Should Nigerians trust young and emerging leaders?
Why should these organizations be the yardstick for judging young people? I think there are more young Nigerians who do not know about these organizations than the ones that do. Having said that however, most problems or issues I have come to learn about such organizations usually emanate from excessive interference and possible manipulations by government or officials of government. There is brazen partisanship that often leads to serious cracks and stagnation. Young people should build trust with the people over time because leadership will inevitably come to them but it is how prepared they will be when it comes that could determine the future.
The boundaries of limitation in whichever form or shape to electoral participation should constantly be reviewed in light of prevailing circumstances. With technology and interconnectivity, younger people have more knowledge at their fingertips these days than some adults have in their years of experience.
Do you think Nigerian youths should come together to form a youth party?
Hmmm… so what happens if they grow out of the age bracket of being youth? they move to another party and name it something else? I think Young people should inundate whatever party they wish and control it from within. It is far easier to succeed in that regard. However, forming the youth party won’t be a bad idea either if they can go the whole hog.
What do you think led Nigeria into the current economic recession?
Excessive economic mismanagement of previous administrations and lack of economic patriotism in the minds and souls of those who were responsible for its management. It was just a matter of time; we knew we were haemorrhaging for a while. It just bloated out when it is clear the veins couldn’t control the blood flow.
Young Nigerians are fond of putting their political party or choice candidates first in conversations that center around national development. Why is this so?
It is instinctive. Politics is usually emotional and subjective. The identity or ideology of a person or a party is often the most important determining factor in an election. At least that’s the excuse I can give on our behalf. But honestly, I think we are gradually walking towards objective politics where issues and not individuals will be the main topic of political discussions within young people and other demographics.
I don’t believe anyone wants to break up. I think its a political ploy. Whatever the case I believe we will remain one indivisible country with our fault lines that we will keep working to make sure we minimize the damage of its consequences.
Where do you see Nigeria in the next 10 years?
I see Nigeria in the next ten years together, no breakaway or secession. Perhaps more mature in our democratic culture. I am hoping, more tolerant of one another and more economically viable, God willing.
Do you believe in self-determination by certain groups, be it Arewa, Biafra or Oduduwa? Should Nigeria just break up so everyone can go and mind their business?
I believe in a democracy people have the right to make demands from the state when they have genuine concerns. In this case however, I think only Kanu and his ardent followers are asking for the right to self determination in the East, and those in the North reacted to what they perceive as a constant bluff that has been used one too many times by some people to achieve some political aim. In doing so the Northerners also didn’t mean what they said with the ultimatum, it think it was also a ploy to force the conversation to the table, which it has been brought. All in all, I think if there is forceful and purposeful leadership and a few amendments in the constitution with provisions that seeks more to protect the governed rather than the government some of these agitations may dissipate. However, I don’t believe anyone wants to break up. I think its a political ploy. Whatever the case I believe we will remain one indivisible country with our fault lines that we will keep working to make sure we minimize the damage of its consequences.
Published July 3, 2017 on Signal NG