Francis Ansalem Zirra, a young journalist, entrepreneur, writer and the leader of Nigerianization Project, is a presidential aspirant on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He speaks with GABRIEL ATUMEYI
What is the Nigerianization which you claim to be leading?
Nigerianization is the robust intellectual diagnosis of our country by some philosophers, thinkers and men who understand the future of their own history. The vision of Nigerianization is that all Nigerians are involved in the process of making Nigeria great, where all of us will be greater than just a few of us; where one life is as significant as that of the Abuja politicians, where resources are planned, well managed and fairly distributed based on each life of all Nigerians for all lives matter.
Do you intend to contest for the presidency of Nigeria on the platform of the PDP?
Presently I am a member of the PDP. I formally declared on the 23 February. My supporters and I took to the chairman of our great party my declaration of interest letter which you have seen a copy, addressing the challenges and why I intend to run for this particular position. But I am also working with other Nigerians that are young political aspirants especially for the seat of the president and I believe that is what Nigerianization is all about. It is the renewal of our national political class by the youths who have long been said to be the leaders of a tomorrow that has dawned. So far my supporters and I have met a variety of people that are coming together as young people without discrimination. As for now I am contesting for the seat of the President.
Currently, the Not-too-young-to-run bill despite being passed by 25 state Assemblies has not received the final nod of the National Assembly making it a law of the land. Do you think your age is sufficient to enable you to contest for this highly coveted office?
In fact, even if the not-too-young-to-run bill is passed it wouldn’t even guarantee me to go for this particular position but the laws are made for the people. The preamble of our constitution begins with we the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We are to define the kind of leadership we want, it simply means social justice. It is a question of to be or not to be. Although we have our legal team seriously working on it, I must say the change of age from 45 and 40 years is not even necessary in the first place. The constitution of Nigeria implies that at 18 you have the right to vote and be voted for. So I think the age limitation is the first mistake of the constitution. The constitution is a very important document in the country but it is unfortunate that on 3 January, 2018 the constitution failed to protect 73 people in Benue State, it also failed to protect the Chibok girls, we thank God that the Dapchi girls are back with so many conspiracy theories.
A clause in the constitution doesn’t allow me but the constitution also gives me the power that I belong to this country and I have the right to make it better. I am not fighting with the constitution. There is this commentary that Buhari became the President of Nigeria on the basis of 3/4, 75 percent is a pass mark. He was more than 45 years as we know it, he belonged to a political party and he was a citizen of Nigeria. Although it has not yet been proven that he has no certificate, I think in my own case, the only issue is the age thing, I belong to a political party, I am a citizen of Nigeria and I am educated.
So automatically with that as a backing, I still think that 75 is a pass mark. It should not be about age, we know how old many of our leaders were in the 1960s yet they held the helms of affairs. So the Nigerian Presidency should not be reduced to the size of your pocket or age. Professor Kwaghe said in an interview granted in the first week of February, in which he insulted all the Nigerian youths, saying is it because of the constitutional age limit, why don’t we fight for it? As at now, we are not going with the Not-too-young-to-run bill. The main thing is that if we can mobilize and get ourselves together, then age is not a problem.
Of late there have been talks in the media and other cycles about the idea of independent candidature, especially given the gerontocratic and oligarchic nature of the party establishments in Nigeria, what is your view?
It is the only way out for true leaders to emerge but it is not going to be possible. Number one, you know how the system is. Secondly, it is going to be abused by Nigerians. While the party system is also good, we fear the overshadowing of young people like me. The independent candidature is a way out for us but I don’t see it becoming a reality anytime soon.
Now, the National political scene has been witnessing realignment in the form of a third form supported by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. What is your perception given the calibre of men in their ranks?
If you go through our letter, my declaration letter, you will see it, this sort of union prevents the free play of natural forces, halts the struggle that selects the best man and forever prevents the healthier and the stronger from achieving the necessary and final victory. I see their coalition as an interference with the process of finding a solution than they strengthen it. Nigerians should disregard such calls as cancerous. But Obasanjo who is an Alma mater of my present institution, the National Open University of Nigeria, I have much respect for him but I want you to know that we are going to work against any coalition.
If Singapore is praising Lee Kuan yu and Mandela in South Africa and other great leaders but come to Nigeria, but come to Nigeria people don’t even celebrate Obasanjo except we bring sentiment into our analysis. Even in the South-West a lot of people don’t support the idea of Obasanjo leading a third force. Obasanjo doesn’t have a visible political base in Nigeria. What he has is sort of moral authority, when he speaks, Nigerians still give weight to his opinion. So I think the third force is a lost agenda.
The PDP which I belong to is working seriously, day and night to see that it gets back to power; which it will by the grace of God. I once told an interviewer that the lion might not even enter the localities because the majority of us are in the rural areas and especially in the North, the South-East, South-West, South-South, where the majority are concerned with the broom or the umbrella, that is the APC and the PDP. So the contest is basically between the APC and the PDP. I don’t think the so-called third force can get anywhere or is a way out.
Do you think you can grab the presidential ticket of the PDP or is it just another pipe dream?
It is very possible. In my own dictionary I had to cut out the word impossible for a very long time. That was even the beginning of my own motivation. For the past five or six years I have achieved what I call the Nigerian dream. At my own pace and I know the struggle I have passed through. So I don’t think there is anything that is impossible in Nigeria. As at now we are mobilizing youths to get on board. We are also working to see how we can win the support of delegates. Look at it this way, we have an issue of money politics, but thank God the EFCC has promised that they will be monitoring all the presidential primaries that will take place across the country. We pray they do so. So automatically the money syndrome in politics will be reduced.
This people have the financial wherewithal to give huge largess to delegates. But we are not deterred, and right now we have succeeded in enlisting the support of an undisclosed number of delegates. In our discussion with some of these delegates, I said, even when you put your personal gains above the general good you have not succeeded in significantly changing your lives. That even we they partake in such jamborees they can still cast their according to the dictates of their best judgment. We understand that money involvement is part of politicking. I explained our dreams and told them this is just the way out. A lot of them bought into the idea. Some will tell you “I will get my team of delegates to see how we can work together.”
As an ambitious and aspiring youth what has been your contributions to the development of the Nigerian youths and people?
First of all, I will like to acknowledge myself as an African feminist which is quite different from the radical feminism of the European or American socio- cultural context, for the past two years I have been active in women development. I have been involved in a number of women development issues. I am also an author and it may interest you to know that I have written several works which includes “in the spirit of African feminism” and the godmother equation, which is simply a source of inspiration for women.
I also operate a youth club where I work with young people on self development. I have been striving assiduously to make contributions to grassroots development. Given my age and grassroots activism, I believe it is plausible. The country is full of individuals who despite their wealth levels have not made relatively respectable contributions to grassroots and social developments. If I can give you rough statistics, women should consist of not less than 50 per cent of our society. But it is unfortunate that they are not fairly represented at the helm of affairs in this country even at the local level.
Nigerian women have in the past demonstrated strength and power, symbolized in events like the Aba women riot of 1929, where they had to confront the colonial authorities on taxes and hike in prices. So women can achieve their successes without even being radical. In my own Administration I think it will be 50/50. Goodluck Jonathan had done some for the women, people like Dr Ngozi okonjo Iweala, are people that the world is still reckoning with.
It is good for women to contest, at least to test the waters, but it is good to follow someone that will respect your own ideology. Women should support and follow people that have a place for them. For example, one of the strategies we are trying to come up with to empower women to get politically active is that when we come on board 50 per cent of ministries and parastatals will be held and controlled by the women and after two years, they will be relieved of their duties as we will bring in other set of women as a means of empowering them so that when they go back to their localities they could exercise political leverages and play significant roles in socio-political and economic development of the nation.
They could even form an alliance and push on until somewhere in the future they can hold the highest office in the land. It is one step at a time. It is something that deals with vision. Women would have to grow beyond depending on the men for their livelihood. It depends on bringing out the best of their God’s given talents and embarking their respective task with diligence and self respect. Therefore, African feminism is a call for women to go back to the basis, to do their social responsibility as well as strive to achieve more within the span of their own existence. Also in the African continent we can see such examples like the former Liberian president who is an embodiment of political and intellectual will.