In this interview with Inemesit Pius, Mr. Tonye Isokariari, who is running for the AMAC 2019 chairmanship position on the platform of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), bares his mind on a number of issues, including the policies and programmes he intends to bring to bear in AMAC if elected to that office. Excerpts.
Let’s get to know you formally.
I am a Nigerian, I have lived here in Abuja for about 20 to 21 years. I schooled in the University of Abuja, where I got my first degree in Political Science and International Relations. I also have a Masters in Policy Analysis, from the same department and the same university. I am a humanitarian and also management consultant.
What informs your entry into politics?
Basically, I am tired of the current state of activities in our Municipal level, and I felt that, because of the failure of governance at that level, it was time for me, as an individual, to put myself out there, to try to ensure that we have better governance in that space. So, basically, I feel that it’s time when young people and people who have some kind of competence, character and capacity to actually get into the governance space. I decided that, because I possess those qualities, it’s time for me to put my hand in the ring.
What mark have you made or, rather, what footprint have you left, on the political scene, so far?
Presently or before now?
You are not a fresh or first-time aspirant to a political office- or are you?
This is my first time of running for a political office, but I have been in the political scene for a while now.
Although you haven’t assumed any elective political office before, you have, as you’ve just said, been in the political space for a while now-in other words, you’ve held some appointments in certain public offices; what would you say are (or were) your achievements in those appointive or non-elective positions?
Well, I believe that governance is about service, and that my work experience covers service delivery; and I believe that I have distinguished myself in those areas. I was part and parcel of the people who developed what we may call the “Roadmap on Power”-which is supposed to be like a power bible-that would provide power supply in Nigeria. I was in that office for about two years-in the Presidential Taskforce on Power-where we worked tirelessly to ensure that we produce a book that anybody can use to provide power supply to Nigerians.
When or during which administration did all these happen?
Under the Jonathan-led government in 2010/2011, when he was Acting President. I was also in the Subsidy Reinvestment Programme (SUREP- P), where I was able to train about 16,000 young Nigerians in various skill areas-in the power sector, in the non-technical fields, in different vocational skills-within the country. So, I can boldly say that, while I was in that office, I was able to train about 16,000 young Nigerians, who are actually doing well today in their various fields of endeavour.
What specific official designation were you known by, or given, during each of those periods of your engagement?
Okay. In the Taskforce on Power, I was the Technical Adviser for the Cross-Sector Partnership Depart-ment; and in SURE-P, I moved as the Special Assistant (SA) to the Chairman-that is, Dr. Christopher Kolade-when it started. Then, from there, I was Programme Assistant for the TVET-that is, the Technical, Vocational, Educational and Training Department.
So, one could say that, to some extent, you have the capacity to represent a people?
Of course, in capacity, we have! And apart from all these different work environments, I have also helped-or tried to help-a lot of people who are, you would call, the downtrodden, in getting them out of where they are to where they ought to be. I’ve also, presently, engaged about twelve (12)people whom I pay school fees for. I’ve been paying their school fees since when they were in primary school. Most of them are now in secondary school; one of them is to be in the university next year. So, these are like personal space.
In 2015, I was made a Peace Ambassador, because of my work in pursuing peace, you know, in different levels, not just in Nigeria, but outside Nigeria too.
Who made you the Peace Ambassador?
The United Nations.
What inspires you to run for the AMAC 2019 chairmanship position or, rather, why are you seeking that office?
I feel that Nigeria has a barage of issues. We have different issues, but I belief that if we get the local government, local council right, it can help or it can begin the rebirth process of the Nation.
Unfortunately, the local government has not been looked into properly by individuals, whether young people or older people….They have not got into that space to get it right. My hope and believe is that if we are able to get it right at the local council, it will start the process, because when we talk about Nigeria, we are talking about Nigeria at the grassroots. So, if we get it right at that level…, if we are able to provide services at that level; if we are able to adjudicate or govern properly at that level, we would be able to get it right as a country-or start the process of getting it right as a country.
Considering that many other aspirants are seeking the very office that you are seeking, what pedigree or unique track record do you think you have that would make the electorate vote you over any other candidate?
Well, I have shared my history of some of the things I have done….When you talk about the power bible, that I am sure the Ministry of Power is using today, I was part of the people who developed that roadmap on power.
When you talk about SURE-P, where we were able to empower, in various vocational skills, over 16, 000 young Nigerians, I was pivotal in ensuring that that happened. When you talk about ensuring that we reach out to people at the grassroots , I told you that, presently, I have 12 kids that are under my personal financing in their school endeavour.
When you talk about various things that we have gotten, in terms of awards- and all that- I have a track record of being a Peace Ambassador.
I am a fellow of the institute of Humanitarian Studies and Social Development. I have a degree in Management Consultancy, in helping companies grow from where they are to where they ought to be. I was with the group which helped to restructure NAHCO, Nigerian Aviation Handling Company, as it is. So, I have held various leadership roles, various positions which give me an edge over most people.
However, I believe that what is required for the role as chairman, is somebody who has character or competence. And I believeve I have those attributes.
What strategies are you putting in place to lead ultimately to your emergence as AMAC Chairman?
Well, I can’t share my strategies with you. Precisely, that’s in my heart, because many times, since we started the whole conversation, a lot of interviews I have granted, I see that people have now taken over my plans and strategies. So, I will keep my strategies to mysel till we win.
Politics in Nigeria, as is in many other climes, is increasingly hinged on the notion of ‘godfatherism’ and, if youl like to add, ‘godmotherism’- hence the existence of a political godchild. So, whose political godson are you, or who is you political godfather or godmother?
My political godfather is God.
Are you sure?
Yes, I am. The people of AMAC are my godfathers. I believe that we must do away with some of these things. I mean, if I wanted somebody to be my godfather, I am sure all the finance we need for this election would be provided immediately. But we can’t continue in that light.
But there’s a difference between mentorship-political mentorship-and political godfatherism. Mentorship is the one which, over the years, I believe, I have gathered, that equips me to run for the office. But godfatherism…, a godfather is someone who calls a shot for you. Nobody does that.
In that case, who mentors you politically?
A lot of people have mentored me; I have called a few people. Dr. Christopher Kolade is my strong mentor. He’s like a father to me; Arch. Olajumoke Adenumwo- she is also a mentor to me. These are people who have mentored me at different levels; Engr. Valerie Abirakpa. These are people who have helped me, and nurtured me to where I am today; Dr. Zuma, the CEO of the Zuma Group-he has also mentored me…. Mentorship is different, and I believe that young people need mentors. Pastor Chris Oyhakhilome is also a mentor to me. Various people need mentors, and young people do need mentors.
However, that you have a mentor does not mean that your mentor automatically becomes your godfather. It doesn’t work that way.
How are your political campaign activities being funded? Who is (are) your financier(s)?
My financiers are the people, the people that are contributing. And they have kept on contributing. I know of a girl…. When we started this process-she is a seamstress. She said, “I have saved up some money to buy some fabric”-things that she uses for her work-that she had ninety thousand naira (N90,000) in her savings, and she’s giving it to me, because she believes in the campaign! I have had people who walk up to me, and say, “I believe in what you are doing; I believe that you will create a difference…. I have followed your track record. I have followed what you’ve done; and you putting up your heart out there, I believe you can deliver.” And they say, “Okay, this is a hundred thousand…” So, we’ve been having…. I have had people who give me ten thousand (N10,000). I’ve had people who have given me five thousand naira (N5,000). I have had people who have given five hundred thousand naira (N500, 000). It all depends on what they have and what they’re willing to do-and, of course, from my personal savings, too.
What would you say about the policies and overall administration of the present Chairman of AMAC, Hon. Abdullahi Candido?
Not to sound like I’m against the individual. We’re running an office. So, I don’t want to come off like, you know, battering what he has done. But I don’t think he has done very well. In fact, I think he has performed below average. And the reason I’m saying that is because, when I look at the resources and the opportunities he has to create resources vis-à-vis the development, it doesn’t make any sense to me. So, his policies, his staff- the way they even collect taxes, the way the office is being run, all sorts of corruption cases levelled against him…, there’s just something going wrong in that place. And I know that AMAC does deserve better.
If you are elected to the AMAC chairmanship position this 2019, what would you do differently in AMAC?
First thing first. Some of the things that are lacking in AMAC is representation to the people.The people are not included in what is going on in that space. When you talk with people about AMAC, all they are thinking is how they are being harassed by AMAC. And that ought not to be so! The local council is supposed to be a council that affects every individual living within the Municipality. And if these guys are complaining, then that means the first thing we need to do, as a people, once we get into office, is to have proper inclusiveness, inclusiveness in terms of the people having accees to AMAC. You can’t be an AMAC chairman and be behaving like the President of Nigeria, whereby people can’t see you; your people can’t have access to you, or you don’t even reach out to the people. So, the first thing we want to do is to have, in every quarter, regular Town Hall Meetings, both physically present among the 12 wards and within the social media space.
We’re going to create for the communities, what we call ‘Community Development Fund’, where funds would be set aside for communities. The communities would determine what those funds would be used for, and we would just monitor. That way, the communities would be part and parcel of what we’re doing, which encourages inclusiveness, and which is what a local government is supposed to be, or the Municipality is supposed to be.
Then, the second thing we’re going to do is, we’re looking at ensuring that we take care of the education and the health of the people living within AMAC. What I mean by this is, the primary health care centres need to be functioning, especially because of our women and children. So, the primary health care centres-we would look at them, review them. Most of them-when we visited-were outgrown by weeds, and all that. We would do it in such a way that people would be comfortable and secure enough to want to go to those places. Also, the primary schools we have, we need to put them right, create an environment where our children can sit down and learn properly.
Also, for those children in the communities, they would have free education, so that no parent is talking about paying schoolfees, and all that.
Apart from the free education, we would also provide the kids with starter packs, school packs, every year, to help the parents, you know, to take away the burden from the parents.
Then, our children, from 0 to 5 years, when they go to the primary health care centres, they would get free medical attention. Our aged people, parents, from 65 years and above, when they go to the primary health care centres, they would also have free medical attention. So, I believe that if we’re able to tackle these things properly, it would help the municipality to grow.
We’re also looking at what we call ‘Technology City’. That technology city would be like an incubation centre where we would get young IT kids from across the 12 wards, put them in that city, train and re-train them, and make them create certain things in the ICT sector, that can compete in the global village where they are, where we’re operating. We want to do that so that we can have young people go to places like the Sillcon Valley, and compete and sell their stuffs, and become rich people from there.
We need to look at the teachers we have-are they equipped enough to teach our children? We’re going to look at all those things.
Then, the multiple level taxation we have will stop. You would be able to pay your taxes from the comfort of your phone, from the comfort of your home. So, we would limit that harassment that a lot of businesses complain about. I mean, Abuja is being run by small businesses; and if AMAC, as a government, is frustrating those small businesses presently, it ought not to be so.So, what we want to do is, unbundle that process, ensure that if you’re going to pay a particular figure, that’s all you’re going pay for a duration, a year. We would make it easier for you to do it; so, we would create a technology (which is present, which is there), where you can pay those taxes from the comfort of your home, or from the comfort of your phone. Then, you go somewhere and print your receipts, and just place it on your window or your office space. These things are available, doable, and we need to limit the level of thuggery that is being operated now in the name of collecting taxes.
Say something about your immediate Ward
We have 12 wards. I’m from Garki Ward. But I’m going to be a Chairman of the 12 wards. That I’m from Garki does not mean that Garki would get it all. In fact, it would surprise you to know that it is more of the wards in the interior places that are actually facing the major issues. So, our focus would be a lot on those areas. The twelve wards are where we’re going to be Chairman in, or for.
What would you say about your family background and your marriage?
Well, I’m from Benue State. I’m married to someone from Nasarawa State. We have two children. And I have an adopted child, too, a personal adopted child, apart from the twelve that I said I take care of.
On a final note, what food for thought or strong points do you have for your potential electorate?
You see, we need to move past religious, tribal sentiments if we want our country to change.Madness is described as, when you continue to do the same thing and expect a different result. We need to change that. We need to ensure that the people we bring to power are people who we know that, at the end of their tenure, you would be happy as a citizen, be fulfilled as a citizen, and be able to accomplish your self-worth as a citizen. So, for my electorate that live in AMAC, this is the time for us to change the situation of things, as it is today. We cannot continue like this. We need fresh ideas…, people who have the right competencies, the right character, and people who have the courage to face governance and ensure that it’s done well.
I believe that if we live in AMAC, we deserve better; and that’s why, as you can see, AMAC deserves better. So, come en masse and vote. Don’t stay at home. Come and vote. Ensure you come and vote.