Kwara North has been marginalised for 20 years- Aisha Ahman Pategi

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Aisha Ahman Pategi is founder,  Community Outreach Advocacy, Capacity Building and Health (COACH) that has embarked on mobilisation of potential voters for collection of permanent voter card ahead of the expiration of INEC’s continuous voter registration. She spoke to AHMED ‘LATEEF in Patigi at the weekend on challenges facing the people in getting registered and other issues of interest. Excerpts:

What informed your decision to create this community outreach group?

The reason why we came up with this was because of what I noticed when I came back from abroad to register for my PVC. I was really baffled because the INEC office here was not what I expected. People had queued up and paying N100 to register. Apparently, they have to pay for diesel (to power the generator). That is disturbing.

By the time I started asking the youths, everybody was saying we are going with (President Muhammadu) Buhari. They said they were tired, due to lots of issues going on and I could see there was so much anger. I believe that everybody in Nigeria has a right to register to vote, and you don’t have to pay N100. It should be the same way in every community in Nigeria.

So, when I went back to Abuja, I spoke to a few of our leaders in APC essentially and some other important people. I told them what I found out and that obviously this is the time for me to come back home and see how I can make an impact. I needed to start with my community. My family is actually the oldest political family in Kwara and a lot of developments that have happened, even in Ilorin, was actually brought by my Dad, late Alhaji Ahman Pategi.

Most of us have not paid much attention to politics or leadership and all that; the only person we have is Hon. Aliyu Ahman Pategi but it takes more than one person to make an impact, and everybody is representing their own people. I started to realise there is the desire of Kwara North wanting the gubernatorial ticket this time around, because it has been almost 20 years since we held that position.

One of the arguments against this is that people from Kwara North are not that many, therefore they are not making much of an impact when it comes to elections. They claimed we are just 250,000. That is not possible. I know the population of Pategi is over 500,000. I started doing my research and I discovered that a lot of people don’t actually register, many don’t come out to vote, and also a lot of people that are registered don’t go back to collect their PVCs. People are disillusioned that they have to pay N100 to register, go out to vote, and at the end of it all, their votes are not counting. That is why I started a community outreach, so that we would make sure that this time, their voices are heard and the impact actually is felt, especially in Kwara North as a whole.

Another thing that disturbed me is when I Iooked at all the numbers of 2015 elections, what I discovered was the total vote for Kwara was about 400,000 and in writing, they said the population of Kwara is 2.3million. So, you are talking about less than 20 percent of the population. How many of these are children? We should definitely have at least more than 70 percent that are adults at this point. Obviously, since 2015 the population has increased.

While we get people to register, at the same time, people that actually hold offices get overwhelmed. We understand that if you want people to vote for you, you have to make sure that they feel your impact, because that is the responsibility you have taken. As a leader, you can’t do it all by yourself, you need to set up committees and delegate responsibilities and follow up, because that is the wisdom behind leadership. A leader can’t do it all. President Buhari can’t do it all but he has to make sure that the people in his cabinet can be held responsible for anything that happens, because if the country does well, he does well. If the country doesn’t, then at the end, it falls back to him.

The important thing when you look at it is the essence of each and everyone of us. If we decide that we are ready to serve God, that is what public service is all about. So, I’m ready to serve God and I’m ready to do it through public service, through community outreach, by making sure that we rally as many people as possible to register for PVC. At the same time, we want to get the data of people that have registered because, I tell you, data is actually more profitable to gain than gold and oil combined. Anybody who has complete data has it all.

For example, everybody is talking about (Donald) Trump and looking at what he has done today, every single thing he has promised American people, he is actually delivering it. That is what we want leadership and campaign to be about. I am with President Muhammadu Buhari, I am with APC, that is why I’m taking this as a pilot. I’m starting with my own roots to say we can actually duplicate this in every community around.

We are ready to move forward and meet up with the rest of the world, because Nigeria is really lagging behind. I believe that with the likes of us that have been outside the country and seen the benefits of what other people have done, it is time for each and every one of us to come and make sure that our own people understand how we can collectively come together and create solutions to our problems.

The government can’t solve everybody’s problem, it is just here to regulate and make sure everyone is responsible and has the basic necessities. In America, majority of all the inventions that have taken place came from the thinkers- the youths. So, these are the things we need to make people understand. Everybody wants a job, everybody wants to move to Abuja but at the end of it all, it is not going to help.

If you go around, everything is in abundance but when you make a person understand that everything is in abundance and you have the same right to do whatever you put your mind to, it is very important for them to start to be inspired. Everybody needs guidance, then you empower and equip them. But if you give people handouts of  N20,000 or N30,000, then what happens after two years? We need to start to educate them on saving this money and putting it in some kind of investment.

Communities need to start generating revenue, we should have credit unions, which is like a community bank where this money goes into. Farmers can come together and ask how to improve or resuscitate the farming situation in our communities. Through that, revenue is coming in. Part of this revenue, we can start to build our own roads in Pategi and if we show that this is possible, you don’t even need the government. It is possible. That is why I started COACH.

Looking at the problems facing people in trying to collect the PVC as you have observed, can we say that the process should be decentralized?

I have spoke to INEC officials here and they do have a lot of challenges. One of the things I noticed when I came here was one of the INEC officials who was on malaria medication was sleeping on the floor, so that is disturbing in itself. That shouldn’t be the case. A person, who is serving in that kind of situation, should be extremely comfortable. Those are things we are already addressing. We are advocating for more people to come in since we have been able to get an extension till August 31.

We are going to keep working on it,  so by next year, we shouldn’t face this kind of challenge as well. There are youths that are looking for jobs here. If the person is able to give N100, why can’t the community be allowed to even raise that kind of money so there will be enough to register people? That way, it solves the problem on ground.

How do you mean that Kwara North has suffered marginalisation in the last 20 years in power equation?

It has been more than 20 years since we have had gubernatorial representation or even a higher leadership position if you really look at it. So, we need the government to pay attention to that. Let’s have dividends of democracy, because that is what democracy is about, for everybody to have representation. We definitely need the government to come in for us and allocate more positions that would help to bring about change into our communities. Apart from Hon. Aliyu Ahman Pategi and Senator Shaaba Lafiagi, not much has been allocated to Kwara North.

We are actually blessed in Kwara North, especially Pategi. We have the River Niger and so much can be done with it. Tourism potentials can be explored in Pategi. We have a hotel here, a lot of people can come, spend the night here and explore a lot of the opportunities and potentials that we have. Imagine the traffic that we could actually generate and this would trickle down to traders. If our roads are fixed from Bida (Niger State) all the way to Ilorin, it would be a shorter distance for people to go to Lagos.

Even coming from Abuja to Minna and Bida, the roads are just bad; these are death traps. What are we doing ourselves?These are the basic necessities a person needs to be able to come up with the ideas that can move everybody, and that is the responsibility of government. But if the government is unable to do it, does not mean that we as individuals cannot come up with creative ideas on how we can fix it?

The construction of roads can be privatised. Companies can come in for investments to fulfill their social responsibilities. To come up with funding for these roads, the government and even the National Assembly need to come up with more of creative ideas to be able to fund our projects, not just take loans.

As it is now, if you tell a company to come to Nigeria and invest, they would say the roads are bad but if you negotiate your contract with them and say if you are coming in, this is what we want, at the end of the day, we can actually go ahead and build toll gates. That would generate revenue as well and everyone is happy at the end of it all. So, there are many creative ways that I believe the government also can come up ideas. But government has to also discuss with the community, with the grass roots, find our what the challenges are and through that, we can even create more jobs for the youths.

Taking cognizance of the recent report of the National Bureau of Statistics, the figures on the number of poor people in Nigeria are staggering. Is your community outreach group doing something about poverty eradication?

Poverty is in the mind, and that is what COACH is about. We are here to inspire them to believe in themselves, to know that they can do anything they put their minds to. That is the first step for you to solve poverty, because poverty can never be solved by you giving the person money. We have abundance, let’s make use of it.

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