By Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye
Faith Yaasa is an amputee, human rights activist, and disability advocate who is the African Action Congress (AAC) candidate for the Benue State House of Assembly in the 2023 elections. She stated in this interview that the impact she has had on constituents places her in a better position than the All Progressive Congress and Peoples Democratic Party.
You are the candidate of African Action Congress (AAC) for Benue State House of Assembly in the 2023 elections and you are a person with disability, what are the challenges on the political field?
Actually, when I made my intention known to the people of Benue that I was coming out for the House of Assembly, Makurdi South, many people said I was catching cruise. They told me, if other persons who have been struggling for this position have not won, how can a young lady and a person with disability win. They asked me who told me that I will dare to get close to that seat. So first, they thought I was just catching cruise but subsequently when they saw that it was becoming a reality, they were surprised. Persons with disabilities are behind me cheering me on but other people are like, oh, why her? ‘Able people never chop finish na dis one?’ But all those things or challenges like one will call them have kept me moving.
How have you been able to raise funds for your political activities so far?
I have not been able to raise money for my campaign, but I’m on it. I’m setting up a fundraising committee and bringing in possible strategies that we can use to raise funds. Of course, we have never been part of the political system. We do not keep money anywhere and we’re not coming because we have money. We are coming because we have the mind to serve and we want to change the narrative this time around. We want to set up a GoFundMe account so that people within can send to our Nigerian bank account while those outside the country can send their donations through the GoFundMe account. So, we’re still working on that. Although, we are using our little resources on ground to produce stickers and buy data for some members of our media team to keep the team moving. So, that’s what we’ve been doing so far.
Apart from changing the narrative, why did you really join politics?
It’s just very simple. The fact is that when I became a person with disability because of an unfortunate incident that led to my arm being amputated, I fought on the streets whenever children insulted me and told me I have one hand. I will fight them physically and ask, “How dare you call me that?” It got to a point we moved into advocacy. We have seen possible ways we can change people’s behaviour towards people with disabilities (PWDs). We’ve done a lot of advocacy on issues concerning PWDs. But we also feel that whenever a roundtable discussion is held and persons with disabilities are not on that same table to be part of the decision making, that policy or law made will be to the advantage of those present and disadvantaged to those not there. Even when you come out and say that this law or policy does not accommodate the PWDs, no one listens or takes us seriously. So, I feel that it’s time for us to start to represent ourselves in the State Assembly, and even at the National Assembly. So, apart from changing the narrative, I think it’s time that persons with disabilities be represented and be part of decision making or make policies at the table where such is taking place. Secondly, in the history of the state, there has never been anybody, whether old, young, man or woman in the community of people with disabilities in the state assembly.
Do you think you can upstage the two candidates of the two big parties – APC and PDP in your state? Can you match them strength for strength, power for power?
Absolutely. I’m going to defeat the two of them. I’m going to win this election. Many people tell me that our party doesn’t have structure, we are not well recognized, we don’t have money. But I feel there’s going to be a revolution that will take place in this 2023 election. PDP or APC have never been fair to us. All the time they have won, they have used money to buy the conscience of the people, to make them vote where exactly their minds do not belong, to make them vote for the wrappers maggi, N100 they give to them on the queue while waiting to vote and to make them vote for empty promises. Only recently, my mother narrated how they used to tell them to press your finger here and all that. But this time around the people are tired. People are tired of both the APC and the PDP. Once I win this election, there are certain things I will do differently; my representation will be felt at the grassroots.
How many persons have represented the women in the state assembly? None. How many have represented the youth? None. What have the people benefited from these people they have voted into office all these years? Nothing. For each council ward, we have sent an advisory team for findings; we discovered that after the election, these people don’t come back. That’s the end of the whole thing. My coming will put an end to all those promise and fail the electorates have experienced in the past. In my disability journey so far, we have been able to bring succour to the grassroots. We have been able to empower them with different skills acquisition programmes and they are all documented in our website www.strengthindisability.org.ng. And I’m so convinced that by the time we begin campaigning properly, to talk to these people to give them reasons why they should work for me, they will vote even without money. So I’m just so convinced that I am going to win.
What is your party’s ideology and do you think you can easily dethrone the ideologies of other political parties that have been in existence since?
Our party’s ideology is to take it back. Take it back from these people that are not making any change that are not making anything better. Year in year out, they come in with stories. AAC was formed out of the take it back movement in Nigeria. A movement that has been known for fighting for the rights of Nigerians, advocating and agitating that the right thing should be done in Nigeria. So our idea is to take it back, revolutionarise Nigeria, to make it work, to make ordinary Nigerians have equal chances with any other Nigerian. Like Aisha Yusufu will usually say, there is no Nigerian that is more Nigerian than any other Nigerian. So, we want a country that works for all so that is just our ideology.
INEC’s extension of continuous voters registration has been attributed to the youths. Many people are saying the youths are only good at staying on social media, but not translating the demands to votes on Election Day. Do you see that changing this time around? And what’s your impression about that first?
Okay. I feel that what the youth are doing is actually right. But at the same time, we’ll have to talk about it you know, when they said the youth are pushing INEC to extend voters registration. You know, like I earlier mentioned, there’s a revolution that’s going to take place in 2023. Those days that the youths will support their candidates on social Media but fail to turn up to vote are over. This year, they are being challenged, they are fed up with the happenings in the country. And the population that do not have voters are more than those with voter cards. So, getting this whole thing within a short period like two to three months, I think is what pushed the youth to demand for INEC to extend the voters registration. But at the same time as much as we want the voter card registration to continue, we should also consider the fact that in September or October, INEC should start issuing PVC. And so if we don’t give INEC a little chance to mop up, so that they can quickly address complaints, at the end of the day, many that registered may not be able to access their PVCs. So, it is in our best interest that INEC is given time to mop up, attend to complaints before issuing the cards. Those that have registered and have the cards and the new ones that just registered are enough to make the change we want. INEC should close the registration and make sure those that have registered get their PVCs.
So many people are worried that PVC might not count with this idea of vote buying as witnessed in Ekiti State? Do you have such fear and what would be your advice?
Actually, I don’t have any such fear. You know, the best I can do and I’m doing already is to encourage people that registered to go and collect the voter cards. You know, why they interrupt voting processes is because our votes count, if our votes do not count, nobody will bother about vote buying. They will not be sending people to go snatch ballot boxes; they will not try to manipulate the result outcome. So our votes count.
For me, the bigger problem is when as a registered voter but fail to turn up to pick your PVC from INEC. If 1000 people registered for PVCs but only 400 turned up to pick their PVCs, the 600 people that didn’t turn up are the real problem that give room for results to be manipulated.
So, we know that this is Nigeria and for us to change anything, we need to really work hard. So we will continue to encourage our people on a daily basis to go and collect their PVCs because those uncollected PVCs are ones they use to rig elections. But I am sure with what we have seen the youths demonstrate so far, they will go and get their PVCs.
You have been arrested severally and one of such was the October 1 demonstration to demand good governance from the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. Why is your mantra, revolution without ammunition and can it work come 2023?
Yes it is working already. You know the analogue generation is afraid of the digital generation. It took the digital generation for me to be released when I was arrested by the Federal Government. In fact, immediately after I was arrested, it went viral on social media. So, that’s what I mean by the digital generation. Now, we are calling for revolution without ammunition. We are not demanding that the government should come down with fights. We are not armed. We are simply demanding the right thing be done in our country so that the child of the ordinary Nigerian can enjoy equal rights that the child of the rich man is benefiting.
We are calling on the government to do the right thing. Sometimes, when we say ‘we no go gree’, we are not saying you should come down. We are saying do the right thing. So this time, the youths have woken up apart from those that are working for the analogue generation.
This time, everybody is supporting his or her candidate without money. For instance, the APC candidate in Benue, the youths that are behind him, he is not giving them money but they are using their resources to ensure that they institute positive change for the benefit of the entire state. The same thing is happening with the presidential candidates. We all saw the viral video of the young lady that donated her savings to support Mr. Peter Obi’s candidacy. This is what we should do to support our candidates. This is what the youths are doing this time around. They are no longer after money but are after what they can change. Except for those who are supporting the bad system and are benefiting and would want to influence the news ones.
What’s your thoughts on this Muslim Muslim ticket and you think the hue and cry is justified?
Personally, if there was nothing wrong with the system of our country presently, I won’t have problem with Muslim/Muslim ticket especially if those the ruling party presents are capable. But religion is a big problem in our country unless we just want to pretend about it.
Our leaders have used religion to hit our heads together so both the Muslims and the Christians are afraid; we don’t trust each other. The Christians are asking what is our fate under a Muslim government? How can they feel what we are feeling? How can they make things easy for us? How do they agitate for the things that concern Christians? So that is the fear.
Let me tell you that 85 per cent of the population of this country believe so much in religion and that is where the problem lies. I don’t actually buy into the idea of Muslim/Muslim ticket because of the same thing I’ve explained earlier. As far as I am concerned, the two frontline contenders from the PDP and APC are not suitable for the job. Some people take it that Nigeria is their house and they are the landlords and they will decide when they want to leave and what should be done when they leave.
I was born in 1994, and some of the people who were in government then are still actively involved today in the affairs of the country. President Muhammadu Buhari was the head of state in 1992; in 2022, he is now the president and will leave office in 2023. I’m in my early 20s and I have heard severally that youths are the leaders of tomorrow but the leaders of yester years are still leaders today. And I think it is time for us to take over from them.