To many Nigerians, it was just another hash tag on Social Media. Then came the billboards and announcement of an affirmation march against corruption.
The #istandwithbuhari has also been trending on twitter for a lot reasons which prompted our reporter to pay a visit to the temporary National Secretariat of the organisation on Lungi Crescent, Wuse 2, Abuja to meet with the leadership of the organisation.
In this interview of 2 parts, Mustapha Ramalan who is the National Coordinator and Yemi Saka the Acting South West Coordinator both took time out to explain to our correspondent the essence and activities of the group.
Here is the first part in which the National Coordinator explained why every Nigerian must stand with President Buari:
TSPUK: What is the membership composition of this group?
Mustapha Ramalan: We currently have more than 2 million requests via our social media platforms and contact lines from Nigerians home and abroad looking to join this organisation as members and supporters. Presently the leadership is a lean structure that operates from the capital, Abuja. We have structures down to every ward in all the 36 States and FCT. We will conduct a physical mobilization drive to be coordinated by our Head of Contact & Mobilization in the near future, which will take our activities to every local government and ward in all the 6 geopolitical zones. We hope to use vital data from this exercise to channel our programs to ensure they touch the lives of those that need them the most.
TPSUK: What is the requirement to be a member of the organisation?
Mustapha Ramalan :The #istandwithbuhari is open for every Nigerian to register as a member. For those that are active on social media, you can register via our website and Facebook page. For every other well-meaning Nigerian interested in joining this noble cause, you can register your membership and participate in our activities within your state of residency through the 37 State Coordinators across the country. We also have structures in the Diaspora mainly in the UK, Germany, North America, India, China and select African Countries. Contact information of State, Zonal and Diaspora Coordinators can be found in our website www.istandwithbuhari.org.
TPSUK: How exactly do you intend to project the ideals, principles, and policies of Buhari’s administration?
Mustapha Ramalan: We are of the firm belief that our rallying point is Muhammadu Buhari, an individual whose integrity & character stands tall. We are 100% certain that the impeccable character and personality of President Muhammadu Buhari is a serious plus and the first sign of recovery & change for Nigeria. It is a victory of principles over vices, prudence over financial impunity and mal-administration, and selflessness over selfishness.
Accordingly, #istandwithbuhari is operating a bottom-up approach in all our activities in order to project the ideals, principles, policies and most importantly the corresponding opportunities brought about by such policies to Nigerians especially the masses.
What do I mean bottom-up? We are giving more priority to enlighten and empowering masses. And where are majority of the masses located? They are not on social media; they do not have access to TV or Newspaper. They are in the rural areas; they are the poor, vulnerable and are actually the majority in every state of this great country. So for us to be effective, our activities must have a direct impact on the majority of Nigerians – the masses!
This is why we have 37 State Offices with representation in all local governments and wards. We carefully picked 37 young coordinators who are all distinguished indigenes of their respective states and immediately put them through a comprehensive induction exercise in order to imbibe in them the objectives, discipline and commitment required from each and every one of them. This process is now being repeated by each State Coordinator in picking his/her state EXCO, local and ward level officials.
Why am I telling you all this? Unless we as an organisation can effectively mobilize, enlighten and ultimately empower Nigerians in the grassroots, then we cannot achieve anything substantial. It is why our members must speak their peoples language, must feel their peoples pains, must be aware of the impacts of government’s actions and inactions and communicate same to the masses, must carry out the role of leaders in their community by providing that community with the answers to their questions. We must also bridge the gap between opportunities and those that really require those opportunities. If we get it right, to which our commitment is unflinching, we will be the voice and the light of the common man. We all must be agents of this Change we yearn for!
TPSUK: Earlier this year, there was a march against corruption in Abuja and there is another one billed for March. Was that March organised by this organisation as a pre-event for that of March?
Mustapha Ramalan : No, it was not organised by #istandwithbuhari. But we as an organisation identify with the group that organized that particular march and I believe they are called ‘Enough is Enough’. We want to encourage similar Organisations and well meaning Nigerians who have the interest of this great country to join us on the 31st March 2016 in Abuja to identify and support the Presidency of Muhammadu Buhari in its effort to rid this country of corruption.
We want to send a clear message; that for Nigeria to survive, corruption and impunity in government and even private life must be completely eliminated in its entirety.
It is in recognition of this that we have proclaimed 31st March, ANTI-CORRUPTION DAY, to give the opportunity to Nigerians to identify with this day globally, where we can boldly tell the world that we are tired of corruption in Nigeria and we believe that this government is sincere in her fight against corruption. On that day, We will be sending a bold message to all the agents of corruption in Nigeria that their problem is no longer just President Muhammadu Buhari, but that their problem is now Nigerians who are ready to ensure they can no longer hide and we Nigerians will expose them and ensure they are all tried and jailed!
The Anti-Corruption rally will simultaneously hold in Eagle Square Abuja, in Europe, North America, Asia and South Africa. In Abuja, we are mobilizing youths and groups from all the 36 states while reaching approximately 9 million people via live TV, Radio and Social Media coverage.
TPSUK: What effort is your organisation making to educate Nigerians on its existence, mission and how do you intend to halt the misrepresentation of facts?
Mustapha Ramalan: Like I said, our main emphasis is on educating the poor masses on our existence, our objectives and our mission. We have commenced that process in all 36 States and the FCT. However, we understand and even appreciate those that see our activities and link them to other groups such as TAN & YEAA. But let me make it clear that we have nothing in common with organisations that deceive the populace by marketing lies and deceit in order to benefit from government funds or patronage. We have never requested money or solicited for political office from the President or any of his agents and that stance will never change. Although we fully support the President, we will do everything within the rule of law to ensure his Presidency is saved from any sabotage within and outside the Government.
That said, we as an organisation have always made our mission and objectives available in our website – that we fully support this governments anti corruption campaign, TSA Compliance by the three arms of Government, Zero tolerance to impunity, promote Good Governance at all levels, empowering and enlightening the masses in support of gov’t policiesand programs, entrenching social justice and so on. I am confident that in time we will convince those Nigerians who are suspicious of our activities in anyway, that #istandwithbuhari is an organisation that means well for our beloved Country.
TPSUK: Many feel you are political jobbers who have started out with campaign for 2019 for President Muhammadu Buhari while he is yet to spend a year in office? Is this true?
Mustapha Ramalan: First of all, we at the leadership are not even politicians. Personally I have never been a member of any political party and I do not seek to run for political office now or in the near future. We are not a campaign organisation for the President and you will not find any material where #istandwithbuhari listed ‘2019’ or ‘vote PMB’ as our objective or mission statement. But the ironies are, should we Nigerians only stand with or support our leaders when and only when they seek political office?
The functions of democracy and development of society depends to a large extent on the vitality of the civil society organisations such as ours, to truly encourage active participation of citizens in discussing real and common issues of National Interest, in order to positively influence and direct decisions of government.
#istandwithbuhari is primed to assume a leading role that fosters greater collaboration between government and citizens, resulting in greater trust and cooperation among all parties for more effective implementation of government policies and programmes. This is our mandate!
TPSUK: Why do Nigerians need to stand with Buhari when there is lingering fuel crisis, long queues and no electricity and crash in naira?
Mustapha Ramalan: We must stand with our leader, to support him and his government in good and bad times. When we stand with Buhari, do we ask Nigerians to pay his children’s school fees, or contribute toward renovating his home in Daura? No.
If we support the President and he delivers, who ultimately benefits? It is we Nigerians. The notion that we must only support Governments in good times is ill advised. Yes these are hard times, with the fall of oil prices and stagnation of economic activities in the country. But are we quick to forget what led us to this unenviable situation? Have we forgotten the misrule and wastage of the past Administrations? If Nigerians have forgotten, we will remind Nigerians of the serious damage done to Nigeria by past Administrations. It is in this country that a man confessed receiving N2.2 Billion by verbal order for prayers to defeat Boko Haram. The same man went on to confess that he never even kept records of disbursement he made of such funds. These are monies that could have been utilised to fight the war and save the lives of many soldiers and civilians. So how much damage and how many laws did this wicked action violate?
So what are we saying? The President met a country that was almost torn to shreds by a few elite who held us to ransom for nearly two decades. They enriched themselves to the detriment of the majority. They divided us when it benefited them. They gave birth to several polygamous wings of poverty, impunity, insecurity, corruption and chaos.
So do you honestly think one man can rebuild this country without the support of all Nigerians? I am proud to support Mr President because I believe there is nobody that cares for Development of a prosperous, united Nigeria like President Muhammadu Buhari.
Moreover we have already seen strong signs of recovery even within the 9 months so far. Since the coming of PMB, the North East has witnessed steady improvement of peace as & the war on Boko Haram is being Won by our Brave, Gallant & clearly motivated Soldiers. Implementation of the TSA policy by PMB has eliminated waste in public expenditure and Government is record to say that within only 3 months of enforcement of the TSA policy, they saved N2.2 trillion as at January 2016. Again with the suspension of the corrupt subsidy regime on PMS (Fuel), Nigeria is currently saving a whopping N647.2 million daily or N236 Billion Annually. The Presidents tireless efforts are ripping fruits as Nigeria is beginning to win Global goodwill in the International Community due to the confidence world and business leaders have in the President and we are witnessing a significant interest in our economy with the influx of foreign investors to Nigeria on daily basis. I can go on and on.
Indeed even experts have agreed that we are in a long journey to recovery, so we call on all Nigerians to be patient and support this administration as it looks to rebuild this country; ultimately the Governments success is to our own interest.
In this second segment of this interview, Mallam Yemi Saka, ZONAL COORDINATOR (SOUTH WEST) further affirmed the position of the National Coordinator and allegation of fraud against the organisation.
TPSUK: Why the need for the group #IStandWithBuhari?
Yemi Saka: We at the organisation realize that for any project, program or policy to succeed, there must be people oriented advocacy in place. The essence of #istandwithbuhari is to promote the ideals of good governance, sincerity of purpose, patriotism and national interest which President Muhammadu Buhari represents. We identified the exceptional character of President Buhari, which can never be over-emphasized, as a rallying point and which we feel is the much needed leadership trait for the rediscovery, repair, and repositioning of our great nation at this critical time and learning curve of our national existence. This is why we formed the group, to help promote such ideals and policies of the present administration at all levels of government.
TPSUK: Why do Nigerians need to stand with Buhari when there is lingering fuel crisis, long queues, no electricity and crash in naira?
Yemi Saka: There is a reason Nigerians opted for Buhari over Jonathan during the elections. It was borne out of a conviction that he has what it takes to rescue the country from collapse and consequently chart a better course for our future. What then has changed since May 29th 2015? Is this not the same President Buhari today who has shown he is dedicated to cleaning up the system & fostering a foundation for good governance to thrive? The process of rescue & reorientation from the rot of 16 years cannot be achieved in 8 months. Do many really understand that? To stand with President Buhari at this critical time therefore defines the height of patriotism. As long as you stand with President Buhari in the face of obvious hardship and suffering, it is a demonstration of HOPE and BELIEF in a Greater and Better Nigeria. Standing with Buhari is recognizing and demonstrating your right as a stakeholder in the future of Nigeria.
TPSUK: Many Nigerians are asking why stand with the President? Nigerians have demonstrated that by voting for him and many feel it is too early. What will you say to this?
Yemi Saka: But we are seeing what is happening in the polity today where people who should even know better are criticizing the genuine efforts of the government to change things, because of one discomfort or the other, instead of helping educate the masses on the processes in play which will eventually benefit us all. This is no direct indictment on any government agency, but we at our organisation saw the chasm between the government and the masses and we decided to step in as an attempt to change or correct the narratives out there. Is it not better to stand in solidarity with someone during times of difficulty as long as you are sure they have good intentions, than to identify with him only when things are rosy? We are committed citizens who believe it is our civic responsibility to use this platform to show support for good governance. Are we doing this in collaboration with Political Interest? No. This is purely voluntary because we also believe that unless government actions and policies are people driven, the President can never fully achieve his vision for a better society.
TPSUK: Many Nigerians out there are of the opinion this is one of such groups like TAN, and Youth Earnestly Ask for Abacha. What makes your group any different?
Yemi Saka: The high pessimism amongst Nigerians is understandable, but if some feel it’s so early to stand with Mr. President, then it is equally quite hasty to judge us without knowing about us or what we stand for. This organisation is totally different from TAN and YEAA because we are not a rally organizing entity or body. That we are organizing a global anti-corruption day affirmation march in support of President Buhari’s determination to rid Nigeria of corruption does not mean that a rally is all we stand for. Our primary vision is to be nationally and international recognized as a non-governmental agency that is fully collaborating with the Nigerian government to have a corruption free society and equally help to enthrone social justice, and we hope to achieve that through citizen’s orientation programmes capable of attracting global attention, respect, trust and support, in fashioning a new Nigerian Nation of self-sustaining economy that is not subservient to external influences and direction. We have a lot of other programs and projects lined up that will add value to Nigerians, which is why we are passionate about ensuring the foundation is right. For instance, we have a Humanitarian Project lined up to help rebuild the North-East, we have an investors expo scheduled for North America that will help drive further investments from the region into our non-oil sector, there are sponsorship schemes to create platforms for young unemployed Nigerians to be gainfully employed and where appropriate build synergies with donor organisations to help medium & small scale enterprises, we are planning to celebrate our products/services and promote “Buy-Nigeria” brand through a special programme in June, voters education, and many more. All these will be rolled out in due course. We are also passionate about charity and will reach out to less privileged organisations & IDP’s to show support. This will not stop our advocacy and public action to compliance of the Treasury Single Account at all levels of governance, zero tolerance to impunity for public office holders, emphasis on building a stronger economy, working towards restoration of Global confidence, financial inclusion for all Nigerians, accelerated infrastructural development, and eradication of poverty & diseases.
TPSUK: Why the name #istandwithbuhari? What happens after President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure?
Yemi Saka: To answer you directly, the group will still exist after the Presidency of Muhammadu Buhari.
We have a product and “Buhari” is our unique selling point. It is what we are using to push and promote the concept and ideas of our organisation. The name came into being, not his person, but a celebration of his virtues and values, which he is expected to bring to bear on governance. Today, there are leaders across the globe who are no longer in office, but their names can’t be easily washed away because of what they stood for. We believe President Buhari also has that character strength to inspire future generation of leaders in Nigeria. This to us is the barometer to measure any leader or future leader of this country.
TPSUK: Is it a political group and where do the funding come from?
Yemi Saka: As indicated ante, this is no political group but this is not to say we don’t have people in our organisation that either were politically active in the past or are politically active as we speak. This is about Nigeria & Nigerians. We want to move the country forward. It therefore implies that as long as you are patriotic and have positive values to add to us as an organisation, irrespective of your present or past political affiliation, you are welcome to join us. We however will remain non-partisan in all our activities because the true beneficiary of good governance is the ordinary Nigerian who just wants a better life.
On the issue of funding, we are not funded by the Presidency or any agency of government. We are also not funded by political parties. We contribute within ourselves to meet up with our daily operations. We have gift items which individual’s brand with our name and sell to the public (t-shirts, badges, caps, domestic appliances, etc) for which we receive some royalties. We also receive support from well-meaning Nigerians who believe in our objectives. These are our only sources of funding.
TPSUK: There was a “Fraud Alert by Kayode Ogundamisi citing that the DG of the organisation in its inception was a GEJ campaigner and now promoting #istandwithbuhari, how will you respond to this allegations?
Yemi Saka: We are not disputing the fact that Engr. Chinedu Okpalanma was involved in the campaign activities for former President Goodluck Jonathan. We must also stress here that his campaign was an independent campaign exercise, not sponsored or affiliated with the Presidency then or the PDP, and that he also halted his campaigns in 2014 well before the 2015 general elections when he lost confidence in that government and eventually supported President Buhari’s candidacy. But that aside, we ask “when is it right for one to realign his political views and ideologies?” Is Buhari still a presidential candidate of a political party today or the President for all Nigerians? Chief Olusegun Obasanjo carried the ambition of GEJ in 2011, and they fell out by 2013. The present Minister of State for Agriculture, Heineken Lokpobiri decamped from the PDP on August 17 2015, well after President Buhari was sworn in, and by October he was named a Minister. The current Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udo Udoma, was a staunch member of the PDP, same with the President’s SSA on NASS, Senator Ita Enang, just to name a few. Is Kayode Ogundamisi also saying they are fraud? Is this enough to question their commitment to the change agenda of Mr. President?
Again, a case of fraud was never and is yet to be established against Chinedu or any member of our organisation, and we see this as a deliberate attempt at character assassination & misinformation of the public on his part. Chinedu has come out to challenge him to avail Nigerians with evidence of fraud by him, to which he has yet to substantiate his accusation. Some members of the organisation also feel that their reputation were tarnished or questioned by that accusation, but we have recorded all his submissions & other such related posts & rejoinders by individuals/groups, and will respond appropriately within the confines of the law at the appropriate time. Nigerians will see and be informed as events unfold.
TSPUK: Is it true that the criticism forced the DG to resign?
Yemi Saka: Did he resign? No. He stepped aside after a new structure and leadership emerged. I must say he is one man I admire his selflessness & courage. The organisation is not just about him, and he will never want to be seen to derail the organisation from achieving the essence for which it was established. Like I earlier said, we are all committed in this project and collectively we will not be distracted or deterred in our pursuit for a better Nigeria for us all.
TSPUK: Thank so much for your time and I wish you all the best in your forthcoming event as you take an affirmation stand against corruption and subsequent programmes.
Ramalan and Yemi: It our pleasure. God Bless you and God Bless Nigeria.