The North-East Youths and Stakeholders Forum of the All Progressive Congress has berated the spokesman of the APC campaign council, Festus Keyamo, for alleging that its decision to withdraw support for the party’s vice presidential candidate, Senator Kashim Shettima, was a subtle blackmail.

The group’s threat to dump Shettima over the gale of defection that hit the APC in the region came 40 days to the 2023 presidential election.

It had lobbied the presidency and the leadership of the ruling party to consider zoning the position of running mate to the North East region after the emergence of the party’s flag bearer, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, at the presidential primary.

The aggrieved youths, however, made a U-turn on Thursday and accused the former governor of Borno State of being responsible for the loss of some foundational members of the structure, including the zonal women leader, Amina Manga, from Bauchi, who defected to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party with several other women.

They further alleged that his snub and nonchalant attitude had continually undermined their efforts, an act that made Keyamo describe the withdrawal of their support as a subtle blackmail.

While contesting the alleged number of members who had defected from the APC in the North-East, the presidential campaign council spokesperson noted that their grievances would be addressed.

But Keyamo’s statement did not sit well with the group who released another statement on Saturday denying the allegation that their decision was an attempt to blackmail Shettima for money or favours.

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The statement, which was signed and issued in Abuja by the group’s acting Chairman, Shaibu Tilde, further urged the Minister of State for Labour to consider the total number of voters in the region released by the Independent National Electoral Commission to determine the veracity of their claim.

“In the last 48 hours, the media has been awash with the news report of our position on the vice presidential candidate of our great party. We wish to reaffirm our resolve on the issue and state unequivocally loud that our position to withdraw our support for the vice presidential candidate of our dear party, Senator Kashim Shettima, still stands.

“What has, however, become a source of worry for our group is the unsavoury and scathing attack launched at us by the APC presidential spokesman, Festus Keyamo.

 “While we intend not to join issues with Mr Keyamo, we are however obligated to set the records straight to mitigate the poignant narrative Mr Keyamo is constructing around our noble group and clear intentions and love for our great party,” Tilde said.

He added, “Firstly, it’s clearly manifest that Mr Keyamo does not understand the calibre of the youth and the extent of their fibre in the North-East region of the party and therefore can resort to calling us names as ‘cheap blackmailers’. This is rather unfortunate that the spokesman of our party has turned his war arsenal against his fellow party men with a common goal to win the 2023 election.

“No one can deny the gale of defection our party has suffered in the region in the last few months. Our group noted with dismay that the Senior Advocate of Nigeria rather than being introspective on the germane issues we raised that are affecting the fortunes of our party in the region chose to play to the gallery by calling us blackmailers and attention seekers. This is unfortunate and quite shameful.”

“Finally, it will do our party much good to address the gale of defection it’s suffering from the region as a result of the action of our vice presidential candidate, Kashim Shettima. Turning a blind eye to grievances will amount to fatal consequences. We the North-East APC youth stakeholders remain committed to the success of our party and its presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, come February 25.”