The former VP of the World Bank and co-founder of the ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ movement, Dr Oby Ezekwesili, has plunged into the Nigerian already crowded presidential race. She is contesting under the relatively unknown Allied Congress Party of Nigeria for the February 2019 vote.
Mrs Ezekwesili, popularly known as “madam Due Process” for her tough stance on tight fiscal controls on government procurement regulations during Pres. Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration of 1999-2007, also served as a minister of Education and at another time, Mines and Steel Development.
She is better known in recent times for her activism particularly with a moral response to the kidnap of the 214 “Chibok girls” in April 2014 by the terrorist group, Boko Haram, which shook the conscience of the world.
In her acceptance speech as the flag-bearer of the party on Sunday 7 October, just as the deadline for party primaries was closing, she said she was entering the race because Nigeria could no longer endure the “unsustainable failure” foisted on her by the corrupt political class, and described next year’s election as a defining moment which would provide an opportunity “to unite and galvanize the potentials of the country to build a great nation.”
Ezekwesili, who declared that her campaign mantra shall be “Project Rescue Nigeria”, said it was a great tragedy that Nigeria was heading steadily towards total economic collapse and promised equal opportunities for all Nigerians irrespective of tribe or gender
“Enough is now enough, we have decided that Nigeria will no longer accept a leadership of mediocre which has kept it down and allowed wanton and senseless waste of innocent lives. I bring you a message of hope for you that I and millions of supporters will march in solidarity to ensure that Nigeria gets a new focused leadership in 2019.”
The following day, Monday 8 October, Mrs Oby Ezekwesili was in the studios of Channels Tv for an interview with Ajuri Ngilari, the anchor of the popular channels breakfast morning show, Sunrise Daily.
Here is excerpts of the fascinating and incisive conversation with the presidential candidate.
Q You have been at the forefront of so many movements in the country and some people have asked when are you going to get involved in politics. What is your expectations, in view of fixation on the top two parties, as it relates to your prospect of winning the presidential election.
Ans Am in this election to win and am not alone. Am here to tell Nigerians that it is those two parties versus the Nigerian people, who want a new Nigeria devoid of the misery, ineptitude, incompetence and failures we have been trapped into. I am here because I have realized that unless we fix our politics, there is no way to have a better life for our children and coming generations. I am not running, it is the Nigerian people running. This is not time to agonize, it is time to organize.
Q What do you say to cynics who say that although it is good to have the passion and policy background to be president, but without the political structures like that of the big parties, you’re no where?
Ans Their definition of structure is actually – Nigerians collaborating with the people who give them misery. By the way, am running under the platform of Allied Congress Party of Nigeria – ACPN. Our slogan is Hope 2019. In the last election, 72% of the electorate stayed away. It is this base that is our structure. We have a better structure than the ones they are boosting about. One thing I like about this campaign is that we are going to be underestimated.
Q What do you think is at stake in this election when you look at the top two candidates, Pres. Buhari and fmr. VP Atiku?
Ans Nigeria is at stake, should we go with either of them. The two parties are siamese twins of failure. We have no reason to vote to continue to fail. What is at stake is the dying of children under the watch of a tried and trusted general, the normalizing of killings across the country, that corruption becomes what we are known for.
What is at stake are young people who have potentials to rule the world in this global economy where it is all about disruptive technologies that the world has never known; artificial intelligence, block chain technologies, internet-of-things, big data, simulation science, etc. An era of second machine age. The future of our young people, our nation is at stake. We can’t joke with that.
Q Why do you think that, if Pres. Buhari has not lived up to expectation in your view that Atiku, a former vice president, cannont bring the change you refer to?
Ans No, he can’t. What we are referring to is not old politics, and Nigeria is ripe for a new one. Am not talking about the politics of the corrupt elite class that corrupts the democratic process. Am talking about politics of renewal. The rate of progress of any nation is determined by its dominant value. Lee Kwa Yu built an incredible country out of this knowledge.
These ones you refer to have a value that thinks money is the basis of everything. Am talking about a new nation where sacrificial leadership at at the centre of leadership. Citizens first, not politicians first, should become the mantra of everyone in the place of leadership. So why should I choose the twin brother of a siamese twin? Am choosing the same thing. The rubber has met the road, we just have to go for the broke. This is our opportunity. There is a strong appetite for a new nation and we are going to birth a new nation.
Q What would your administration look like? Would you be open or averse to including the talents of the establish political actors or is it going to be a clean break? Are you looking at technocrats from abroad?
Ans Our composition is going to find all Nigerians that have character, competence, capacity, those that totally believe that we have no business being in the lower wrung of performance. Those tired of reading every report that puts Nigeria at an ignoble position. 87 million Nigerians are extremely poor. We are interested in those who are incensed by such a thing in the midst of the capability we have as a people.
Nigeria is a nation of diversity, and research shows that diversity is actually a great advantage. This election is going to be brutal and tough but we’re going to give it everything we have because we are fighting for the soul of Nigeria. So all Nigerians, young, old, men, women, boys, girls that care for a new nation are welcome. This is a citizens movement.
Q Let’s talk about economy. On the micro-level, we have a monolithic non-inclusive economy. What are your plans to create an economy that all Nigerians can have access to and where all Nigerians can win?
Ans The Number 1 thing is to engage all Nigerian to agree on an economic philosophy where citizens are enabled to flourish in the private sector, to signal the path for productivity and competitiveness of our country and themselves. A philosophy where we do not see government as a be all and end all. So on that, we build a new approach, where education for human capital is the new “oil”. Oil revenue in 2017, according to this government’s own report did not cover the personnel cost for the 2 million government workers.
So we are going to see oil revenue as a bonus. But what we have to do is disrupt this mindset where we do not realize the potentials of Nigerians. We will bring sound policies that enable productive people, that stabilizes the macro-economic environment and gives people confidence, whether within or abroad, to look for opportunities here. We will focus on economic structural changes that brings in the informal people – not by force, but by policy incentives, because when they come in to the formal sector, then their rise and ascendancy can be supported by the new structures.
We have all of that clearly articulated. The investment in public services that support business and individuals to lower cost will be made. Then institutions; no man or woman should be above the law. Plus institutional predictability that will govern the sanctions and incentives systems in our society. I can already see a new Nigeria, infact I have already entered it.
Q As a former minister of education, I know you’re passionate about education. One of the criticisms of the Buhari’s administation has been inadequate funding of health and education sectors. How do you intend to balance the need for investment in education with that of critical infrastructure with very limited resources?
Ans I need you to know that education is on the concurrent list, so it is the responsibility of both federal, States and local governments. I also need you to understand that out-of-school children has been growing under the time of this administration.
When I was minister of education we did some major push to reduce it from 7.5 million which I met to 6.7 million by the time I was leaving office. Instead of ensuring the continued decline, we put our eyes off the ball and now we have 13.5 million children out of school. Everybody is worried because this 13.5 million is a time bomb. So I would give attention to the incentives that will make children show up in schools.
Everything that will incentivize the behaviour of parents, of the children will be done including using role modelling, evidence-based policies of things that has worked in other jurisdictions. I will also do some of the things we did previously to make sure the number improves.
Q But reports say 30 States owe salaries or pensions. What is the answer then? Is there going to be a special funding mechanism to assist the States in the area of education funding?
Ans Yes, you’re right and that takes me to the issue of structural imbalances in the country. These siamese twins politicians are not interested to touch such sensitive issues. The last administration did a lot of work through the Orasanya committee which looked at the cost of governance. What happened to it? They not only kept a dysfunctional structure intact, they even ballooned it.
My government will be very decisive in having a conversation about the structural imbalance that is making government at the federal and State levels overwhelm every other thing. You can’t have this size of government arresting the development of the country. We have to discuss the functions that define the structures. We need to think of that.
Q Let’s look at the civil service for a moment. It is over bloated at the federal and State levels. How do you solve such problems without mass retrenchment?
Ans Many countries have solved this problem by looking at the civil service not as extras that need to be offloaded but as people with capacities that need to be reinvigorated on a different path. There is a wholesome way to do that.
Q How important is it to you that we have an even platform for all the candidates in this election to rub minds and share ideas on what it is they have in store for Nigerians? Are you ready for that, and do you think others are ready as well?
Ans The summary of all that grammar is that Buhari must debate. No proxies. We are all going to line up and tell the people of Nigeria what we want to do. The situation is too critical. We are not here to play. Majority of Nigerians want the debate to happen. So nobody can escape the debate and it will be a masterstroke. If anybody runs from the debate, run from them. Our confidence comes from the fact that we are in this for the people. It is about caring for our people.
Q What is your template, in view of the sometimes frosty relationship between the executive and legislature, to deal with a legislature that could be dominated by members that are not of your ACPN party.
Ans I would be running Nigeria. When you are a leader and running Nigeria, you loose yourself. The problem is that these leaders don’t loose themselves. They think that leadership means that they are the masters. We will be running a Nigeria that must work, so it requires cohesion, inclusivity, inspirational leadership. I will be inspiring people and it will be obvious to people that the only thing that matters to this woman is that the nation becomes the destined great nation that it must be.