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I’ll rescue Nigeria from bad leadership – Oby Ezekwesili

Nigeria will cease to exist by 2023, if...

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…Says APC, PDP interconnected to deliver bad leadership

 

Mrs. Obiageli Ezekwesili, popularly known as Oby Ezekwesili, is presidential candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria in next month’s election. She has served as minister of solid minerals and then as minister of education during the second-term presidency of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Since then, she served as the vice-president of the World Bank’s Africa division from May 2007 to May 2012, and was a 2018 nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in transparency in the extractive sector when she was chairperson of Nigeria’s Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI). Ezekwesili, who started off in the Obasanjo administration as pioneer head of the Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence Unit (aka Due Process Unit), an office where she earned for herself the sobriquet of “Madam Due Process” for outstanding work in sanitising the public procurement system, among other shining achievements, spoke to ROSE MOSES, on why she wants to be president, arguing that the two major political parties, All Progressives Congress, APC, and Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, are merely interconnected to delivering bad leadership.

 

We have followed your activities over the years both at the national and international levels and right now at the point you want to be the president of Nigerian. But politics, especially Nigerian politics, is a different ball game. Why did you choose to take the leap into the murky waters of politics at this time?

I am in politics right now because I am absolutely fed up with the way that the country has been mismanaged. As one who knows what nation building is all about, I know that we are in a dangerous trend and that if we don’t get ourselves mobilised to reverse this trend, it will be too costly for the country.

When you look at the existing political class that has been at the helm of affairs and, therefore, created most of the challenges that we have to deal with, whether it is the poverty challenge, the security challenge, the economic decline challenge, the political destabilisation challenge, or it is the social destabilisation challenge, you would find that they are the same circle of people.

And so, we have to obey the law of Einstein (Albert Einstein) that the momentum that created the problem cannot solve the problem. You need a different momentum. So, our country needs a new direction and when I look at politics and the way it is played, it is very intimidating to many people and I always never wanted to do politics. But because we must rescue Nigeria, I decided that I would enter into politics.

And you are running on the platform of Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), up against the two big political parties, the PDP and APC, among others…

Cuts in….They are not two, they are one body. It is called APCPDP.

So, how do you think your party that is not well known will be able to challenge the big body, APCPDP?

Yes. So, there comes a time in a nation when the people of that nation say to themselves: We need a new direction, we need something different. And I think that most Nigerians are at that place right now. When you look at APCPDP, what you find is that failure has been associated with them. All kinds of the devaluation of the human life in Nigeria have been associated with them. It hasn’t mattered which of them has governance. In recent times what we have seen has been that the human life has been debased to the extent that most Nigerians are tired.

Nigerians, if you ask them generally, they are tired. But they feel locked in into the whims of these two dominant parties that are in reality just one party of people who have always been interconnected in one form or the other to deliver only bad leadership.

Now, for those people who are tired, we need to look at what data tells us about them. In 2015, sixty seven million Nigerians registered to vote. At the end of the day, only 28 million of them bothered to vote. That’s like, the number is considerably….so you have a situation. And we have at least, more than 60 per cent of those who should have gone out to vote, didn’t bother to. So, about 40 million chose to stay away from voting…..some 39 million people!

Now, why was it that they stayed away from voting, majority of them? What we have discovered is that those were the ones that said ‘I have no candidate in this election and I’m not going to go out and vote for just anybody.’ So they decided to alienate themselves from the political process.

Today, what those same people are saying is: ‘I finally have a candidate.’ They are saying, ‘in Oby Ezekwesili, I see a new direction. I see a new vision. I see a new momentum and above all, they say, I see character, I see competence, I see capacity. I see someone who can disrupt the pattern of failure that we have known in the country. And that means that those citizens, the cluster of those citizens….Let us assume that even just 40 per cent of them decided to come out, it will tilt the outcome of the election.

So, I keep saying to people that I am not running for the political class. I am running for the citizens. And the citizens who are tired are now making up the body of people that are determined to pull this change.

Assuming we take out the APCPDP as you call them from the ballot, there will still be over 70 more political parties contesting for president. What makes you think it is your party that will carry the day at the end?

It’s not what I think; it’s that the facts speak for themselves. Of your 70 people that you may be referring to, how many of them have the track record that I have? The track record that I have is a track record that traverses the length and breadth of the country and the three sectors in any society. I’ve been in private sector, I’ve been in civil society, and I’ve been in government. Also, I’ve been in economic development at a global level and I have helped presidents rebuild countries.

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When you think of countries like Rwanda, Liberia, Malawi, you think of Guinea Conakry and many other countries like that, you will see that they are already… even some of those leaders are publicly saying if Nigerians know what is good for them, they should vote Oby because to see that Oby finally agreed to do politics is an indication that there is yet hope for Nigeria. You know, many of them have been public with their endorsement.

Interestingly, some of those countries you mentioned have had female presidents at one point or the other, something that still appears an uphill task in Nigeria. What do you think are the challenges confronting women in politics in Nigeria?

There are many challenges; there are many barriers that stand against women being in politics. Number One: The political party system does not lend itself to involvement of women because it is operated like an opaque old boys’ network and so, it’s difficult for women to enter. So the barrier to entry into the political parties is very, very tough for Nigerian women.

Second, politics requires a lot of finance. A lot of women are not economically empowered to do any of this. The way that I’m trying to deal with that one is by making sure that my candidacy is the candidacy of all Nigerians. So, they are taking interest in providing one resource or the other. They are volunteering, they are supporting. Some women give us N500 a week as their contribution but they are saying this is our own and we must do this.

And then women have social barriers when the entire social society will look at a woman who wants to run for office as though, ‘Are you crazy? That’s not what you should be doing.’ So, social barriers are there.

We also have religious barrier, where religion is distorted to mean that it is masculinity that is the picture of leadership. And so you have all these barriers against the women.

However, what we have seen over time is that more Nigerian women are wanting to participate in politics. Unfortunately, the people who are these old boys’ network in parties are not enabling them to do so. I was recently with a lot of women, who actually secured….they were the ones that won in their party primaries but were prevailed upon to give up the space to men.

Now, we will fight that over time. And people like me running…and when I succeed in this agenda of making sure that we lead the process of rescue of our country, that is powerful role modeling that will then enable more women to also participate. And I believe that for us, the key message in my running is that many people who are giving us feedback, even from the northern part of the country, what they are saying is that it is not about being a man or a woman, we just know that this woman will be able to solve the problems that we have right now.

So, we don’t care what her gender is, we just know that she has the leadership skills to tackle the Nigerian problems. So, that is very helpful. For every time that we want to have women do more in our society, we must prepare them so that their track record will make the argument very strong for inclusion.

As a woman, how are you surmounting these obstacles?

Because my mind is motivated, my mind is motivated and driven by this vision that we cannot afford to have a country that continues to fail. Nigeria cannot be this poster-child of failure. You know, poster country of failure. It tires me, it makes me, I mean, it just angers me beyond anything you can imagine that a country so blessed would be so badly managed! There is a disconnect between what we are capable of doing and what we are delivering to ourselves.

And so, for me personally, I think that we cannot afford to hand over this terribly mismanaged country to the generation that comes next. The ones that are here with us, they are already angry at us. The ones that are going to come after, we don’t want them spitting on our graves. I certainly don’t want any Nigerian child spitting on my grave. I have done in all kinds of ways….worked in government.

When I worked in government, doing the kinds of reforms that I did, I was thinking of the Nigerian child. When I came out of government, watching government, the administrations that have come after just mismanage a lot of the things, including the things that I did when I was in government, I feel that no, this should not be so. We must reverse this trend. And so, I am committed to this wholeheartedly to show to the Nigerian child that not all of us stood on and watched while things went so bad.

Still, most people will lump you in the same category of people that have been in government before that must have brought us to the present situation. Why must they believe in you differently now, since ours, as you rightly mentioned, has mostly been a problem of leadership?

It was very clear what I did while in office. I mean, it would only be someone who did not follow our government and the way it was run that would ask that question. That Nigeria today has public procurement system is because of the work that I did with my team. You know the famous due process that made Nigerians to begin to call me Madam Due Process?

If you know what was going on with public contracts before we put that system in place….there is no country that can govern well its resources without having a public procurement system. That was an important strategic reform that is attributable to my time in government.

You know NEITI (Nigeria’s Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative)? As a matter of fact, because of the work that I did with NEITI, I was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year. So, NEITI was basically to throw open the activities within the oil and gas sector and the mineral sector so that the transparency of that sector would be very clear to all.

The massive audit process that we did – of what companies pay and what government receives and looking at the processes in the sector and auditing it and then looking at the physical audit of the sector, what volume of hydrocarbon does Nigeria really produce? What does it export? Those kinds of information used to be opaque. It was the work that I did as the chairperson of the NEITI that made us as Nigeria to actually at that time…we became the leading country on EITI (Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative).

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The work that I did as solid minerals minister, you know, where we changed the face of the sector. Nigerians didn’t know what to make of that sector but through the physical survey we did, total coverage of the country, we were able to have the data that shows that Nigeria has 34 classes of minerals in 430 locations of the country. In that capacity, I worked with the team to change the legislation that was there at that time where the minister was the everything and could make discretionary decisions on the sector.

We changed this. We worked on a new law, ‘The Minerals Act 2007,’ which took away the powers of the minister to do all these discretionary things and today, what we have is a law that has taken the powers of the minister to grant licenses and leases and put it in what is known as Mining Cadastre Office. And that is a technology-based transparent system of allocating licenses and leases.

In that sector, the work that I did enabled us to prepare the sector for private sector domination because for as long as government was pretending that it was mining, the sector was not growing. Now, by the time I was finishing the work and leaving that sector for education, many of the big global companies were coming to Nigeria to get our data from the Nigerian Geological Survey Agency.

Now, you think about education, when I got to education (ministry), there was crisis in that place. The work that we did enabled us to get ASUU (Academic Staff Union of Universities) back to the table and we appointed Gamaliel Onosode (now late) to lead the negotiation process with ASUU. That negotiation process enabled them to….at least, the end of the strike so that ASUU went back to school and the negotiations continued.

And then the work that we did enabled us to do technical and vocational education reform. Today, based on that work at that time, we established a new level of certification known as Innovation Enterprise Institutions, Diploma as well as Vocational Enterprise Institutions Certificate with diverse areas of skill building in the country regulated by the National Board for Technical Education.

The time that I was minister of education, there hadn’t been any…for 25 years, there hadn’t been a national program of inspection of schools. We did what was called ORASS – Operation Reach All Secondary Schools. All the secondary schools in this country, inspectors went there and gathered the kind of information that enabled us to set up the Nigerian Education Management Information System because without data, you cannot plan education policy.

The work that we did led to what we called the Tertiary Institutions Consolidation. That Tertiary Institutions Consolidation was leading to the merger of polytechnics and universities such that polytechnics would become the colleges of technology, just like you have College of Medicine, College of Social Sciences, the polytechnics would be College of Technology of universities closest to them.

So, in education, we did CATI – Community Accountability and Transparency Initiative to open up the resources of education sector and where it was going, so that there would be accountability in the funding for education, because, during my time, I was able to use data to show to the country that the more the budget for education grew, the less the children performed. So something was wrong. Education was not about just funding, it was that as a system, it had fallen apart and it needed to first be reformed vigorously. And that reform was what we were doing.

The work that we did led to the innovation, in terms of teacher quality issues, the teachers’ regulatory council. We did a bill so that it would have more power to regulate the teaching profession so that prestige and dignity would return to teaching.

We put in place what we called HAT – Housing All Teachers. We put in place Housing All Teachers’ initiative because when teachers get the sense that their accommodation is taken care of, it really motivates them to give their all. We began to work also with the National Wages Commission as well as the NUT (National Union of Teachers) in order to revamp the reward system for the teaching profession so that we will be able to attract the best of talents into teaching.

The work that we did, we decided that we needed adequate number of teachers in rural communities. And so we put in place a new teacher recruitment programme and we called it Special Step. It was special teachers’ employment programme to take teachers to rural areas where quality teachers were abandoned and then at that time we also worked on the matter of teachers’ upgrade.

The teachers’ upgrade was necessary because we found that in violation of what had been agreed more than 15 years before I went to education that the level of certification of any teacher in primary and basic secondary education has to be above TC II. More than 70 per cent were still TC II holders. And so we initiated the programme. It was an accelerated programme to take all the TC II teachers through a programme where the best of them would then move further to be taken on an accelerated NCE certification, that is, National Certificate of Education programme.

And some 42,000 teachers were going to start off the process and it was National Teachers Institutes in Kaduna and a select number of colleges of education that were training them. That training started even before I finally left the ministry.

So, when you look at all the things that I have done, and then you look at all I have done as vice president of the World Bank in charge of African region, helping 48 countries on the continent to access development support, whether it is finance, whether it is knowledge, whether it is partnerships, you know, leaders on the continent have all been exceptionally complimentary of the time that I was VP of the World Bank, helping them to build up their economies.

Even Africa as a continent saw a turn-around in terms of economic growth during that period. It went from a continent that was growing at less than two per cent on the average to a continent that began to grow at five to six per cent annually.

*From her policy statement

On why she declared her candidacy late into the race

The truth is that I finally decided that enough is actually enough. I waited long and hard, hopeful that #BuTiku (an acronym from names of candidates of her APCPDP coinage) would get the competition of ideas and strategy that it deserves. But some weeks ago, after a number of young, vibrant, energetic candidates invited me to supervise an election between them and as I watched the troubling outcome of that open process with a broken heart, it then occurred to me that I had no other choice. My hatred of politics was finally overcome by my hatred of the disdain that this political class has for the citizens.

And this is how nations are changed, not by people who run for office out of ambition, but by people who are determined enough to make a strong, powerful decision, no matter the odds – even money or time – to say, enough.

That is why I made this conscious and prayerful decision to run and win this election with Nigerians. I agree that the best time to have started running this campaign would have been much much earlier. But I have learnt enough from history and strategy to know that the next best time is now.

We are running this race because we can no longer wait. There is no force in the world more powerful than an idea whose time has come.

And, forget all the drama, I have had enough conversations with those who know how this country works, who have run campaigns and mounted runs in the past, and what I know is what they confirm: Three months is a very long time in politics. One day is a very long time in Nigerian politics.

This moment, now that all of us are plugged into what happens in 2019, now that we are paying attention, now that we know the choices we face, now is precisely the right time for me to come into this race.

Let me even ask those who say there is no time. You have had energetic young and older people who have been working to build structure and win the elections for more than a year – well how much have you donated to them? Have you volunteered for them? What resources have you given them? They started on time, but did the time that they had give them an advantage in numbers, in donations, in volunteers? Did it inspire you to do your part?

No. So, time is not the issue. Time is not the reason you haven’t stepped up to sacrifice or fight for your country. Time is not the reason we haven’t yet joined a movement to defeat #APCPDP. It is not time that is the problem, it is fear.

Fear of what?

The feeling is that we cannot defeat them. You think they are too strong. You think we have to manage, we have to negotiate, we have to concede defeat. You think we have no choice. But I am in the race as a symbol of the courage that we all need to own. We. Have. Time!

On why she couldn’t have waited till 2023

She queries….So that what will happen? So you will suddenly get courage, and you will suddenly be ready to do the work you should have been doing since? No way. I am not giving you that excuse. We cannot wait till 2023. #BuTiku is already scheming to continue ruining this country from 2019. Now is the time for us to ensure that all their scheming falls down flat.

And, if you insist that we must work towards 2023, instead, then, let me ask you this: When is the best time to start that marathon? After the elections when you would have forgotten and returned to your daily bread, or now, right now, today; now that the rubber has met the road and the choices that are before us are clear and strong?

And if you don’t give your vote, your donation, your resources, your contribution right this minute, in this election, where will anyone find the momentum for this 2023 that you love so much?

Let me repeat: The time for that urgent marathon, that long term fight you want, it starts right this minute. You need to join us now.

This country barely has four months not to talk of four years to continue experimenting on this path of failure. Have you seen the indicators? We are at the very edge of destruction! The country is on fire and we are fiddling while it burns. You think this is a game? You think this is time to worry about what people say, what they think, how they will laugh? We are talking of our children, of our future, of our survival, and some people are talking about waiting and experimenting for four more years? No. Never! If we do not intervene now, we may not have a country to rescue in 2023.

And to those who swear that we cannot win, those who mock our hope, I have only this to say to you: get ready to be shocked when Nigerians finally get the message that they have the numbers, the power, and the last word.

You can keep trusting in the power of your purses, which you have filled with coins from our common wealth; you can keep trusting in the power of the security agents you will commandeer, and the armies of godfathers you think you have. But you will not see us coming by the time we arrive, and the wealth and might and reach of our movement will be greater than anything you could ever muster.

In case you don’t know, I know, because we have the data, that that there are millions of passionate and patriotic Nigerians, young and old, men and women, rich and poor, from the North and from the South, who sense that this current cycle of failure in our country is unsustainable, and who are eager to join a movement to disrupt this rigged political system.

If you are one of them, open to voting for us and supporting us, but you are genuinely worried about our chances when you look at the Goliaths standing against us, I say to you my friends – let not your heart be troubled.

What’s your victory strategy?

Our strategy is summarised in one short sentence: Find every sleeping voter, and wake them up!

We know the sleeping voters who are yet to be activated, and our mission – through our massive data network – is to find each and every one of them, who have their cards but who have refused to vote, and convert them, one by one, community by community into voters, canvassers and small donors. It is already happening. Those sleeping voters – you know them; they are your friends, your family members and your people in the villages – whose data, whose addresses we have, whose home towns and voting habits we are tracking – ah, we will shock these old school politicians, because they don’t even know what is coming to them.

We are fighting for Lekki, as much as we are fighting for Kabong. We will fight for Asokoro with the same energy we will fight for Ogwashi Ukwu; we will fight for Port Harcourt as hard as we will fight for Dutse. And by the way, enough is enough of those of you in the towns and urban centers speaking about the grassroots alone as if you are not part of Nigeria. You cannot leave the burden to rural voters alone. It is time for those of you in the urban centers to wake up and do your own part too. Stop sitting in your office arguing and whining. Enough! Stop it! The movement is now here!

You need to stop overrating these men. If after 15 years of politics, of voter intimidation and manipulation, these politicians still have a ceiling that is less than 40 per cent of the voters (even with the inflated numbers), then where is this their power? Only 86,897 people voted for the APC in Alimosho out of 650,000 voters with PVCs! So, where is this their control?

This movement needs to bring out just one extra person for us to win that one local government, but these politicians sell you lies about their power so that you get discouraged and sit at home while they pillage our country and the future of our children.

They have a lot of money, yes, but they cannot buy everybody. Power is not served ala carte, not even to them. They don’t have enough money to even buy up to 50 per cent of the voters. 504,000 voters in Alimosho 2015 simply did not show up to vote. They were simply un-buyable.

Most of them did not show up because they knew that voting for any of the status quo parties was a waste of time – so they chose to sleep at home instead. If you join me now to convince those sleeping voters with our record and our plans, if we knock on doors and take our message of hope, progress and prosperity to them, then they will turn up for us. And that is exactly what we are going to do.

The politicians may own their party structures, but they do not own Nigeria, they do not own you.

On how her party will govern without a majority in the National Assembly, if she wins?

Well… I know someone who can answer that question. His name is Peter Obi. Maybe he can help explain to you how he managed to govern as an All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) governor in my home state, Anambra, despite the majority of lawmakers belonging to a different party, PDP.

People who make this empty argument are blissfully ignorant of how elections are won and political parties are built in many nations across the world. They are also deeply unaware that across the world, wielding the presidency as a tool to reshape the entire political configuration of a country as well as strong third party and independent candidacy are a legitimate strategy that have won elections from Italy to Kosovo, France to Germany, Portugal to Russia – where in 2012, Vladmir Putin actually ran as an independent. These people don’t know. And yet they are so loud in their ignorance.

By the way, what has President Buhari’s legislative majority done for the country? Ask him what he has achieved with his party’s majorities in the two chambers of the National Assembly. That argument about not being able to govern without a majority of lawmakers from your party is dead on arrival.

But if they are still doubting, just chill, no problem – when we get into Aso Rock, when we start remaking our nation and banishing poverty from the lives of over 80 million people, we will show them what is truly possible.

Don’t let anyone deceive you with cynicism. These people told us we were wasting our time fighting for June 12. Well, here we are today. They told me, when I was in government, stop wasting your time, ‘Oby, Due Process cannot work here jare.’sili Well, you go ask the PDP goons what happened when the forces of darkness met Madam Due Process. They told me that not one single Chibok girl would be rescued. I ignored them, and we kept standing for our girls.

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