Obiageli “Oby” Ezekweseli is a leading Chartered Accountant who co-founded the global anti-corruption group, Transparency International. She is also one of the co-conveners of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign to find the 300 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram in 2014. She has held several keys positions within the Nigerian government including Senior Special Assistant to the President of Nigeria on Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence, not to mention Minister of Minerals Resources, Minister for Education and more.
Ezekwesili is one of the several candidates contesting to be President of Nigeria at the 2019 polls and she has boldly stated she is in the race to win it, not just to make a statement. Bold, outspoken and highly intelligent, Oby is quick to draw attention to why she is very deserving of this role and how her voice must be heard by the people she intends to serve. She speaks to FUNKE BAB-KUFEJI about her plans for Nigeria as a nation.
It is time to confront the old order politics and replace it with new ways of politics by people who care for Nigeria. It is time to start afresh and build a new political class that will offer democracy that is of the people, by the people and for the people
What is your take about the N45m fee charge for the form for the Presidential ticket and how much do you feel should be an appropriate price?
It is obscene in a poor nation like ours to place a price tag of over a $100,000 on nomination forms for elections. It is the saddest evidence of our moneypolitics of exclusion that impedes participation of young people and women in particular in party politics.
I publicly stated that any party form above N100, 000 was not worth my purchase. I paid precisely that amount for my Allied Congress Party of Nigeria Presidential Nomination form.
Some say Nigerians have become a blunt instrument with their complaints because they have been suppressed under the bad leadership of several decades. What’s your view?
It is true to a very great extent because of the incorrigible disposition of our political class which carries on bad behaviors with gross impunity. They feel that citizens cannot do anything to them and so grossly abuse their offices and engage in all kinds of shenanigans without consequence to them.
As a result, most citizens simply look away regardless of what wrong doing goes on among our political class. That is dangerous for any society and today, Nigeria and Nigerians are paying the price of indifference.
What can you do to sound the bell with the political class?
My decision to run for political office is a reaction to this bluntness of our demand as citizens for accountability and good governance from a political class that simply does not care.
They don’t care what damage their actions or inactions do to Nigeria nor does it matter to them that citizens are distressed by their imperviousness. It is therefore time for us as citizens to do more. It is time to disrupt their entrenched and decadent brand of bad politics, bad leadership, bad governance and governance failure that has brought misery and despair to citizens.
It is time to confront the old order politics and replace it with new ways of politics by people who care for Nigeria. It is time to start afresh and build a new political class that will offer democracy that is of the people, by the people and for the people.
You have also said even though there are no consequences with changing of parties, you believe 2018 is the year of the citizen?
Yes, 2018 is the Year of the Office of The Citizen. Without the vote of our citizens, our political class cannot have the legitimacy of their elected offices. Citizens are fast realizing their power to determine electoral outcomes. Now, more citizens are connecting the dots that with their votes, they can determine the quality of people they vote into office. There are no people or individuals more powerful that citizens who have mobilized themselves behind the power of their vision of what their nation can be when they vote in elections. We are seeing such awakening in 2018 and that’s brilliant. I totally believe that this year has been the #YearoftheOfficeoftheCitizen.
You started the Red Card disapproval of our political class especially after the Benue killings. Can you tell us what this Red Card is or means?
It was a demonstration of one’s absolute disappointment at a political class that failed to show in words and deeds that the rampant killings of citizens really mattered to them. The more our people were being killed, the more the politicians were distracted by their self-interest based squabbles. Tackling the killings was not a priority. No. They were busy fighting to either retain power or capture power in the 2019 elections. The sadness one felt compelled me to start issuing Red Card to them. Other Nigerians joined me and we started the Red Card Movement on Twitter and then took it round the country. We issued #RedCardToAPCAndPDP the dominant parties that are actually ONE group of people. They are the Siamese twins of our country’s Governance failures. We labeled them what they truly are...six and half a dozen with no difference in the bad behaviors that have ruined Nigeria’s chances to become a great nation.
What was the Summit of the Alternatives and what did you conclude after the session of this program?
It was a Summit that some six civil society groups including the Red Card Movement, held to enable citizens begin to encourage new entrants into our politics to act together as credible block of candidates in our elections in order to terminate the reign of entrenched old order politicians in our country. We invited the new parties and their candidates to interact with citizens over a two-day period. Our premise is that if we do not as citizens collectively work to reform our politics, we would never have the quality of political leaders that can offer us good governance which is sine qua none for development of nations.
What strategy do you plan to use to make your campaign Project Rescue Nigeria attain its desired goal?
We are the candidate of the Nigerian people who are fed up with the failures of Governance in our country. We are mobilizing those among our citizens who have long given up and no longer bother to vote when all they are offered are the famous “lesser of two evils options” at elections. About 67 million Nigerians registered for 2015 elections but only some 28 million of them bothered to vote in the Presidential elections. Many of them stayed away because they said they could not in clear conscience, vote for any of the two unacceptable candidates in that election. Now, that was almost repeating itself in the 2019 elections until we decided to get into the race. Now, many of those blocks of voters are writing to say, “We will vote in 2019 because now that Ezekwesili is running, we have a candidate. We have a credible alternative”. I am therefore the candidate of all Nigerians who agree that our country is in danger and must be rescued from the hands of professional politicians that have mismanaged all our potentials leaving us with 87 million people who live in extreme poverty and crowned Nigeria as the world capital of extreme poverty. Even India which is six times more than Nigeria in population, has lower number of such people than us.
What will be your shock therapy to the Nigeria people?
It will come in various packages of significant changes in the way Government works. My Government will be the most transparent government ever. We will throw open the entire book of accounts of the Federal Government and consistent with the principles of Open Government principles, citizens’ right to know will be fully promoted.
Ours will be the most private sector-friendly government ever had in Nigeria; with a strong vision to rapidly raise the people and country’s productivity as well as improve competitiveness in all spheres of economic activities.
Education will be our new oil. Human capital will be our new economy. Human Development strategies of Health and Education Reforms will at the core of our economic agenda.
Correcting the fiscal imbalance or deep financial hole that this government has dug the country into requires that we immediately stop the secret financial bleeding that is going on at the NNPC which the President directly runs himself as Minister of Petroleum. Taking the swift step of deregulating the petroleum sector will be a major reform that will not only free up massive resources that the NNPC currently calls “under-recovery of cost” but also bring more resources to the treasury.
I will instantly terminate their current expensive joke of giving subsidies a new name while repeating exactly the same corrupted ways that the administration it replaced handled it.
Then, I will update and implement the Cost of Governance report known as Stephen Oronsaye-led Presidential Committee on Reform of Government Agencies which recommended the reduction of statutory agencies of government from 263 to 161. It is mandatory to implement a Cost of Governance program in Nigeria where this administration disseminated a 2017 Budget Performance report that shows that the country’s total earnings from oil last year was not sufficient to pay the salaries of the workers of government. That’s definitely a strong evidence of why we need deep reforms of our public sector.