Obiageli (Oby) Ezekwesili is the presidential candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN) in the upcoming 2019 election. Mrs Ezekwesili once served as minister of solid minerals and then headed the education ministry during the second-term presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo. She also led the Bring Back Our Girls Group (BBOG) for a while.
In the second part of this interview with PREMIUM TIMES journalists during her visit to the newspaper’s corporate headquarters in Abuja, she explains why Nigerians should reject President Muhammadu Buhari and his main challenger in the 2019 presidential election, Atiku Abubakar. She also speaks on her priorities if elected president. Read the first part here:
PT: When did you decide to run?
Ezekwesili: That week that you heard me declare. I got to the point listening to ‘these people’ carrying on as if we are in an ‘okay’ place. We only have an Atiku and Buhari, who are candidates of the BUTIKU family. It was very clear that we were back again in a situation where citizens have to say, we have to choose of between a lesser evil in the two men. You have citizens saying we ‘gonna’ choose the lesser of the two evils and I said to myself again, what happened in 2015 is that citizens said we ‘gonna’ choose the lesser of the two evils and guess what? Of the 67 million people who registered to vote, only 28 million bothered to vote.
This was because a large number said, “I will not be part of those who will thumb-print any lesser of both evils”. We are going on that path again this 2019. Those of you who know me well know I detest politics but what I detest more is the in-actions of our political class. So, that which I detest more forced me to do that which I detest less.
That is why at that point in time I said I was absolutely fed up. The other option I had if I did not intend to run is to wash my hands off Nigeria and raise it up and say ”Nigeria defeated me”. I would have said, ”Nigeria, I tried my best but you defeated me, goodbye” or I take this fire in my bone and say, ”Nigeria is not what is supposed to be”.
We are waiting for the day the political class will now change and decide to be nice? The are never going to be nice, quote me. There is no incentive on the part of our political class to do things differently. Haven’t you seen that even our demand for accountability and good governance from them has become a blunt instrument? You demand governance and accountability, what do they do? They say it’s because we don’t like them or because we are looking for something.
It’s like it’s not registering. They are in a different level of reasoning, they are lost somewhere! Completely disengaged from the reality. The reality that I face as a wife of a pastor in the Redeemed Christian Church of God which is that we really have poor families that sometimes no longer eat because the situation is that bad. Sometimes people say to me that I am an elitist and does not know what is going on. They don’t know that other side of me where I have to deal with everyday Nigerians who are facing dire situations.
PT: As you said, you are a pastor’s wife and we believe you are also a pastor? How do you think you can involve yourself in Nigerian politics as they say politics is a dirty game?
Ezekwesili: I am here to change that dirty Nigerian politics. If you are waiting for me to give you money, I will not give you, I don’t have and even if I have, I will not give anybody money. You should ask your self a question: why will a person give you money to go and serve you? How does that make sense? The only explanation is that the person is not going to serve you.
PT: How do you hope to win with a party that does not have structures across the nation. In the 2015 election, your party only won few councilor seats in Osun.
Ezekwesili: What is the definition of structure? What these politicians call structure is a captive audience of Nigerians who come out when they need them to come out. You think the structure is that they build story building? No. It is that there is a captive audience of Nigerians who have bought into their message, who when they say to them, there is a meeting at the village square, they all come out.
PT: But you will need persons to represent you at all the polling units in the states.
Ezekwesili: That is the point I am making, I am saying to you that the structure is the individual Nigerians, so the question you should be asking is that, do we now have people in each of these places that have bought into the message of the ACPN of today? I am here to say to you, yes we do.
Let me tell you, the matter of structure is the one that we have used our own strategy to be able to deal with. We have our communities that become our structures and I can assure you that the taste of the pudding is in the eating. When you take your PVC to go vote for me, you will see many other people (supporters) at the polling booth.
PT: You resigned from the BBOG to take up this gauntlet. Has the movement been abandoned?
Ezekwesili: There is no way the movement can be abandoned. Have you not noticed how frequently we change leadership? It is a model for how to run institutions in Africa. This is a movement that has been on the basis of the sweat of Nigerians. We told ourselves from the very beginning that we will not take a dime from anybody.
Everything we have done as bring back our girls movement, we have had to do it ourselves. We put our money where our empathy lies. Part of way of modelling of the movement is that it is not built around a single individual. I stepped down as chair of the strategic team, Aisha Yusufu stepped in. When she stepped down, Ozor stepped in and so on. It is not going anywhere until all our girls are back. We are committed to it.
The only thing that we have done is to not allow my candidacy to mix up with the activities. Our girls are in our hearts, Leah Sharibu and now Alice, a humanitarian aid worker. We are not shifting ground.
PT: As Minister of Education, you once tried to reposition the unity schools. Did it work?
Ezekwesili: It’s part of the 436 reforms. It’s only one out of 436 reforms. People forget that we had to do ORASS, Operation Reach All Secondary Schools. We grilled secondary school inspectors and gave them the tools and they went to every secondary school in this land and on the basis of what they did, we were able to design what is called the Nigerian Education Management Information System.
Without that kind of management, you cannot do education planning and that is a major area for us. The work we did on enrollment in that short period reduced out of school children by 500,000 but after we left, the remaining figures spiked by more than twice what it was.
PT: So how do you intend matching education with human development (if elected) which is what you are now preaching?
Ezekwesili: But education is the heartbeat of human capital development. When we say human development, we are talking of education and health. We need healthy human beings who you then give education. That is human development. The programme that we have is very interesting. Number one matter for us in the education reform programmw is to completely change the position of the teachers in our education system because research has showed us that almost 60 per cent of learning outcome is determined by the quality of the teacher in the class room.
So one of the programmes we have is ‘teachers prestige, teachers pride’ which will professionalise teaching. We have another programme called ‘teachers top talent’. In that one, the upper percentile of academic achievers are the ones that we will recruit into teaching. We have plans for housing all teachers because when the teachers have a sense that there is housing for them, those who have the calling will come through. We want to reevaluate the teaching profession to continuously upgrade their quality.
There is a lot in the human development angle. On health, the cornerstone thing for us is universal access through the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). We want that scheme to start working. What we do today you see people on AIT or NTA and Facebook begging for money. We cannot have a broken health system that shuts its door to the poor. We are going to fix that.
PT: What is your plan on corruption?
Ezekwesili: Prevention! A lot of institutional structures will take care of it. For example, systemic change. During the public procurement reforms, you saw how that reduced public contracting corruption. We are going to do process change to improve service delivery. The big banana is the deregulation of the economy. The more you deregulate the economy and reduce the opportunity that public servants have to be making decisions at discretion over things that can happen competitively, the less they have opportunity, so that is the prevention part of tackling corruption.
The other part is sanction. It has to do with law, judiciary, enforcement, the capacity of the police to investigate, prosecute and then the judiciary to be a very committed arm in tackling corruption. If we do the prevention, we reduce opportunities for corruption. Research shows when you have reduced opportunities for corruption, less corruption happens.
The prevention part is also to tell those kind of people that when you do your corruption, we will fish you out and when the law finds you out, we will prosecute you and when we have mechanism put in place for prosecuting corruption, people will be appropriately be sanctioned. People will be sanctioned on the basis of equality before the law, all men and women are equal before the law. When you see a lot of bad behavior punished over time, less people will be inclined to indulge in corruption and to underpin these things, you will need a leader driven by moral integrity, not the kind of integrity you look for under the table.
PT: How much do you value Obasanjo’s endorsement given your closeness to him, If you value it highly, have you gone to get it?
Ezekwesili: I think the endorsement of the Nigerian people is what I’m working so hard to get right now and that is why I want all Nigerian people to get ready to vote for me. All these years, what did you get in voting in almost 20 years of our democracy? Have you not been wasting your votes? A vote for Ezekwesili gets you good governance.
I am on a rescue mission, we have a problem, we must rescue this land. We cannot have this kind of result that we overtook a country that is seven times our population and became the world’s capital of poverty and we just keep quiet. Do you know that poverty is the worst destabilising factor in all economies?