News Column

Ezekwesili - I'm Not an Accidental Politician

July 28, 2014

Bisi Alabi Williams

FOR some time now, Obiageli Katryn Ezekwesili, former minister and World Bank Vice President and now arrowhead of the #BringBackOurGirls group in Nigeria, has been in the news.

Last Monday, operatives of the Department of State Security (DSS), at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, detained her briefly on her way to London. Her passport was later released after about 40 minutes. Before then, she has been in a war of words with the federal government over the delay in the rescue of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls. Since the abduction of the girls in April, several bodies, mostly non-government organisations, have staged protests demanding action by government on the Chibok girls, but that led by Ezekwesili has been the most consistent and daring. They also helped to take the matter to the global stage.

The decision to embark on sundry crusade to call attention to the plight of the girls was prompted by what the campaigners describe as Federal Government's failure to make available tangible information on the steps being taken to rescue of the girls.

Since joining the league, Oby has remained resolute, refusing to be intimidated by either government or those on the side of government. In a way, she brings back memories of legendary female champions and heroines, such as Queen Amina, Mary Slessor, Rosa Parks and Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, who neither surrendered nor retreated in the face of intimidation while fighting for justice.

It is particularly interesting that she is willing to traverse the nation in her quest to ensure that the proper things be done by the girls and their traumatised families.

It's been 104 days since the Chibok abduction, and rather than subsiding, the campaign to bring them back is waxing in strength and candour, as Oby and other leaders have braved the odds. They have overcome Police barriers and braved the elements. Despite criticisms from some quarters and skepticism of others, Oby has been unrelenting and vociferous in the drive to bring back the girls.

The other day, the DSS spokesperson announced that the group operates an account and is being funded. The group was accused of planning to simulate a protest march in Abuja to make it look like they went to Chibok. But all that did not stop the group.

At a recent chance meeting with Ezekwesili in Lagos, where she was guest speaker at a women business forum, she said, #BringBackOurGirls group was convened to present a united front against the common enemy. "This group is for the citizens and the Chibok girls," she said.

She complained that members of her team had severally faced harassment and molestation in the course of embarking on what she described as genuine agitation for the wellbeing of Nigerian citizens. She dismissed allegations that they were jobless opportunists, in search of avenues to make easy money. To her, the members are participating in the protest because they are touched by the plight of the girls, as they are also mothers.

At what point did she decide to join the movement? She smirks, as she responds. The 'struggle' for her started when she engaged a young man in an exchange of tweets, somewhere in Abuja. The young man tweeted her and said, 'Oby Ezekwesili declares: Bring Back Our Daughters, Bring Back Our Girls.' He copied her and she re-tweeted his tweet asking people to keep saying Bring Back Our Girls. It went viral and before you know it, a group had emerged.

Little did the young man and those that responded to the tweet know they had started what today has become a sort of revolution that has generated huge awareness on the plight of the abducted girls. And that little spark has now joined the history of revolutions. The crux of the matter, to her, is that about 2.1billion people all over the world have joined in this campaign and for all these people, Oby and her campaign team would forever be grateful, although it is the ultimate result that matters: To Bring Back Our Girls.

She said; "As a mother, I won't want my daughter to suffer. The sheer number of the children that were carted away shocked me and then when the Chibok families were speaking, some of them said when the whole thing started, members of the Boko Haram sect had sent them a notice that they were coming. And they began to make calls.

"It was such a terrible thing to know that even from quarters that one couldn't believe, the doubt as to whether this was real or not was pervasive. That made me understand the slowness in the response to the fate of these girls. So, because there was this institutional doubt as to the veracity of their abduction, nothing in terms of formidable, consistent, coherent, swift response was directed at their condition."

On whether she is interested in politics as government spokespersons have alleged, or just using the campaign to make political statements that favour the opposition, she said she would be surprised if Nigerians don't know by now who Oby Ezekwesili is. So, rather than becoming an 'accidental politician,' who is it that could have made her their puppet, she queried. "It is not possible. Sincere people, who are true, know that I am a person driven by conviction. I am known as the one who would say to my Dad, 'you have not done right.' I would say to my Mum, 'I am sorry, you are not doing it right.' That is the way I was brought up, and that is the kind of person I am. In fact, let's not even dignify that kind of a suggestion," she retorts.

She, however, doesn't see herself as a mole, though she says she is very much aware of all the 'trash' that people are putting out there to rubbish her efforts. "I don't even have the time to laugh at them because it is not funny. Now, this tells you part of the reason these girls have been the victims of the kind of concerted action that should have been taken on their behalf. Oby Ezekwesili is just one of the many voices that looked at the situation and said this is not right. This cannot be going on. For goodness sake, if I have any political benefit or interest of any kind, don't you think I would have already stated it? I am fearless about these issues," she says.

Indeed madam Due Process is truly fearless. The point at which the issue of the girls comes thick and becomes personal to her is in the sense that she has devoted much of her life to being a mentor to younger women. "When they say to me 'Aunty Oby, I want to be like you.' I say no, you can't be like me. You have to be greater. You have to be better. If you are like me, we haven't made progress. I belong to an older generation. So, I inspire these young women to be great and I put a lot of emphasis on education. It was through education that my social and economic mobility happened. So, I said to myself, 'how would I tell another young girl child to do her best and be anything she wishes to be?' They would have every right to say to me, 'But Aunty Oby, what did you do when they abducted over 200 girls of my own generation? Were you not here? What did you do?' I couldn't live with the shame," she explained.

But would she settle for the swapping of the girls for members of the Book Haram sect? To this she replies that government has found itself in a bind with that kind of suggestion from the terrorist group. And this is a tough bind, which is not unusual with terrorists and kidnappers, who always have options that is hard for people to work with. "There are different kinds of skill and expertise that exist around the world. The most important thing is not to allow the ultimate goal, which is to get the girls back alive, to be in any way imperiled by any step the government intends taking."

Oby strongly believes that government should devise ways and means to ensure that the villains that abducted the girls don't do anything harmful to them. They can work through a process of getting the girls alive, though this will definitely be a tough one.

Strangely, Oby is not your kind of everyday politician. She is a chartered accountant and she began her career with Deloitte and TouchÉ, where she worked as an auditor, management and financial services consultant. She then served as a founding Director of Transparency International (TI) and as TI's Director for Africa from 1994 to 1999. From 2000 to 2002, she worked with Professor Jeffrey Sachs as Director of the Harvard-Nigeria Economic Strategy programme, during which time she was also appointed as an aide to President Obasanjo.

In 2003, she was designated the Senior Special Assistant to the President of Nigeria on Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence. As Minister of Solid Minerals from 2005 to 2006, she oversaw the passage of the Minerals and Mining Act, the establishment of the Nigerian Mining Cadastre Office and the opening of the sector to private participation.

Without stating her preference, she admitted that there must be a channel or conversation that would ensure that the girls are alive. She noted that many countries have been involved in the process of securing the release of abducted person(s) held by terrorists. Such countries could be consulted to learn how they went about it and get their expertise on the matter. Even then, there are certain things that shouldn't be compromised.

"For example, you cannot compromise your whole criminal justice system just like that. That should be at the back of your mind; one's criminal justice system cannot be determined by terrorists. On the other hand, there has to be a way to stay engaged in order to ensure that your primary target, the girls that are being wrongly held captive, are kept alive.

As far as she is concerned, there is no price that is too big for the government to pay to bring back the girls alive. "Let's first find the girls. Our interest is finding those girls because government is the one with the monopoly of coercive apparatus. Individuals cannot find the girls. The parents cannot find them either. It is the Federal Government that has the primary responsibility according to the Constitution. Chapter 2 of the Constitution states it clearly. The Federal Government has the primary responsibility for our security. Let's find the girls.

"It is after this, that government can then work with other stakeholders to confront the common enemy. Let's stop all of this beating about the bush, this distraction, this diversion, while the lives of these girls hang in the balance. That is really what the point is. And it is on that that I stand."

She believes that she is doing the right thing and that President Jonathan has the responsibility of carrying the citizens along in the matter. "Even our own nationals in other countries went to their leaders to speak about it. Americans went to raise the issue with their own President, too. So wouldn't our own President see that his citizens are demanding the same thing? I think that anyone who cares about President Jonathan should advise him to listen to the voice and the demand of his citizens.

"I believe that these girls would become a symbol of what it takes to conquer oppression and repression and every kind of vicissitude to become great. Because I am banking on those girls that their greatness will inspire many other wounded women and people of their generation around the world," she says.

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Source: AllAfrica

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