Oby Ezekwesili, a former Minister of Education and presidential candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, in this interview with OZIOMA UBABUKOH, says only competent and capable people of high ethical standards should occupy leadership positions in the country
Were you motivated by your presidential ambition to initiate the world catholic movement?
Not at all; I did not even have any presidential ambition but what I had was the conclusion that our citizens were locked in with the dominant political class that had entrenched bad politics in the land and the only way we could break loose is to become politically conscious of the power we have as citizens to determine the quality of our leaders. Governance, in a democratic dispensation, can only be offered, that is, supplied by the elected; they determine it. If you, as the electorate who demand governance, are not engaged in a conscious and consistent process of determining the character, the quality, competence and the capacity of such people, you become endangered and would have to accept whatever the elected give you.
I have come to the conclusion that we could demand good governance but not from the wrong set of people, hence the need to go beyond waiting for them to be elected and begin to lament over accountability, transparency, and doing the right thing. We need to face politics and change it. Based on that understanding, I decided to encourage us, the electorate, to mobilise and give a red card to our poorly performing political class. That is me in my activist coat saying, ‘Society, let us do it’. All politicians, whether at the local, state or federal level, legislative, executive, should be made to meet the standard of quality leadership that would do the right things for our country, its citizenry. And when they fall short of expectation, we as citizens should be able to give them a red card. It had nothing to do with the presidential ambition.
With the activist tone of your campaign, do you think voters will take you seriously?
Wow! I do not know what you mean by the activist tone of my campaign but that is the more reason why they would take me seriously because Nigerians have always known me as one who would passionately put across my views. For me, politics is not theoretic. Politics is the management of the affairs of the citizen and the whole concept requires a passionate engagement in the process of doing the things that would change the lives of the citizens for the better. You have to be convinced about it; it cannot be a job. We want to permanently send parking those that have made politics their daily business. I do not need a job and I am not doing this because I need a title. I am doing this because I see the failure of our society. I see the injustice of a society where the likes of certain individuals are privileged and the likes of the rest of the people, the devil may care. You cannot have such a society; that is an indecent society. Call me an activist in my campaign; that is fine. I am going to be totally committed to the idealism that this society can be different and my passion is to get as many of us as possible to agree with me that it is time for us to face a new direction.
What basic consideration informed the choice of your running mate?
Character, competence and capacity informed the choice of my running mate. When my running mate is unveiled, it would be known that indeed that is the case.
What qualities would you look out for in the choice of your cabinet members?
My cabinet is going to be a youthful cabinet and the same qualifying metrics of character, competence and capacity will be at play where everyone that would solve a problem in our government would be weighed along those three criteria. It is going to be a cabinet of equality of opportunity, men, women, young people and every other person who has got the basic interest of Nigeria at heart; those who want to offer sacrificial leadership, leadership of a different kind. We are tired of leaders who think they are voted into office to have a good life while others are helplessly watching them. We want a society where the leaders would be willing to first pay the price of leadership before they impose it on the rest of society. We want to disrupt what Nigerians have normalised: the belief that power is for the sake of power; that you get power to enjoy yourself. That is obviously not the kind of administration that we want to run.
What would be the proportion of men to women in your cabinet?
Did you just hear me say there would be equality of opportunity? Even a country like Ethiopia has beaten us to it but we will beat them; we would not only beat them but will also beat Rwanda and show to our young women and girls that we can be leaders. Leadership is gender-neutral. Anybody could develop the skills of leadership, and become the leader of anything, institutions and people. We should not get ourselves to a point where we exclude a huge proportion of our population on the basis of gender. Such a thing would not be found in my administration.
You turned down zones as places of leadership selection in Nigeria. Would you drop federal character in your appointment?
We will do a management of our diversity in a way that ensures it does not become a race to the bottom. What they do now with federal character is they have converted it to a race to the bottom. A race to the bottom takes everybody to the bottom; it takes your best to the bottom. The bottom should not be setting the standard for the rest of society. You heard me use the statement, equality of opportunity. That is a diversity term, which reflects the effective management of diversity because what it means is that those that are identified in the society; that have barriers and incapable of taking advantage of opportunities; it is your duty and business to take them to the point where they can take advantage of equality of opportunities. Across this country, we know we have competent and capable people of high ethical standards; we only need to find them. We are a nation that plays with our leadership. If we call it a game, we play with our 11 to 11 as in football while other societies play with their first 11. We want to change and disrupt that and play with the first 11 of our people from across the nook and cranny of our country.
What would be the focus of Nigeria’s foreign policy under your watch?
It is going to be Nigeria at the world stage leading together with the other anchor country, South Africa, a continent that wishes to stake its claim to the 21st century. This is Africa’s century as the 21st century is Africa’s century and so we will provide leadership of a kind that would integrate the continent more; so, economic integration is going to be key. In the growth corridors across the continent, our interest would be to see how we can connect the dots in terms of physical infrastructure or human capacities in terms of institutional orientation and policy content that need to converge at a certain level. We are going to look at issues of security and resource management. We are going to look at the issues of agricultural productivity of the continent. If you look at the continent, it is the continent right now with the largest number of available arable land for agriculture which means that we could be the food basket of the world if we get our agricultural policies right and if we embrace the CAADEP. The Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Policy is a programme of the African Union. Is it in terms of maximising the opportunities that technology offers us and looking at centres of excellence in terms of our higher education? Look at our $2.5tn economy on the continent. It is nothing close to what we should have. We are going to be leading in a way that our foreign policy really connects to our economic interest.