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Oby Ezekwesili: Unrelenting Citizens’ Advocate

By Leo Sobechi
02 January 2016   |   10:30 pm
FROM her public positions and conducts in the past decade, Mrs. Obiageli Katryn Ezekwesili has shown that she is beyond confinement or definition. But like other public intellectuals, Ezekwesili fails to surmount the various limitations that confer duplicity or ambivalence in public interventions.

Oby Ezekwesili

FROM her public positions and conducts in the past decade, Mrs. Obiageli Katryn Ezekwesili has shown that she is beyond confinement or definition. But like other public intellectuals, Ezekwesili fails to surmount the various limitations that confer duplicity or ambivalence in public interventions.

Having been a member of the Federal Executive Council in the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, the woman has been struggling to show that the opportunity offered by that occupation or association is not enough to define her in the contours of a partisan politician. Recently, she stated that a patriotic citizen does not need a label of public office to take interest in governance or hold government to account. It is within the broad elaboration of her insistence that government must be accountable to the people, that Oby’s combative, nay activist intervention becomes prone to suspicion.

Her voice against official ineptitude and corruption, earned her the recognition of then then opposition All Progressives Congress (APC). She was invited to deliver the party’s first post-registration national summit. But knowing that she was in good company, the guest lecturer brought her ambivalence to the fore by choosing not to amplify the message of hate, incompetence and maladministration, which the opposition usually hangs on the neck of the ruling party and the Federal Government it headed at that time.

Oby may have disapointed her hosts. Rather from that vantage position as part-politician, part activist, Oby employed sophism to admonish his patrons and warmed herself to the hearts of the holloi-polloi. She literally caught her patrons by the shirt’s collar, upbraided their lack of direction and sought to wean them from their perceived fixation for political power. It was a good show of political coquetry!

Oby seems to have been nurtured by nature and training to fight battles like a man. Oby does not promote any form or comeliness about her to attract attention to her gender. Trained as an accountant, the strong woman served first as special adviser to President Obasanjo before pioneering the Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence Unit, otherwise known as Due Process. It was from that office that Oby carved a niche for herself and earning the appellation, Madam Due Process!

Out of public office, she lends her voice to the search for better social conditions, transparent governance and political inclusion. For instance, in her famous speech at APC road map summit, she observed as follows: “Leadership is not the office, the title, the authority, the mansion one occupies. Leadership is the sacrifice offered that others may thrive”. She explained that on account of social progression aided by education and social media, “citizens now seek to fully participate and make demands for democratic accountability- they are not afraid to scrutinise all public institutions and to demand better results of governance”. Consequently, she noted that the “unwillingness of any group of political elite to understand this emerging power of the ‘office of the citizen’ can only be a loss to the former and yet another missed opportunity added to our canvass of political tragedies”.

Barely a month after she delivered the APC road map lecture, a tragic event of monumental proportion happened in the Northeast state of Borno. More than 200 students writing the West African Examination Council (WAEC) test in Mathematics were abducted from Chibok Secondary School. As outrage and perplexity compounded public attention, Oby took to her twitter handle to traduce and task the Federal Government to discharge its responsibility of offering security to citizens. From few twitter exchanges, Oby took office in organising marches and sit-outs to demand the Federal Government to #Bringbackourgirls!

Alas a new pastime dropped for the trained accountant. Without any deliberateness, her campaigns were consolidating her friendship with the opposition and infuriating the Goodluck Jonathan administration. But Oby continued her irritation with a mixture of obdurate relish and social angst.  The negative impact of her advocacy on the image and reputation of the then Federal Government was no doubt earning her the admiration of his patrons. It was not hard to situate her activism as the strategic equivalent of the opposition design to grab political power at the centre. Others derided her affront to the authorities as being fueled by frustration from exiting public office. But as more global figures including FLOTUS, Michelle Obama, joined in the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, Oby must have exulted with some sense of fulfillment, though with subdued excitement.

Back home, a very divisive general election has been won by the opposition. Expectations were high that payback time of #BringBack campaign had come. As the job of constituting a new government experienced prolonged delay, occupants of the office of citizens (OC) busied themselves in the pastime of guesstimating the appropriate station the girl child advocate could function. Then came September; the first list, the second and the makeup. There was no Obiageli K. Ezekwesili! Confounded, the occupants of OC set their fertile imagination to work. They mused that Oby has been reserved for the last. While some voiced intelligence that she was programmed to take over from Amina Mohammed at the UN, others declared that she was primed for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). In the end none had it. Oby regained her seat at the #BringBack sit outs, though sparse are the engagements, she continues in her office waving her two flags of activist and advocate.

But it is possible that under a presidency that holds women in suspicion, Oby may have inspired fear in the minds of the present government, which made it hard to include her among the noise makers. Much more than that, being a general, the old soldier may have in fits of fuzzy vision sighted Oby’s two flags as representing ‘a gun’, on the right hand and ‘an arrow’ on the left. Notwithstanding her dual mandate of advocate and activist, even as technocrat and public intellectual, the former minister has made herself a nightmare to many a prospective political employer. Some APC leaders may still be recoiling at the recollection of some of her taunts during their summit.  Samplers: “Your gathering has to be a conversation deeper than how you are going to chase PDP out of power”. “The leadership that will serve above self is not yet in your party manifesto.”

Ordinarily, as a former minister, Oby’s brand of latter-day activism should mark her out as an impartial crusader. But while she speaks volubly and forcefully against social inequities, Oby knows that her father in the game of double-speak, Obasanjo, would do her political emissaries. And so she glossed over the many instances of Obasanjo’s attacks on democratic process while he held sway.

Oby Ezekwesili’s style of street side activism could as well be her own way of laying the foundation for future electoral relevance. That would not surprise most people because she has the basic ingredients to make her relevant in the search for a new Nigeria.