Oby Ezekwesili And The Limit Of Activism By Tayo Ogunbiyi

Obiageli Ezekwesili (Oby for short), former World Bank Vice-President, former Minister of Education and co-founder of the ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ (BBOG) is popular in Nigeria for her activism. She cuts the figure of one who is courageous and averse to injustice. Her involvement in the BBOG campaign attests to her pedigree as an activist…”
Moroti Olatujoye
February 5, 2019 9:14 am

Obiageli Ezekwesili (Oby for short), former World Bank Vice-President, former Minister of Education and co-founder of the ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ (BBOG) is popular in Nigeria for her activism. She cuts the figure of one who is courageous and averse to injustice. Her involvement in the BBOG campaign attests to her pedigree as an activist of note. Through the BBOG, Oby became a noteworthy conscience of the nation. When she speaks, the nation listens. Without a doubt, the BBOG has been consistent in ensuring that the issue of the Chibok girls remains in public domains. But for BBOG, the matter could have died a natural death as it is usually the case here.

So, a few of her fans must have been quite excited when in September last year Oby picked the presidential ticket of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria , ACPN, to contest the February 2019 election. She emerged as the party’s candidate at the party’s national convention held in Abuja. After she received her party’s mandate, the two-time minister was in her characteristic garrulous shape. She expressed sadness that instead of making progress, Nigeria was retrogressing under the current administration. She said Nigeria could simply not afford to continue under the atmosphere of “unsustainable failure” come 2019. She described 2019 as a defining moment which would provide an opportunity “to unite and stimulate the potential of the country to build a great nation.”

Oby, who declared that her campaign mantra shall be “Project Rescue Nigeria”, said it was a great tragedy that Nigeria was heading steadily towards total economic collapse. She promised equal opportunities for all Nigerians irrespective of tribe or gender to live to fulfil their full potential. She said, “Enough is now enough, we have decided that Nigeria will no longer accept a leadership of mediocre which has kept it down and allowed wanton and senseless waste of innocent lives. “I bring you a message of hope for you that I and millions of supporters will march in solidarity to ensure that Nigeria gets a new focused leadership in 2019.”

However, that is where it all ends for Oby; in the realm of rhetoric. A few days ago, she announced her withdrawal from the presidential race. According to her, the decision was part of the sacrifice she had to pay to achieve what she termed “focus on helping to build a veritable coalition to ensure a viable alternative to the #APCPDP in the forthcoming elections”. If her fans were shocked by this twist of event, they would be more outrageous at the fallout.

Hardly had Ezekwesili announced her exit from the presidential race than her political party, ACPN, adopted President Muhammadu Buhari, same man Oby had sworn to unseat, as its presidential candidate. Now, if you thought the drama ends there, you have gotten more coming! According to Ganiyu Galadima, National Chairman of the ACPN and Ezekwesili’s then running mate, Oby never really wanted to be President but was only using the presidential ticket as bargaining chip for the post of Finance Minister. As if that wasn’t enough, Galadima also alleged that Oby received millions of undeclared campaign funds in hard currency.

Though Oby has since denied all the allegations, the whole episode has, nevertheless, brought to fore the huge gulf that exists between activism and politicking. History, at least in Nigeria, has shown that activists are not usually good politicians. Prof Wole Soyinka, Late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Barrister Femi Falana and a host of others are examples of fiery activists who couldn’t swim through the murky waters of Nigerian politics.

While it is highly crucial that more activists get involved in politics, it is, however, important that they quickly come to term with the fact that what works well for them in activism might not really work in politicking. Activism is more or less a narrow course. The activist has answers, both realistic and illusive, to every issue. The activist believes only in his point of view. He believes he knows it all.

He has an embroidered estimation of his viewpoint. Others are wrong while he is always right. He sees and cries about what he perceives as the wrongs of others, but cannot see the log in his own eyes, not to talk of removing it. To the activist, there is always one point of view on any given issue. And when he canvasses this viewpoint, the catchphrase is always: ‘No retreats no surrender’. Activists are often unrealistic elements who are constantly in search of an ideal society. They are typically so obsessive by this quest that they often pay undue attention to the end rather than the means.

For all her idealistic bravado, Oby has just discovered that politics is a different ball game entirely. She couldn’t manage her relationship with the top chaps in ACPN, a modest party with little or no spread across the country. And yet, she boasts on how she would manage a nation as extensive and patently diverse as Nigeria. Probably, she felt out with the leadership of the party because, as usual, an activist must always be right while others are wrong.

For all her mouthful about how she was going to take ‘Butiku’, her acronym for Buhari and Atiku, to the cleaners at the election, Oby is nothing but a lightweight political figure whose main political constituency is the media. Sadly, media hype alone does not really count in politics. Politics is mostly played at the grassroots where the real voters who don’t understand ideological talks and ‘needless’debates are. These ones don’t really care about what the papers are saying. The social media ‘warriors’ and their ‘inconsequential’ tweets and posts don’t really mean anything to them.

They mainly vote based on factors which the activists and other ‘learned’ voters consider primordial. But then, the most important thing is that they are trusted and reliable voters who would defy thunderstorm and sunshine to cast their votes. Unlike the social media experts, who don’t have Permanent Voter’s Cards, PVCs, they possess their PVCs and guard it jealously as a business man protects his ATM cards.

Politicking, and by extension, governance is beyond oratory, activism and militancy. From the way Oby couldn’t cope with the implosion in her modest political party, it is left to be seen how she would have been able to handle the various complications, intrigues and disquiet usually associated with governance in the country. She is not even politically knowledgeable enough to know what the electoral act says about dropping out of the race! Now, whether she likes it or not, she must run! Ironically, her party has opted to support President Buhari.

The lesson from the Oby’s situation is simple. Activism is good. But the truth is that activism is not enough to develop and sustain a solid political base. If we are to move beyond the contracted option of ‘Butiku’ in the future, Oby and her likes need to really understand and work on this.

Ogunbiyi wrote in from Ikeja, Lagos

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