We cannot afford to sit on the sidelines in this battle for the soul of Nigeria any longer. I represent the office of the citizen, the power of the citizen, the soul of the citizen, the right of the citizen –Obiageli Ezekwesili, 2019 Presidential Candidate
The name, ‘Oby’ Ezekwesili has a household status in Nigeria. Those who may not have known that she has headed two ministries in Nigeria will definitely know that she was the leading voice in the BringBackOurGirls Campaign that was a response move after the Chibok Girls incident in 2014.
Ever since, Madam Oby has been more vociferous than ever, in a solo-war, as it were, against the stale leadership that Nigeria seem to have. Oby has addressed the media, wowed audiences at different conferences with one message: the possibility of a new Nigeria. Due to her aversion for the recycling unproductive governments in Nigeria, she began the ‘Red Card Movement’, convincing Nigerians that all of the politicians of the old dispensation must be red-carded if they expect a purposeful leadership. All these have culminated into her emergence as one of the presidential candidates for the 2019 election.
Oby is not the first woman to do this. Remy Sonaiya tried to break the jinx in 2015 but could only manage about 13,000 votes, coming twelfth in the poll. She felt: “women have done enough of cheerleading; we cannot keep on being cheerleaders in this country.” So she entered the race.
She still broke a jinx anyway. Even if she did not win, she was the first of her ‘kind’ to be bold enough to enter the ring. She paved the way that the likes of Oby now thread.
Of course, Madame Oby knows that to be an ordinary councillor in Nigeria, one has to be a favourite of not just the people but the ones people have allowed to become the kingmakers. That means that she, like other candidates outside the ‘Pot One’ aspirants, has a mountain taller than Everest to climb.
Oby has a lucrative CV. She has proven to be a good administrator and has also showed she has the ideas that can begin Nigeria on a better path. But, This Is Nigeria.
This is Nigeria, not because only the bad ones win elections, but because many Nigerians, the real voters are not on twitter; too, many of them only watch TV stations that are not on cable networks like the Nigerian Television Authority where they may not see her. So, she has the challenge of access to the rural electorates.
The Roadblocks Are Enormous
It is easy to say Oby’s major roadblock is her being a woman. That is a challenge for sure, but not the biggest. The first challenge is that she is one among ‘the rest of them’. Citizens of the most populous black nation in the world do not pay attention to option C on the ballot papers. No matter how long the ballot or how plenty the candidates, they are always looking for the two most popular faces. They seem to enjoy the one-on-one fights, rather than a ladder match.
Like I have said in another article, ‘’Nigerians have agreed, as it were, to be unaware that they run a multiparty system. Irrespective of the other aspirants in the race, the 2019 Aso Rock Championship remains between President Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar’’.
This is the most daunting route that Oby has to navigate, to make herself a major contender. At every corner: mechanics workshops, match-viewing centres, markets, work places, etc, people are mostly discussing Atiku-Buhari. Video trivias and online polls are only interested in the A or B thing; there is no C anywhere. How will Oby make her C option chooseable?
Secondly, how much does Oby have?
That is a very unimportant question to ask by the way, but in saner climes. In Nigeria, that question is more important than manifestos. After a beautiful rendition of what one wants to do, the next question is of the ‘kola’ that should accompany the ‘big big English’. It is unfortunate that here, the electorate is largely made up of the poor and uneducated who are too impatient for long-term things. They want gifts from the candidates, to be convinced.
More dangerous is the belief that anyone on the ballot paper is a crook. Nigerians believe, out of experience though, that if you win an election, you will make plenty money and not bother about what you promised. This is why they hold candidates to ransom during the elections and demand monetary gifts so that they too would have gained something, no matter how small, even if the candidate forgets them. How will Madam Oby surmount that challenge?
Thirdly, she is at war with the past. The leading candidates are both choices of two rebranded pasts. Over and again, Oby has made it clear how she condemns all the leaders of the country from antiquity as they in turns, set the nation on a redemption-needy precipice. So, she will not go to any of them for ‘blessing’. It is a political culture in Nigeria that a candidate will do rounds of pilgrimages to the shrines like those of Ibrahim Babangida, Olusegun Obasanjo, Abdulsalami Abubakar, and more recently, Goodluck Jonathan, to get their blessings; these are the people with enough grassroots followerships that she is ‘supposed’ to align with. They are the kingmakers. Oby does not look like she will do that; will she?
Traditionally, being a woman is a challenge for the female candidates but I choose to bring it last due to the level of gender reorientation sweeping Africa in recent times. More women are getting involved in governance at different levels so the likelihood of Nigeria having a female president is in the offing. Some among the electorate are being won over by the anti-chauvinistic daily.
However, it is still a problem. There is still a huge number of people who are male chauvinists, including women, who are unrepentantly baptised into the male-favoured customs and traditions.
Then there is the issue of zoning. The complexities of the Nigerian population demands a sharing of key or ‘juicy’ positions among the ethnic groups. This has a big influence on the voting. Up till now, Madam Oby has not said who her veep is or will be. While she is stressing on what she wants to do, many Nigerians want to know who will do those things with her and which ethnic groups those will come from, at least, to know if they will be represented.
Atiku Abubakar, for instance, picked his veep from the east, promised the west the position of national secretary general if elected. While the west may not be swayed yet, they are already asking that he also gives them the attorney general. That means a transaction between the candidate and the electorate has begun. Who is Oby transacting with yet? Is she even aware that this is a huge factor?
In all, Madam Oby is a voice crying out with hope that looks genuine. She is beckoning, from behind the people who are carried away by what is happening within the corridors: the dramas, the name calling, the throwing and rubbing of muds, the scandals…. Oby struggles to win the people’s attention, for just a few minutes, if she can convince them that those they are watching are all together, empty. She wants them to look into her agenda and find in quantum, what the stage actors can only promise. But, it looks like she is the gold that will never be mined; like the Gani Fawehinmis, the MKO Abiolas of this world.
She is crying out, singing hope, from a distance. She needs to come near; beyond beckoning, she must must tap to win the attention. And if she wins that attention, she must know that sustaining it requires more than words in this part of the world. Dear Oby, you will need to come out of the wilderness. Come into town and face everyone with your message of hope.