She is a voice for the voiceless in Nigeria. Her agile gait, clarity of thought, strength and courage reminds one of the legendary poet Maya Angelou. It isn’t surprising that Dr Obiageli Ezekwesili, former Federal Minister and founder of the “Bring Back Our Girls” from Boko Haram seeks inspiration from Angelou. She was in Mumbai to receive the Mother Teresa Memorial Award for Social Justice organised by Harmony Foundation in Bandra on Sunday.
Dr Oby, as she is fondly called, talked to Mirror about her decision to contest the Nigerian presidential elections next year, her political aspirations and the road ahead for Nigeria. Edited excerpts:
I got tired of raising my voice to a political class that is incorrigible. Our political class simply does not care about issues that matter to citizens. They care more about things that concern them than about the citizens. Our country was rated recently as the largest number of poor people which is overtaking India with six times our population. That is woeful and we must do something immediately to lift people out of poverty. Because when there is poverty, there is despondency, misery and despair. And people who feel they don’t have a stake in the society can be cause of conflict and terrorism and all the ills that befall a society. Therefore, it is important for us to be governed well so that there will be more people benefited from economic growth and prosperity in Nigeria.
It is also important to have a government that cares about human life. We have seen the normalising of the killings of Nigerians while government takes it stand and doesn’t act with a sense of fierce urgency. That needs to end. And I believe that our governments have always been dependent on oil, the mainstay of national revenue. Therefore they don’t care what happens to their citizens. I want to reverse that. I want to make the Nigerian person the heart of everything we do. The primacy of life, the dignity of human life is so important and it needs to get back to being so. I believe that it is our human capital more than our national resources that should matter to any leadership of our country and that’s the kind of leadership I want to offer. I believe that we are in a dire situation and we have no time to waste. I have the character, the competence and capacity to be able to provide a new narrative on how leadership should be begun in my country. I have decided to run for president and I believe that I shall win.
How far has the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign in Nigeria succeeded since 2014?
We haven’t fully succeeded because we still have 112 Chibok girls with terrorists. We have one more girl from another state still with the terrorists. The only thing we have succeeded in is to assert and exert a kind of pressure and let 107 of Chibok girls to be rescued out of 219 that were abducted almost five years ago on April 14, 2014. One hundred and six of them are back in school and that gives us enormous joy. The idea of our campaign is that no girl should ever feel that she needs to pay with the cost of her life for wanting to get knowledge and education. Education is the basis of knowledge and knowledge is the basis of our civilisation. We must defend everyone who seeks knowledge. We as movement will continue to demand justice and rescue of any child and send her back to school.
How did the rescued girls cope with the trauma?
They went through psycho-socio therapy and the process continues even thought they are now in school. They are interacting back with society. They were traumatised but we have been impressed with the trajectory of their healing process and their strong commitment to bring back the ground that they lost. That definitely tells you about their indomitable spirit of the girl child.
Is there a #MeToo movement also in Nigeria?
We have a Women For Women movement. Across the world, women are rising up in unison and they are presenting at the table of decision making. Whether it is at the level of government, company or business world, community and families. Even men are becoming strong voices for gender equality. It is the essence empowering women. You don’t do a favour to women, you do a favour to the all of society when you maximise their use in the direction of society. Any society that is going to be cohesive, stable and prosperous must learn to use all of its talent and talent is gender neutral.
What changes are seen in Nigeria at the moment?
People are understanding that voices are important. You cannot have a society where voices are muzzled. Many men are being gender friendly and gender nuanced. They are taking more interest in rights of women and understand that women’s rights is human rights. They are paying more attention to the way they treat women. They are not ashamed at all to say that they are supporters of gender equality. There is still a lot of patriarchy and will take time to go away from this entrenchment. But we have started that important journey of building a society which is inclusive. Our country is a young country and median age is 18 years. My campaign for 2019 elections are young people and women who will help our country develop faster and better.
Who is your role model?
I am being given the Mother Teresa Award and for me it is interesting. I have always as a child from afar looked at the way she sacrificed her life. As a model of what every human being should do. The society is a reflection of how it treats its poor and vulnerable.The privilege that I have as an educated woman should never be about me but about what I can do for the less privileged.I have always admired Maya Angelou. I enormously love the strength she projected. She was so intelligent and so brave. There is one word I would like to be described as and that is “fearless”