AMANPOUR: Oby Ezekwesili, welcome to the program.
OBY EZEKWESILI, NIGERIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Would I be right in saying that yours is a real long shot candidacy, you know, one of the smaller parties, the main established parties are kind of duking it out between themselves? What do you really expect to achieve by running for president?
EZEKWESILI: I hope to disrupt the politics of failure, the politics of bad governance and bad leadership that has only produced this small result.
Such that today, Nigeria as the world capital of extreme poverty, certainly unacceptable. That’s what I intend to do, to disrupt this and build a nation that is based on prosperity, stability, cohesion and equality of opportunity for our people.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, let’s break this down because we have a graphic that shows that Nigeria has overtaken India as the world’s greatest concentration of extreme poverty, 87 million Nigerians live in extreme poverty and it’s growing by six people per minute.
I guess what everybody will want to know is this, Nigeria is known for rampant corruption. I mean, unbelievable amounts of corruption. It is also a really potentially rich state with all your oil, with all your natural resources. I mean, how is it possible that 87 million Nigerians live at the poverty line or below?
EZEKWESILI: It is the — it is what happens when there is a bad governance. Bad governance is so endemic when there are no expectations of results from those that govern society. And therefore, there is no demand for accountability. And if and when there is demand for accountability, there’s no incentive on the part of the people who govern to produce results.
I was one of the co-founders of Transparency International and we know that corruption is a tax on the poor and we already know that there are ways to tackle corruption. To prevent opportunities for corruption you reduce corruption. And part of what my agenda is, is to deregulate the economy in the kind of way that public officials don’t have too much presence in the economy, to be able to utilize it for personal gain.
And also, to compliment actions on the prevention side, which is system that punishes corruption every time it happens. Because then, you create a deterrence against that very malignant cancerous action that has kept our country under developed, less modern at anything that we could have imagined at independence.
AMANPOUR: Yes. You know, it is extraordinary because all those things you say make us sit back and take notice, particularly because we see so much Nigerian money coming out of Nigeria, spent in the West on high-end real estate, on all sorts of, you know, playground of the rich and the powerful.
And I guess I’m trying to figure out, other people have complained as well, including the current president about corruption, they’ve all pledged to somehow wipe it out. How will you take on these vested interests, these people who have, I guess, a reason to keep the system and the status quo?
EZEKWESILI: Well, the society knows me for having taken on them before. I was the one that walked on fixing of our public procurement system. It was chaotic until I entered government many years ago, (INAUDIBLE) ago. And I effected the reform of the public procurement system and drew initiative that was called due process, as a result of that work that fix up public procurement that used to be the honeypot of the politicians, the country began to call me “Madam Due Process.”
So the politicians know me. I am not a stranger to them at all. What I did in extractive industries transparency initiative is well-known, globally. So I am not one who is going to be fazed by the strength of our political class. I think that the lack of courage on the part of our society to stare down at these ones who have given us bad governance is now over. It is time to confront it and I believe that I am the candidate of the Nigerian people.
We are not — I am not running alone, as we say, we are all running, all of us that want a different country, a new direction for our country are running together. This is a contest between the established class of politicians who have not delivered anything meaningful in governance and the rest of us, I simply am the candidate who is providing the direction for the rest of society to take on this group.
AMANPOUR: Now, as you mentioned, of course, you’ve been recognized for many of your efforts not just Transparency International, which got you a Nobel Peace prize nomination but also you spearheaded the Bring Back Our Girls Movement when Boko Haram stole all those hundreds of Nigerian school girls.
Tell me a little bit about how you came to do that? Your experience in public policy in the public sector in Nigeria.
EZEKWESILI: Well, I was — I was saddened, I mean sad is such an underwhelming word to describe how I felt that my society was stealing the children of the poor who went to school. Girls who went to school.
When I was Minister of Education, one of my reform areas had been in getting more girls to go to school especially in modern Nigeria where for every five boys in school only one girl would be in school. And so when these girls went to school and were abducted. What I expected from my government was immediate swift response, but that did not happen and I was completely aghast at it and I decided that on the basis of my shared humanity with those girls that I was going to be a voice for them until they all come back.
As far as I am concerned, we have no credentials on which to ask girls to go to school around the world until the rest of the world and all of us especially our government bring the remaining 112 Chibok girls back, as well as Leah Sharibu as well as Alice, a humanitarian aid worker who was abducted because of meeting the needs of those who are displaced in our country.
AMANPOUR: You bring up another major issue, it’s not just humanitarian, but its security. Your country is in a state of war with Boko Haram. Do you have a plan for dealing with that aspect at the source, at the root? There’s terrorism and there’s war there.
EZEKWESILI: I think that the number one thing is we had a research at the World Bank that showed that in environments of conflicts, the most important thing to do is to get that community thinking about jobs again, providing economic livelihoods for the people because that then dries up the sauces of young people who have no stake in society and who are willing to unleash violence on their own society, so broadening security to be human security is a major strategy for me and the second bit is to completely overhaul our security system and to ensure that there is performance, accountability that is tied to results adequacy the top end is to make a lot out of intelligence.
Today’s cutting edge technology means that we can be pre-emptive, we can be proactive. We can be preventive and that means we must walk with our neighbors. We must walk with the rest of the world that can offer us support in every kind of definition of cutting edge expensive technology that will enable us to have greater surveillance of our country and people.
AMANPOUR: All the candidates running including yourself are pro-American. You were educated at Harvard for a period of time and it’s the second richest country in Africa. What kind of relationship would you expect to have with the United States, and particularly, with President Trump who has his own views about Africa, the transactional relationship and also his own — you’ve heard what he said about a lot of African countries. I don’t need dot repeat it.
EZEKWESILI: I wouldn’t be dignifying any of the pejorative words that have been used by the President of America. What I would simply do is show to the President of America that is a contemporary in the leadership of countries.
EZEKWESILI: His country and me leading my own country and what I would try to show clearly to him is that it is of interest to America that he should maintain the global norms that enable America to be at the leading economy in the world as we watch the trend of the global economy, it is very clear
that even the US needs to continue to do even more with the rest of the world in order to maintain a reasonable level of economic prosperity and trajectory that it has been known for.
Our country, Nigeria is a leading country in the world. We definitely have a lot of contributions that are notable around the world and we will do more. Africa is going to be the center of our strategy but, our relationship with the rest of the world is going to be on the basis of its strategy to be a productive country, a competitive country and a country that actually stakes a claim to the 21st Century.
AMANPOUR: We have a picture of yourself as a child with your father. And he once told you not to dignify a whole load of nonsense. What did he mean? Tell me about that relationshipo?
EZEKWESILI: It was an amazing relationship. My dad believed that I could do anything and spoke it into me so often that I grew up not allowing anybody to invalidate me because as I would say to them, my dad already validated me. So there’s no words, there’s not a thing that you say, there
is no opposition to me that can hold me back. My dad said I can do anything I choose to do.
AMANPOUR: So that’s really adorable. It’s really important as well. What is it like as a woman to come up through these political ranks in a male dominated society and try to fight for the biggest prize?
EZEKWESILI: Leadership is gender neutral. What matters is that I come into these with character, competence and capacity. I can — I am the better candidate than the men that are in this race, even they would tell you that, so I’m simply going to keep on with the issues that I want to solve. I’m a problem solver. The country knows me to be that. I am ready to do this. I always say to people who say, well, you’re not a politician.
I say to them, that’s fine. I know one thing, I know one thing and that one thing that I know is how to care for people. That’s what governance should be about, caring for your people. I bring that into this race alongside my character, competence and capacity. So I am really the winning candidate in this race.
AMANPOUR: Well, you make a very strong case. Oby Ezekwesili, thank you so much for joining me.
EZEKWESILI: Thank you very much, Christiane.