2019: Is Nigeria ready for Female President?

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FORMER Minister of Education Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili may have joined the presidential race at the last minute. But, the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN) flag bearer appears determined to go the extra mile to challenge the dominance of the two major political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Ezekwesili, who has been an advocate of the younger generation taking over power, addressed a press conference in Lagos to unfold her agenda. From her deportment at the event, she appears determined to prove skeptics who believe that she and other young challengers do not stand any chance in the contest. The ACPN candidate says she is running to disrupt the order and offer a clean break from the way the country has been run.

At the conference, she indicated that she will tour the states before December, to create awareness about her candidature among the populace. During the tour, she intends to discuss directly with the market women, plumbers, mechanics, butchers, civil servants and other groups.

Last week Sunday, the ACPN flag bearer visited Minna, the Niger State capital, where she was reported to have met with former Military President General Ibrahim Babangida at his hilltop mansion in the capital. Statements attributed to her suggested that she had a candid conversation with the former head of state.

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So far, the ACPN candidate who joined the presidential race late has acquitted herself well in her campaign; compared to that of the candidates of other fringe parties. But, how far can she go?

Despite the fact that 55-year old Co-founder of the Bring Back Our Girls advocacy group is well-known in government and activism circles, winning next year’s presidential election would be a tall order for her. By her own admission, the most recurring question that has come up since she declared her intention to contest the 2019 presidency has been the issue of structure.

The ACPN candidate said she has devised a solution to the problem. She said: “I hear it all the time everywhere I go, from family, from friends, on the Internet and offline, in hushed whispers and in the worried voices of people who express their fears to me personally. How is she going to win? Does her party have the reach or the structure to go all the way and carry the day eventually?

But, you see, these questions, while valid, all come from a place of trepidation. Trepidation at how truly powerful the office of a citizen is and the possibilities that can happen when this power is unleashed. The truth is that you, my fellow citizens, are all the structure that we need to make this happen and this isn’t some lofty ideal. It is very possible through difficult but practical steps.”

The ACPN strategy, she said, is to find every sleeping voter and win them over. She said: “These are Nigerians who have their voting cards, but have refused to vote. We will shock the old school politicians in 2019.”

Ezekwesili enjoined every Nigerian who is fed up with the current cycle of failure in the country to get involved, because her party offers a clean break from all of the old ways. Her words: “The strategy is to unlock a vast and impressive network of ‘sleeping voters’. Do you have your PVC but are distraught about the prospects of returning #BuTiku, the siamese twins of failure and incompetence to power? We are talking to you. Do you feel like you have been set up to choose the lesser evil between the devil and the deep blue sea? You shouldn’t.

“This is not a time to go to sleep. We not only have the only credible alternative candidate but, we also have the technology and the massive data network. We have the reach. We shall find you, identify you and convert your efforts into votes, voters, canvassers and small donors.

The responsibility of deciding our leaders cannot only fall to the rural areas alone, as has become the pattern in previous elections. Those of us in the cities and in the urban areas need to be alive to our responsibilities. The godfathers are unlikely to sway our minds with cheap gifts but we need to be motivated enough to do the right thing. We need to mobilise, get the votes out and protect them come election day. It will be challenging no doubt but the road to nation building has never been easy.”

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Ezekwesili said disenchanted Nigerians should not just decide to vote, but also assist in convincing millions of others who need to be convinced about the authenticity of the ACPN cause. She added: “We will be knocking on doors, please open to us. We will be selling our message please listen to us. But we cannot do it alone. We need a committed team of volunteers and supporters that will be prepared to go door to door, taking our message to those who need to hear them. We will need the resources to make this happen so we will be asking for your support, in all the ways that are possible talent, skill, resources whatever it takes to deliver the vote.

The former minister said people usually refrain from voting because they know that voting for any of the status quoparties is a waste of time. She believes there is no difference between the ruling APC and the main opposition party, the PDP. She described them as “Siamese twin of failure”. She equally dismissed the influence of the godfathers, saying “they may have a lot of money but they cannot buy everybody”.

Ezekwesili, who is one of the five women in the race, said the APC and the PDP are a single political party fielding one candidate called “Butiku”. Her words: “The failed PDP and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar and the failed APC and its candidate are one and the same, Siamese twins of failure and destruction.

“For those of you considering the PDP as an alternative, I really want to ask you. What is the thing that you see about them that is any different from the APC? Really this people are the same, they are the Siamese twins of failure.

“Fellow Nigerians, here is the truth of the matter: The APC and PDP are not two parties. It is a single party fielding one candidate, and that candidate’s name is Butiku.”

Indeed, Ezekwesili has paid her dues. The ACPN candidate, who comes from Anambra State in the Southeast, is well known; she has served in government during the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. She is popularly known as “Madam Due Process”, because of the outstanding work she led a team of professionals to do in sanitising public procurement or contracting at the federal level, when she served as the head of the Due Process Unit in 2003. Before then, she had served as Transparency International’s director for Africa from 1994 to 1999.

Between 2005 and 2007, she served as Minister of Solid Minerals, Minister of Education, and chairperson of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI). In 2007, shortly after her stint in government, she joined the World Bank as vice president for the Africa.

But her most prominent role, however, has been as an activist. In the aftermath of the abduction of nearly 300 girls from Chibok by the Boko Haram militant group Ezekwesili used the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) advocacy group to draw global attention to the plight of all persons who have been abducted by terrorists in the war ravaged Northeast.

She has been a vocal critic of the Nigerian leadership, both past and present, accusing them of “bad leadership, ethnic and religious divisions, mediocrity, and failures in governance”.

There is no doubt that the ACPN candidate has beautiful ideas. But her chances of winning the election are slim, if past experience is anything to go by. She faces a number of critical challenges. One of such is the dismal performance of women politics in the past.

Ezekwesili is one of four women on the presidential ballot. The others are: Eunice Atuejide, National Interest Party; Angela Johnson, Alliance for United Nigeria (AUN); and Funmilayo Adesanya-Davies, Mass Action Joint Alliance (MAJA).

The country has had women candidates before. In 2011 Sarah Jubrin ran for president and in 2015 Comfort Oluremi Sonaiya put herself forward. Both candidates faced several challenges.

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