Oby Ezekwesili, former minister of education; convener, Bring Back Our Girls, BBOG, campaign; founder of the Red Card Movement and the former vice president of the World Bank, in an interview with Anayo Ezugwu, staff writer, Realnews, on the margins of the 2018 Youth Debate organised by NECCIPR in Lagos, on Friday July 27, advises youth on what they should do in 2019 and what the Red Card Movement plans to achieve with the forthcoming summit of the alternatives. Excerpts
Realnews: How do we bring back the confidence of the youth as leaders of tomorrow to be able to participate in governance?
Ezekwesili: I think the youth can actually do that themselves and the thing is to look at the rest of the world and to see that even some of the leaders that are young in other societies did not wait. They made things happen. So looking in and understanding that you have sufficient data as in the population of Nigeria that fall within the youth bracket to connect together and to define the issues that society should consider priority would be a good way to start. But if the young people are indifferent to governance, they are not even worried about how poor governance is affecting them. Then nothing will change. My sense is that the youths must force the issue to be on the table by connecting their number to the issues that matter to them.
Realnews: Looking at poverty and youth exclusion from governance, how do youths stand on their own without waiting for anybody?
Ezekwesili: There is a lot in terms of resources that are available intellectually to any young person around the world today. One of the things I have observed is that there is practically no Nigerian young person that does not have access to the internet. The internet has credible resources available to the young person to adapt their skills. So you can’t say I studied a course that is not in demand in the market, you can quickly adapt to the skill that is in demand. That is the kind of power of the era of knowledge and technology as basis for economy development. What that means is that you have to prioritise your human development above your interest in utilising your data for other activities. We have seen a number of young people who completely change career on the basis of resources available to them on the internet.
Realnews: Ibokun Awosika, chairperson of board of directors, First Bank, has a different view of the Singaporean experience of leadership which you shared with the audience during your speech that Nigeria should adopt basically because of difference in population between the two countries. What do you have to say about that?
Ezekwesili: The truth is that Singapore is a multi-ethnic society. Singapore is a society of the Chinese, the Malay, the Euro-Indian and the native Singaporeans. So it is a multi-ethnic society and that does not in any way give them advantage over Nigeria. We are multi-ethnic like them and they have serious challenges of that multi-ethnicity but they used leadership to manage their diversity. That is one. Number two is that size has been found not to be an issue in economic development. In other words that you are small does not necessarily mean that you are going to be well governed. That you are big does not necessarily mean that you are going to be poorly governed. So those two issues are totally neutral to any kind of comparison of Nigeria and Singapore.
Realnews: How can the youth position themselves beyond 2019?
Ezekwesili: By organising instead of agonising. They have to organised themselves and as I said they need to connect their number to the issues that matter to them and to use their voice. The voice of the youth as voice, not as voices can completely change the conversation that we are having about our 2019 elections.
Realnews: With the coalition of political parties going on, is the Red Card Movement still on?
Ezekwesili: The Red Card Movement is a citizens’ movement. We are not a political party. We are citizens organising to determine the quality of politics in the country. For too long we left politics to the politicians to determine the outcome. So what we the citizens are now doing is that we organising to say if your quality of candidacy is low, then we are going to get the same bad leadership and poor governance. So we don’t want that. We now want to organise together, mobilise ourselves and to say that if you are a political party, you must be looking for candidates on the basis of character, capacity and competence that would ensure good governance.
Realnews: What is the feelings of the people about the Movement so far?
Ezekwesili: We are making significant progress. That is the truth. And one of the major things that we are going to be doing in a few weeks is what we called the summit of the alternatives. Our summit of the alternatives brings many citizens groups together to host a summit to say we cannot continue with the same kind of low quality of political leadership. So how do we affect the processes of finding the kind of alternatives that are credible to govern us at the local, state and federal levels within the legislative as well as the executive arms of government? So that is really a strategic way of the citizens saying we are not going to be indifferent and lethargic. We are going to be involved and engaged in governance process.
Realnews: Is the movement part of any political party?
Realnews: So the movement is not part of any group?
Ezekwesili: We are the Red Card Movement. It is a citizen movement and as citizens we went round the country because people are tired of government that is failing. They are tired of the pattern of failure and it does not matter which acronym of the political party has governed Nigeria. Is all failure and it has gotten to a point where people have to say enough of the failures.