For leading the campaign to rescue the Chibok girls, Oby has been unfairly attacked. We all need to back off.
“In the PDP government that I served in, they tagged me ‘Opposition’, ‘NADECO’, because I was considered a trenchant critic of our administration”, former Vice President of the World Bank for Africa, Obiageli Ezekwesili, relayed during a light-hearted chat in February, 2015.
“President Olusegun Obasanjo’s common quip at me was: ‘With you in my government, who needs a Gani Fawehinmi?’ And my response? ‘What a great compliment, Mr. President!’ I have no time for double standard, as those who honestly know me well will tell you”, she had added.
Oby (as she’s fondly called) and I were having this conversation during the President Goodluck Jonathan era. She had been labeled a member of the opposition APC by the government of the day and its hired hands, for vociferously leading the campaign to rescue the over 200 Chibok schoolgirls who had been abducted by terrorists from their school dormitory, one eerie night in April 2014.
What Oby and I didn’t foresee at the time was that months after, sympathizers of an APC administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari, would tar her with a similar brush. But she’s waved the smear campaign aside with characteristic gusto, slamming the "inertia" of the incumbent in getting the girls back home safely.
Alongside Aisha Yesufu, Bukky Shonibare, Ayo Obe and other fearless Nigerians, Oby has led the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) movement to press for the rescue of the abducted girls, undaunted. Their advocacy has led them to the gates of Aso Villa–Nigeria’s seat of power–where they’ve been mocked, met with police tanks, snarled at and tagged a ‘scam’.
They’ve braved the rain and the shine, sitting on the turf of their usual spot in Abuja; tears cascading down their cheeks.
But Oby has remained unfazed through it all.
“Our Chibok girls are not back. Our pledge was always: ‘Not until our girls are back and alive. We stand on, we demand on, Bring Back Our Girls Now! We at BBOG Nigeria keep our own pledges and shall therefore hold the federal government to its constitutional duty to our Chibok girls and to our shared humanity.
“Someday, children born in this land will know for surety that they matter. That their government and people will surely fight for them”, Oby wrote in a series of tweets recently.
She shared a similar sentiment with us on the sidelines of Chude Jideonwo’s book launch in 2014.
“How do I quit the campaign? What do I tell the parents of the girls who are on the phone to me daily, who see in me the champion of their struggle, our struggle? How do I give up now? It isn’t even possible,” she vowed in the parking lot of the Federal Palace Hotel in Lagos.
This week, Oby has had to deal with smear campaign of a different hue. Leading newspapers and blogs in the land jumped on a Whatsapp message she didn’t author and attributed same to her. The thrust of the message was that Aunty Oby blames Buhari’s administration for the economic woes Nigerians are currently grappling with.
It was a furious Oby who took to Twitter to debunk the stories and call out the media houses that had run with the false tales—one after the other. Apologies and retractions from the media houses have been pouring in.
“How an unscrupulous mind wrote that trash and attributed it to me tells a lot about the health of this society. God ‘s judgment awaits you!”, she railed.
“Amazing how lackeys of the previous federal government are obsessed with attacking Oby Ezekwesili and yet shamelessly steal same name to author their trash”, she added in a long list of rants.
Last summer, I led a team to interview Oby during one of her stops in Lagos. The passion for her country, the poor and the oppressed, seared through the hallway as she spoke for more than an hour.
“Nigeria can beat poverty! If China did it, so can we! We can absolutely beat poverty. It’s a shame and a basis for a rallying call to action because we can’t afford the current situation. It is too dangerous. There is an implosive seed in retaining the current structure and state of affairs. We must quickly just get around the table and make a determination that change isn’t just a noun, it’s a verb. It’s an action that needs to be taken and we need to take it consistently and we need to change our past ways completely.
“Away with the past ways of doing things! Away with the ways where people will consider public office as an opportunity for personal benefit and enrichment, while the rest of society is stuck in poverty. That should be a source of pain and anger and then an impetus for everyone to say we cannot accept the status quo.
“Change must be real and that change is not change for the sake of change. It is change in the life of that child in rural Nigeria; that woman in rural Nigeria or in the city who then get new opportunities to lift themselves out of poverty”, she said.
For the lady who was labelled ‘opposition’ in the government she served in and who is still being called ‘opposition’ by successive government talking heads hence, Oby has no doubt carved a niche for herself as a champion for the cause of the wronged in society.
“Our Dad and the rest of us have handed her over. She’s now Nigeria’s property; she’s now the property of the State. She’s our family’s gift to the nation”, one of the Ezekwesili sons enthused.
The rest of us should join, not smear her. It’s a duty we owe our shared humanity.