Oby (Obiageli) Ezekwesili announced she is stepping down as the presidential candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria on January 24. The elections are scheduled for February 16. She said her goal now is to build a coalition that would provide an alternative to the All Progressives Congress (APC), the party of incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), whose presidential candidate is former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. The dominant personalities in the APC and the PDP have governed Nigeria since the restoration of civilian government in 1999.
Ezekwesili, along with other younger political figures such as Kingsley Moghalu and Donald Duke, have worked to move Nigerian politics toward issues rather than personalities and elite bargaining. Ezekwesili, the only woman in the group, is fifty-six years of age. Moghalu and Duke also represent a generational change from the seventy-six-year-old Buhari and the seventy-two-year-old Atiku Abubakar.
Ezekwesili is highly charismatic. By profession, she is a chartered accountant (roughly, the equivalent of a CPA) and trained with Deloitte & Touche (Deloitte’s Nigeria practice). She is probably now best known for her leadership of the Nigerian campaign to free the Chibok school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. But there is much more to her highly distinguished career. She has served twice as a cabinet minister, and she worked in other official positions for greater transparency with respect to government funds and contracting, and she was the World Bank vice president for Africa from 2007 to 2012. In civil life, she helped found Transparency International and serves on the board of the World Wildlife Fund, among other distinguished positions.
Dynamic and with fresh ideas, highly experienced, and utterly devoted to the public good, Ezekwesili is a committed, patriotic Nigerian who makes little or no public reference to her ethnicity. Politically, she does not play “the Christian card” in a country divided between Christians and Muslims, though her husband is the pastor of one of the biggest mega churches in Abuja (the Redeemed Christian Church of God). She is the face of a hopeful future for Nigerian politics, but changing the culture of a huge country riddled with security challenges and increasing poverty is not easy. One commentator observed, “the electorate are largely illiterate, who are either having sympathy for the ruling All Progressives Congress or the major opposition PDP.” Virtually no outside observer thought she had the chance to win the presidency, any more than the other “good government” candidates such as Moghalu, Duke, or Utomi. Nevertheless, their campaigns provided an issues-based dimension to the presidential debate, which is otherwise largely lacking.
Headline writers have focused on the fact that Ezekwesili was the only female presidential candidate. Women occupy numerous prominent public and private positions, but a female president or governor is still hard to imagine in such a patriarchal society.