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Oby Ezekwesili takes talking loud and saying nothing to Chatham House

6 November 2018

Oby Ezekwesili, who is meant to be running for president with the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), which might as well be called the “No Hope Party of Nigeria”, spoke at Chatham House in London on Monday.

This correspondent thought long and hard about going, as this was an opportunity to ensure she was asked some serious questions.  But the event clashed with a couple of meetings and in over 10 years of listening to Ezekwesili, it’s hard to remember when she ever made any sense – despite the over-bloated sense of self-worth and shameless self-promotion.  So I decided to give the event a miss and a video of the proceedings showed it was a wise move.

Watch it below:

She started telling tales about her life from schooldays and how she always spoke out against injustice.  The facts would get in the way of this feel-good story.  She served in three positions under the regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo.  That regime is among the worst in terms of human rights violations by Nigerian security agents in Nigerian history.  There were massacres of entire communities in Odi in Bayelsa State, Zaki Biam in Benue State, killings and mass rape in Choba in Rivers State among others.  There was not a squeak from Ezekwesili at the time.

After blowing her own trumpet about her education, she resorted to name-dropping the likes of Shirley Williams, a former British cabinet minister and Jeffrey Sachs, an American economist, both apparently taught Ezekwesili at Harvard, and she felt being on first name terms with them was some kind of achievement. Most Nigerians would have been wondering what difference it made to the price of garri.

Ezekwesili moved on to claiming her “public procurement reforms”, while working for Obasanjo, “saved the country billions”.  We only had to take her word for it.  No details about how she measured the savings and no further evidence was provided.  Instead, she tossed around empty words like “reforms”, “successes” and soundbites like “investing in human capital development”.  A lot of fluff, with little substance.

Even when she presented a success story – China – that was worthy of emulation, after telling her audience that China lifted 700m people out of poverty in less than four decades, she lacked the intellectual rigour to explain how it was done.  For Nigeria to succeed, they would need to borrow best practice from elsewhere like China.  It means doing what the Chinese did to make progress.  You can’t boast of a Harvard education and be incapable of pointing out the reasons for Chinese success in your presentation.

She exposed herself as hollow when she said her approach would be based on “economic freedoms”, place a “premium on the market” and then threw in more slogans – “education the new oil” and “human capital the new economy”.  Her Chinese example should have told her, if she had bothered researching the subject, that their success came as a result of restricting the operations of the market, going against the economic orthodoxy that Ezekwesili’s former employer, the World Bank, prescribes for countries such as Nigeria.

Incidentally, proceedings only got more interesting during the very brief Q&A session when a gay Nigerian man first reminded her that recent evidence has shown that market-driven solutions have not worked.  He also challenged her claims about inclusiveness while claiming homosexuality was against her Pentecostal Christian faith, and claimed that Ezekwesili blocked him on Twitter.  In response, Ezekwesili waffled a bit more and proclaimed she will “deregulate the economy massively”.

A member of the House of Lords raised the Fulani herdsmen crisis and once again, the audience was exposed to the shallowness of the speaker and the futility of her pretensions.  She had nothing to offer in terms of solutions,and  little to show that she fully understood the primitive accumulation nature of the problem with the cattle being owned by many wealthy Nigerians.  All she offered in terms of solutions were to “lead the conversation” via a “regional” approach.  Perhaps, inadvertently admitting, that she was all talk and no action.

She did promise to be a more “effective Commander-in-Chief”.  We all know that the incumbent has elevated uselessness to an art.  But Ezekwesili only seemed to be better in terms of sloganeering.  She offered a “proactive, preventive and preemptive security strategy”.  The only “p” on my mind at this point was “pathetic”.

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