By ‘Fisayo Soyombo
UNTIL President Muhammadu Buhari infamously showed up on Friday to ‘remove’ Walter Onnoghen as Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) through the backdoor, an alternate party was on the verge of providing us with the biggest talking point of an entire week — for the first time in a long time.
Onnoghen’s suspension has no place in any democracy. Let’s not lie about it: the CJN — he still is — has a terrible case to answer. He has himself unwittingly admitted guilt, and senior lawyers whose opinions I trust have impugned his credibility in private. But even this doesn’t legitimize Onnoghen’s suspension in accordance with a privately-announced ex parte order by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), less than a day to the inauguration of 2019 election petition tribunal members, and while notable past and current members of the Buhari administration already indicted for corruption or sundry breaches of the law dating back to 2018 have not been charged to court.
To the neutrals, it is such a bad news that the spotlight was so insanely snatched from the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), but this sentiment won’t be shared by Oby Ezekwesili, the fiery activist on whose account this party has gained considerable popularity among the elite. As expected, Ezekwesili was one of the first Nigerians to censure Buhari for the manner of Onnoghen’s removal, but perhaps deep down in her mind, she wouldn’t have minded any reprieve from the implosion of her party three weeks to the presidential election.
Followers of Nigerian politics must have been shocked to wake up on Thursday to the ‘breaking news’ of Ezekwesili’s sudden withdrawal from the presidential race. Of the many candidates considered as potential options to ending the stranglehold of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) on power, there are three who were never going to step down. One is Kingsley Moghalu — because he is a technocrat, and technocrats usually arrive a race with their big egos, knowing they have answers, both practicable and illusory, to every question on the nation’s afflictions. The other two are Ezekwesili and Omoyele Sowore — because they’re activists.
By nature, activists are idealistic people. They’re on a permanent search for perfection that rarely exists; sometimes — just once in a blue moon — they succeed. But most times, they don’t. They are usually so consumed by their passion for a just and prosperous society that they focus on the end rather than the means to it; they usually concentrate all their attention on the prize, not the price. And that’s the one, perhaps only, 2019-election foible from which Ezekwesili cannot extricate herself.
Explains the ridiculousness of claims by Ganiyu Galadima, National Chairman of the ACPN and Ezekwesili’s then running mate, that she never wanted to be President but was only using the presidential ticket as a bargaining chip for the post of Finance Minister. Anyone who has followed Ezekwesili’s activism for a while should know that this can’t be true, neither can allegations of receiving millions of undeclared campaign funds in hard currency.
Since leaving office as Minister of Education in April 2007, Ezekwesili is privately known to have turned down ministerial offers from two presidents. She also has a track record of donating to charity, all funds accruing to her by virtue of her BringBackOurGirls activism. Ezekwesili is a philanthropist. Not just that, her philanthropy predates her political ambition. But this is hardly public knowledge because of her policy is to give without announcing it. Surely, Ezekwesili is not the kind of person to divert campaign funds. But all these don’t make her infallible, like every other human.
For instance, her exit was announced as solely motivated by the need to “focus on helping to build a veritable coalition to ensure a viable alternative to the #APCPDP in the forthcoming elections”. But that is not the full story. We didn’t know this before; but after Galadima’s press conference that ultimately culminated in the endorsement of President Muhammadu Buhari’s second-term bid, we now know that ACPN had indeed imploded.
We probably will never know the whole story, but we will know a bit more when Ezekwesili addresses her ‘world press conference’ later this week. Seeing how Galadima literally crawled to Ezekwesili in October 2018 to beg her to accept the party’s presidential ticket, and how he is suddenly emboldened to publicly ditch her for Buhari, there is no doubt that this has been a marriage of strange bedfellows.
There is no doubt that the original protagonists of ACPN are ideologically empty. Otherwise, there is no way a party that placed fourth in the 2015 presidential election and until last week prosecuted its campaign by first accentuating the flaws of the Buhari administration can suddenly rise to endorse the same administration. There is no doubt that the faces of ACPN were only hunting for their meal tickets. Incidentally, these are the same vices for which we blame the PDP and the APC. If for some reason ACPN found itself in power, wouldn’t we be dealing with the baggage of a President surrounded by an army of corrupt people, same thing we accuse Buhari of?
ACPN’s sudden implosion when it hasn’t even had a sniff of power weakens the hitherto sellable argument that breaking the PDP-APC hegemony is central to our progress as a nation. Perhaps a little probe into the other alternate parties may reveal some of the political shenanigans for which we loathe ‘APCPDP’ or their arrowheads ‘Butiku’, in Ezekwesili’s words. It may mean that while the idea of sacking PDP and APC is not entirely bad, it would be utopian to conclude that Nigeria would assume political sainthood once a fresh, supposedly untainted party comes to power. The ACPN’s implosion teaches us that the quality of our leadership cannot exceed the strength of the values that drive our individual lives. The search for Nigeria’s next crop of leaders will have to focus more on the individual rather than the party — because, as we have now seen, men of moral vacuity and ideological emptiness abound in our political space. It doesn’t matter whether the party is PDP, APC or ACPN.
Soyombo, former Editor of the TheCable and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), tweets @fisayosoyombo