Architect Ezekiel Nya-Etok is the founder of Nigeria First Project and former governorship aspirant, Akwa Ibom State. In this interview with MAKINDE OLUWAROTIMI, he speaks on the qualities required of a good national leader, among other issues.
Can you tell us about the Summit of the Alternatives (SOTA)? What is it all about?
Summit of the Alternatives (SOTA) was a summit of six of the key civil organisations, Enough is Enough (EiE), Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), BUDGIT, Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA) better known for the “Not Too Young to Run” bill, Red Card Movement (RCM), and of course, we have the “Nigeria First Project” (NFP), where I serve as DG.
SOTA is effectively a partnership between the above groups to start a paradigm shift in our mindset to the end that Leadership Recruitment is given prime consideration, where Character, Competence, and Capability are prime considerations in choosing our next set of leaders at all levels of governance. SOTA is about citizens framing the New Nigeria of our dream.
If we are to make meaningful progress in good governance, which we have done a lot of advocacies on, we need to come to a point where we get some actionable moves on the political scene.
So, we are coming together for the first time to: firstly, give Nigeria a leadership recruitment criteria (or profiling processes); secondly, to restructure the political parties by getting them together, giving them focus, instigating a viable coalition, and above all; thirdly, to implement the leadership recruitment processes by profiling, the presidential aspirants and ultimately presenting them to Nigerians.
What’s your passion and vision for 2019?
You will realise that out of about 70 million registered voters in 2015, only less than 30 million came out to vote. The other over 40 million either could not, or would not come out to vote. When I did our analysis, I realised that they were really upset that they had effectively just two people on the ballot and by their assessment, they were compelled to choose between bad and worse on the ballot, so they thought, ‘why do I bother myself’. Secondly, the integrity of the electoral processes was such that they had no confidence in it. We don’t want this to continue. The first thing that I did was to have a very good working relationship with INEC to ensure that we can have credible elections in 2019. You can see that there have been fundamental changes like ensuring that the card reader is institutionalised and legalised, thus removing the fraudulent incident forms. That’s one of the things we’ve achieved by working with INEC.
As votes now count, the politicians have come up with a second leg of vote buying. We are getting on top of this new evil, and for 2019, I can tell people, go register, because we are prepared for the vote buyers. My advice to people is that if you are sure that you are popular, loved, and wanted by your constituency, go and get involved in the political process because in 2019, Nigeria will have free, fair, credible elections. For the vote buying that almost made nonsense of the election in Ekiti recently, while we may not have perfected our anti votes buying mechanism for the Osun elections that is coming up, we cannot tell you that this would be completed before the 2019 general elections. From what we are doing, vote buying is something that many people will dread and run away from for 2019.
So what criteria are you using to bring out somebody that is reliable to be able to make Nigeria proud?
Generally we have the 3Cs, referring to “Character”, “Competence”, and “Capacity”. If you want a man to run a company, you are going to ask him several questions, “Do you have the prerequisite qualification and relevant experience?”
We must profile what sort of qualifications we will need for the office of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Though the constitution allows for the basic, the task of the various offices definitely demands more, and by choice, we need to be responsible in the exercise of our choices in recruitment processes. We are going to give the office of the president the definition and respect that it deserves, the clout that it ought to be given, and the level of seriousness that makes it imperative that you have a competent hand handling it. We are going to let people understand the weight and responsibility of the office of the president. The same goes for the governor, state and National Assemblies.
When we finish the profiling, talking in terms of Character, which has to do with your integrity, morals, ethics, disposition to justice and do-rightness, values, and sense of fairness, then we consider Competence, which has to with qualification, and relative knowledge and exposure. Capacity is generally more encompassing. It goes into area of your physical fitness and health disposition. You may be competent by way of academic qualification but your health status might pose a challenge for the demands of the office on account of the rigours of that office. It may require somebody that can work 18 of the 24 hours of the day. Because of the peculiar situation we are in, in Nigeria, we are on a rescue mission. So, we need somebody that is extremely fit psychologically, mentally, physically, and otherwise.
We are talking about the Presidency, what about other positions like the governorship, senatorial etc?
Yes, we are taking the elective offices holistically. In strategy, when you spread yourself thin, you end up achieving nothing. We are starting from the top, to end it right down to the grassroots. We going down to the states, the wards, to the polling units, to all the nooks and crannies of this country. People are translating our core values into all Nigerian languages so that we propagate them not in English but in local languages as we are going right down to the villages. We want to ensure that our message gets down to the lowest and remote parts of this country. The notion that Nigeria is not yet developed to the extent of dealing with politics of issues, to me, is an insult on Nigerians. This is why I have great respect for people of vision like the Emir of Kano, His Royal Highness Emir Sanusi, because when he was the CBN governor, and wanted us to go cashless, so many people objected to it. ‘Oh we are not developed enough, we can’t do it, it is not possible’. Fortunately, he refused to buy that. He said look that is the way of the future. If we are going to match those that we should be contemporary with, we need to start doing what is right. And he went ahead. Today, everybody is using their ATM Cards in the villages. Nigerians are not as dumb as many want us to believe, often out of selfish motives and not genuine concern. It’s usually just a tool of convenience in the hands of politicians who are afraid of light being pointed in their direction. I think the time has come when Nigeria must be liberated because enough finally is enough.
How do you intend to secure the vote opinions of Nigerians.
There are two things; the very first is that people don’t know that money is not everything. I ask this question again, like I have asked several times before. The incumbent president has contested election three times before now. Each time, he was reputed to always have 10 million votes. He is also said to be a man of integrity who does not give money. The question is, where did he get the 10 million or 12 million votes? He got it from people. What did he give to the people? He gave them something, he gave them hope. He said if I get to be the president, “your life will change”. Now, there was a time in Nigeria, talk about ‘June 12’, when we had two Muslims on the presidential ticket, Muslim-Muslim ticket, which sounds almost impossible. For what should be sure failure, that man won landslide in this country, talking about, Chief MKO Abiola of blessed memory. What did he give Nigeria? He gave Hope. Hope is that currency that never expires. It’s the highest currency because everything we crave or acquire is to satisfy our hope of a good life. If anybody can give you that hope of a good life, he’s got you. Let me demystify this more a little bit, “A woman gets to the polling unit and she is to choose between nothing and four thousand or even one thousand naira, she picks 1000 and goes. But if that woman goes to the poll and she’s to choose between N10, 000 and hope for a good future, she will leave that N10,000 and go for hope of a good future. Nigerians are not as dumb, are not as stupid, it’s because in the past, they had no choices. Again, they said, look, even if we vote for this good man, they will not allow him to win. We are also going to burst that myth because we are going to show capacity at the highest level, we are going to put our money where our mouth is. What we’ve worked out to do in SOTA is mind boggling, almost unimaginable.
A political analyst ones said that the major problem of Nigeria is it does not have a vision. What do you have to say about this?
It is one of the fundamental problems that we have. We don’t have a defined national vision. We must appreciate the imperative of an articulated national vision, which presents hope based on sound fundamentals of excellence and meritocracy, vision, and justice to enhance our common good, and capture the essence of government, which must ensure the security and welfare of the people.
Can you tell us the relationship between Nigeria First Project and SOTA?
The Nigeria First Project (NFP) is a partner of the SOTA initiative. In NFP, we are primarily concerned about good governance and leadership recruitment in particular. In SOTA, we’ve been able to articulate the primary concept of Nigeria First, which is leadership recruitment, and has been adopted by all the partners who incidentally had similar agenda. I will rather say that time has come when several organisations, sharing a common vision about having good governance, a country that works, common belief in Nigeria, in the potentials that we have, to define the tool to profile leadership, have come together to build the Nigeria of our dream.
Some years back you contested for governorship of Akwa Ibom State. Are you planning to run this time?
That is an interesting question; yes I did contest the primaries in the PDP in 2007. After that, I took a backseat. In 2010, I resigned my membership from PDP and became non-partisan. In 2014/15, I saw the need for me to bring my ideals to bear on what party should be like after I had left the PDP. By the grace of God, I co-founded the Young Democratic Party (YDP), where I served as the Pioneer National Chairman.
Now, to whether I will contest again. I really wish I can give an emphatic answer, but it seems the burden at the national is very heavy on my shoulders. I really desire to go to my state and start a process of implementing some of the ideals that we have on how a state should be run, how a governor of a state should not be a monarch but a chief executive, how some of the paraphernalia of office and distraction should be cut. The wastage in government houses should give way to more sober lifestyle by governors, lifestyle that reflects the mood of the people that he is governing. I think it is inhuman that you have people rated as the poorest in the whole world and their leaders are flying in private jets, living in mansions and eating like gluttons. I think it is wrong, I think it’s immoral and immodest, it is not visionary. I think somebody has to come down and redefine the paradigm of governance. Somebody has to come down and do things in saner manner. For instance, no commissioner should be a political leader because the cabinet is the engine room of the government and the people there should have no distraction. A situation where like, in my state, by 5.00am people are lining up to see the commissioner and then he attends to people till mid-day and leaves his house to office where there is another large crowd of people waiting and those are all political beggars, executive beggars and he has to attend to them till night and at night he moves on again to some political meetings. What time does he have to continue with the exco memos and governance demands? What will be the quality of the memos?
And without the charged exco that you can literally see steam coming from the nose and the ears of the people because of how the brain is charged. What comes out of such excos? Absolutely nothing. They become rubber stamp for the governor. Excos where commissioners are no less than protocol assistants of the governor, if the governor want to come back from Abuja, while the governor is trying to have his bath, the people are waiting at the airport to receive him, as if they are protocol officers, instead of working in their offices, excos where if the governor has a guest, the entire visitors come to visit them, the governor and every commissioner and special advisers are there to receive the visitor as a routine. This doesn’t make sense, and for good governance, it doesn’t show seriousness.
A system where the governor runs round with large convoy, all of them are fueled by money that is not there to pay salaries and other priority needs of the people. These are wrong. Somebody has to stop all that nonsense. We must to come to a point where the governor is another human being that is just privileged to be there, a man who does have level of security, yes, but not the obscene. And besides, in today’s world, security is not the numBer of vehicles in your convoy.
I had hoped that I will be able to go back to my people and offer that but it seems the national is having a strong pool on me, but if it pleases God that there may be a change. I am a servant, I have a master, if my boss says move, my question is, “when Sir?”
I will rather get moved by the directives of God, and not get driven by what could be inordinate ambition. I have a very strong pull to get involved and in the next few weeks, I will be sure of the position of my Boss!