2023 presidency: Era of ideas not big names – Ekechi

All Progressives Congress, ex-director, Presidential Campaign Council on Election (Planning and Monitoring) and member North East Development Commission board, Dr Theodore Ekechi, says ideas not big names will drive the battle for the 2023 presidential ticket. EMEKA NZE brings excerpts of this and other sundry comments.

The federal government has applied almost all your suggestions on tackling COVID-19 pandemic, what is the way forward in the context of the gradual easing of movement in the country?

You may recall that as early as March, 2020, when only one case of the coronavirus was reported in the country, I raised the alarm of an impending catastrophe if we did not proactively prepare for the looming danger given our own peculiar socio-cultural, political, economic and demographic circumstance and experience. My proposition was to shut down all schools – primary to tertiary – including the NYSC, ban all public gatherings of 20 people and above including worships at churches and Mosques, crusades, rallies of all kinds, birthday parties, burials, etc. I also called for a ban on all non-essential government sponsored activities like seminars, workshops, etc.

The Nigerian people’s support for the measures waned too quickly and it was not too long that the people brought a lot of pressure and blackmail to bear on the Presidential Task Force leading to a hasty easing of the lockdown. What came to pass were all my predicted fears of a pandemic that would overwhelm us, undermine and expose our mediocre medicare infrastructure.

The spike and spread in the COVID-19 cases within and across the states are clear proof that we should have endured the entire gamut of the lockdown a bit longer. When I raised the alarm, not a few Nigerians including the ‘experts’ believed we would be counting our losses in tens of thousands within a few months with the imminence of a far worse scenario. I have since been vindicated. If only we had acted a bit earlier and lasted longer.

Going forward, the greatest threat to the pandemic in Nigeria today, is not the paucity of testing/diagnosing facilities, nor the wider, shameful decayed medicare infrastructure, but the passiveness and nonchalance, sometimes bellicose disposition of the citizenry towards all government programmes meant for their safety. This pandemic has revealed and deepened the traditional wide gap between the government and the governed.

There is so much mistrust that government programmes and efforts are misrepresented willingly and willfully to the point that citizens believe it is civil to resist them. More worrisome is the class and calibre of the citizenry who till date believe that either COVID-19 does not exist or that it is a disease of the political elite who are being punished for the many years of squandering the riches of Nigeria.

Would you advise a new focus in the fight against the pandemic?

We sure need a new perspective, a new focus but not necessarily a paradigm shift.  Pari passu with the ongoing medical interventions, governments have to do more to bridge the government-people dichotomy: build trust and achieve citizens buy-ins otherwise the whole efforts at tackling COVID-19 will continue to be less effective.

Why do you think people are not obeying the social distancing rule? Why do you think that people are still going about their businesses without face masks? Why are people attending gatherings of enormous proportions in spite of the numerous warnings from the government? You will be shocked that even in our hospitals – major state owned hospitals at that, it is business as usual. Could it be that Nigerians are not happy with being alive or do not love their lives? No, this is simply civil disobedience to government programmes that are thought to be in the interest of “government people” – the high profile politicians.

Government must consider a new, comprehensive strategic communication to align the citizenry with the COVID 19 reality. Ubiquitous fake news, baseless theories with wild claims of origin, cause and purpose of the virus have pervaded the social media space. This has been far unmatched by good intentioned government efforts. There is an urgent need to change the narratives because without the cooperation and support of the people the COVID-19 containment exercise is in vain. The looming danger ahead of this COVID-19 pandemic has not really dawned on the Nigerian people. Until it does, we will still be grappling death in the dark. Once again, a stitch in time saves nine.

Some say the mutual suspicion between the North and South is causing a setback to national development?

One of the major accidents of Nigeria’s chequered history remains the coup and counter coup of 1966. There might have been mutual suspicions earlier but it was the perceptions and interpretations of the coups of 1966 that was to define tribe and race in a meaning that is peculiar to our country. The military used it to rationalize their incursion into government while politicians latch on it as a tool and mechanism of attaining power. Now it manifests as a mutual North-South phobia that exerts enormous influence in the distribution of human and material resources. Any society that fails to distribute, apportion or deploy its resources on the basis of true need, use and capacity will, no doubt, continue to hurt its national development goals.

What can be done to mitigate this problem?

Thus, the fallout of the twin coup has continued to haunt us till date and is not likely to abate unless there is a massive revolution that will reverse the people’s psyche. I mean an idea revolution which can only be achieved when an untainted model gets into power and presides with the people, and who by his actions and inactions will naturally spur the citizens to embrace the Nigerian nationhood. This will mark a pivotal departure from love for the country to love for the nation.

Experience has clearly shown that the cleanliness of a leader alone is not enough to instill confidence in the people. Anybody who is directly associated with a leading leader must also be clean and should be subjected to the same protocols and tests of selfless service. The mutual suspicion between the North and South is simply a crisis of confidence that can only be addressed by an assurance of confidence.

Is the agitation for Igbo president a ruse or reality?  

It is neither a ruse nor a reality. It is a plausible possibility. What I find detestable is the thinking in some quarters that the presidency would be handed over to the Igbos on a platter of gold. Those who propagate this mentality consider the Igbo political class as political orphans who should be given power out of pity. This is both unfortunate and illogical. Even in real life, no orphan gets a fair share of the commonwealth without a convincing ‘fight’.

In spite of what you may consider to be our disadvantaged political stature, it is important we play the appropriate politics so befitting of the circumstances for us to excel. I must say this commitment to fight is both a personal challenge and a communal responsibility.  Those who wish to become Igbo president or who crave for an Igbo president should rise and work the talk.

The race to the presidency is daunting, costly and long distance. It is a huge risky investment which only those who dare may win. It is only when two equities are perceived to be equal that the first in time may prevail. The argument of morality, equity and good conscience can only be on the side of the Igbo man who shows courage and conviction.

But 2023 is not the era of big names with long, convoluted political history. Instead, 2023 is the era of ideas, statesmanship, integrity and above all unassailable character. It is an era of the untainted virgin: In fact, whether Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa, only those who can convince Nigerians of their trusts, will be entrusted with power.

Leadership deficit is allegedly responsible for the ethnic and religious divide that has become the unfortunate determinant of our national politics. Do you agree?

No doubt. That would have been the ideal scenario. But the damage has been done and it would appear to me that the trauma of the damage can only be healed if all parts of the country could be allowed to test power even for shorter durations compared to what the north and west have enjoyed. It is only after this we can truly and sincerely talk of politics without ethnic or religious connotations. June 12 would have brought us to the end of politics of religious sentiment but the powers that be torpedoed what would have been Nigeria’s finest political moments. 

The APC was recently dissolved by the NEC. What does this portend for the party?

In the last days of the National Working Committee, it was obvious even to the layman that the party became pregnant with many life-threatening complications. Things were falling apart and the centre certainly could not hold. The surgical team led by the party’s surgeon general opted for the only option of aborting the pregnancy. It was in my opinion a case of aborting the child to save the mother. It is no victor, no vanquished.

Perhaps, the only winner is the party. By December, a new leadership would be ushered in. Would the new team learn to respect and tolerate dissent? A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Kingdoms will rise and kingdoms will also fall. With President Buhari completing his second term and ineligible to run in 2023, the brand equity of APC is already suspect. It will be worsened by any further in-fighting. A factionalised APC presidential ticket may worth nothing after all. Let those who have ears hear.

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