by Adeyemi Onafuye
“I don’t have any political arsenal… I have a caring heart, I have the character, I have the competence and the capacity…” – Oby Ezekwesili
Kindness and empathy towards the needs of others are characteristics that the Nigerian political elite class lack. They cannot be bothered about the significant impact of their actions and inactions on the lives of over 180 million people. That is why a National Security Adviser under President Goodluck Jonathan was comfortable diverting most of the funds allocated to fighting terrorism, and channeling it to finance elections. He did this at a time when Boko Haram was ravishing North-East Nigeria. Lack of empathy is also the reason a governor will spend millions erecting a statue of former South African president Jacob Zuma in his state. Of all the priorities competing for the limited resources of the State, he settled on a statue of Jacob Zuma. The list of bad decisions motivated by greed and plain wickedness is endless. It is a story Nigerians are familiar with.
Coincidentally, kindness and empathy are some of the most striking qualities of Oby Ezekwesili, the presidential candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN). I know this personally and I have decided to share this knowledge to help voters understand that the tough Madam Due Process is nothing more than a kind woman who has made a career of putting herself in the shoes of the down-trodden and vulnerable, and speaking up for those with no voice.
My mother told the story of how we came to know Oby Ezekwesili. It was on a Sunday, in Abuja. Our family had moved into the capital city a few weeks before then because my dad was transferred to work there. As religious folks, my mom and dad decided to go to Church that Sunday, and knowing no Church in town, asked their Cab driver to take them to the closest church around. He drove them to a parish of The Redeemed Christian Church of God pastored by Chinedu Ezekwesili, Oby’s husband.
There was a celebration going on in the Church that day for Oby, a send forth celebration as she was headed to the World Bank to become one of its Vice Presidents. Like many Nigerians cynical of the political elite class, my parents sighed through most of the service, remarking that the Church now celebrated corruption and making mental decisions never to show up in that parish again. But at the end of the service, the team in charge of welcoming first-time attendees was warm and closely followed up with my parents. My dad was battling cancer at the time so the words of encouragement from these folks meant a lot to him and my mom who had the burden of being his primary caregiver.
A few days later, my parents got a phone call. The caller’s first words were “My name is Chinedu.” It was the Pastor. They were surprised to hear from him, but even more surprised when they learnt that Oby was also on the call. This was not the type of behavior they would attribute to a government minister in Nigeria, calling to thank them for coming to church and encouraging my dad about his health. But my parents knew for a fact that these ones were different when my dad had a crisis a few days later and Pastor Chinedu visited him in the hospital and mobilized his church members to donate blood for him. Although Oby was in Washington by then, she spoke with my parents over the phone. And they remained with us throughout that ordeal, even after my dad died. They helped us get integrated into Abuja, and provided a lot of the advice and encouragement my mother needed to lead a family of four children by herself in an environment that was unfamiliar and with a hostile extended family. And it was not financial support, we were doing okay for money, it was rather human kindness, they let my mom know that she would not have to do widowhood alone. If she needed advice, the Ezekwesili family was a phone call away and they will move mountains to get her the help she needed, even though she was not remotely related to them. They put themselves in the shoes of a stranger and assisted her because they are kind and they have human empathy.
This is why Oby’s involvement in the #BringBackOurGirls movement did not come as a surprise to me, and I pardoned everyone who said she was politically motivated as being ignorant of her person. It is understandable to be suspicious of such show of empathy from a member of Nigeria’s elite class. It is a rarity among them.
From attending the Church, we became aware that kindness was merely daily living for Pastor Chinedu and Oby Ezekwesili. It was even obvious in the Church’s initiatives. One was called Tabitha’s Tent, one of Abuja’s largest gift-giving events. It was a yard sale, except that the items were free. Church members would donate clothes, household furniture and even old cars and people would come from all around Abuja to simply pick items they needed. It was plain kindness. From medical care to employment, to school fees, to accommodation, we watched the Ezekwesilis help people, till it became expected of them. None of these was in the news, and they did not brand themselves “philanthropists” in their bios, they just did kindness and demonstrated empathy.
Nigeria can use their kindness. The way I see it, the Presidency will only be an opportunity for Oby Ezekwesili to scale kindness and empathy. Like she said during a recent interview: “I don’t need the title of president, I simply am on a rescue mission. It’s a project to rescue Nigeria.” Oby is in this race for the people of Nigeria and not to amass wealth and power. This is exactly the type of leadership our country has been deprived of, the type motivated by kindness and empathy, the type that would walk in the shoes of the 80 million Nigerians living in poverty, the 13.5 million Nigerian children who are out-of-school, the many small and medium scale entrepreneurs who are fighting against the odds of poor infrastructure to survive, and the unemployed Nigerian youths. She is familiar with kindness and empathy, and more importantly with mobilizing people and resources to act to solve human problems. Added to that is her brilliance, integrity and track record of performance.
I stand with Oby.
I encourage you to do the same. Fight for Nigeria.