Change gladiators part 3
OBIAGELI EZEKWESILI: THE FREEDOM FIGHTER!
“But thus saith the LORD, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away… for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children.”-Isaiah 49:25
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
One of the greatest warlords that have ever walked the face of the earth, Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “The world suffers a lot, not because of the violence of bad people, but because of the silence of good people”. Most times God doesn’t change the situation; He changes us for the situation, because it is only changed people that can change the world. The world encroaches on our sanity the moment we begin to lose our sensitivity to injustice. While people that are supposed to be the custodians of the hope and security of others have grown numb to the suffering of the citizenry, one woman has decided to take full responsibility of the plight of the forgotten Chibok girls in the hands of their ‘mighty’ captors, the seemingly elusive and invincible Boko Haram gang.
It is even more sympathetic and poignant to know that the monies assigned to procure Military gadgets and equipment to checkmate and curtail the marauding surge of the nasty gang were embezzled in high places with unprecedented impunity; an impunity that has evolved into the study of a degenerated form of uncivilized stealing that is now known by the hashtag, #Dasukigate. The calibre of people involved in this act of demented sabotage has revealed further that Nigeria has over the years been ruled by the enemies of state.
While many of our so called leaders have come over the years to steal, kill and destroy; a role that is similar to that of the devil, one woman has stood her ground in the fight against injustice and social misdemeanours. She has been a crusader of ethical orientation and structural changes in a country that has been permeated with systemic corruption, an epitome of unblemished virtue in a country where corruption exists even among saints!
Life is full of stories of great women that fought gallantly for the emancipation and freedom of the oppressed; women like Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her passion for the downtrodden, Rosa Parks and her revolutionary courage against black segregation, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and her relentless fight for women suffrage, but the one whom Oby Ezekwesili bear a similar resemblance to in terms of vigorous advocacy is Mary Slessor of blessed memory. Mary Mitchell Slessor, born at Aberdeen in Scotland on September 2, 1848, died at USE, Calabar, Nigeria on January 13, 1915. Mary Slessor was famous for putting a stop to the killing of twins in the Southern protectorate of Nigeria during the colonial era of the late 1800s.
Mary Slessor gave her life to Christ and became strongly interested in mission work while in Scotland. She was inspired by the works of another great Scottish missionary, David Livingstone but her legacies surpassed that of her mentor. When she was 27, she heard that David Livingstone; the famous missionary and explorer to Africa had died and decided whole-heartedly to follow in his footsteps.
She was assigned to the Calabar region of Nigeria and warned about the people there who believed in witchcraft and other superstition and ultimately the ritual sacrifice of children – twins in particular. Despite being the first European to step her foot in the region of West Africa and all the horrible news she had heard, she was determined to make a change to the existing situation and remained undaunted.
As a young missionary, she witnessed human sacrifice, lack of education, lack of status for women. The birth of twins was considered an evil curse, Calabar people believing that the father was an evil spirit and the mother was guilty of a great sin. Despite Mary’s illness and constant danger she was exposed to, she lived with the tribes, learnt their language and respected their traditions. Beyond evangelism, she spent time settling disputes, encouraging trade, establishing social changes and even introducing western education.
Mary Slessor also took in outcasts and worked tirelessly to protect children especially twins. Amazingly, she successfully fought against witchcraft, superstition and the evil practice of killing twins at infancy. Slessor made a giant change in Calabar despite her constant and overwhelming challenges. Slessor died in 1915 at the age of 66 with great mourning amongst the tribes to whom she had dedicated over 38years of her life to. The global significance of the work of Mary Slessor was underscored by the visit of Queen Elizabeth the second to her tomb in Calabar when she visited Nigeria in 1956. Her name still rings a bell not only in Calabar and Nigeria but also in her native country, Scotland. The authorities in Scotland, in recognition of her missionary work, put her image on Clydesdale Bank’s £10 note in 1997 to replace the image of her mentor, Livingstone.
She became the only non-Royal female to feature on a currency note. Mary lives on in Calabar having streets, hospitals and an effigy depicting her carrying a set of twins conspicuously built on a roundabout all in Calabar. Mary Slessor was indeed the “white mother” of the darkest Africa; the true ‘goddess’ of Nigerian twins!
On the night of 14th April, 2014. 276 female students were kidnapped from the Government Secondary School in the town of Chibok in Borno State, Nigeria. Responsibility for the kidnappings was claimed by Boko Haram, an extremist and terrorist organization based in north-eastern Nigeria. A few of the schoolgirls managed to escape and some have described their capture in appearances at international human rights conferences. #BringBackOurGirls is an advocacy group that emerged in April 30th, 2014, after the abduction of the 276 schoolgirls.
The group was created to bring the world’s attention to the dastard act and also to keep the missing girls on the news radar; the group has relentlessly campaigned for the release of the Chibok girls. As I was writing this piece, I was perusing through the website home page of the #BringBackOurGirls group and I was struck by the counter that has been counting relentlessly. I saw 708 days 11hrs 30minutes and 50 seconds, and today will be ‘712 days’ that these precious girls have been under isolation, detention or even worse, abuse! The front runner of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, Obiageli Ezekwesili is a woman of value, valour and vigour. An ‘avatar’ and champion of social justice for the oppressed.
The lackadaisical handling of the issue of the abducted Chibok girls by the previous government fired up Ezekwesili to raise an ‘army’ of civil citizens. The campaign went viral on social media thereby inspiring a coalition of like-minded individuals all around the globe. Amnesty International and UNICEF have backed the campaign as well as world leaders. Where so many groups and people have waned and lost steam in their campaign on the return of the girls, one voice has refused to dwindle with time. International personalities and celebrities like Michelle Obama, Hilary Clinton, Malala Yousafzai, Justin Timberlake, Wyclef Jean,Chris Brown, Alicia Keys, Puff Daddy and the like of others unified resolutely to clamour for the release of the abducted school girls.
Oby Ezekwesili was once the vice-president of the World Bank’s Africa division, a position she held from May 2007 to May 2012. She used her office to relentlessly campaign against corruption and to strongly support the need for greater social accountability coupled with the promotion of regional integration. She was also a co-founder of Transparency International, serving as one of the pioneer directors of the global anti-Corruption body based in Berlin, Germany.
Her foray into sanitizing the Nigerian system started off as the pioneer head of the budget and price intelligence unit where she led a team of professionals in bringing ‘due process’ to the way procuring and contracting were being carried out at the federal level. Her gallant and painstaking way of scrutinizing the release of public funds and tax payers’ money was able to redeem the nation from plundering at federal level.
It also helped establish credibility for the country’s anti-corruption drive. She created the system of major contract prices review that saved Nigeria billions of dollars between 2001 and 2005. Indeed, Mallam Adamu Ciroma, then finance minister gave Oby the title “Madam Due Process” which stuck. She was appointed Minister of Solid Minerals (Mines and Steel) in June 2005 during which time she led a vibrant reform program that led to Nigeria’s global recognition as a credible mining investment destination.
In June 2006, Ezekwesili was appointed the Federal Minister of Education, holding this post until she took up her World Bank appointment in May 2007. In March 2014, she delivered a keynote speech at the national summit of the all progressive congress (APC) and lashed out on some political fugitives that had migrated to the then opposition party in other to satiate their garrulous political appetite and not necessarily for the interest of the populace.
She bluntly shocked her audience when she said, “the leadership that will serve above self is not yet in your party manifesto”.
I want to reach out to Nigerians all over the world, we must renew and re-fire our commitment to bringing back the Chibok girls . Yoggi Berra once said, “It is not over until it is over”, Oby has shown us a more resilient form of this great quote through her tenacity to the dream of bringing back the Chibok girls, and that is: “It is not over until you win!” And to the Nigerian youths I want us to emulate the exemplary life of our dear Oby Ezekwesili ; always stand up for what is right even if you have to stand alone. Finally,I want to use this platform to reach out to President Muhammadu Buhari, we are sincerely pleading that you redeem your pledge on the Chibok girls.
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