The Stranded Squirrels In Ezekwesili’s Party Azu Ishiekwene

I didn’t notice the squirrel until later. The Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN) actually has a squirrel as its logo, but I didn’t make out the silhouette until the leadership of the party showed its furry hand last week.

The founders of the party may have been thinking of an easily recongisable symbol when they chose the squirrel, but the party’s mascot is living up to it name. The squirrel is born toothless, blind and naked but transforms later in life to become one of the most capricious in the animal kingdom. 

As I watched the video of ACPN Chairman Abdulganiyu Galadima attacking the party’s former presidential candidate, Oby Ezekwesili, I saw the spirit of the squirrel in full play. 

Galadima did not wait for Ezekwesili to finish stepping down before he lined up members of his executive – the gang of four – to push her over the cliff. According to him, the party was tired of a presidential candidate who had not provided any evidence of how she would implement her programmes. She also had no “posters” or “billboards” only weeks to the election.

I still can’t figure out how Ezekwesili ended up in the same corner with these folks. Something is wrong with a party chairman who thinks it’s the sole business of its candidate to write the party’s manifesto, share the message and determine how it would be implemented. Didn’t the party file a manifesto with INEC?

Something is wrong with a party chairman who thinks that the poster is still a valuable campaign tool in 2019, when young people make up over 50 per cent of registered voters. Something is definitely wrong with a party chairman who makes reckless accusations against his own candidate without first exhausting the party’s internal mechanisms, and more important, hearing from the other side. 

How did Ezekwesili end up with these folks?

Galadima’s insinuation that Ezekwesili was running a one-woman show or that she wanted to use the party to negotiate a ministerial job was ridiculous, yet it was not even the worst manifestation of the squirrel spirit in the party. It was the party’s decision to announce, at the same press conference where it pushed its own candidate over the edge, that it was now backing the second-term bid of President Muhammadu Buhari, that rubbed salt in the public’s wound. That was the party’s lowest watermark.

It really doesn’t matter if ACPN decides to support Ishola Oyenusi Party of Nigeria – that is the party’s business and choice. What exposes the capriciousness of the squirrels in the party is their lack of decency. Why endorse another candidate even before hundreds of your members, volunteers and followers have had time to digest exactly why your presidential candidate is stepping down and what went wrong?

The tardiness was not an afterthought; it was mischief on stilts. Multiple sources indicated to me that the general impression among the party top brass when ACPN adopted Ezekwesili as its presidential candidate, was that she would use her considerable international clout to raise money for the party. Not just money, but truckloads of it from far and wide and in the world’s most durable currencies.

That expectation contradicts what Ezekwesili has stood for all her life and she wasn’t about to change her values after making a single-minded commitment to work with her party to disrupt the old, rotten order. 

But party dinosaurs would have none of it. They kept pressing her to call Hilary Clinton, call Michelle Obama, call Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, and to call Paul Kagame for money. These squirrels may have been born blind, toothless and naked, but their instinctive smell of money was formed long before all the other senses.

When pressure on Ezekwesili to find the money was not yielding fruit and instead she decided to crowd-fund her campaign and call for volunteers, the party honchos went mad. They would not listen to the argument that you cannot use corruption to disrupt corruption or enlist moneybags on your campaign and expect to run a decent government, if elected.

The Galadimas of the ACPN are too used to the old order to understand the d-word, much less the meaning of disruption. They decided to throw Ezekwesili under the bus for refusing to give them her back for a ride. 

Beneath the self-indicting accusation of incompetent campaign and dodgy party finances, desperation for money was the real motive for the shameful way the ACPN leadership treated its presidential candidate. With less than three weeks to election and Ezekwesili still adamant that she would neither be the party’s moneymaking machine nor its shakedown artist, the fellows couldn’t wait to dump her and jump on the gravy train. 

They could not – and will not – in a million years see the modest changes she has brought to Nigeria’s political campaign history. When Ezekwesili joined the party last year, it was virtually dead. She attracted a team of young professionals, with a passion, dedication and commitment to public life that soon made the public to begin to notice the silhouette of the squirrel in the party’s logo.

Ezekwesili may not be the first woman to campaign for the office of Nigeria’s president, but she’s the first to drive home the urgency of lifting at least 80 million Nigerians out of poverty and laying out her plan with the clarity and presence of mind that forced many to take note.

Her campaign style was also different. She went to market shops, knocked on doors and met ordinary people on the streets and in their homes. She looked out for and spoke to the needs of the weak and vulnerable, as she listened to them. 

I’m told that on several occasions when ordinary people asked her pointedly for money, she responded that she was not in politics to share money but to help citizens find purpose and meaning. What difference has selling votes for between N1,000 and N10,000 tucked inside a slice of bread made to our lives in the last 20 years?

We will never know the hundreds of thousands who not only decided to register but also decided they would be voting, perhaps for the first time, just because Ezekwesili joined the race.

Thanks to Ezekwesili and the courageous, younger generation still the race, more and more young people have seen that it is possible to cultivate and deepen the spirit of volunteering, service and citizenship.

Galadima and his gang of four have their own reasons for being in politics, which may have nothing to do with disrupting the present system, as Ezekwesili erroneously thought. The party has been in the wilderness after Gbemisola Saraki passed it on to Galadima in 2011. The priority has been to find the crumbs at the table of any government in power, not to make any meaningful difference. 

At the height of the feud between Olusola Saraki and his son, Bukola, the old man formed the ACPN to teach his son a lesson but ended up with the short end of the stick after Bukola’s candidate, Abdulfatah Ahmed, defeated Gbemisola for the Kwara governorship. Bukola’s army crushed not only his father and his sister; it also vanquished the party, with its ghost occasionally showing up in Ondo and Ogun States.

With Ezekwesili out of their way, and the prospects of another four years on empty stomach too hard to bear, the stranded squirrels may now roam free, scavenging for nuts wherever they may be found.

But they didn’t need to throw mud for a place at the table. Galadima and the gang of four should have had the decency to let the dust from the exit of their candidate settle first before disgracing themselves publicly. 

I guess that’s too much to ask of squirrels desperate to survive another long harmattan.

Ishiekwene is the Managing Director/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview and member of the board of the Global Editors Network


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