Centenarian High Chief Josephine Ezeanyaeche, who recently declared her ambition to become Nigeria’s President in 2023, speaks to IKENNA OBIANERI about her motivation and strategy
Please tell us about yourself.
My name is High Chief Josephine Ezeanyaeche. I am from Akukwa Village, Ubukwu, Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State and I am the Ezinne Gburugburu of Akukwa Ngo, Igbo-Ukwu. I am also the Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Voice of the Senior Citizens of Nigeria. I am 102 years old. I attended grammar school in those days – what you people call secondary school now – before going abroad for further studies. I am an activist, both abroad and home. I am a great great grandmother. I am a widow.
How was your growing up like?
Growing up was full of discipline in those days, we were taught hard work. We were taught morals and our hands were given out in marriage very early in life. My father was a chief warder in the old Bendel State. My mother was a businesswoman.
Recently, you declared interest in becoming Nigeria’s President. Why do you consider yourself suitable for the job?
All my life, I have lived a life of service and offering humanitarian aid. I have travelled far and wide and garnered enough experience to lead a nation. I have spent my life mostly abroad and I have seen the countries that are flying high and I have seen countries that are facing challenges, especially corruption. And I have seen my own country, Nigeria, going from bad to worse and I have decided to rise up to the occasion because this country needs to be salvaged by all means before it becomes irredeemable and we, the senior citizens, cannot continue to fold our arms. We need to return Nigeria to the country of our dreams. I have seen people suffer, I have seen people lose their lives needlessly due to insecurity, I have seen people going to bed without eating and I have seen our young ones roaming the streets in search of employment.
I have seen people who do not have hope in sight and I have seen people committing suicide today more than during our own time. In fact, during our own time, you could not see people thinking of anything that would make them commit suicide, but today, it has become a common phenomenon.
I have seen the health care system in the country gone down to nothing; I have seen factories closing down with many having no jobs. I have seen people taking flights to other countries to access health care system. I have seen our children die in the desert and in the ocean because they were looking for greener pastures.
So, I said to myself, I can do better than our recent leaders. However, that has not always been my intention. But having waited up till today and seeing that people are just being recycled over and over again within the same government, as if there are no other people in this country of 200 million people who can equally do the job and even better, (I have decided to come out); more so because as a matter of fact 50 per cent, if not 90 per cent, of the people being recycled in government are well-known as corrupt individuals.
I have watched our young men and women, who I know that if they are given the platform, they will not only perform but clearly outperform the current people in leadership circles today; they would use their creative energies to transform Nigeria and in no time, Nigeria would be resurrected to start competing with the successful countries around the world.
In terms of human and capital development, Nigeria has gone down. Nigerians are suffering while the wealth of the nation is circulating in the hands of very few people. So, we need a leader who can be creative, a no-nonsense leader who can think out of the box to give the country the kind of leadership it deserves.
I am coming out now because the younger ones are not ready to come out and I don’t know why they are afraid, especially those ones from the South-East.
In my recent media interview, I talked about the issue and why the younger ones are afraid of coming out. And I did not see our young men and women declaring interest. Although, I am seeing one or two coming out, they are not coming out like a lion; they are coming out as if they are afraid. So, there is no reason for us not to come out – men and women – to challenge the recycling going on in the polity.
You know power is not given, even in those days; you must come out to get it. And I am saying to them, if they are not ready to come out, I have already shown my interest to come out. My posters, very soon, will flood everywhere. I believe the whole world will vote for me, not only Nigerians, if they have a way of voting. I will not be afraid in a country that I joined others to build, and trust me, I have made my own contribution in the building of this nation and I can’t be afraid of anything.
There are a lot of people who were not born here but they are contesting and winning elections. How much me, who was born here? This country needs somebody who has integrity, knowledge and understanding of the peculiarities and challenges of this country. I am a critical stakeholder in this country and nature will blame me if I continue to look the other way while the current politicians we have now destroy things.
Look at our currency, it has no value in reality and you want me to keep quiet when obviously there are a lot I can do to help salvage the situation.
The youths of this country are afraid to take the bull by the horns and I don’t know why it is so, especially the youths from the South-East.
Presidential electioneering campaign involves heavy spending. How do you hope to raise such money?
Take it or leave it, once Nigerians see somebody like me, they will want to identify with me, and my plans are working already because
Nigerians and people all over the world are saying, “Yes, come out; we will sponsor your campaigns.” Since my declaration was made public, many people have called, they have asked me to put out my bank account details so that they can deposit money. But I am not a worshipper of money, I want Nigerians to buy into and claim ownership of my government. I want Nigerians to buy into this project and be in charge of the government that will come out of this.
Don’t you think that when you allow people to sponsor your campaign, they will force you to do things their own way or have undue influence on your government?
The people will not lead me into the ocean; they can only tell me that they need factories to be built; they need the currency to be strengthened; they need security, they need employment. These are the things the Nigerian people want. I am a versatile person; I have founded so many groups with people that cut across various ethnic groups. I have done well to show that I can deliver this country from its present condition. I can unite this country. I fought the South African apartheid; I fought the war in Burundi. There is nothing I cannot do for my country. By the time I complete my eight years’ rule, Nigeria will become another Dubai.
At your age, do you think you still have the energy that the office of the President requires?
Energy is God-given and God-made. I have the God-given energy which He has blessed me with. I am still strong enough to move around and I really don’t have to be everywhere. I will have team members to delegate duties to. Nelson Mandela ruled South Africa at the age he ruled and we all saw how he galvanised that country within the period. He came and did the much he could do within the four years he ruled. If I come out in four years and God says I should go for another four years, I will do. Thank God, we have the social media available to simplify all the tasks involved.
Like the current President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), you are an aged person. Do you really believe you can do better than him as President?
Well, Buhari is just like my first son and I think he is trying his best. It is one thing to be a king while it is another to be a kingmaker. If you are a king and the kingmakers are more powerful than you are, it is also makes another greater difference. Buhari has done his bit the way he understands it but I agree he could have done far better. Buhari has tried his best but his best is not just good enough to salvage this country. He did not realise what he was coming to face, that was why he kept promising Nigerians here and there. But the realities on the ground have dawned on him and it became obvious right from the outset that his capacity could not take Nigeria out of its current mess. He has tried, but the effort is not just enough.
To answer your question: Can I do better? (Let’s wait) until then because I will take a different approach. I will have better advisers. One thing I can tell you is that Nigeria will be great again under my leadership.
Given your age, people are saying that your declaration is a publicity stunt. What is your response to such people?
Before now, I have done so much in this world and you have never heard my voice or my name. Publicity is not my ambition. I have achieved so much that publicity is not my problem. If I start mentioning all my achievements, we won’t finish (this interview) in three days. What I can tell you for free is that the issue of this country bothers me so much. And this is why I am coming out. This was not how we laid the foundation of our great country. What am I using publicity to do at this point? I have successful children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. The issue is that I can’t continue to stay aloof while charlatans, who did not know the sacrifice we put in for this country to come into existence, continue to mess it up. God has kept me alive up till now so that I can bring the desired change that this country truly needs. I am so wealthy that I give what I have. So, what am I looking for? What I have done is not for my country alone, I have contributed so much to the growth of the world. There is so much rot in the system and the present leaders don’t know what to do.
What are your children’s opinions about your presidential ambition?
In fact, they are the happiest people right now. They are very impressed by my strong will to come out to salvage this country. They are my cheerleaders and my backbone. They are watching the way I am doing things and they are telling me, “Grandma, when I grow up, I will love to be like you.” I haven’t heard any of them saying otherwise. They are very happy wherever they are and I adopted so many children. A lot of people have been calling me since they read about my declaration in the media. That is why I am challenging the young ones. The youths of this country must rise up. If the youths are folding their arms while old people like me are being recycled in government, then let me too enter race. Let the youths continue to complain in the social media. We have so many vibrant young people for God’s sake, where are they? Let them come out and stop complaining in the social media! Go abroad, Nigerian youths are doing exploits, but here, they are laid-back. And if they don’t want to rise, let me come out. I won’t see Nigerians going hungry, I won’t see Nigerians going to bed without food, I won’t see youths unemployed and be comfortable as a President. But most of the Presidents we have had in this country seem to be delighted about this. I will not see my old people not being taken care of. The old people built this country; therefore, they should not be denied what rightfully belongs to them. How can they relegate us, the old people, in a country we built together? This will never happen under my watch. Our children will go to school up to university free of charge. A situation where an individual will embezzle public funds and he or she joins the party in power and the sins are forgiven won’t happen under me.
On what political party will you be running?
I am still making consultations. I am consulting widely, home and abroad. Some political parties have approached me to adopt me as their candidate. At the right time I will make the party known.
What are your expectations and your message to Nigerians as regards the 2023 elections?
My message to them is that the future is still very bright for this country, despite the challenges it is facing now, but Nigerians must make the right choices in 2023 and stop glorifying criminals. Nigerians must stop praising those who are stealing the wealth that belongs to them and keeping them in abject poverty. The youths should come out and stop hiding in the social media. The rot and damage is massive and it is because the young ones have left the affairs of this country, their future, far too long, in the hands of recycled leaders. The damage can make one to despair, but I will tell Nigerians that there is still hope of redemption if we start doing the right things. The people should stop collecting money from politicians during elections.
As for 2023, we are praying and calling on God not to allow those who are squandering the wealth and resources of this country to have their way back. This is the only country we have, especially the young ones. As for me, I have seen it all, what else am I still seeking other than the growth of my country? I say no to the exodus of our young ones to foreign lands as a result of bad governance. I want Nigerians to make a U-turn in the way they select their leaders.