Obiageli “Oby” Katryn Ezekwesili is an economic policy expert and senior economic adviser of the Africa Economic Development Policy Initiative and one of co-founders and pioneer directors of Transparency International-TI, the Berlin-based global anti-corruption organisation.
She is currently also the Founder-CEO of Human Capital África (HCA) working in the education sector across Africa. Ezekwesili is the Founder-Chairperson of the Board of SPPG (School of Politics Policy and Governance) in Abuja, Nigeria. She was a candidate for office of the President of Nigeria in the 2019 election and became the Founder-Chairperson of #FixPolitics Initiative, a research-based citizen-led initiative.
Ezekwesili was a Vice President of the World Bank- Africa Region in Washington DC between 2007 and 2012. She served in the Government of Nigeria between 2000 and 2007. She was the Minister of Minerals and later of Education. She was a presidential aide and headed the Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence Unit which later became the Bureau for Public Procurement- BPP.
She was concurrently the pioneer Chairperson of the Nigerian Extractive Industry and Transparency Initiative (NEITI) in which capacity she successfully designed and implemented the global principles for Nigeria. Ezekwesili also worked as the Director of the Harvard-Nigeria Economic Strategy Project at the Center for International Development at the Kennedy School of Government, Massachusetts.
A Chartered Accountant and Consultant; She holds an MA in International Law and Diplomacy, an MA in Public Policy and Administration from the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
She has an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta Nigeria and in 2016, the University of Essex Business School awarded her an honorary Doctorate Degree in Business in recognition of her role in promoting economic and social justice in African countries.
Ezekwesili was recognised as one of Time-100 Most Influential People and by New York Times as one of the 25 Women of Impact, 2015. Albert Einstein Foundations named her one of 100 visionaries featured in the 3D book “Genius:100 Visions of the Future.”
She was a Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin Germany between 2019 and 2020. She is a recipient of numerous awards, and was decorated with the national award of Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR) by her country. She was selected as a 2020 Global Leadership Awards Honoree by Vital Voices for her leadership role in the fields of human rights, economic empowerment and political reform.
It was the 4th edition of the annual Inspiring Woman Series conference, the theme was ‘Breaking through the glass ceiling’ and Oby Ezekwesili was the special guest of honour. My oh my…a brilliant delivery of course, she certainly delivered!
Again, a speaker at the 10th edition of Inspiring Woman Series conference, where she was our keynote speaker, she did all she could to come, but all the flights she got would mean she would arrive Nigeria the next day.
We concluded she would join us live, and though the time difference could have been a deterrent, she was there sitting prepared before guests arrived to do her sound check, and didn’t go off until after her speech and even beyond. She also had the option of sending a recorded video, but she chose to join us live and again, it was a highly inspiring one.
Indeed, she is a firm supporter of women, young and old. A great influence in my journey in the media through the years that I have been celebrating women. Such an inspiration and comforting shoulder to lean on. When I call on her, she shows up and when she shows up, she shows up big!
Turning 60, in my eyes, Oby Ezekwesili exemplifies compassion, intentionality, distinctness, fighter for justice, astute leader, a mother in words and deeds, a global phenomenon and a blessing to Nigeria, Africa and the world. These are the words that come to mind when I think of Oby Ezekwesili. She means what she says and does as she says.
A fighter for justice, inclusion, growth, stability and development of Africa, this great amazon grew up recognising the roles that values, compassion and a good name plays in the life of an individual. These have helped to form the essence of who she is.
The impact of her father’s influence on her life is what she says is second to none. At 12, she asked her father why Nigeria could not be like any of the countries she had seen or read about that flourished, and his response was “We are poor because these other countries have good leaders governing their countries well.”
Oby then made up her mind at that age, that when she becomes an adult, she would be a good leader and ensure proper leadership in the nation. “My father always said our values must be non-negotiable. His slogan was: “I said, therefore I lead” Oby narrated.
With adulthood came different phases, one of which was marriage. Oby adores her husband and would readily tell you that he is one of the best decisions she ever made. She recounts her husband being asked what it feels like to be married to her and he responded “Are you talking about my baby? All these things do not matter to us, we are a family, we are together in this journey.”
Ezekwesili is an institution-builder, and this is core to her legacy, evident through all the various institutions she has built, encouraged and supported till date.
Oby will push for results through proper means to ensure progress in an area she recognises lapses. For instance, the Bureau for Public Procurement Bill was her doing, this was submitted as a Bill and was passed into an Act with BPP as the institution.
Also, Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) Bill was her work which was submitted as a Bill and was passed into an Act with NEITI as the institution.
Oby’s passion for effective governance dates way back to even the annulment of the 1993 elections, where she says many of her generation voted for the first time. “As Chair of Concerned Professionals, we decided we would watch the court case of MKO Abiola. We had someone representing our group, and we looked forward to it, only to be suddenly informed that Kudirat Abiola had been killed on the third mainland bridge. My mother was shaken by that event. It was a tough period and we lost many people in civil society groups. I left the country” She said.
At the request of President Obasanjo in 1999, she returned to Nigeria in 2000 to serve, where she led the Due Process Unit and was a key player in the economic team.
Oby Ezekwesili is also respected for her work in education to position human capital as key to Nigeria’s development and to address poverty and inequality.
She led the national teachers upgrade and pre-professional certification programme, led the establishment of the Nigeria Education Management Information System-NEMIS to center education policy and planning on data and empirical analysis.
Furthermore, she also designed skills-based education which included innovation enterprise institutions and vocational enterprise institutions.
She later became the Minister of Education. “We saw how contract costs were inflated but the ‘due process’ work cut them back to size.
As Minister of Solid Minerals, the ministry established a new Mining Act. She ensured the submission of the Act to repeal the Minerals and Mining Act, No. 34 of 1999 and re-enact the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act 2007 for the purposes of regulating all aspects of the exploration and exploitation of solid minerals in Nigeria, and for related purposes. This was globally acclaimed as one of the best mining legislations in the world at that time.
Oby Ezekwesili also ensured the establishment, through legislation of the autonomous mining cadastral office, the termination of the discretionary powers of the Minister of Solid Minerals to award mining licenses.
In addition, she also led the submission of a Bill that was passed into an Act to upgrade the Nigeria Geological Survey Agency into a world class institution that generated geological data in Nigeria’s minerals endowments.
Before concluding her term as Minister, she was chosen to be the Vice President of the African region of the World Bank which began in May 2007.
Her contribution to Nigeria and other countries in Africa to help them achieve higher economic growth and human development rates during her time in government and at the World Bank, remain outstanding and commendable.
Oby contributed to advancing institutions through participating in and encouraging good governance, transparency and accountability in Nigeria, Africa and the world both as a co-founder of Transparency International, as a reformer in the Nigerian government, and as the Vice President of the World Bank.
Though her tenure at the World Bank ended in 2012, it was indeed a significant journey for her and the people of Africa because of her tremendous results. “While at the World Bank, I prioritised the smaller countries in Africa, conflict affected countries in Africa, countries that were most vulnerable to situations that caused them to be trapped.” Oby stated.
As Oby turned 60, amongst several others, former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo had this to say about her “Oby is like a daughter to me, even when she was a Minister, I treated her like I would treat my biological daughters.
I recall when Oby told me she was given a job at the World Bank, I didn’t want her to go because I needed her, but I said to myself, let her go, it may be part of Nigeria’s contribution to global development, especially in Africa, and she went on to the World Bank and did her best. She was, for me, one of the best from Africa.”
Unforgettable was her role in the abduction that took place in April 2014, where Boko Haram, an islamic terrorist group kidnapped 276 female students aged 16-18 at the government secondary school in Chibok, Borno state.
Oby co-convened an advocacy for the children and was upset that the government didn’t take immediate actions that could have rescued the girls.
According to her, “If we did not stand out there for those girls, they would have just been history. One thing I kept asking myself was, if any of those children were from a powerful political class, would they have been treated the way they were treated?”
Evidently, for Oby, it is certainly about serving humanity, changing lives and institutions for the better. For instance, she chose to go into politics and ran for the office of the President of Nigeria as a means to serve the people, and it was gaining prominence until there was a clash between her and her party over matters she doesn’t compromise on which includes values. This led to her withdrawal from the presidential election.
Though she withdrew from the election, she never ceased to promote a just and inclusive Nigeria and Africa. She was later awarded the Richard von Weizsäcker Fellowship at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin Germany. Her spectacular research was on the ‘Triangular Pillars of Democracy’ which includes a new constitutional, political and economic restructuring with an electoral change, a value-based political class and an empowered and engaged electorate, helping to identify distortions in democracies.
Indeed, through her life’s journey, Oby has lived through one of impact and great influence. Ruminating on turning 60, she says “The joy of turning 60 comes from the knowledge of how so rich in human experience my life has been. There is this privilege I have had and it is truly the goodness of God.”
Beyond God, she reiterates the influence her parents had over her and her siblings “To get us through the type of education that my parents wanted required that they were a team. My dad would say there are three things he would give you, and they include values, knowledge and their name. He said these three things would give us a proper head start in life, and we saw that happening.” Ezekwesili stated.
On living purposefully, for Oby Ezekwesili, anything that is created must function according to the purpose it was created. She said that having the redemption experience when she and her husband gave their lives to Christ helped them clearly understand deeply the issue of purpose. That understanding took her into the revelation of being a woman, and that there are five realities that she must fulfill.
“First is the reality of myself as a unique individual, my second is the reality as a daughter of my parents, third is my reality of being a sibling to my brother and sister, fourth is my reality as a wife and fifth is my reality as a mother. In each of these realities, I understood that there were purposes to fulfill.
My father said, “Anyone not fulfilling his or her purpose ought not to be around” I decided I wanted to be around, and that I would fulfill every reality that is intended to be Oby Ezekwesili one day at a time.”
There are various situations that tests the strength of one’s integrity. Oby has her advice on this and she says “Every individual has the power of choice, the power to choose in any situation. The ultimate One, who would have made it impossible to have these choices is God, and even He did not take the power of choice from us. My father always said that if we understood this, we would take more responsibilities for the things we select to do or not to do. You either choose to be corrupt or you choose not to be corrupt.” Oby insists.
She concludes with the instruction from her father that has guided her till date, which says “Don’t you ever swallow your voice when it is necessary to be heard.”
Once again, I celebrate you Oby Ezekwesili, it is indeed 60 years of grace, impact and success. I celebrate the greatness in you, and I doff my hat to an outstanding hero of our time!