Time and time again, we have posted speeches by this legendary lady made at different occasions and gatherings of the best and the brightest. That she is invited to speak so frequently in such high powered and diverse forums is an attestation to the mountains she has scaled in her profession, politics, social and personal life. Oby Ezekwesili is a standard; she is a beacon of light; she has, and continues to make a difference.
An alumnus of the University of Nigeria in 1985 with a degree in Accounting, Oby Ezekwesili also holds a Masters degree in International Law and Diplomacy from the University of Lagos, and a degree in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
The young lioness started her dynamic career as an Auditor and financial consultant with Deloitte and Touche, a Management and Financial Services Consultancy Firm where she became a Chartered Accountant. At a pinnacle already, one might have thought she would rest on her oars as most of us are prone to do after achieving some sort of success in our profession or personal endeavours; but not Oby.
In 1994, she became a co-founder and Director for Africa of Transparency International, a global anti-corruption body based in Berlin, Germany. I don’t know if corruption in the 1990’s is the menace it is now, but that was a bold, inspired move by a woman who had foresight and wanted to spearhead palpable change. No doubt, her work there must have brought her to the notice of the Government of the time. Perhaps like God, they cast their eyes about, searching for an incorruptible citizen to entrust great responsibilities to. And they found her in Oby Ezekwesili!!!
Oby worked as the Director, Harvard-Nigeria Economic Strategy Program, from 2000-2002; prior to working for the Government of Nigeria, Oby also worked with Professor Jeffrey Sachs at the Center for International Development at Harvard. You know who Jeffrey Sachs is right? ‘Jeffrey D. Sachs is a world-renowned professor of economics, leader in sustainable development, senior UN advisor, bestselling author, and syndicated columnist whose monthly newspaper columns appear in more than 80 countries. He has twice been named among Time Magazine’s 100 most influential world leaders. He was called by the New York Times, “probably the most important economist in the world,” and by Time Magazine “the world’s best known economist.” A recent survey by The Economist Magazine ranked Professor Sachs as among the world’s three most influential living economists of the past decade.’ www.earth.columbia.edu.
Back to the gifted Oby. She was quickly snatched up by the President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo in the new democratic era as the Senior Special Assistant to the President of Nigeria, Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence [Due Process Unit] from 2003-2005. Who no like good thing? Truth is, if you develop yourself, Governments will come knocking at the door of your usefulness. It was in this position that she earned the moniker of “Madam Due Process” for the outstanding work she led a team of professionals to do in sanitizing public procurement or contracting at the Federal level in Nigeria. She was the draughtswoman of the Bureau for Public Procurement legislation, the NEITI legislation and the new Minerals and Mining legislation during her six and a half years spell in Government.
She was consecutively appointed Nigeria’s Minister of Solid Minerals, 2005-2006. Oby spearheaded a vibrant reform program that led to Nigeria’s global recognition as a credible mining investment destination. She was also the Chairperson of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) and led the first ever national implementation of the global standards and principles of transparency in the oil, gas and mining sector. She spent a year as the Minister of Education in the Obasanjo Administration’s second tenure, and even in that little while, the rumbles were felt in the educational sector as she tried to implement a standard that would ensure that there was education for all. ‘She also introduced the Public-Private Partnership models for education service delivery; revamped the Federal Inspectorate Service and introduced transparency and accountability mechanisms for better governance of the budget. Oby led the establishment of the Innovation & Vocational Enterprise Institutions initiatives which focuses on the development of skills for economic competitiveness and–in conjunction with the Nigerian Stock Exchange– launched the “Adopt-A-School” program, an initiative that fosters philanthropy by corporations; community groups and individuals’. In a recent speech delivered at the convocation ceremony of the University of Nigeria, Oby commented on her efforts, vis-à-vis the still dismal quality of education in Nigeria. Says she, “The failures and limitations of the education you have received during your time here leading to your graduation today will become clearer to you should you ever seek to do what was very easy for me to do –that is, gain admission to one of the best schools in the world for my graduate studies simply on the strength of my University of Nigeria education. Countries invest in the human skills that can help their citizens use modern technology and eventually rise to the stage where those same citizens can develop their countries’ own technology. A country’s educational system is the key to its long-run development. According to economic study of the role of education in economic development, “Less than half of the rise in living standards since 1960 in industrial countries has been due to savings and investments from its citizens. The rest of the increase – more than 50% has been due to rising educational levels and to improvements in technology that raise factor productivity across the board”. I had known this as a Minister of Education in this country a few years ago. That knowledge inspired and fueled my zeal to bring education to the front burners of our national development at that time. The result of the diagnostics that we produced on the state of our education system and sector was so heart wrenching that I was filled with angst at how low we had sunk educationally. Deciding to channel the angst positively, we built a strong team that articulated some three hundred and sixty eight ‘root and branch’ reforms measures across the six levels and aspects of education- early childhood, basic, secondary, tertiary, special needs and adult/informal education. The response of resistance by some of the key political elite to the absolutely necessary reforms when we laid them out before the nation to generate consensus and implement is made clearer by what one today knows of the incentives that drive the choices of extractive elites.” Quite disheartening, but this is a discourse for another time.
Oby’s sojourn as the Minister of Education was truncated by her appointment to the World Bank as the Vice-President, Africa Region, in 2007. At her appointment, the outgoing World Bank President at the time, Paul Wolfowitz stated, “Oby’s unique blend of first-hand experiences, especially in the more challenging and complex areas of energy sector reform and education, position her as the ideal candidate to serve as the Vice President for Africa. Oby’s life is a testament to her dedication to Africa as is the high degree of respect in which she is held by the international community. Her passion for and commitment to Africa, high degree of integrity and optimism will bring invaluable strengths to our organization.” As Vice-President, she was in charge of the bank’s operations in 48 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and supervised a lending portfolio of over $40 billion. She retired from the World Bank in May 2012, and as is typical of her, continues to take even bigger strides. She joined the Open Society Foundation as the Senior Economic Advisor. This Organization was founded by billionaire George Soros, and Oby advises 9 reform committed African Heads of State including Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia. She is spearheading the Foundation’s new Africa Economic Policy Development Initiative.
Also waiting anxiously to have a piece of Oby was one of the world’s leading telecommunications firm, Bharti Airtel, with operations in 20 countries. In October 2012, it named her as a Director on its board. She is also on the boards of World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the School of Public Policy of Central European University, The Harold Hartog School of Government and Policy, New Africa Magazine, and The Center for Global Leadership at Tufts University. Everyone wants to hear what Obiageli Ezekwesili has to say.
It would be a travesty if her own nation failed to recognize and applaud its distinguished Ambassador. In 2006, Oby was given the National Award of Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR).
A mother of 3, it is safe to say that she has surpassed even her wildest dreams. But who knows? This is one woman that has obviously dreamt mightily. She may just be itching to add another feather to her highly decorated cap. If she runs for President wouldn’t you vote for her? I would.
So go on, dare to dream; dare to do. We may not all be financial and economic gurus, but we can make an impact wherever we choose to thrive.