VENTURES AFRICA – Nicknames rarely extend beyond one’s immediate family and perhaps close friends. But for Obiageli Ezekwesili, a Nigerian chartered accountant. She was a co-founder of Transparency International, serving as one of the pioneer Directors of the global anti-corruption body based in Berlin, Germany, ‘Madam Due Process’ has become nationally, and even internationally, recognised as she she spearheads reforms after reforms.
Oby, as she’s fondly called, began her career as an auditor and management consultant with Deloitte and Touche, before co-founding the German-based anti-corruption body Transparency International, and served as its Director for Africa from 1994 to 1999. She also served as a Special Assistant to the Nigerian President on Budget Monitoring and in the Price Intelligence Unit from 2003 to 2005. This role earned her the moniker ‘Madam Due Process’ because she instituted several reforms and established due process mechanisms and strategies that refined Nigerian government’s public procurement and contracting practices.
In 2005, she was invited to serve as the Federal Minister of Solid Minerals in Nigeria, a position she held for one year. During her time as Minister of Solid Minerals development, she worked hard to reform Nigeria’s mining sector, bringing it up to international standards and making it a globally attractive location for credible mining investments. She was also the Chairperson of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) and spearheaded the first ever audit of the nation’s oil and gas sector. Leaving increased transparency in the Ministry of solid minerals, Oby was appointed the Minister of Education and set about doing what she had become famous for. She was tasked with leading on-going reforms in the country’s education sector that restructured and refocused the ministry for the attainment of Education for All (EfA) targets and Millennium Development Goals. Despite spending only one year in the role, her innovativeness and experience were evident as the Nigerian Stock Exchange launched the “Adopt-a-public school Initiative” in 2007, opening the doors for public school improvement around the country.
In March 2007, former World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz announced the appointment of Obiageli Ezekwesili as the bank’s Vice President for the Africa Region. “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,” said Wolfowitz.
He also spoke about her track record in reform, her integrity and passionate commitment to Africa as invaluable additions to the World Bank. Indeed in her time at the World Bank, Obiageli successfully promoted Africa’s economic interests. During her tenure as Vice President, overall lending in Africa rose to over $40 billion, agricultural development and especially rural growth expanded. After 5 years, Dr Ezekwesili decided to leave her post as VP for Africa in the World Bank. A group of dignitaries including former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, Dr Rajiv Shah, Administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and H.E. Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda chose to honour her departure declaring that her work at the World Bank left the organisation better suited to cater to Africa’s interests. For her achievements she received an award from Rosa Whitaker, CEO and President of the Whitaker Group and Steve McDonald, Director of the Wilson Centre’s Africa Program. This was a fitting addition to her 2006 national award of Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR).
Oby is a laudable reformer and often shares her experience and reflections on leadership with youths and rising leaders. She holds a Master’s degree from University of Lagos in International Law and Diplomacy and a Master’s in Public Policy and Administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. She is married to Pastor Chinedu Ezekwesili and has three sons.