analysisBy Patrick Egwu
Since independence from the British in 1960 Nigeria has never had a female president or vice-president. Oby Ezekwesili, a former World Bank Vice President, anti-corruption campaigner and one of the Nigerian status quo’s fiercest critics, is setting out to break the glass ceiling and occupy the highest office.
Not many in Nigeria can boast of Obiageli Ezekwesili’s impressive and admirable list of achievements. Widely known as “Oby”, she holds a Master’s Degree in International Law and Diplomacy from the University of Lagos, as well as a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. She started her career as a chartered accountant and was the co-founder of Transparency International, a global anti-corruption group, before working with Professor Jeffrey Sachs at the Centre for International Development at Harvard.
Before joining the World Bank in 2007, Ezekwesili worked and held several keys positions within the Nigerian government. She was Special Assistant to the President of Nigeria on Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence, Minister of Minerals Resources and later Minister for Education before joining the World Bank.
Her career is defined by transparency and due process, which is where her sobriquet “Mama Due Process” stems from. She instituted many public reforms while in government – everything from accountability to policy reform encompassing governance, economics, education and natural resources endowment in Africa.
During her time as education minister, she led an extensive and comprehensive reform programme to overhaul the sector and her blueprint is a reference document from which other countries in Africa have borrowed ideas.
As a former vice president of the World Bank’s Africa Region, Ezekwesili recently acted as Senior Advisor on Africa Economic Development Policy at the Open Society Foundations in New York, assisting the Mano River governments with economic policy reforms.
She now runs the fully incubated and independent policy advisory initiative as the Senior Economic Adviser to a number of presidents on the continent of Africa, while at the same time developing a graduate school of public policy in Abuja, Nigeria.
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Ezekwesili serves on a number of global boards, including two schools of public policy, at Tel Aviv University and Central European University School of Public Policy in Budapest. She is also associated with the Center for Global Leadership at Tufts University in the US. Most recently, she served alongside a distinguished group of leaders from around the world as a commissioner of the Global Ocean Commission. She is also a board member of World Wildlife Fund and the Harold Hartog School of Governance and Policy, among others. In 2012, she was named a director at Bharti Airtel, one of the leading telecommunications firms in the world.
Ezekwesili is one of the federal government’s most fierce critics who uses every opportunity to criticise its wrongdoing. She is never quiet on policy issues of public importance, corruption or human rights abuses. As co-founder of the advocacy group Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG), she drew global attention to the rescue of the remaining Chibok schoolgirls who were kidnapped in April 2014 by members of the terrorist group Boko Haram.
Since 2014, she has been a frontline advocate for the release of the girls, often holding and organising nonviolent protests against the Nigerian government to speed up action to rescue the girls, who were going through trauma and psychological torture at the hands of their abductors.
Obiageli Ezekwesili, former Nigerian Minister for Education, on the right, and Christos Stylianides participating in a demonstration for the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Photo: Flickr/European Union/(CC BY-ND 2.0)No changes made
At a ceremony by UNESCO in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, she addressed the participants, urging them to get actively involved in bringing the abducted girls home.
Her strong stand for the release of the girls has endeared her to many Nigerians and attracted global commendation.
Similarly, she has frequently spoken out on the release of Leah Sharibu, who is still in Boko Haram captivity, after she, along with 110 other schoolgirls, were abducted by Boko Haram in Yobe state, northeast Nigeria. The girls with whom Leah was abducted have since been released, but not her.
In June, Ezekwesili embarked on a lone protest to Aso Rock, Abuja, the Nigerian government capital and seat of power, to protest the killing of more than 100 people by suspected semi-nomadic herdsmen from the Fulani ethnic group.
At the presidential gate, she was stopped by security operatives. More than 20 policemen and 15 soldiers, alongside Nigeria’s secret police personnel, prevented her from taking her message to President Muhammadu Buhari.
However, she later successfully delivered her 18-point demand, in which she condemned the insensitivity of President Buhari to the frequent killings and urged him to take proactive steps to end the clashes.
Shortlisted for 2018 Nobel Peace Prize
For her activism and anti-corruption struggles, Ezekwesili was recently shortlisted for the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO). Henrik Urdal, director of PRIO, said of Ezekwesili: “Corruption is a main driver of social upheavals around the globe, underpinning recent major developments like the Arab Spring. Corruption also thrives during and after war, and many conflict-affected countries are among the most corrupt in the world. Oby Ezekwesili, former Minister of Education in Nigeria, Vice-President for Africa in the World Bank and one of the founders of Transparency International, has been an international champion in the fight against corruption. Ezekwesili was also the Federal Minister of Solid Minerals and the Chairperson of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), leading the first ever national implementation of the global EITI standards.”
Urdal continued, “Ezekwesili and EITI are worthy candidates because of their efforts in making the world more transparent and less corrupt. The link between armed conflict and high-value natural resources is strong: EITI was established in 2003 as a direct response to the mounting evidence showing that poor governance of natural resources may lead to an economic ‘resource curse’ and increased conflict. Increased transparency over extraction processes and financial results has led to a more sober and nuanced debate about the extractive industries and their output, and has the potential to help defuse conflicts and reducing tensions before they even happen. EITI’s efforts to create multi-stakeholder groups in which civil society is involved is a model case for inclusiveness in such a politically and economically important issue.
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Urdal further said that although people who champion anti-corruption have not been considered for the prize, Ezekwesili’s work deserves global attention.
“Anti-corruption and transparency champions have not traditionally been considered as obvious candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize. Yet natural resources, transparency, corruption and conflict are intrinsically linked. This important work by individuals and organisations like Ezekwesili and EITI is deserving of attention, and a Nobel Peace Prize in the field of anti-corruption and transparency would be a welcome boost now that key actors such as the US have abandoned the EITI by the wayside.”
In a rather unexpected move, Ezekwesili declared her intention to run for the office of president with the aim of bringing down the “old order” and building up a new Nigeria.
“I want to run for and win the 2019 presidential election to serve and put the citizens first by mobilising and taking decisive action on a number of big ideas that will help all of us build an exceptional nation that our future generations will be proud to call their own,” Ezekwesili said.
Her party, the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, will be seeking to unseat incumbent president Muhammadu Buhari.
While presenting her declaration statement, Ezekwesili said, “The pain of seeing us become a country where the worth of life is trending down to zero, sadness that we are now known as the world’s poverty capital, with 87 million extremely poor Nigerians, and anguish at the increase in the number of out-of-school children, constitute the driving force for my seeking the office of president. Trust in public officials completely waned, angst knowing that only 10 per cent of the 3 million to 4 million young people entering the employment market every year will likely find jobs, and concern about the future of Nigeria as a strong, indivisible nation are the issues that have also compelled me.”
Ezekwesili said she is leading a “people’s movement” that will end bad governance and ethnic divisions in the country.
“I have fully persuaded myself to lead a people’s movement that will permanently terminate bad leadership, ethnic and religious divisions, mediocrity, and failure in governance. We, the people of Nigeria, shall run together and win.”
On why she is running for presidency, she said, “Our political class continues with the self-absorbed attitude of seeing power as an end in itself, thereby producing no material improvement in the lives of citizens. This compelled a change of direction for me,” she said. “It is time to make citizens’ wellbeing the core focus of political leadership. It is time to reclaim our values that have become distorted and reduced Nigeria and Nigerians to ridicule by the rest of the world. It is time for leaders to offer exemplary and sacrificial service that will mobilise our people to build a cohesive, stable and prosperous society in which every Nigerian has a stake.”