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Nigeria’s Obiageli Ezekwesili: ‘We became a country, not a nation’

By Nicholas Norbrook
Posted on Wednesday, 31 March 2021 20:06, updated on Thursday, 1 April 2021 14:23

Transparency and justice have been her banners over a long and varied career. Now Obiageli Ezekwesili has founded a school to form the political leaders of tomorrow and to turn the rage in the street into reform in the corridors of power.

A coffee is balanced precariously near the keyboard as our Covid-era Zoom meeting pings into life. Obiageli (Oby) Ezekwesili is running late and has a good excuse. Her newest venture, the School of Politics, Policy and Governance, is launching operations in a few days’ time.

While there is no straight line from her childhood to the new school, there is an upright character that appears as a leitmotif in Ezekwesili’s career: co-founding Transparency International, cleaning up the budget process as the head of the Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence Unit under President Olusegun Obasanjo – earning her the sobriquet ‘Madam Due Process’ – bringing Nigeria into the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and, more recently, spearheading the Bring Back Our Girls campaign.

‘We were raised to believe in diligence’

“I had a very active family but not noisy,” says Ezekwesili. “It was a family that was filled with so much love. We were raised to believe in diligence.”

She remembers an early occasion: “We had a certain Captain Obimbe in our school, who took a delight in caning just anyone…” until, one day, Ezekwesili stood up and protested that the child about to be struck was innocent. “And everyone was stupefied, saying ‘Kid get real, what are you doing?’, because not even the teachers could look Captain Obimbe in the eyes in those days.” But he lowered his cane and was less indiscriminate in his punishment after that.