Obiageli ‘Oby’ Katryn Ezekwesili is a Chartered Accountant and former Vice President of the World Bank for Africa overseeing more than 1,500 staff with responsibility for the delivery of projects, economic and sectoral work in 47 Sub-Saharan countries with a lending portfolio of nearly $40 billion.
She is a Senior Economic Advisor, Africa Economic Development Policy Initiative at Open Society Foundation, advising nine reform-committed African heads of state on their economic development strategy, policies, and implementation.
Before this, Ezekwesili who holds a Masters Degree in International Law & Diplomacy from the University of Lagos, a Masters Degree in Public Policy & Administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, and a Bachelors Degree from the University of Nigeria, worked with Deloitte & Touche as an auditor, management, and financial services consultant. She then served as a founding Director of Transparency International (TI) and as its Director for Africa from 1994 to 1999. From 2000 to 2002, she worked with Professor Jeffrey Sachs as Director of the Harvard-Nigeria Economic Strategy program, during which time she was also appointed as an aide to former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
She served as Minister of Education and Minister of Solid Minerals in the Nigerian government during the Obasanjo administration. While in government, Ezekwesili led the restructuring and refocusing of the Education Ministry for the attainment of Education for All (EfA) targets and Millennium Development Goals. She also introduced the Public-Private Partnership models for education service delivery; revamped the Federal Inspectorate Service as an improved quality assurance mechanism and introduced transparency and accountability mechanisms for better governance of the budget.
As Minister of Solid Minerals, she oversaw the passage of the Minerals and Mining Act, the establishment of the Nigerian Mining Cadastre Office, and opening of the sector to private participation.
Ezekwesili led the establishment of the Innovation and 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.
She is the architect of the Bureau for Public Procurement legislation, pioneer head of the Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence Unit aka Due Process, key member of the Economic Team of the President, member of the Power Sector Reform Team which engineered the Power Sector Act of 2007, and pioneer Chairperson of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), leading on the legislation that created the initiative and first ever national implementation of the global EITI standards.
Ezekwesili, who is one of the co-founders of Transparency International – the global anti-corruption body with headquarters in Berlin, Germany, functioning as the organization’s Director for Africa from 1994 to 1999 – was given the national award of Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR). She holds an Honorary Doctorate Degree from the University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, and the University of Sussex, England, United Kingdom for her work in promoting transparency and accountability in government and lending a voice to the importance of the office of the citizen.
She was recently shortlisted as nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize by PRIO of Norway owing to her “efforts in making the world more transparent and less corrupt”.
Ezekwesili is on the board of Bharti Airtel, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the School of Public Policy of Central European University, The Harold Hartog School of Government and Policy, New Africa Magazine, The Center for Global Leadership at Tufts University, and Global Advisory Board of Facebook’s Community Leadership Program. She is a member of Board of Directors of the Economic Policy Think Tank, AfriHeritage Institute, member of The Global Board of Governors, NCMG International, member of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)’s Advisory Group on Gender, Forced Displacement and Protection, and member of the Advisory Board of the Atlantic Dialogues.
She was in 2014 selected as one of the British Broadcasting Corporation 100 Women, TIME Magazine 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2015, and Genius: 100 Visions of the Future by the Albert Einstein Foundation in 2017.
Ezekwesili has a long history of socio-political activism under her belt as evidenced in her work as good governance advocate starting from her days as a young professional in the late ‘80s, as member and first woman to Chair The Concerned Professionals Citizens Movement which championed democracy in the ‘90s, and advocate to end military rule and restoration of the annulled presidential election of Moshood Abiola.
She co-founded the Bring Back Our Girls pressure group in 2014 raising global awareness for the rescue of over 200 schoolgirls kidnapped in Borno. The group’s activities continue to be a reference point in the struggle to ensure all the girls kidnapped by terrorists in Nigeria’s North East region are reunited with their families. She is the Founder and Convener of the #RedCardMovement (RCM), a citizens’ centered advocacy movement which started organically in January 2018. The movement was borne out of citizens’ determination to end the recurrent plague of bad governance in Nigeria regardless of which political party has held sway at national, state, and local government levels.
Oby Ezekwesili, who is a sought after speaker, advocate for good governance and active citizenship, is married to Chinedu Ezekwesili. They are blessed with three children.
Auditor and Consultant:
She audited and consulted for key corporate and government organizations including the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC), Unipetrol, CFAO, Flour Mills, UBA, among others.
Ezekwesili was a co-founder of Transparency International (TI) which promotes transparency, anti-corruption and good governance globally. She was a key part of the team that came up with the vision for TI’s Corruption Perception Index which ranks countries annually and is the gold standard for measuring the perception of corruption in countries.
She has a track record of effective activism. In the 90s when Nigeria was under military rule, a group of professionals – the Concerned Professionals – came together to campaign against the continuation of military rule, demand restoration of MKO Abiola’s mandate and champion the return to democracy. Ezekwesili was the first and only woman to lead the group.
Following the return of democracy to Nigeria, Ezekwesili designed and directed the Harvard-Nigeria Economic Strategy Program under the supervision of Professor Jeffrey Sachs. This program facilitated the technical engagement of Harvard University with the newly elected government of President Olusegun Obasanjo. It initiated the Debt Sustainability Analysis for advocacy with the White House for debt cancellation and it contributed to the establishment of Nigeria’s Debt Management Office (DMO).
Madam Due Process:
She designed and implemented the “Due Process” Public Procurement Reforms that changed Nigeria’s broken, corrupt and wasteful public contracting system in line with global best practices. It was her insistence on transparency, fairness, competitiveness, and cost-effectiveness that earned her the moniker “Madam Due Process”. Based on her reforms, the value for money earned by the federal government jumped from just 40 kobo for every N1 spent to 75 kobo for every N1 naira spent.
BPP Act 2007:
Ezekwesili led the articulation, consultation and submission of the Executive Bill for Public Procurement which was passed into law as Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP) Act 2007 and brought into existence the Bureau for Public Procurement. That law restored global confidence in Nigeria’s public contracting, especially among the nations we owed who wanted to see an improvement in our use of public expenditure before agreeing to debt cancellation.
When the Extractive Industries Transparency International (EITI) was launched globally, Ezekwesili served as one of its 11 pioneer Global Advisory Board members in Norway. She co-led the drafting of the global principles of EITI. Under her drive and leadership, Nigeria’s FG announced that it would publish its revenues from oil and also require oil companies to do same.
Ezekwesili also served as Chairperson of the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative from 2004 to 2006. Under her leadership, Nigeria, for the first time, publicly made the financial, physical and process audit of the Nigeria petroleum sector from 1999-2004 publicly available. The NEITI standards she introduced were above the minimum global threshold of voluntary principles between resource-rich countries and companies operating in the sector.
She led the drafting of a NEITI bill to codify the activities of the Extractive Industries Initiative (EITI) and it was passed into law by the National Assembly in 2007, leading to the formation of the NEITI Agency.
National Economic Team:
As a member of President Obasanjo’s Economic Team, Ezekwesili was responsible for developing the government’s overall comprehensive anti-corruption, transparency, and good governance strategy. In that position, she negotiated the partnership between Nigeria and the G8 known as the “Compact to Promote Transparency and Combat Corruption” signed by Presidents Bush and Obasanjo in June 2004. The Compact was regarded by the United States as part of Nigeria’s progressive actions that made it merit debt cancellation.
As minister of Solid Minerals –
- She led the articulation and adoption of a comprehensive policy and drafting of a new Minerals legislation which repositioned the mining sector to be private sector led.
- She cleaned up the chaotic mining titles registry and revalidated/ canceled existing licenses to bring orderliness to the sector.
- She established the Nigerian Mining Cadastral Office.
- Unlike other executives, Ezekwesili removed her own discretionary powers to award mining licenses and leases.
- She supervised the comprehensive geophysical survey of the country that generated basic data on the number of minerals (34) and the number of locations (430) across the length and breadth of Nigeria.
Ezekwesili served as Minister of Education for just 10 months (June 2006 to April 2007), and in that short period –
- She restructured and refocused the ministry for the attainment of Education for All (EFA) targets and Millenium Development Goals (MDGs).
- She introduced the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model for education service delivery in FG-owned unity schools. This was to provide school-level autonomy for the schools through not-for-profit groups, in order to ensure effective management, administration, and supervision. The social enterprise PPP model was to allow Alumni Associations, Parent-Teachers Associations and Education foundations have management responsibilities over the schools for the effective performance of students and teachers in learning and teaching outcomes, creating stronger linkages between FG budgetary investment in Unity Schools, the performance, results, and accountability of school management and administration.
- She revamped the Federal Inspectorate Service as an improved quality assurance mechanism with the first ever nationwide inspection of secondary schools — Operation Reach All Secondary Schools
- She built the Nigeria Education Management Information System – NEMIS – with ambitious data collection and verification program to provide an analytical basis for Education Planning and Policymaking.
- She designed a 10-year Education Plan adopted by international partners to complement domestic resources for Education.
- She brought private sector representation in the composition of National Universities Commission (NUC) courses and universities accreditation teams.
- She introduced private sector supported Entrepreneurship Studies as a mandatory General Studies course in all higher institutions.
- She embarked on structural curriculum reforms to position education as the key driver for the transformation of Nigeria into one of the 20 largest global economies by 2020. She linked curricula at all levels of Basic, Secondary and tertiary education to the socio and economic imperatives by including Civic Education, History, Critical Thinking, Creative and Innovation methods as mandatory projects.
- She designed solutions to tackle the skills deficiency problem among youths graduating from Secondary as well as tertiary institutions through a massive skills development program jointly designed by the Federal Government and the private sector.
- Out-Of-School-Children – OOSC – Dropped. As Minister of education for 10 months, June 2006 – April 2007 Ezekwesili designed and began implementing comprehensive reforms that cut across all levels and spheres in the sector. The menace of Out-Of-School-Children was already evident in the over 7million children affected. Ezekwesili effectively deployed the Federal Government intervention fund, UBEC matching grant scheme to incentivize States to increase enrollment, transition, and completion of OOSC. The UBEC programs also focused on bridging the disparity between the disproportional number of girls in school compared to boys. The intense focus by the Minister and use of effective incentives and policy measures that included adopting global best practices from other countries helped ensure that for the next academic enrollment period, OOSC fell from over 7.1 m to 6.5m. That is about 8.5% reduction of OOSC or 600,000 more children within one academic cycle.
The World Bank:
As World Bank Vice President, Ezekwesili was in charge of the Bank’s operations in 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa between 2007 and 2012. She is credited by the current Africa Union Chairman and President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, to have changed the World Bank’s approach in its relationship with Africa with a strategy built around “partnership with Africa, working with Africa, not for Africa.” In the words of her boss at the World Bank, former president, Robert Zoellick, “As vice president of World Bank, Africa, Oby employed innovation, knowledge, partnership and financial services to strengthen results across Africa and to improve the prospects for Africa’s economic performance. Innovated on project monitoring systems to ensure higher project impact on the continent.”
Below are just 10 examples:
- Under her leadership, the World Bank delivered up to $40 billion that helped African nations tackle development challenges across a range of issues – infrastructure, human capital development, technology, agriculture, and environment, among others.
- She influenced the adoption of Evidence-Based Policymaking decision by partner countries in Africa for more efficient priorities, allocation of resources and the sequencing of policy actions.
- She gave attention to the most vulnerable in the region through projects that targeted the provision of basic health and education services, and the spread of productive safety net programs in countries.
- As a champion for private sector dominance in the economy, Ezekwesili partnered with African countries to pursue ease of doing business and competitiveness reforms that helped improve their business environments. Countries like Rwanda, Mauritius, Cape Verde, Seychelles, Senegal, Liberia, Botswana responded positively with ambitious programs of reforms and featured at one time or another on the Annual Top Ten Most Reforming Countries List.
- She revived the World Bank support to Africa agriculture expansion and productivity program by growing the annual lending program for the sector to over $1.2 Billion annually accompanied by over 90 analytical studies for enhanced policy choices. Under her leadership, the World Bank massively supported the Africa Union’s initiative on agriculture known as the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program – CAADP. She launched the initiative on young farmers and technology in Agriculture which was adopted by many African countries to renew the aging Agric sector.
- She gave a big push to helping solve Africa’s energy crisis through a mix of bold reforms, deregulation of the power sector and the creation of sub-regional power pools like the West Africa Power Pool. Under her watch, the Bank invested in solving the problems of generation, transmission, and distribution of energy in Africa. She will be remembered for leading the largest single lending ever at the Bank when the South African Eskom was approved in 2010 for a US$3.75 billion loan to the power sector.
- She raised the priority and profile of World Bank portfolio in Education and Health in order to grow Africa’s Human Development and higher stock of Human Capital. While ensuring the expansion of universal access to Basic Education, in her time, World Bank lending to governments for the establishment of tertiary institutions across the continent increased. She led the World Bank team to focus on supporting the emergence of Centers or Academic Excellence in different parts of the continent. Her complementary focus on building massive and relevant skills to address the unemployability supply-side issues in education earned her applause across the Bank’s partner countries.
- Ezekwesili prioritized World Bank support to Africa’s Technology sector with particular focus to ICT. She spearheaded and championed revolutionary reforms in Technology with waves of Telecom and ICT liberalization, deregulation and divestment programs in over thirty countries. This helped raise the efficiency of telecom services across the continent, reduced leakages of public resources previously spent on failing state telecom monopolies, increased the contribution of ICT and technology more broadly to growth. African economies of SSA benefited considerably from the growth of the mobile sector following what Ezekwesili designed and pursued vigorously as “The Transformative Power of ICT in Africa”.
- Ezekwesili led her team to work with governments of Highly Indebted Poor Countries – HIPC- to design and implement prior measures necessary to qualify for massive Debt Reduction through the HIPC and Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative processes. To date, 30 countries in Africa – have received the full amount of debt-relief for which they were eligible through HIPC and the MDRI. She helped establish several national Debt Management Offices and developed capacities to run the offices.
- Ezekwesili designed and implemented the first ever Diaspora program at the World Bank for Africa. The program ignited policies targeted at Africans outside the continent and aimed at leveraging their networks, partnerships, knowledge/ capacity and finance to complement the resources required for financing Africa’s development.
Open Society Foundation:
She served as Senior Economic Adviser for the Africa Economic Development Policy Initiative, directly advising the leaders and policymakers of some African countries on their economic strategy and policy reforms to boost investment and create jobs in the Mano River region. The three-year initiative expanded to include other countries across Africa.
Here is what President Alpha Condé of Guinea, one of the three countries on which the Africa Economic Policy Development Initiative, focused initially on said: “We benefited from Ezekwesili’s rich experience and policy expertise. She helped us considerably in advancing our country’s economic reforms and development priorities.”