From earning the tag, ‘Madam Due Process’ to inspiring millions against societal ills, Oby Ezekwesili’s character torch has hung high and well lit.
Oby Ezekwesili’s stellar achievements can hardly be quantified- Be it for her laudable role as former Vice President of the World Bank with a mammoth responsibility for economic and sectoral work in over 47 countries, her position as Minister of Education for the Nigerian Government , where she led a comprehensive reform programme within the education sector including, restructuring the Ministry for the attainment of Education for All amongst a host of successful programmes, her role as Senior Special Assistant to the President of Nigeria on Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence, an imprestenure as Minister of Solid Minerals ,which saw the passage of the Minerals and Mining Act or as the bold and lucid voice which sent a viral ripple across the world, against Islamist militants, Book Harem on the ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ Campaign.
Whichever hat you pick, she has worn well. Through numerous programmes, esteemed offices and echelons of power, Oby Ezekwesili is widely admired for more than just her professional trajectory as her firm resolve and display of unshakeable Character, comes to the forefront.
It is no wonder that she also served as Co-founder of Transparency International, a global anti-corruption body. Oby attributes her strength of Character to a foundation firmly rooted in her first agent of socialisation – family.
“I always reference my Father in explaining the kinds of strong values that were instilled in me. My parents always emphasised the importance of richness in values. They instilled the highest values in us and paid a lot of attention to the Character traits we displayed at a very impressionable age. Honesty, truthfulness, and being of service to others, were traits that were instilled in us. They gave us an unshakeable sense of self esteem. My father always said: “You cannot lead if you have not served” and throughout my trajectory, my moral compass has constantly been a source of reinforcement of strength of Character. Going into the professional world, it became more important for me to realise the importance of defending my values “, she says.
With a Master’s degree in International Law & Diplomacy from the University of Lagos and a Master of Public Administration degree from the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Ezekwesili’s appreciation for her educational foundation at home still, takes precedence
While acknowledging a morally sound upbringing, she believes Character influencing agents are accessible to all who are aware of its great importance.
“If you don’t have family, you have to find a substitute that acts as family because this is such an important foundation. A lot of the ills in society have a lot to do with a lack of pedigree. Pedigree has nothing to do with a family’s social status. It is simply that centeredness that comes with having Identity. In the case of no family, the community can play a surrogacy role. We need to go back to what it is that family holds for us and represents as a nation” says Ezekwesili.
She emphasises the role of Integrity and Character in the professional world just as importantly as in personal dealings.
“Integrity is not complete until it is consistent. One cannot have integrity in one context and not have it in another. It is not contextual. Whether at home or professionally, I needed to be extremely consistent in my values and so, my public and my private piety needed be in uniformity with each other. I made a resolve never to subject myself to traits that would negate my values and bearing this in mind, I would find myself being more inclined to making the choices that are consistent with the values I had been anchored on. I understood effort, I understood commitment, I understood diligence, I understood discipline” says Ezekwsili.
While her views on Character are refreshingly laudable, there are unfailing external pressures which surface through a professional trajectory. Ezekwesili speaks of such pressures as inevitable and challenging yet, combat-able.
“I have tried to look at my failings in life to see if they have been failings of Character but thankfully, they have been more failings of passion .Trading my values is a lot more costly than anything else I could lose. The opportunity cost of trading my values is extremely high for me.
I never have self –doubt or self esteem issues. If one has no sense of self-worth, you will be ready to do anything”. She says.
Speaking on frailties in the professional world, she adds: “Many people have gone through life not being certain of who they really are. Your Character is what you live with. You know your character , you know your capabilities and your failings even while others are yet to discover it” and as my Father used to say, “You should never worry about your reputation whether good or bad – instead, worry about your character” – Your reputation is what people believe you are , while your character is what you truly are”.
“I made a resolve never to subject myself to traits that would negate my values and bearing this in mind, I would find myself being more inclined to making the choices that are consistent with the values I had been anchored on. I understood effort, I understood commitment, I understood diligence, and I understood discipline”.
Oby Ezekwesili has relentlessly displayed a commitment to the continent’s development as is currently evident in her work at The Africa Economic Development Policy Initiative (AEDPI) which is a programme which advises African Heads of States & Ministries on economic and policy reform issues. The initiative seeks to provide economic reform, policy expertise and advisory support to Heads of Governments and their cabinets as they pursue economic diversification strategies to achieve inclusive and shared growth which reduces poverty in their countries.
Through public office, an innate drive and a grand vision, Oby Ezekwesili has won her place on the Character pedestal with an unquenchable yearning to inspire and leave an indelible legacy.