OBY EZEKESILI: HER BEGINNING, TAVAILS AND ACHIEVEMENTS.
She is popular for her exploits as minster of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which earned her the name, “Madam Due Process”. But many don’t know that she started from a poor financial background. In fact, her mother used to buy her second-hand clothes, shoes and bags (Okirika). She surmounted diverse challenges to get to become a high flyer. JOSEPH DINWOKE of Brojid World tells the story of this outstanding Nigerian woman, Dr (Mrs) Obiageli (Oby) Kathryn Ezekwesili.
Obiageli (Popularly known as Oby) Ezekwesili was born at the Island Maternity, Lagos, on April 28, 1963. She was the first-born in a family of six – four boys and two girls. Because of Nigeria-Biafra civil war, her family went back to her town in Anambara state; however, after the war, she and her family returned to Lagos and settled in Ajegunle where she had her primary education in African One Primary School. After which she went to United Christian College in Apapa for my secondary education. It was in her second year that her family moved out of Ajegunle and packed to Satellite Town, around Agboju, in Amuwo Odofin.
Oby is from a financially poor family; so much that her mother had to engage in business to complement the father’s income at Nigeria Port Authority. In fact, her mother, who she described as skilled in selecting best grade second-hand clothes, resorted to buying second-hand clothes, shoes and bags for them and modifying them that their colleagues wonder they were bought brand new. In her words, “My mother was very good at going to Tejuosho Market, the Okrika (second-hand clothes) section. My mother knew how to buy Grade 1 Okrika. My mum would go there, select the best of the shoes, the bags, the clothes, wash and iron them.”
Her mother could not go to school because of the financial challenges in her family and the need for her brother to go to school. But she was educated by her husband. Her mother was a businesswoman and was industrious, a virtue that makes Oby include her in her list of role models. “My mum just didn’t know what it meant to rest.” Oby recalls.
Her father, who died in 1988, had tremendous impact on her life in living an exemplary life of integrity. Perhaps that influenced Oby to tour the path of integrity and due process, in her dealings especially in civil service despite the cost. “He was an extreme integrity person. He was a man who was totally unwilling to compromise the standard of the principles he valued.” Oby says. In fact, while working in the Nigeria Port Authority (NPA) “some of his colleagues were ready to do all kinds of things; my father took the straight and narrow path. He never joined the crowd because it was impossible for him to bend on his principles.” Her father beyond showing them the meaning of integrity in his lifestyle taught them integrity. He taught them to live in integrity every time and everywhere. “For integrity to be complete, it must be consistent. You cannot have integrity in the afternoon and then at night, you say, ‘it is night, integrity go on holiday, let me sleep.’ Or you would say, ‘I can have integrity when I am in Abuja but when I go to Lagos, I don’t need integrity’. No.”
Her father believes strongly in education as the mechanism for lifting any man out poverty, thus he gave it to his children at first by teaching them at tender age. “The reason I was very good in English and Mathematics was because of my dad. He was the first teacher that we all knew.” She recalls her father’s words to her, “The best gift that your mother and I will give to you is the education you are getting. There is no landed property, there is no money in any account that we could hand over to you, because it doesn’t exist”
She came to realization of the grace of God early in life in 1981, the year of her WASC exams. A week before her exams she became sick that she could hardly prepare for her exams effectively. She was down with high fever (typhoid). But on the day of her first exams, she miraculously recovered and took the exams with success. Relating the anecdote, she said, “God woke me and I took the exam and I was the top scholar. With that scary experience, I came face to face with grace very early in my life.”
During her graduate studies at University of Lagos, she got engaged and married to her husband, a sociologist and zonal pastor at the Redeemed Christian Church. Their marriage was blessed with children who has to go abroad to continue their education when she was called upon by the World Bank to serve as the vice president.
She was a catholic and got married to a man from priest of Anglican decent but along the line, “we had a spiritual encounter and became born again, both of us in 1993, as part of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) family.”
Despite her superlative achievements and giants strides she made in civil service, she remained submissive to her husband in her decision-making. She was reluctant in going to present herself for the job of vice president at World Bank but when her husband told her to go, she had no option than to comply. “My husband made the decision. He said, ‘Baby, this is part of your call in life. You must fulfill it.’ I had no choice but to listen and obey because he is not just my husband, he is also my pastor.”
Oby distinguished herself in her days as the minister of education and minister of solid minerals in President Obasnajo regime. She ensured that government money is not diverted to private pocket in awarding contract. This she admitted was “a tough resort.” In the execution of her task she stepped on toes of those who are benefiting from the loot in contract. This as expected lead to treats on her life. “Those were things (threats to her life) that happened and they were things that you expect would happen with the nature of the work you were doing.”
Her transparency was so glaring that even her boss and colleague in the corridors of power attest to it. Malam Nasir el-Rufai quoted someone to have said, “It’s only a mad man who would make the mistake of saying anything related to bribery to Madam Due Process (Oby). It is not even something you would think of.”
At the age of fifty, having overcome diverse challenges including attacks on her life in her days of active sanitation of Nigeria in her capacities as Minister of Education and Minister of Solid Minerals, she is grateful to God and believes that she is a work of grace “Because I do not in any way merit or has the qualification to have been able to overcome the challenges of disadvantage, being a child of very, very humble family”
Oby is fearless in saying what he believes and damming the consequences. An attribute that made her talk about Nigeria oil money reserve during Obasanjo’s regime that was not accounted for in her lecture at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. In fact, when award winning journalist with The Newspapers, Shola Osunkeye, asked her if she regrets saying what she said, she exclaimed, “Me regret what I said about Nigeria’s oil wealth? No way! Not even for a second”
She is, at present, making her contribution for the development of her country, Nigeria by giving suggestion on national economic issues.