Former Director of Communication at ECOWAS, Adama Gaye, pays tribute to Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili; Nigeria’s Former Minister of Education, as the new face of an emergent new Africa
By Adama Gaye
In her native Nigeria, she has already entered in the best books of history as Madame Due Process. But more is to come. Obiageli Ezekwesili is the archetype of the inspirational, transformational and values-based leader, Africa has long been yearning for. Her trajectory to greater heights has only just begun.
For a person like me, who is always in doubt, constantly double-checking and slow in drawing conclusions, I demonstrated no hesitation in forming my thoughts about Dr Ezekwesili. As she turns 60, the age when life begins, I am humbled and delighted to join a diverse and vast chorus in saluting what is already a life replete with accomplishments and accolades, but that is only now beginning yet another impactful journey that shines even brighter unto a new Africa.
The impressive breadth of her accomplishments leaves some wondering how she did it. While some suggest that it may be sheer chance, some attribute it to her uncommon hard work and discipline, yet others say it is just the amazing grace of our creator. But whatever view taken, those who have objectively observed her in her public or private engagements will immediately note her uncommon humility, courage, intellect, resilience and character. Indeed, the truth is that she is very well deserving of every success that has come her way.
A True Leader
When I first met Dr Obiageli Ezekwesili, my first impression quickly turned into an enduring, if not everlasting, conviction. Here was, in front of me, a true leader, buoyant, intellectually intense and pragmatic, with her eyes and mind always focused on the key issue at hand. She is the ultimate no-nonsense person. I admit to be one of the countless people to be dazzled by her personae. An experience, I must say, I have seldom experienced in my lengthy career as a journalist, top official, author, not only as an African but a world citizen.
Our first meeting happened in Tangiers, a Northern city of Morocco. It was at one of those key international conferences where we were, alongside other participants, to discuss the future of that Maghebian Kingdom as it was pondering her return to the African Union (AU), the continental political body from which it had withdrawn from over twenty years earlier. The gathering was star-studded, with the best and brightest invited from across Africa and many other places around the world.
In such circumstances, where huge egos are typically displayed to attract attention, I could not but notice the figure of a calm but strong lady. Here she was, surrounded by the crowd, as conference guests awaited the commencement of the event. She was clearly a towering figure without being the tallest. Her traits commanded attention. She was confident and articulate. As she spoke, the power and conviction in her words, like a magnet, commanded the gaze and attention of the audience.
In the course of my life, I have travelled widely, encountered and be-friended across generations, geography and gender, including some who are considered as foremost-world leaders, such as Nelson Mandela, Paul Kagame, Jerry John Rawlings, Ellen-Johnson Sirleaf, Jacques Chirac, Kofi Annan, Abdoulaye Wade and the World Bank’s former President, Barber Conable, to name but a few, but very few have come close to having the lasting impact that Dr. Ezekwesili have had on me since our first auspicious meeting.
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Of her many virtues, values and strengths of character, the one that made me consider Dr Ezekwesili as the new face of an emergent new Africa is her uncommon humility and what seems to me to be her religious self-restraint and discretion. Dr Ezekwesili is a strong personality, but that personality, oddly, is better measured through things of a lowly nature. Case in point: watch how she dresses. Adopting African clothing as her signature outfit when she can afford fancy European designer clothes immediately communicates her humility, authenticity and Africanism.
When we met in Tangiers, while everyone was awaiting her presentation to the conference, we shockingly learnt, the next day, that she had injured her leg and had to fly back home -leaving a void the conference never recovered from! However, less than a few months later, here she was, back on the frontline, field-ready, waging an electoral campaign in Nigeria.
Actually, not long before I discovered she has launched what is obviously one of the most compelling leadership development schools, the School of Politics, Policy and Governance (SPPG), with a Movement, #FixPolitics aimed at lifting Africa from the grip of broken politics, monopoly democracy, misgovernance, and poor economic performance. Because these were programmes borne out of the evidence of the research she conducted at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, Germany, I did not hesitate to enrol in the school and offer my services and support for #FixPolitics.
In the quintessential manner of Dr Ezekwesili, she came up with a unique and evidence-based strategy to fix politics in Africa. The strategy is based on the systematic and simultaneous implementation of what she calls the Triangular Pillars of Democracy – emerging an empowered and engaged electorate, building a new generation of values-based public service leaders and compelling a reformed political, electoral, economic and constitutional environment.
In this innovative social enterprise that is #FixPolitics and SPPG, I could not escape its Ezekwesiliesque signature: evidence-based, citizen-driven and values-oriented. That is the Ezekwesiliesque signature. The approach that will help emerge a new Nigeria and a new Africa.
Truly, who was better positioned to conceive and frame this movement than our own irrepressible Dr Obiageli Ezekwesili – the ever-firm, straightforward, articulate, principled leader whose generosity is expressed through her determination not to sit on any fence nor join unserious revellers and the crowd of corrupt “big men and big women” that litter the landscape of Africa.
Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili was born to make a difference and has been at it since her birth and as she celebrates the sixtieth anniversary of her life, it appears she is not slowing down but just getting started for another impactful journey. I raise my glass in honour of a transformational African leader, Dr Obiageli Ezekwesili, at sixty.
Adama Gaye, A Senegalese, Former Editor of the London-Based West Africa Magazine; a former Director of Communication of ECOWAS; author: Tomorrow, The New Africa (Editions L’harmattan Paris), is a graduate, among many international programmes, of the SPPG, Cohort 2021.