Life Lessons: Oby Ezekwesili-“Live a Purpose-Driven Life”


We have the first female guest featuring in the Life Lessons Interview which started 13 weeks ago! We serve you with the soft side of Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, former World Bank Vice-President, two-time Federal minister, nick-named “Madam Due Process” in government circles for her zero tolerance for circumventing laid-down procedures in the procurement process while serving as a Federal minister. That Dr. Ezekwesili is cerebral is no doubt. But if you take time to digest her life lessons she shared with Senator Iroegbu and me, you would understand the values and principles driving her to do what she does. Please enjoy the reading.

Lesson 1: Career
Let your career be purpose-driven.

My father wanted me to be a chartered accountant and I trained to become one. After my Master’s, I worked for Deloitte Touché & Akintola Williams, where I trained as a chartered accountant. I was a child that was precociously interested in good governance, prompted primarily by my enabling father and my experience with the (Nigerian) Civil War and military governance. As a child, Dad and I would always discuss public affairs at every opportunity and I became very conscious of social and political issues beyond my age. The war had a deep effect on our family following the loss of relatives and possessions. It left many families including mine scotched but my father raised us to never allow anything to enslave our souls. As he explained how poor governance was a reason for misery when we returned to Lagos after the war, my little self would promise him that “I would do something about poor governance when I grow up.” It turned out that I would do something later to put me in a position where I could address good governance, transparency, accountability and anti-corruption. God did it! I became one of the co-founders of Transparency International (TI), a global non-government organisation dedicated to preventing and tackling corruption. I had wanted to start a PhD in International Law but I came under the influence of a teacher, Baroness Shirley Williams, at the Harvard University, United States, who persuaded me to study Public Policy because she believed that was what our continent (Africa) needed. She was right. An incredibly brilliant mind, my very much older friend Baroness Williams who only last year retired from the House of Lords is one of Britain’s foremost politicians who had also been a Minister of Education under Prime Minister James Callaghan in 1976. She was absolutely right. Public Policy completely changed my professional life and that is what I am today. So, it was my father and Shirley Williams who influenced my choice of career.

The secrets/Lessons
I do not see career as a job; I see career as an assignment. My belief is that my life is a continuum, and being a continuum means that I am not here to do a job so that I can earn income, or so that I can have a good life on earth. No. It is that my life was given to me by God so that I can have a purposeful impact according to what he has created me to be. For that, I set very high standards for myself. For example, there is nothing worthy enough to make me to negotiate away my values just as my father taught me. You see, in decent societies nobody cares about what you can competently do, but they really care about your values. Your character is ultimately the deal breaker in the pursuit of a career.

Lesson 2: Money and Investment
Be content and invest in People.
I see money as a means to an end. I don’t see it as an end. I see money as an exchange to get other kinds of goods and services. So, I say rather than having investment in an account, I would invest in what we regard in Economics as translating from one form of capital to a higher form of capital. One rule of investment for me is that if that money can go into somebody’s education, I would rather use it to invest in that human capital.
Also, money will never be my God. Money can never be the reason I wake up and go to bed and that’s not because I have anything significant. No. It is because it simply has no rule over me. I cannot accumulate money from unjust gain because unjust gain has its consequence; neither will I have money without purpose. What it means is money must be purposeful in my life. It must go into serving people beyond me. Again, I must have what is called rainy season money for emergency situation and finally, I must invest in myself.

True marriage is partnership.
I have learnt three lessons in marriage. One, marriage is partnership in the sense that through marriage you will see how amazing it is that two people bonding in love can change the world because of collaboration and cooperation. I have experienced the joy of marriage; the joy of that partnership with my husband is based on deep, unreserved love for each other. We basically said to each other that no matter what our conditions might be, we are in this together for life –meaning we are living for each other. My husband lives for me and I live for my husband.

Every child is unique.
Number two lesson is that every child is unique. Don’t ever try to standardise the purpose of your children because every child comes to the world with his or her own unique purpose or unique individuality.
The third is that your children will not be impressed with what you say but with what you do. Children hear your word, but then they also read you, follow your habits and behaviour, and then, determine whether you live your values. Our three sons give us positive feedback on who we are to them; that’s so fulfilling.

Lesson 4: Relationship
Friendship is based on shared values.
Because of my strong family values, my friends tended to be my siblings, my father, my mother, my husband and people that are closest to me. I have had friends at different stages of my life. Some are friends for life, and some are friends in a season of life. But one thing that always happens is that I have always loved to be in relationship where the values of the people are consistent with mine. When our values diverge, I stop feeling comfortable because we will have difficulties. When you are trying to hold to a particular value and the other person is holding to something entirely opposite, it becomes difficult for such friendship to work.

Lesson 5: Spirituality
You are bankrupt without God.
God is my greatest ally in life. There is no me without God. The greatest essence in life is that you are created by One who has the purpose in mind in that creation process and decided that there would be somebody and her name would be Obiageli Ezekwesili. He decided to put certain things in her and she is supposed to do certain things here on earth. And if she follows her way right, she will definitely return to me and spend eternity with me. So, for me God is everything. God is purposeful in creating everyone of us.
I have been a beneficiary of His grace and interventions in many ways. I have seen God in the area of my calling. I say to young people that I mentor that I am one of the very few people that have never had to seek jobs in their lives. The only time that I ever applied for one was when I applied to train as a Chartered Accountant in Deloitte Touché & Akintola Williams after my Master’s degree. All the other things or works I have done in life, I was head- hunted for and persuaded on merit to accept them.

Lesson 6: HEALTH
Have a loving home.
Number one health habit is to get a good shower. I love water, water does magic to me. No, I don’t believe in magic. Water is a miracle for me. Water for me is wealth. Number two is a good sleep. Though I don’t get much as I should get, any time that I get a good sleep, I wake up feeling like there is nothing I cannot accomplish. Then, feeding; I used to be awful with it because I am a classic workaholic and sometimes simply forget anything about food when carried away with work that must be accomplished. It was a big health issue for me until my doctor warned me against staying without food. So, food is an important health factor and the quality of the food is important. It has to be nutritious meal, not the quantity but the nutrients it offers. My deep loving relationship with my husband is an important part of my health habit. Just having that healthy home, I mean healthy home and environment gives me joy. When there is love, it just gives you peace. I have grown over the years with our sons and together with their Dad. They make my life beautiful.

FUN TIME: Lesson 7
Create time to relax.
I am a workaholic. I work to enjoy myself. But I still create time to relax, especially staying with my husband…. My husband is archaic and a humourist. He makes me laugh. Time spent with him is plenty of fun and laughter. Fun time is also when I read because when I read … I read different kinds of books and there are some which when I am reading, you would think that I was having the most fun time in my life as my emotions would shine through. Occasionally, when we manage to have a vacation which is hard because for Pastors’ families, it could be tough getting a vacation but when we do manage to get it, those moments are plenty of fun for us.

1. The Holy Bible
2. The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren
3. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Plainwell

Personal Development
I read a lot of books. I submit myself to mentoring. I have had different mentors at different stages in my life. It is all about investing in knowledge.

Role of Spouse
My husband is a critical part of my life. He is a very wise man. He has this unbelievable wisdom, and I spend a lot of time listening to him. He is my best friend. We basically have the strongest relationship which helps to make me emotionally solid. He is my number one cheerleader.

Number one is lack of structured habit of exercise. I have failed phenomenally in that. The second one is not checking up on my health. You know at some point I just summed up that I am an inherently healthy person and so there is no need seeing the doctor. No. You must check up on your health especially once you enter into your ’50s, as happened to me four years ago.

I love ice cream and hot chocolate! I know if you asked my husband, he would say, “those are the luxuries that my wife loves.” My husband always said that when it came to thinking about and caring for myself, I have zero integrity. It makes me laugh but it is not my fault. My father and mother taught us only how to live a sacrificial life.

View on Failure
For me, failure is ever so temporary. I seldom see failure; I always only see my moments of failure as a learning opportunity to help redefine my goal.

Number one is my father. You can see that I am an original Daddy’s girl. I learnt most of my values watching him and my mother. I’m ever grateful for that heritage.
Next are Daddy and Mommy Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God.
My first Pastor after we became born again in the early ’90s, Pastor Tony Rapu, deserves my gratitude. Finally, my former boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo, who tasked me with all manner of tough assignments enabling me to learn so much as I worked on Public Procurement Reforms (aka Due Process), Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), his Presidential Economic Team member, Power Sector Reform Team member, Ministry of Solid Minerals and Ministry of Education.

Secret Never Shared
When the World Bank President Wolfowitz was trying to woo me to the Bank, to even get me to participate in the global recruitment process for the competitive position, and I was proving very hard to get, he called my then boss, President Obasanjo. Obasanjo told him: “Paul, the only person that can help you with that is her husband; the best thing that I can do for you is to give you Chinedu’s (i.e., my husband’s) number.”

We usually ask all our guests to reflect on the 10 critical areas of their lives as listed in the table below, and score themselves on what they consider their best estimates of how they think they have fared on a maximum possible marks of10. Give us your best estimate on each, as frank as you can be.



1 Academics/Education 10 7 5th
2 Career/Business/Investment 10 8 4th
3 Networking Skills 10 8 10th
4 Mentoring 10 10 9th
5 Significance/Giving Back 10 10 8th
6 Parenting 10 8 3rd
7 Health 10 7.5 6th
8 Marriage 10 10 2nd
9 Happiness/Fulfillment 10 9 7th
10 Spirituality/God 10 10 1st
  TOTAL 100 87.5