Oby Ezekwesili, co-founder of Transparency International (TI), says she was branded “conspiracy international” by the military government for her stance against corruption.
TI ranked Nigeria as the most perceived corrupt country in its 1996 corruption perception index (CPI). At the time, Sani Abacha was serving as the country’s military head of state.
In an interview with Dotun Olowoporoku, social commentator, Ezekwesili said the military government was displeased with her over the ranking.
“The CPI (then) had Nigeria as the most perceived corrupt country. When that happened, the government of that era was so angry they called me conspiracy international,” she said.
“I was not just a co-founder of the group, I was the pioneer director of the group and I started to put together the Nigerian chapter of the group. So it was clearly very annoying to the government.”
Ezekwesili, a former minister of education, said some of her critics fail to realise that she had been advocating against corruption for a long time.
She said her father had imbibed in her the courage to always stand for what is right.
“I was saying to the (military) government that through TI, we will try and locate all the stolen wealth in Nigeria and we would make sure they are brought back to the people,” she added.
“My dad always said that if you have the conviction, you must have the courage to stand for it. So for me, I felt this issue was a major obstacle and we needed to do something about it. So I was prepared to stand for what I believe in.
“As a child, I was worried about the squalor around me. In my mind, there was a consciousness that we didn’t have to accept the squalor. And that we needed to do something about it.
“So as I grew, I realized that the instrument through which to do much about anything was the instrumentality of government. I realised that certain people have to pay the price, that we will not accept this the way it is. So we’ve got to change things for the better, we’ve got to change how our society works.
“We founded Transparency International and brought global attention to the challenges of corruption because corruption is a symptom of poor governance. So that effort was one that upset the status quo.”