Mehdi Hasan - VO: Some are hailing it as a triumphant new dawn for Africa's economic powerhouse. But Nigeria faces some of the same old problems. Creating jobs and feeding its poor. As well as a more recent and more brutal challenge. Boko Haram. 

Goodluck Jonathan (archive): Boko Haram will soon know the strength of our collective will and the commitment to rid this nation of terror.

Mehdi Hasan - VO: Bringing back the girls kidnapped by these vicious insurgents, however, has become increasingly politicised.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: He should take the issue of the Chibok girls at the top of the transition agenda.

Mehdi Hasan - VO: In the midst of the violence, the Nigerian political elite enjoys the spoils of widespread corruption, while absolute poverty continues to rise. But how much of Nigeria's troubles and those of other African nations are due to neoliberal policies imposed by agencies such as the World Bank?

Mehdi Hasan - VO: I'm Mehdi Hasan and I've come here to the Oxford Union to go Head to Head with Obiageli Ezekwesili, one of Nigeria's best-known politicians, former World Bank vice president, and the woman behind the Bring Back Our Girls campaign. I'll ask her if Nigeria's on the verge of becoming a failed state or whether it can fulfil its potential and defeat both systemic corruption and Boko Haram. 

Mehdi Hasan - VO: Tonight, I'll be joined by Richard Dowden, executive director of the Royal African Society in the UK. Priscilla Nwikpo, a British Nigerian broadcaster and commentator. And Richard Itaman, a Nigerian economist at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies.

Mehdi Hasan: Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for Obiageli Ezekwesili.

Mehdi Hasan - VO: She was an adviser to President Obasanjo and minister of education and known as "Madam Due Process", for her fierce anti-corruption drive.

Mehdi Hasan: Obiageli Ezekwesili, you coined the phrase, "Bring Back Our Girls", in relation to the horrific abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls by Boko Haram in Nigeria, in April of 2014. A phrase which then became a world famous Twitter hashtag viral campaign. People like Michelle Obama, the first lady of the United States, endorsed that campaign. Obviously, someone had to put pressure on President Goodluck Jonathan, who had made very little effort towards finding those girls, or even acknowledging their abduction. Having said that, more than a year later, those girls aren't free. They're still in captivity. Is it fair to describe your campaign as a failure?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: It wouldn't be fair. It would be very wrong, simply because you'd be giving our campaign responsibility for what it doesn't really have the mandate to do. It is government all over the world that has the mandate to provide security for citizens. We have not been able to move the elephant.

Mehdi Hasan: The elephant being?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Being the government in many ways, in its inability to act as competently and as swiftly as we would have wanted them to act.

Mehdi Hasan: But what do you say to those critics, especially back home in Nigeria, who have accused you and other founders of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign, of using the missing girls as a kind of partisan political tool; of using them as a stick with which to beat the government, on behalf of the opposition?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: That would have been the easiest thing to do, if that was the purpose for Bring Back Our Girls. But it's not. The citizens who came out, came out on the basis of shared humanity.

Mehdi Hasan: The "insurgency", so-called by this despicable group, Boko Haram, in northern Nigeria, has led to more than 11,000 deaths since 201; 6,000 in 2014 alone. More than a million people displaced from their homes. Why has the government of that country, the armed forces of that country, why has it been so singularly unable to quell this insurgency, to defeat Boko Haram?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: I think number one would be the challenges of the governance of our security institutions. It also has a lot to do with the issue of capacitating armed forces that do have the capacity. Capacity changes over time. We are still way behind in many ways.

Mehdi Hasan: Well, on that basis then, do you agree with the Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima, who said in February 2014, "Boko Haram is better armed, better motivated than our own troops. Given the present state of affairs, it is absolutely impossible for us to defeat Boko Haram"?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: I don't think it's impossible. Come on, Nigeria is not a weak country. Nigeria is a strong country. We -.

Mehdi Hasan: No, but two seconds ago, you were telling us about the lack of capacity.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Well, not lack of capacity. Lack of capacitation of existing capacity. They're two different things.

Mehdi Hasan: Nigeria's Human Rights Monitor group, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the European Parliament, the US State Department, have all condemned Nigerian military's handling of the situation. Amnesty accused the Nigerian security forces of perpetrating, quote, "War crimes including extra-judicial executions in the fight against Boko Haram." Have you condemned the Nigerian military for these human rights abuses and for basically acting as a recruiting sergeant for Boko Haram in the north of the country?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: We have been both advocates for our military, and at the same time, we have demanded accountability from our min- from our military. You can do both. There are some clear cut cases where there have been evidences provided. It would require domestic further investigations -.

Mehdi Hasan: And do you agree that these military forces have actually escalated the violence by carrying out these abuses? They've actually pushed people into the arms of Boko Haram?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: For goodness' sake, if people feel that the nation-state is too far removed from them, there would be a tendency to side even with the enemy. It's about people, making them an important part of the decision making process -.

Mehdi Hasan: But that won't happen unless people like you, prominent people like you, come out and vocally, clearly, unequivocally condemning the behaviour of the government and security forces, as well as condemning the behaviour of terrorist insurgent groups.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: I am, you know, the Nigerian government will be surprised to hear you pay me such compliment of, you know, 'cause I am known for being very, very tough on the institutions of our military -.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, well I just read out lots of human rights abuses the Nigerian military committed and you just said we should have an investigation. Some might say that's a cop-out.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Oh, you assume -.

Mehdi Hasan: I didn't hear you condemn them.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: No, but it would be wrong for you to assume that just because Amnesty International said it, then we must accept it as gospel truth -.

Mehdi Hasan: So, you're saying the Nigerian military isn't committing human rights abuses?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: No, no, I'm not saying that -.

Mehdi Hasan: You're saying it's, we're not sure?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: I am simply saying that we cannot on the basis of just that report make a conclusion -.

Mehdi Hasan: Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, the European Parliament, the US State Department.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: It's still -.

Mehdi Hasan: Nigerian Human Rights Monitor.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: The Nigerian government has the ultimate responsibility to take care of its domestic environment.

Mehdi Hasan: Are you saying that the Nigerian military commits human rights abuses, or not? Yes or no?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: It clearly does have instances where human rights violation have happened.

Mehdi Hasan: Surely you would agree that the root causes behind a group like Boko Haram are not just the, you know, the radical Islamist ideology that we hear a lot about, or even human rights abuses by troops, but also political grievances, socioeconomic grievances, marginalisation, unemployment, poverty and the rest. And don't people like yourself, therefore, members of Nigeria's political elite, don't you have to take responsibility for that; for neglecting that part of the country; for neglecting those young people?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: I am very vocal in speaking out about the failure of our political elite class, and -.

Mehdi Hasan: Which you're part of, obviously?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: And I am part of it. I wouldn't in any way pretend that I belong to a low class. I got education -.

Mehdi Hasan: Yeah, well, in other interviews, with respect, you have said repeatedly you're not part of the political class. I'm glad you've accepted that point today -.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Well -, well, you know, when you talk about political class, you, if, if you said, if I went -.

Mehdi Hasan: You're a politician.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: No, no, but I'm not.

Mehdi Hasan: You're not a politician?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: I am not a politician.

Mehdi Hasan: Really? What are you?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: I am not a party, I'm not -, I don't belong to a party.

Mehdi Hasan: But doesn't -, but you're a government minister?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Well, that's where you're wrong. We don't practise -.

Mehdi Hasan: You weren't a government minister?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: We don't practise Westminster type of government. We practise presidential system of government.

Mehdi Hasan: OK.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: And I, I became a minister -.

Mehdi Hasan: So ministers are not politicians, what are they, then?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Without having to carry party card and, you know, dance in the village square.

Mehdi Hasan: Your definition of a politician is someone who's part of a party?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: My definition -.

Mehdi Hasan: If you're -, if you're a federal government minister, for education, for solid minerals -.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: I wasn't -, yes.

Mehdi Hasan: if you're the vice president of the World Bank -.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Yes.

Mehdi Hasan: If you're an adviser to African presidents -.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Yes.

Mehdi Hasan: You're not a politician? Really?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Well, you know, it depends on how, how broadly -. 

Mehdi Hasan: That's a very narrow definition. That's a very convenient definition.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Well you, you're doing a broad definition of politician. I mean, like I -, yes.

Mehdi Hasan: Really? A minister in government? That's not a very broad definition. That's a pretty basic definition.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: No, but a minister in government doesn't necessarily -.

Mehdi Hasan: I'm in government, I'm a politician.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: You know what? You are giving a definition of politician that is way above the way that I have looked at it.

Mehdi Hasan: Spoken like a true politician. Let's go -, sorry, couldn't resist. Let's go to our wonderful panel of experts who are here tonight, joining us. Richard Dowden is the executive director of the Royal African Society here in the UK, and former Africa editor of The Economist magazine. Richard, in your view as a kind of outside observer who's travelled around the continent, visited Nigeria regularly, who or what is to blame for the rise of Boko Haram, in your view?

Richard Dowden: It's certainly not a new phenomenon. You had in the 1970s, I think, a movement call the Maitatsine, who were in Kano, not too far away, the big city in the north. So, I think there's a tradition of these sort of movements in, in northern Nigeria. This one caught fire because it is the most neglected part of Nigeria. You ask other Nigerians not from that area, and they say, "Why would, why would you want to go there?" This is the back of beyond, the back of the back of beyond. And it was the heart of the Borno empire, which was the first great Islamic empire in Africa. And you can see why, if you're a kid there, and you can see you've got no future and somebody gives you a gun, yeah, I'll go along with that. What do you want me to do?

Mehdi Hasan: OK, let's bring in Priscilla Nwikpo, who's a British Nigerian broadcaster and commentator based in the UK. Priscilla, when you hear Richard speaking about that gap and Obi's mentioned it as well, it's undeniable, isn't it, that the north has been left behind by the rest of the country, and that there's genuine grievances there, that they blame on the rest of the country? 

Priscilla Nwikpo: It is undeniable, but no, they can't blame the rest of the country because when we look at Nigeria today, Nigeria is 54 years post-independence, and out of those 54 years, we've had coups upon coups upon coups, which have been led by presidents from the northern parts of the country. So, if today, we say that the northern parts of the country are struggling, it is because those leaders who are situated in those parts of the country, failed their people to do what was necessary. 

Mehdi Hasan: So, it's the north's fault that the north is behind?

Priscilla Nwikpo: Well, when you consider that we've had 38 years of military rule, 38 years of presidents from the north, who should have taken care of that?

Mehdi Hasan: Let's bring in Richard Itaman, who's a Nigerian researcher and writer at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. What's your response to what Priscilla's saying about this?

Richard Itaman: When people are disenfranchised, one way or the other, whether or not it's a certain group of people or the whole nation, there is the tendency to fight back the system, and religion is then used to legitimise that struggle. And that's what's happened to the north, and I think a certain people have been disenfranchised. If you, if you consider the level of poverty, the level of unemployment, and, and, and the level of inequality, and at the end of the day, someone's got to be blamed for it, and I -.

Mehdi Hasan: And you would point the finger at, and you would point the finger at central government?

Richard Itaman: And I -, and I think the political -, and I think the political elite over time has to take responsibility for the level of degradation.

Mehdi Hasan: Obi, I just wanna ask you, moving the, moving the conversation on, a recent headline to a piece by Sarah Chayes, who's one of the world's leading experts on corruption, read, "Nigeria's in your face corruption may be fuelling Boko Haram terrorism." In fact, plenty of analysts have pointed out that Boko Haram, before it became a very violent organisation, started off life as a kind of rebel group, protesting against the corruption of the state; of the police. My question to you is this: why is corruption, in your view, so rampant in Nigeria? So systemic in Nigeria today? The anti-corruption monitor, Transparency International, which you helped found, it ranks Nigeria as the 38th-most corrupt country on earth. That's a disgraceful position to hold, isn't it?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: The, the major cause is the, the failure, the failure of the institutions of the state to function as effectively as they ought to, because of the system of governance that we had.

Mehdi Hasan: But the government of President Obasanjo, which you were part of for several years, that was pretty corrupt too, wasn't it? And some would say it was even more corrupt than the military dictatorship of Sani Abacha that came before it; was as corrupt at least as the current government that's been accused of corruption. That was a government you were part of.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: I really like empirical evidence, and right now, you don't have any. You just simply assume -.

Mehdi Hasan: But if you look at the Transparency International rankings, they were pretty bad under Obasanjo.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Well, actually -.

Mehdi Hasan: They didn't really rise radically. They rose and fell.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Well, well you're wrong there.

Mehdi Hasan: But you reject the idea that the Obasanjo government was as corrupt or not, if not more corrupt than governments that came before or after?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Of course it was, it was, there was no way it could have been more corrupt than the government of Abacha. I'm sorry. Just -.

Mehdi Hasan: OK. Can I -, can I ask you -.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Let's just -.

Mehdi Hasan: OK -, well, no, I mean -.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Let us, let us agree that you need not even make that statement -.

Mehdi Hasan: You, you want empirical, well I -, I'm not gonna agree. I'll tell you why I don't agree. I don't have empirical evidence, but let's do, let's use some eyewitness evidence. Thanks to WikiLeaks, we know that Nuhu Ribadu, the man appointed by former President Obasanjo, to head his Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, he told the US ambassador in 2007 that quote, "Even more than the Abacha days, where Abacha was the sole thief, corruption under Obasanjo's eight years was far worse, because everyone stole. No doubt Obasanjo did as well". He added, "Oba was a political machine. He just knew how to play the game for the international community and cover his tracks."

Obiageli Ezekwesili: The next person you should invite to your show would be Nuhu Ribadu.

Mehdi Hasan: You reject his view?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: No, no. It's not about rejecting his view. I don't have counterfactual evidence on the basis of which to reject it. However -.

Mehdi Hasan: OK. Let me rephrase the question. What's your response to the corruption chief appointed by President Obasanjo, who says, "The president who appointed me is more corrupt than the military guy before him?" What's your response to that?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: My response to that would be, why did you wait until after the fact to make that -.

Mehdi Hasan: Actually he said during -, he just said it in a private conversation which WikiLeaks then leaked to us all.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Then, you know, that would really question the issue of the institution that was responsible for fighting corruption.

Mehdi Hasan: Well, I'm glad you mention that because he was the head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission which President Obasanjo, who you served under, appointed. You were an adviser to President Obasanjo in 2003 when he set that commission up. Eight years later, Human Rights Watch reported in 2011, that "senior political figures who have been widely implicated in corruption, have not been prosecuted." Human Rights Watch also noted that the "EFCC was selective, dictated at least in part by Obasanjo." Their agenda was dictated by Obasanjo. Do you accept in hindsight that that government you were part of, you were basically, no one's ever accused you of corruption personally, but you were basically window-dressing for a very corrupt regime? And here today, even today, you won't acknowledge that fact.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Well, you know, I don't know about window-dressing. One thing that I was known for was my inability to be a-, an image launderer for anyone. I mean, even the president, Obasanjo, that you are talking about, would tell you that any time, any day. To the, to the -.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, so any time any day, this evening, in the Oxford Union, how corrupt was President Obasanjo, in your view?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Is that, is that supposed to be a question on the basis of some factual thing that you're putting before me? Or some -.

Mehdi Hasan: I don't have the facts. Look, but you were the woman who worked in government -.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Then, I don't -, well, I don't -,

Mehdi Hasan: You were nicknamed, "Madam Due Process".

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Well, listen to me, President Obasanjo -.

Mehdi Hasan: So, what did you make of President Obasanjo's record?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Well, my sense of President Obasanjo was that he gave me the freedom to define the work that I did in ensuring that public procurement was more transparent than it used to be.

Mehdi Hasan: With respect, if you're not a politician, you should be because these are not answers to my questions. I asked you how corrupt is President Obasanjo? How corrupt was he?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: And I, and I think that -.

Mehdi Hasan: His corruption chief says he was more corrupt than Sani Abacha. What is your view -?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: I think your question -.

Mehdi Hasan: Little bit less corrupt? Little bit more corrupt?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Well, listen to me -.

Mehdi Hasan: As corrupt?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: I already said to you that I do not do anything on the basis of anecdotes. I answer my questions -.

Mehdi Hasan: I'm not asking you to give anecdotes. I'm asking you to give your opinion. How corrupt do you think, as a minister in that government, President Obasanjo was? You're Madam Due Process. Tell us -.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: I think -, no, no. You're not going to make me say that somebody for whom I have -.

Mehdi Hasan: I'm not gonna -, well then, well then, well then, you shouldn't really go around saying, "I don't launder people's images," because you are refusing to comment on a public figure in Nigeria. Many people think he's corrupt. His own corruption chief thinks he's corrupt. You won't tell us whether you think he's corrupt. Did you ever raise the issue of corruption in government about your colleagues -?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: What, what I would recommend -, oh, my goodness, I did. I did -.

Mehdi Hasan: About what your colleagues were doing?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: I did. I did. I wasn't popular for that.

Mehdi Hasan: OK.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: The issue that is very clear to me is that based on the track record of what happened in that administration, it had serious corruption challenges.

Mehdi Hasan: This is great rhetoric. You're saying that government was corrupt, you raised issues, you caused problems, and then, I say to you, the person who ran the government, you say, "No comment." I'm confused as to why you cannot tell us whether the former president of Nigeria, who ran, according to you, a corrupt government. You just told us there was lots of corruption in that government. Was the president himself corrupt -?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Because -, you, you are doing -, well now, you're really putting words in my mouth. Because you know, you, you see, one of the things -.

Mehdi Hasan: You just told us that there was widespread corruption in the government you were part of -.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: No, I'm sorry. Of course, every government -.

Mehdi Hasan: All I want to know is what -.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: - has elements of corruption. But don't characterise it in the way you did. Otherwise, it could be completely different -. 

Mehdi Hasan: OK, let me rephrase it exactly with these words. The government you were part of, which had elements of corruption, was the president aware of those elements or part of those elements?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: He was, he was aware of the elements of corruption, and it was his responsibility to tackle those issues of corruption.

Mehdi Hasan: Did he tackle it, in your opinion?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: We, we didn't succeed fully. We didn't succeed fully.

Mehdi Hasan: OK. Let's go back to our panel. Richard Itaman, why in your view is corruption so endemic in Nigeria today and was the government that Obi was part of, in your view, was that less corrupt than other governments that we've seen?

Richard Itaman: I don't think individuals like President Obasanjo or even Dr Ezekwesili should be blamed for, or can, can do everything.

Mehdi Hasan: Because it's institutional?

Richard Itaman: This, this -, is very endemic and institutional -.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, well -.

Richard Itaman: I think that should be done is institutions that can arrest that instead of individuals -.

Mehdi Hasan: Well, let me just -, let me just pick up that point with Priscilla Nwikpo, who, you know, you mentioned military rule earlier. Nigeria had a series of corrupt and quite brutal military dictators, but yet, you still have democratic governments of all persuasions, plagued by corruption. How do you break the cycle?

Priscilla Nwikpo: I think specifically for Nigeria, it's a matter of time. The country needed to be restructured and it needed time to do that. We needed a constitution, we needed to have laws, we needed to have all of that. So, those things were put in place. I think now what we're beginning to see, you know, you made mention of Transparency International, four years ago, five years ago, we were number two. Today, we're number 38, as you made mention of. That tells us that something is obviously happening to deal with the corruption.

Mehdi Hasan: Richard Dowden, Obi's often described as Madam Due Process, anti-corruption champion. Do you think her legacy, political legacy is one of having fought successfully, fought corruption, during her time in office?

Richard Dowden: I think personally, yes. I, ah-, there's no question about it. She's admired for running a -, a department cleanly and very well, but in a government that, as, as time has gone by, it shows that it was extremely corrupt and especially towards the end.

Mehdi Hasan: Just before we go to the break. It's true, of course, that Nigeria has the biggest economy, biggest population of Africa, but given these problems of corruption we've discussed, of institutional problems we've discussed, poverty has been on the rise, inequality on the rise. We've talked about the horrific levels of violence and chaos. Is it accurate, in your view, to say Nigeria is on the road to becoming a failed state, rather than on the road to becoming a regional superpower?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Hmm. That, that, that is a very complex question. The reason is that Nigeria stands at a tipping point, where it could either tip to being that superpower, or tip to being a failed state.

Mehdi Hasan: But given it's at that tipping point, and it has these huge problems, some analysts have even talked about splitting the country up. Do you regret saying that the creation of Nigeria a century ago was an act of God?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: I don't regret it one bit. You're telling me to deny my faith?

Mehdi Hasan: No, no I'm not telling you to deny God. I'm just wondering -.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Well, it will -, even if you did, I -.

Mehdi Hasan: I'm just wondering why you think the British Empire is, was God?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: The British Empire had nothing to do with it. They may have been facilitators of the process, but they did not create Nigeria -.

Mehdi Hasan: But you think Nigeria's a divine creation?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: I believe that Nigeria is divinely ordained, and I -.

Mehdi Hasan: Really?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Yes, and you know what? I am not even one bit ashamed to affirm my faith. The issue here -. 

Mehdi Hasan: So, so if it were to break up, would that cause a crisis in your faith?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: I would say to you that if Nigeria were to break up, it would have happened during the Nigerian Civil War. The fact that we did not break up means that there is a common destiny that we share. We don't have a religious issue. We don't have -.

Mehdi Hasan: You don't have a religious issue?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: It's -, it's not, it's not, it's not a religion issue. It's not an ethnicity issue. It is not any other primordial issues that we're dealing with. We're dealing with the failure of our elite class to galvanise a shared vision for our society.

Mehdi Hasan: And one final thing -, and on that note, before, before we take a break, when you talk about elite classes, what does it say about the future of Nigerian democracy, that the recent presidential election which saw the first peaceful transition of power in Nigeria between political parties, given what we talked about the military earlier, does it bother you that another former general's now in charge? A man who was once a military dictator?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Well, the general is going to soon learn that a democracy's not a military rule.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, and on that note, we're gonna take a break.

Mehdi Hasan: In part two when we return on Al Jazeera, we'll be talking about the role of the World Bank in Africa. Obi's a former vice president of the World Bank. We'll be hearing from our panel again, and we'll be hearing from our audience here at the Oxford Union. Join us after the break. 


Mehdi Hasan: Welcome back to Head to Head on Al Jazeera. My guest tonight is Obiageli Ezekwesili, Nigerian public figure, not politician. Former minister and also former vice president of the World Bank in charge of the Africa unit. Let's talk about the World Bank. You served as vice president from 2007- 2012, appointed by Paul Wolfowitz, the well-known US politician, architect of the Iraq War. What do you feel you achieved, the bank achieved, in Africa during that period, especially given the global financial crisis happened during that period. Africa, Africans, were hit pretty hard by a crisis that they didn't cause.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: They were hit and you know, it was the recklessness of Wall Street and some interesting institutions around this neighbourhood that, you know, created a collateral damage to economies that had fairly managed themselves well. But what -, what is so interesting about the period that I was at the bank was that as someone from the continent, who would always say to a World Bank official, "You don't dictate to us what we must do," now within the bank, I made sure to model exactly the same behaviour and so responsibility for policies shifted to the leaders of the countries. And they began to understand the universal application of just good housekeeping with public finance. That helped a lot.

Mehdi Hasan: Well, you talk about good housekeeping with public finances. The bank's critics would say that for all its good deeds and good intentions, it pushes the same pro-austerity, pro-corporation, neoliberal agenda in Africa, which helped cause the global financial crisis in the first place. Listen to the view of Joseph Stiglitz, the former chief economist of the World Bank and Nobel laureate. He says, "I became convinced that the advanced industrial countries, through organisations like the World Bank, were not only not doing all that they could to help these developing countries, but were sometimes making their life more difficult." That's undeniable, isn't it?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: You know, part of what Joe Stiglitz, a good friend, said, led to many changes, so that by the time I was at the bank in 2007, some humble pie had been eaten by both Bretton Woods institutions, in many ways. We have, you know, clearly, there had been evaluations -.

Mehdi Hasan: The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Yes, the International Monetary Fund, but the two institutions are in a battle for relevance, going forward, and relevance means that the global financial architecture, as we knew it even a decade ago, is not the same. And so it cannot stay stuck.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, well we'll come to the architecture in one moment. Just on the subject of eating humble pie and making changes, you say these changes have been made, you know, acknowledgement of Stiglitz and others. Let's take the recent Ebola crisis in West Africa. Many would say, and in fact, The Lancet Medical Journal, here in the UK, has said, that the austerity measures demanded by international institutions like the IMF, like the World Bank, resulted not surprisingly in weak, underfunded, poorly staffed healthcare systems in that part of the world. Listen to Nii Akuetteh Ghanaian-born analyst, former executive director of the NGO, Africa Action. He says, "The World Bank and the IMF have contributed to the weak health systems in Africa, which is why Ebola hit so hard." That's pretty damning.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Even the independent evaluation group of the bank did a review of 1996 to about 2006 and showed indications that a lot of the social sector suffered underinvestment during that period, because -.

Mehdi Hasan: And that didn't -, and that didn't change on -, that didn't change on your watch, is my point?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Actually, no, it did. It did. For example -.

Mehdi Hasan: The World Bank and IMF stopped pushing austerity in recent years, really?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Well, well, you know, one of the things that, that, that happened, you would see a country like Rwanda. Rwanda is an incredible example of where effectiveness in the use of additional resources that came from that reduction, went to social sectors. Whether it's maternal mortality, infant mortality. It was halved during the period that I was in the bank. These are real indicators that changed. Now, how far does that go? It doesn't go far enough because there is still so much in the area of social investment, in health and education, to empower the human -.

Mehdi Hasan: And yet the international institutions, all we ever hear from them is, "Balance your budgets, cut your spending, privatise your industries".

Obiageli Ezekwesili: It used to be the gospel truth, once upon a time. I think it is more nuanced within the institutions. One of the things that we have since learned is that when you talk about liberalisation and privatisation, you cannot become an ideologue, with those kinds of economic changes. It must be based on pragmatism.

Mehdi Hasan: As an African voice, at the top tier of the World Bank, one of the vice presidents, did you find it frustrating that the bank operates on this so-called "one dollar, one vote system", whereby the members with the greatest financial contributions have the greatest say in what happens. For example, one of the world's, one of the World Bank's five institutions is the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the, the IBRD. Forty-nine sub-Saharan countries have five percent of the vote in the IBRD, while the US, Japan, Germany, the UK and France have 36 percent of the vote in that institution. Do you think that's fair, democratic?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: It wasn't even seen as fair by the countries you mentioned. After a while, they recognised that this was not the way to go, and so there's been an-, an agenda to improve and to rebalance. As-, as management staff, one of the things that you can do is to ensure that more of the countries on the continent that I was responsible for, ran really good economies, and began to grow, and expanded their opportunities and their options.

Mehdi Hasan: During that same period, your own country, Nigeria, saw the number of people living in absolute poverty go up, not down, as a proportion of the population. That's pretty embarrassing, given Nigeria's wealth, given the growth rate, and yet the poor people, the numbers of poor people are growing, not falling.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: It's because, you know, there is a, a disconnect often between growth and poverty reduction. You -, whereas growth is a necessary condition for poverty reduction, but it is not sufficient in of itself. And so the kind of structural change that is necessary in economies requires some really hard-nosed policy choices. Sometimes, politically minded people are not ready to make some of those tough choices, and to deploy resources in ways that are effective.

Mehdi Hasan: Richard Itaman, do you think World Bank policies, largely devised in Washington, DC, even if there's someone like Obi in a senior position there, do you think they work for African countries such as Nigeria and others?

Richard Itaman: It's obvious the free-market systems do not reduce poverty, or inequality in developing countries. There is research coming out of, of the IMF which clearly proves and clearly shows that at a low level of development, the market is very inefficient, and I -, and based on that, I do not think that we should continue to pursue free-market ideologies. 

Mehdi Hasan: OK. Richard Dowden, Obi talked about she thinks it's more nuanced now, the discussion, the policies, the ideology. Do you think that's true?

Richard Dowden: I think it -, I think, yes, I think it is. The way in which the World Bank imposed, and the IMF imposed structural adjustment in the '90s, was so casual, so unconcerned with the direct effects. It was absolutely catastrophic.

Mehdi Hasan: Priscilla, you're - Priscila Nwikpo, you're nodding along to that.

Priscilla Nwikpo: I am, because I -, I agree with it. The, the structural programmes didn't work at all, and I think what these institutions failed to take into account at the time was that the world is moving forward. Having somebody like Dr Obi within the organisation, I don't think she would have had the necessary liberty to be able to make huge changes, but it is true to say that, today, the World Bank and the IMF are starting to move towards changes, because the world is changing. Everybody's becoming more alert. You know, the age of the internet makes us all very, very informed, and if we want that information, we will find it. So, they can no longer hide.

Mehdi Hasan: OK. Let me ask you this, Obi. If you were given a magic wand to wave over the World Bank and the IMF, what would you change to make it work better in the interests of Africa, that you weren't able to do when you worked there?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: I would define an exit date for them.

Mehdi Hasan: Define exit date for those institutions?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Yes. I did say to my then boss, President Zoellick, that if we defined an exit date when everybody would be out of the door, because the World Bank and the IMF is done with, it would put pressure on us to succeed at everything that we're trying to do -.

Mehdi Hasan: Many critics, especially on the left, would say that those institutions and the countries behind those institutions, have no interest in exit dates. They quite like the dependency relationship. It's an exploitative relationship -.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Well, frankly speaking, we cannot unwittingly reduce the concept of the sovereignty of countries. We need to get the political leadership of countries to understand that they have a responsibility to their citizens.

Mehdi Hasan: What date would you like to see the World Bank and the IMF out of Africa?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: At that time, I said 25 years.

Mehdi Hasan: What date, what year was that?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Which, which, this was in 2008. So, you know?

Mehdi Hasan: So, still a bit of time left.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Yeah.

Mehdi Hasan: Let's go to our audience here in the Oxford Union. Please do raise your hands if you want to ask a question, make a point. Let's go to the gentleman at the back.

Audience Participant 1: My name is Garba Sani I come from, I'm born and brought up from Maiduguri, which is the town where Boko Haram was actually kind of born, and I saw and experience first-hand the deprivation and therefore the social injustice that had been going on there for a long time. I wonder why the Obasanjo regime had not been able to see the development of such deprivation into this sort of violent insurgency?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: I would have to say to you that there is the local government and the, and there are the state governments, and they actually in Nigeria receive about 50 percent of the federation revenue. What that means is that in each of the states and each of the local governments, you needed more than the federal government intervention. You needed effectiveness in the investment to lift those regions out of poverty -.

Mehdi Hasan: Gentleman -.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: The question to you is, as an elite, how much of role did you play in ensuring that more children would have the kind of education that you received?

Mehdi Hasan: OK. Let's go back to the audience. Gentleman here in the glasses. Do you want to wait for the microphone to come to you?

Audience Participant 2: Oxfam has recently shown that the World Bank private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, is using financial intermediaries to sidestep human rights and transparency obligations, and is using this to support land grabs and human rights abuses and failed health privatisations across Africa, and the leopard has not changed its spots. As a transparency champion, does that worry you, that that's still going on across the continent?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: When I was within the bank, anything that had to do with lack of transparency in the activities of any department within the bank, I was known to be an internal critic of it. Much more when I'm outside of the bank. It is important that the bank and its subsidiaries should act above board in every activity that it engages in. I think that in many ways, the bank has opened up more, but a lot of people don't realise that there are many tools on the basis of which to demand even a widening of the, the scrutiny.

Mehdi Hasan: With respect, this gentleman is saying that based on current ongoing practices, the bank which you say has changed hasn't changed. The leopard hasn't changed its spots.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: No, I-, I mean you can't use one item. What he said is about the IFC and its private sector activities. Sometimes, it moves away from being a development institution to being an institution that really wants to make bottom-line profit, and in the process of that, it might enter into arrangements that may need to be scrutinised a little bit more.

Mehdi Hasan: A question from the lady there.

Audience Participant 3: What role do you think the legacy of colonialism plays in the problems of Nigeria today?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Significant role in the sense that, we were just, we were -, we just talked about corruption. The truth is that until colonialism, the, the -, the communities tackled corruption in ways that visited communal sanctions on bad behaviour. You knew predictively that when you behaved badly, you got the cane. Now, with colonialism, and the advent of the modern civil service, there was not a convergence between existing traditional institutions for sanctioning bad behaviour. And the -, and what was conceded as a -, do you know what they call public service in Ibo land, where I come from? "Olu oyibo" - the white man's work. So, something so alienated from the people, they did not care to demand accountability from it. So, that was part of the effect of colonialism.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, gentleman here in the tie.

Audience Participant 4: My question to you is for you, about you. Now, we are having a changing government, what role do you see yourself playing? As a constructive critic, or a collaborative insider? Thank you.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: I have done six and a half years in government. It would take extraordinary persuasion of the divine to have me get back again into government.

Mehdi Hasan: But you're not ruling it out?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: I -, I just told you who, who would have to extraordinarily whip me into line.

Mehdi Hasan: OK. Let's go to the lady here, then I wanna go to the back again, I'll go that lady there in the front row, there.

Audience Participant 5: We have, we have all agreed that this current government has failed in security, especially with Bring Back Our Girls. I am a major campaigner for, you know, the Bring Back campaign. Now, we are about to have a new government, how do you think we can actually move the agenda forward? Shall we continue to campaign or shall we engage the government, the new leadership, to find a new strategy towards dealing with this issue on how to bring back those girls, because we need to have an answer. Are these girls still alive? Where are they and why are we not able to get them back?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: We have already made it clear to the incoming administration that during the transition period, we expect them to rise to leadership on the issue of finding our girls, and so that the transition agenda that they are defining with the existing government must be one that puts the rescue of our girls at the very top of the, of the list -.

Mehdi Hasan: Are they still alive, in your view?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: There is not counterfactual evidence to make us stop hoping that our girls are alive and will be brought back.

Mehdi Hasan: And what do you say to people who say that hundreds, if not thousands of people have been abducted in Nigeria and we all focus on these poor girls, and those others are maybe forgotten?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Well, I don't think that there's anywhere in the world where 276 people were abducted at the same time, ever. And that, that, therefore, meant that it was necessary for us to use their abduction as a basis to make an inroad into the larger issue that affects many more people -.

Mehdi Hasan: OK. Let's go first to that lady in the green top and then that gentleman in the white shirt with the beard has been waiting, as well.

Audience Participant 6: You mentioned that Nigeria's currently at the tipping point, and I would just like to ask what are your views on the three, three top priorities for this incoming administration, to lay the proper foundation for change -?

Mehdi Hasan: Time is short. How about one top priority?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: So, one top priority is going to be to set the governance system right again. To completely overhaul the systems for the prevention of corruption. To then make sure that the institutions that exist to sanction corruption actually work. That way, it would be a deterrent to bad behaviour. For as long as corruption is rewarding, many more people would vote for corruption -.

Mehdi Hasan: And prosecute people from all parties and all governments who've been involved in it?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: That has to be the supremacy of the law, and that's, that, you know -.

Mehdi Hasan: Even former presidents?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: If, if you -.

Mehdi Hasan: It was worth a try.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: investigate, if you investigate and find anyone guilty, they must go before the law.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, lady here.

Audience Participant 7: The recent -, Ebola exposed weaknesses in the healthcare system in West Africa. How can the World Bank and other donors ensure that their investment leads to improvement in healthcare system investment, with a long term sustainable approaches , and what can they learn from other countries in Asia that have graduated?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: I would speak as an African and say, how will African countries ensure that sensible people manage their healthcare systems?

Mehdi Hasan: That's giving the World Bank a pass, surely?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: It -, no, it doesn't give the World -, because the minister of health must be able to say to the World Bank health specialist, "This will not work here. I don't want it."

Mehdi Hasan: I'm not sure it's as easy as that, with respect. Gentleman there with the beard, yes, who I promised to come to earlier. Yes, you.

Audience Participant 8: You're a, a great example of a female leader. The campaign on Bring Back Our Girls is at the very least, brought huge visibility to it. Can I ask a wider question about women's rights? What should be done in Nigeria and what should be done in, by the World Bank, to improve the lot of women?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: The, the first thing is to actually educate as many women as possible. The more that we can push the agenda for girl child education, the better. And that's part of why I am insistent on the Chibok girls being rescued, 'cause it would be a very important signal to girl child everywhere, that education would not cost them their lives.

Mehdi Hasan: OK. The lady at the back wall, yes, you. Right against the wall. Almost out of time.

Audience Participant 9: Nigeria is currently the largest economy in Africa. Do you think we will soon see a decline in its growth, caused by Boko Haram's actions, as economic growth and conflict don't go well together? Thank you.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Oh, certainly it would have an impact. A lot of critical infrastructure investment cannot happen in an environment of war.

Mehdi Hasan: This lady here and this gentleman here has been waiting.

Audience Participant 10: So much has been said about Nigeria's long-standing reputation for corruption. Do you think there's a place in Nigeria for a welfare system? Do you think it's feasible it could be introduced, and do you think it will help combat corruption?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: Already the Goodluck Jonathan administration has actually taken very important steps to begin to design social safety net system. I think it would be to, to do even more -. 


Obiageli Ezekwesili: - in improving, in-, in improving those systems. And also to, to basically look at the issue of youth unemployment. It's, it's, it's an -, it's a source of implosion in any society.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, I promised this gentleman the last question, here in the jacket.

Audience Participant 11: My question pertains to the -, the finding of the -, of the abducted Chibok girls. I was going to ask, beyond appealing to the Nigerian government and I suppose other foreign nations to help with securing the release of these girls, has your organisation considered the use of other channels which might not require the approval of the government in finding and securing the -, the safe release of the girls?

Obiageli Ezekwesili: I -, I mean, it's a failure. It's a failure of the world that we are today not sure whether the girls are situated in one location or the other. Even when our chief of defence had told us some time ago, in May 2000 and 2014, that they knew where the girls are, and suddenly, we don't know where the girls are. And suddenly, we think we've sighted them. Enough of the contradictions. So, the parents asked for independent, private investigators and we did go out of our way to begin to find any of those channels. So, it is a good thing that you asked. Are you one? 

Mehdi Hasan: You might wanna cast a wider net. One last question from me to you. If by "divine intervention", you were to go back into government -.

Obiageli Ezekwesili: I am glad I finally redeemed your soul.

Mehdi Hasan: Yes. If by divine intervention, you were to go back into government, what would you do differently this time? 

Obiageli Ezekwesili: I would spend much more time than I spent with citizens' groups. The -, the demand side for good governance is ultimately what builds institutions. Governments can create entities but they are mere agencies. In order to make them enduring institutions that respond to the needs of the society, the citizens must feel a sense of ownership for those institutions, and demand that everything that they need in order to be effective, is given to them. I have coined a concept called the "Office of the Citizen", and I have said to my fellow citizens that the Office of the Citizen is actually the highest office in the land. That's what underpins the government. 

Mehdi Hasan: Well, on that note, we'll have to leave it there. We've run out of time. Thank you so much for joining us here on Head to Head. Thank you so much to our panel for coming here tonight. Thanks to our audience as usual here in the Oxford Union. Thanks to you all for watching at home. Goodnight.

Source: Al Jazeera