Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala emerges as the first African and the first female to attain the position of Director General of World Trade Organisation after eliminating South Korea’s current trade Minister, Yoo Myung-hee in a fierce battle for the coveted job. The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the only global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations. At its heart are the WTO agreements, negotiated and signed by the bulk of the world’s trading nations and ratified in their parliaments. The goal is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible.
While we look at things happening in Nigeria at the moment with a sense of anxiety and hope, it is never off-key to celebrate levels of success, especially individual success from a Nigerian’s point of view when it comes to value. In this regard, we narrow our focus to Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
She is a Nigerian economist, an author and an entrepreneur who happens to be our first female finance minister and the first female foreign affairs minister in Nigeria.
She is also the first female and black candidate to contest for the presidency of World Bank Group in 2012. Okonjo-Iweala is a great woman who during her time as a minister of finance-led valuable negotiations with the Paris Club of creditors that led to wiping out of US$30billion of the country’s debt. She also initiated processes that aided the vast improvement of Nigeria’s macroeconomic management and reduce macroeconomic volatility. All her initiatives tackled corruption on many levels to an extent and helped restore the faith of investors in Nigeria thereby creating more jobs and opportunities for the youth at the time.
She was educated at Queen’s School, Enugu, and at St. Anne’s School, Molete, Ibadan, and also at the International School Ibadan. She moved to the US in 1973 as a teenager to study at Harvard University, graduating with an AB in Economics in 1976. In 1981, she earned a PhD in regional economics and development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a profound thesis titled Credit policy, rural financial markets, and Nigeria’s agricultural development, received an International Fellowship recognition from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) that supported her doctoral studies
Okonjo-Iweala had a 25-year career at the World Bank in Washington DC as a development economist, rising to the No 2 position of Managing Director. She had oversight responsibility for the World Bank’s $81 billion operational portfolios in Africa, South Asia, Europe and Central Asia. Okonjo-Iweala spearheaded several World Bank initiatives to assist low-income countries during the 2008 – 2009, food crises, and later during the financial crisis. In 2010, she was Chair of the IDA replenishment, the World Bank’s successful drive to raise $49.3 billion in grants and low-interest credit for the poorest countries in the world. During her time at the World Bank, she was also a member of the Commission on Effective Development Cooperation with Africa.
Achievements as a Nigerian minister
- Initiated the practice of publishing the federal government’s monthly allocation of each state in newspapers.
- With support from the World Bank and IMF, she built an electronic financial management platform which helped in eliminating many ghost workers in the system; thus saving the Nigerian government a huge sum of money.
- Spearheaded the negotiation that closed a deal with the Paris Club wiping out US$30billion Nigerian’s debt.
- Empowered Nigeria’s women through the Growing Girls and Women in Nigeria Program (GWIN).
- She was instrumental in boosting Nigeria’s credit rating from Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s.
- Empowered Nigeria’s youth through the Youth Enterprise with Innovation Program (YouWIN). The program support entrepreneurs that create jobs for Nigerians.
The EU did indeed back Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the next director-general of the World Trade Organization, boosting the Nigerian’s frontrunner status. An EU official said the decision to back Ms Okonjo-Iweala, who would be the first WTO chief from Africa, was “a strong signal to reinforce the multilateral order”, as well as “a clear signal towards Africa and a sign of mutual trust”.
The EU itself had decided not to field a candidate of its own. Trade diplomats from the EU27 held hearings with both candidates on October 14. The role became available because of the unexpected early resignation of Roberto Azevêdo, a Brazilian who had held the job since 2013. He stepped down in September. The new chief will take over at a time when the WTO’s capacity to promote rules-based trade has been undermined by gaps in its rule book.
No matter our political differences, tribal inclinations and religious sentiments, we Nigerians have always found a consensus in her prowess, competence & capabilities in her.
She is married to fellow Nigerian Dr. Ikemba Iweala, a neurosurgeon. They have four children. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala makes history today.