Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: Still standing tall on competence

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By Daniel Kanu

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, world-class development economist and former two-time Finance Minister was during the week nominated by President Mohammadu Buhari as the candidate for the job of Director-General of the World Trade Organisation.

The new WTO DG is expected to succeed the incumbent, Mr Roberto Azevêdo, who has announced that he would step down on August 31, 2020.

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.

However, the nomination of Dr Okonjo-Iweala came as a surprise to some political watchers given the fact that President Buhari had already proposed the candidacy of Ambassador Yonov Frederick Agah, the country’s permanent representative for the organisation, for the position.

Mrs Okonjo-Iweala and Buhari have been perceived by most Nigerians as “political enemies”, so her candidacy begs the question of what has changed for the president.

But some political commentators told Sunday Sun that “Buhari is on point this time with her nomination”.

Her nomination and eventual grabbing of the coveted position is expected to provide a distinctive opportunity for another Nigerian to be in the upper echelons of a top international institution.

Despite initial kicks by the Egyptian government that Nigeria had forfeited its chance to participate in the race with the withdrawal of Agah’s candidature, WTO in a statement acknowledged Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s nomination as one of the candidates for the position of the DG of the organization.

So, her nomination is still within the time frame.

WHO had written: “Nigeria, on 9 June 2020, nominated Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the post of WTO Director-General to succeed the current Director-General, Mr. Roberto Azevêdo, who has announced he will step down on 31 August 2020.

“According to the timetable announced by the Chair of the General Council, David Walker, the nomination period will close on 8 July 2020”.

With her nomination, analysts are optimistic that her international lobbying ability, and reform credentials, make her a compelling candidate to beat.

For now, Kenya’s Amina Mohamed and Egypt’s Abdel Hamid Mamdou, are Africans contending with her for the plum job.

Many believe that the rationale for her candidacy is transparent. As a global finance expert, an economist and international development professional with over 30 years of experience working in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and North America her credential speak volumes on competence.

Mrs Okonjo-Iweala is known to be always on the rise. She was recently appointed as African Union (AU) Special Envoy to mobilise International financial support for the fight against COVID-19 and WHO Special Envoy for Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator.

She is a skilled negotiator and has brokered numerous agreements which have produced win-win outcomes in negotiations, just as she is regarded as an effective consensus builder and an honest broker enjoying the trust and confidence of governments and other stakeholders.

Twice she served as Nigeria’s Finance Minister (2003-2006 and 2011-2015) and briefly acted as Foreign Minister in 2006, the first woman to hold both positions.

She distinguished herself by carrying out major reforms which improved the effectiveness of these two ministries and the functioning of the government machinery

It was under her leadership as Minister of Finance that she spearheaded negotiations with the Paris Club of Creditors that led to the wiping out of $30 billion of Nigeria’s debt, including the outright cancellation of $18 billion

Also as Finance Minister, she was actively involved in trade negotiations with other West African countries and contributed to the overhaul of Nigeria’s trade policy enabling it to enhance its competitiveness.

With over 25-year career experience at the World Bank as a development economist, rising to the No. 2 position of Managing Director, Operations, she steered her country through various reforms ranging from macroeconomic to trade, financial and real sector issues.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is known to be a firm believer in the power of trade to lift developing countries out of poverty and assist them to achieve robust economic growth and sustainable development.

She has closely followed developments at the WTO, as she believes that a strengthened multilateral trading system is in the interests of all countries, particularly least developed and African countries.

Through her leadership of the GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, world leaders have pledged an additional US$ 8.8 billion far exceeding the target of US$ 7.4 billion. These significant sums will see over 300 million children immunised over the next five years, including the creation and distribution of the COVID vaccine; the largest investment in immunisation ever made by lower-income countries mostly in Africa.

Global economic developments point to the reality that the global trade conversation has moved from the periphery for the African continent. In that regard, a steady and recognisable hand like that of Okonjo-Iweala, observers agree is required to steer the global dialogue for the benefit of the continent.

Given her superlative credentials as a savvy bridge builder, a bold reformer, go-getter and one whose thoughts are painted on a global canvass, it makes sense that Africa strongly rallies behind her and join forces with the global community in ensuring that she is elected as the next Director-General of the World Trade Organisation.

Born ‎on June 13, 1954 in Ogwashi Ukwu, present-day Delta State, she had her education both in Nigeria and abroad.

She obtained her University education at ‎Harvard University‎, obtained her Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has received honorary degrees from not less than 15 universities worldwide, including the Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, Brown University, Obafemi Awolowo University, and the University of Port-Harcourt, among others.

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