Ngozi-Okonjo-Iweala: Glorious home coming for WTO Director-General

March 17, 2021
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LAGOS – Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s own Director-General, World Trade Organisation (WTO), last weekend, arrived in Nigeria on a four-day official visit aimed at enhancing trade and improving the Nigerian economy. 

This is her first official visit to the country since March 1, 2021 when she made history, becoming the seventh WTO Director-General, the first woman and an African to do so. 

Okonjo-Iweala, according to reports, is in Nigeria to express appreciation to President Muhammadu Buhari and hold talks on how to stimulate economic activities. 

According to her, her visit is to see how the WTO could better assist Nigeria and her entrepreneurs on improving the economy. 

On Nigeria’s share of trade in Africa, she expressed the hope that Nigeria could use the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to boost trade and investment. 

While in Nigeria, Okonjo-Iweala will meet with President Buhari and top Federal Government officials like the Chief of Staff to the President, Ibrahim Gambari, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo, and Minister of State, Mariam Katagum, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Godwin Emefiele. 

She is also scheduled to meet with members of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, captains of industry, a cross section of women and small scale businessmen. 

To the uninitiated, the WTO Director-General is one of the world’s most sensitive positions, which is determined through power-plays by the super powers. That was why, in the case of Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, former U.S. President Donald Trump posed a stumbling block to her attaining the position until the incumbent U.S. President Joe Biden, took over power and gave her the nod. 

As the WTO D-G, Okonjo-Iweala is responsible for supervising and directing the organisation’s administrative operations. She has under her at the WTO secretariat about 700 staff, who she will be overseeing in the four years she will hold sway at the organisation. 

The post of Director-General became vacant since August 31, 2020, after the resignation of Roberto Azevêdo of Brazil, who had held the post since September 1, 2013. 

Born on, June 13 1954, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, an eminent global citizen, is a Nigerian-American economist and international development expert. She sits on the boards of Standard Chartered Bank, Twitter, Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, and the African Risk Capacity (ARC). 

Okonjo-Iweala had earlier spent a 25-year career at the World Bank as a development economist. She rose through the ranks to become the number two position of Managing Director, Operations (2007–2011). 

She also served two terms as Nigeria’s Finance Minister of Nigeria (2003–2006, 2011–2015) under President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Goodluck Jonathan respectively. 

Okonjo-Iweala, was not only the first woman to serve as Nigeria’s finance minister, she was also the first woman to serve in that office twice. She was also reputed to be the only finance minister to have served under two different presidents. In fact, in 2005, Euromoney named her Global Finance Minister of the Year. She was also Minister of Foreign Affairs. 

Okonjo-Iweala was born in Ogwashi-Ukwu, Delta State. Her father, Professor Chukwuka Okonjo, was the Obi (King) from the Obahai Royal Family of Ogwashi-Ukwu. 

Noted for her African attires, Okonjo-Iweala was educated at Queen’s School, Enugu; St. Anne’s School, Molete, Ibadan, and the International School, Ibadan. She arrived in the US in 1973 as a teenager to study at Harvard University, graduating magna cum laude (great distinction) in Economics in 1976. 

In 1981, she earned her PhD in Regional Economics and Development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a thesis titled ‘Credit Policy, Rural Financial Markets, and Nigeria’s Agricultural Development. 

She received an international fellowship from the American Association of University Women (AAUW), that supported her doctoral studies 

A cerebral lady, Okonjo-Iweala had a 25-year career at the World Bank in Washington DC as a development economist, rising to the Number Two position of Managing Director. 

As Managing Director, she had oversight responsibility for the World Bank’s $81 billion operational portfolio 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, which was set up by the Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark, and held meetings between April and October 2008. 

During her first term as Finance Minister under President Olusegun Obasanjo, she spearheaded negotiations with the Paris Club that led to the wiping out of US$30 billion of Nigeria’s debt, including the outright cancellation of US$18 billion. 

In 2003, Okonjo-Iweala led efforts to improve Nigeria’s macroeconomic management, including the implementation of an oil-price based fiscal rule. Revenues accruing above a reference benchmark oil price were saved in a special account called “The Excess Crude Account,” which helped to reduce macroeconomic volatility. 

She also introduced the practice of publishing each state’s monthly financial allocation from the Federal Government in the newspapers. This action went a long way in increasing transparency in governance. 

With the support of the World Bank and the IMF to the Federal Government, she helped build an electronic financial management platform – the Government Integrated Financial Management and Information System (GIFMIS), including the Treasury Single Account (TSA) and the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), helping to curtail corruption in the process. 

As at December 31, 2014, the IPPIS platform had eliminated 62,893 ghost workers from the system and saved the government about $1.25 billion in the process. In fact, it could be said that Okonjo-Iweala, while in government, laid the foundation for the anti-corruption crusade in Nigeria. 

Okonjo-Iweala was also instrumental in helping Nigeria obtain its first ever sovereign credit rating (of BB minus) from Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s in 2006. 

Following her first term as Minister of Finance, she served two months as Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2006 and returned to the World Bank as a Managing Director in December 2007. 

However, in 2011, Okonjo-Iweala was re-appointed as Minister of Finance in Nigeria with the expanded portfolio of the Coordinating Minister for the Economy by President Goodluck Jonathan. – z

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