Nigeria: Success for an International Treasure - Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

14 October 2020

"Isn't she lovely? Isn't she wonderful? Isn't she precious?"

The above lyrics to the song of Stevie Wonder are exactly what I sing when I think of the great titan, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala because I think that she is amazing.

The popular saying "your reputation precedes you" surely resonates with Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Indeed she needs no introduction as her reputation speaks for itself.

The quintessential "Amazon" who doubles as an economist and international development expert currently sits on the Boards of Standard Chartered Bank, Twitter, Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), and the African Risk Capacity (ARC).

Impressive you might be thinking. Well hold on to your marbles because there is more.

A Harvard University Alumni, graduating "magna cum laude" in Economics, and earning her Ph.D in regional economics and development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), her extraordinary pedigree and glittering resume speaks volumes about her.

Previously, she spent a 25-year career at the World Bank as a development economist, scaling the ranks to the Number 2 position of Managing Director, Operations from 2007-2011 and she also served two terms as Finance Minister of Nigeria under the administrations of Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan respectively, becoming the first female Finance Minister in Nigeria.

A woman of "firsts" she is currently aiming for the top job at the World Trade Organization (WTO), which hasn't had a female head or an African in its 25-year history. For me, it is a no-brainer, not because she is a woman, a Nigerian or an African, but because like I inferred earlier, her reputation precedes her. Her capabilities and wealth of experience at the highest level of the World Bank, as a Development Economist, Diplomat and one of Africa's most trusted technocrats, are just some of the reasons I am joining many around the world in rooting for her.

The current journey for the WTO leadership began after its former Director General Roberto Azevêdo from Brazil stepped down in May and failing to complete his term in August.

By early July, eight candidates had formally been nominated by WTO members that includes Dr Jesús Seade Kuri, from Mexico, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, from Nigeria, Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh, from Egypt, Tudor Ulianovschi, from Moldova, Yoo Myung-hee, from Republic of Korea, Amina C. Mohamed, from Kenya, Mohammad Maziad Al-Tuwaijri, from Saudi Arabia, and Dr Liam Fox, from the United Kingdom.

With the race narrowed down to two candidates and in its final stage, understandably Nigeria and the African continent have endorsed her candidacy and rooting for her. In a striking development, the European Union (EU) has also thrown its weight behind her candidacy. Indeed the EU's endorsement is unprecedented and comes as a tacit acknowledgement of her sterling qualities.

Perhaps this endorsement will form part of the much needed boost she needs to clinch the WTO top job.

Her challenger Yoo Myung-hee from South Korea has a background in trade issues and she is currently serving as Minister for Trade of her country. She is also the first woman to hold the position.

However, her major weakness is not having played at a global scale like her counterpart, who is a former Managing Director of the World Bank.

Although the South Korean is younger by 13 years, her lack of international experience places her next to Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Another major reason why Dr Okonjo-Iweala should clinch the top job is the immense benefit Nigeria and by extension the African continent stands to gain in terms of favorable trade conditions.

As the DG of WTO, her term in office would quicken the space of Nigeria's development and balance of trade. Coming at a time Nigeria is talking seriously about economic diversification, her election as DG would offer support and traction.

In addition, the WTO opportunity would greatly enhance the strategic road map of the Ministry of Industry Trade and Investment in the areas of trade promotion and facilitation.

Also, Nigeria has signed on to the African Continental Free Trade Area and established the National Action Committee for its implementation. Should the former Finance Minister clinch the WTO top job, it would help to spur the expected expansion of market access for Nigerian exporters and growth, thereby boosting job creation and supporting industrialization.

As I join many Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike in support of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the WTO leadership, I would also like to take it a notch further away from the WTO race. In Nigeria's 60-year history, there hasn't been a President of Eastern descent. Perhaps except for the largely ceremonious title of President held by Nnamdi Azikiwe after independence, hence the continued clamor for an "Igbo" President.

Honestly, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is well-suited to fill these shoes.

Out of the many eminent personalities from the Eastern parts of the country, she remains a top contender for President from the region and will also make history by becoming the first female President of Nigeria.

Many might say she is a woman, however, gender in recent times have shown not to be an impediment to leadership. In fact, a quick search of female leadership around the world reveals that women in top position are performing tremendously well.

With her 2-year old baby in hand, Jacinda Arden, Prime Minister of New Zealand has shown purposeful leadership during the current coronavirus pandemic. The resolute and inspirational leadership over the years of German Chancellor, Angela Merkel cannot be overemphasized. Already, Kamala Harris running mate to Joe Bidden in the US Presidential elections is being touted as a possible first female President of America.

If given the opportunity, Dr Ngozi will replicate the exemplary leadership of these women and take Nigeria to lofty heights.

Aside from her distinguished performance internationally, she has consistently shown that she has Nigeria's interest close to heart. As a key figure in President Olusegun Obasanjo's cabinet, she organized an $18bn debt write-off for Nigeria, cracked down on corruption and helped obtain the country's first ever sovereign debt rating.

In 2003 she led efforts to improve Nigeria's macroeconomic management including the implementation of an oil-price based fiscal rule where revenues accruing above a reference benchmark oil price were saved in a special account, "The Excess Crude Account" which helped to reduce macroeconomic volatility.

Frequently dressed in her trademark combination of matching headgear, necklace, earrings and printed cotton dress, she exudes simplicity and humility. She has been lauded by Bono, lead singer of U2 and a co-founder of ONE Foundation who once said that Ngozi "is fiercely intelligent; everyone wants her to work with her. I couldn't be prouder to work for her." Similarly, Gordon Brown former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom called her "a brilliant reformer."

Indeed becoming Director General of the WTO will greatly improve her resume and beneficial for Nigeria and the African continent. The bigger picture for me is her becoming Nigeria's President.

With her pedigree, experience and humility among other impressive qualities, Nigeria will not be at a loss in having her as President.

The strength of having a woman leader is written all over Dr Ngozi. She is phenomenal and a powerhouse that will make decisions from a place of compassion and understanding.

She will lead with empathy, compassion and stay strong.

It is amazing to witness this moment in history as Dr Ngozi is poised to make all women, Nigerians, Africans and minorities proud.

The former President of Liberia, Ellen Sirleaf Jonson, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize once said that, "The power of women has not yet been fully tested or tapped, We need to build towards using it more often."

I couldn't agree more as I raise my hand in prayer and hope that Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is successful in her latest aspiration of becoming An International Treasure."

May success and the blessings of The Almighty continue to guide Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

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