Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala set to make historical past at WTO

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Having survived the murky waters of politics in Nigeria, the place her mom was kidnapped to ship her a message, and rising to quantity two on the World Financial institution, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala should not have any hassle coping with worldwide commerce negotiators in her new job on the World Commerce Organisation (WTO).

The 66-year-old would be the first lady and the primary African to occupy the place.

Regardless of not too long ago taking out US citizenship, she revels in being Nigerian and is fiercely patriotic – flaunting her African id in her African-print tailor-made outfits.

She advised the BBC in 2012 that she had in truth adopted such apparel as a working mom of 4 to do the varsity run, a straightforward reply for a wise look – and a thrifty one at that, given she estimated every outfit value round $25.

The Harvard-educated improvement economist is seen as a down-to-earth, laborious employee, who advised BBC HardTalk in July that what the WTO wanted was a shake-up.

“They want one thing totally different, it can’t be enterprise as ordinary for the WTO – [they need] somebody keen to do the reforms and lead.”

Reform in Nigeria

Throughout her 25 years on the World Financial institution, she is credited with spearheading a number of initiatives to help low-income international locations, particularly elevating practically $50bn in 2010 from donors for the Worldwide Improvement Affiliation (IDA), the World Financial institution’s fund for the poorest international locations.

However it’s her reform agenda in Nigeria by which she takes actual pleasure – particularly the 2 instances she served because the nation’s finance minister beneath Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at African finance ministers' press briefing in 2003
Ms Okonjo-Iweala gave up her job on the World Financial institution to work as Nigerian finance minister

One in all her best achievements was main a crew which negotiated a whopping $18bn debt write-off in 2005 for the nation, serving to Nigeria get hold of its first ever sovereign debt ranking.

The nation’s money owed had dated again to the early 1980s, and had ballooned to greater than $35bn because of penalties and late charges throughout the 1990s.

Her financial reforms had a far-reaching impression and saved Nigeria at a vital interval, in keeping with outstanding Nigerian economist, Bismarck Rewane.

This included de-linking the price range from the oil worth, permitting the nation to save cash in a particular account when oil costs had been excessive.

“It was this buffer that ensured Nigeria’s economic system survived between 2008 and 2009,” Mr Rewane advised the BBC.

Ms Okonjo-Iweala had given up a well-paid job on the World Financial institution and left her household in Washington, the place her husband works as a neurosurgeon, to work in Nigeria, the place in contrast to different ministers she didn’t have a big home employees or fleet of automobiles.

The truth is she even favored doing her personal cooking when she might, with cowtail pepper soup being a favorite, a Monetary Occasions interview revealed in 2015.

No-nonsense method

However her reforms and particularly her crackdown on corruption within the gas sector, the place some highly effective importers – often called entrepreneurs – claimed large sums of cash in subsidies from the federal government for gas they’d not offered, got here at private value.

Her mom, Kamene Okonjo – a medical physician and retired professor of sociology – was kidnapped from her house in southern Nigeria in 2012, aged 82.

Kidnapping is frequent in Nigeria, the place it’s a profitable felony enterprise and households usually pay up because the safety providers don’t usually discover these kidnapped.

The then-finance minister mentioned the abductors had first demanded her resignation after which a ransom.

However she says she refused to do both.

“I knew that the biggest vested curiosity that I had not too long ago offended in my anti-corruption work was an unscrupulous subset of the nation’s oil entrepreneurs,” she mentioned in her account of the occasion.

Mrs Okonjo was launched inside 5 days in unclear circumstances, however her daughter’s no-nonsense method might have come to bear within the matter.

One in all her sons – Uzodinma Iweala, writer of the 2005 novel Beast of No Nation – has mentioned of his strict upbringing: “My mum is a really highly effective lady. She is aware of how she needs issues completed, and for those who do not it her method, you’re in hassle.”


  • Born 1954 in Nigeria

  • Studied at Harvard 1973-76 and earned a PhD at Massachusetts Institute of Know-how (MIT) in 1981

  • Spent 25 years on the World Financial institution, rising to the No.2 place as managing director (2007-11)

  • Twice Nigerian finance minister – 2003-2006 and 2011-2015 – and the primary lady to carry the submit

  • Served briefly as overseas minister in 2006, additionally the primary lady to take action

  • Sits on the boards of Twitter, Commonplace Chartered Financial institution and the International Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI)

  • Nominated by President Mohammadu Buhari as candidate for director-general of the WTO in June 2020

‘I can take hardship’

Her drive might come from her information of actual poverty. She lived together with her grandmother till the age of 9 as her mother and father had been overseas getting their training.

“They had been gone for nearly a decade earlier than I actually noticed them and knew them. I did the whole lot a village woman would do, fetch water, go to the farm with my grandmother all of the chores, I noticed what poverty meant, to be poor at first hand,” she advised the BBC in 2012.

Her expertise as a teen throughout the Biafra civil warfare of 1967-1970 crystallised this.

Her Igbo mother and father misplaced all their financial savings throughout the battle as her father, a famend professor, was a brigadier within the Biafran forces.

“I can take hardship. I can sleep on the chilly ground anytime,” she mentioned.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala lays foundation of new classrooms for a school in Chibok burnt down by Boko Haram fighters - 2015
Ms Okonjo-Iweala lays basis of latest school rooms for a faculty in Chibok burnt down by Boko Haram fighters in 2015

However all the time fast to chuckle in interviews, she added: “I may sleep on a feather mattress.”

This dedication and independence helped her as she took on different reforms in Nigeria – like her choice to disclose the amount of cash allotted month-to-month to native authorities for issues like the development of roads and the working of rural colleges and clinics.

Economist Pat Utomi mentioned Nigerians had not realised how a lot regional directors had been receiving.

“However she got here up with the thought of publishing them and mainly embarrassed lots of people,” Prof Utomi advised me.

She additionally launched a system that helped to take away hundreds of faux employees and pensioners from authorities payroll.

However when the federal government determined to take away a gas subsidy in 2012, issues didn’t go properly.

Ms Okonjo-Iweala mentioned the subsidy was unsustainable because it was costing $8bn a yr, and inspired corruption.

Nonetheless, the federal government was pressured to again down after nationwide protests – the subsidy was solely eliminated earlier this yr, with the federal government promising to maintain the value capped.

And a few consider whereas her reforms in Nigeria had been good they haven’t been long-lasting.

‘Like working a family’

However Nigerian girls’s activist Josephine Effa-Chukwuma says Ms Okonjo-Iweala’s profession is a lot extra spectacular given how little respect girls could be proven in Nigeria.

“She made girls proud {that a} lady in a patriarchal and misogynistic nation like Nigeria might maintain her personal and carry out creditably opposite to what detractors thought,” she advised the BBC

“She was trustworthy, clear and accountable – virtues not usually present in public office-holders in Nigeria.”

The economist, who additionally serves on Twitter’s board of administrators, as chair of the Gavi vaccine alliance and as a particular envoy for the World Well being Group’s Covid-19 struggle, has joked earlier than that girls appear to be much less corrupt.

“Ladies are typically extra trustworthy, extra simple, extra centered on the job, and produce much less ego to it. I do not know if it is a female intuition however working an economic system is typically akin to working a family,” she advised the Unbiased in 2006.

And girls are additionally on her agenda on the WTO.

In her job utility, she mentioned: “It must also be conscious of the problem of facilitating the better participation of ladies in worldwide commerce, significantly in creating international locations, the place better efforts needs to be made to incorporate girls owned enterprises within the formal sector.”

Ms Effa-Chukwuma says this all bodes properly for the WTO: “We belief her to ship on the job and make sure that creating international locations profit from worldwide commerce.”

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