Nigeria is blessed with abundant human potentials who have continued to trail the blaze in great fields of human endeavor, not only in Nigeria, but also across the globe.
One of such human potentials is Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a quintessential woman with an uncommon wherewithal to weather diverse economic, managerial and administrative storms.
Armed with good education, feminine gait and human disposition, Okonjo-Iweala has been one resourceful African (not just Nigerian) whose endowments have rendered her a global citizen and achiever.
She was the economic statistician during the President Goodluck Jonathan’s government, a position she was lured to handle from the World Bank confines.
Joining the whole world to celebrate her, Chief Sir Eric Eze, President Ohanaeze Ndigbo General Assembly Worldwide, Lagos Chapter, on behalf of his humble self and the Ohaneze Ndigbo in general heartily Congratulations Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (NOI) on her appointment as Director General to the World Trade Organisation, WTO.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (born 13 June 1954) is a Nigerian-American economist and international development expert who has served since March 1, 2021 as Director-General of the World Trade Organization. She is the first woman and the first African to hold the office. She sits on the boards of Standard Chartered Bank, Twitter, Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, and the African Risk Capacity (ARC).
Previously, Okonjo-Iweala spent a 25-year career at the World Bank as a development economist, scaling the ranks to the number two position of Managing Director, Operations (2007–2011). She also served two terms as finance minister of Nigeria (2003-2006, 2011-2015) under President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Goodluck Jonathan respectively. She was the first woman to serve as the country’s finance minister, the first woman to serve in that office twice, and the only finance minister to have served under two different presidents. In 2005, Euromoney named her Global Finance Minister of the year.
EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION
Okonjo-Iweala was born in Ogwashi-Ukwu, Delta State, Nigeria, where her father, Professor Chukwuka Okonjo, was the Obi (king) of the Obahai Royal Family of Ogwashi-Ukwu.
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 and graduated magna cum laude with an AB in Economics in 1976. In 1981, she earned her PhD in Regional Economics and Development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the Thesis; Credit policy, Rural Financial Markets, and Nigeria’s agricultural development. She received an international fellowship from the American Association of University Women (AAUW), which supported her doctoral studies.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, at the 2004 Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group
Okonjo-Iweala had a 25-year career at the World Bank in Washington DC as a development economist and rose to the second position, 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 the 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 Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and held meetings between April and October 2008.
Okonjo-Iweala served twice as Nigerian Finance Minister and also as Minister of Foreign Affairs. She was the first female to hold both positions. During her first term as Finance Minister in the administration of 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, she 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, 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 of Nigeria in the newspapers. That 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 31 December 2014, the IPPIS platform had eliminated 62,893 ghost workers from the system and saved the government about $1.25 billion in the process.
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. She returned to the World Bank as a Managing Director in December 2007.
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. Her legacy includes strengthening the country’s public financial systems and stimulating the housing sector with the establishment of the Mortgage Refinance Corporation (NMRC). She also empowered women and youth with the Growing Girls and Women in Nigeria Programme (GWIN); a gender-responsive budgeting system, and the highly acclaimed Youth Enterprise with Innovation programme; to support entrepreneurs, that created thousands of jobs. As part of Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, she received death threats and endured the kidnapping of her mother.
This programme has been evaluated by the World Bank as one of the most effective of its kind globally. Under her leadership, the National Bureau of Statistics carried out a re-basing exercise of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the first in 24 years, which saw Nigeria emerge as the largest economy in Africa. She took a lot of heat for the government’s fuel subsidy removal policy, an action that led to protests in January 2012. In May 2016, the new administration eventually removed the fuel subsidy after it became apparent that it was unsustainable and inefficient.
In addition to her role in government, Okonjo-Iweala served on the Growth Commission (2006-2009), led by Nobel Prize winner Professor Michael Spence, and the United Nations’ Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda (2012-2013). She also co-chaired the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation. In 2012, she was a candidate for President of the World Bank, running against Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim; if elected, she would have become the organization’s first female president.
After leaving government, Okonjo-Iweala became a member of the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity (2015-2016), chaired by Gordon Brown, and the Eminent Persons Group on Global Financial Governance, which was established by the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors (2017’2018). Since 2014, she has been co-chairing the Global Commission for the Economy and Climate, with Nicholas Stern and Paul Polman. In January 2016, she became the chair-elect of the Board of Gavi.
Okonjo-Iweala is the founder of Nigeria’s first indigenous opinion-research organization, NOI-Polls. She also founded the Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa (C-SEA), a development research think-tank based in Abuja, and is a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Center for Global Development and the Brookings Institution.
Since 2019, Okonjo-Iweala has been part of UNESCO’s International Commission on the Futures of Education, chaired by Sahle-Work Zewde. Also since 2019, she has also been serving on the High-Level Council on Leadership & Management for Development of the Aspen Management Partnership for Health (AMP Health). In 2020, the International Monetary Fund’s Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva appointed her to an external advisory group to provide input on policy challenges. Also in 2020, she was appointed by the African Union (AU) as special envoy to solicit international support to help the continent deal with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In June 2020, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari nominated Okonjo-Iweala as the country’s candidate to be Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO). She later advanced to the election’s final round and eventually competed with Yoo Myung-hee. Ahead of the vote, she received the backing of the European Union for her candidacy. In October 2020, the United States government indicated that it would not back Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy. The WTO in its formal report said that Okonjo-Iweala “clearly carried the largest support by Members in the final round; and, enjoyed broad support from Members from all levels of development and from all geographic regions and has done so throughout the process”.
On 5 February 2021, Yoo Myung-hee announced her withdrawal from the race in “close consultation with the United States. According to a statement issued from the United States Trade Representative, “The United States takes note of today’s decision by the Republic of Korea’s Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee to withdraw her candidacy for Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The Biden-Harris Administration is pleased to express its strong support for the candidacy of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the next Director General of the WTO. Okonjo-Iweala was unanimously appointed as the next director-general on 15 February.
In early 2021, Okonjo-Iweala was appointed as co-chair, alongside Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Lawrence Summers, of the High Level Independent Panel (HLIP) on financing the global commons for pandemic preparedness and response, which had been established by the G20.
She is married to Ikemba Iweala, a family medicine physician from Umuahia, Abia State, Nigeria. They have four children, including author Uzodinma Iweala.
During her campaign to become the next Director-General of the WTO, it was revealed that Okonjo-Iweala became a US citizen in 2019 after spending several decades working and studying there. Given the ongoing trade tensions between China and the US, analysts commented that the disclosure would be a contributing factor in shaping China’s attitude towards her.