By Daniel Kanu
Former two-time Finance Minister and world-class development economist, Dr (Mrs) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala last week was appointed the Director-General (DG) of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
She will succeed Mr Roberto Azevêdo, who stepped down on August 31, 2020.
Okonjo-Iweala, whose tenure will begin on March 1, becomes the first woman and African to hold the position.
In a tweet on Monday, the WTO stated that, “Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from Nigeria is appointed as the next WTO Director-General. Dr Okonjo-Iweala makes history as the first woman and the first African to lead the WTO. Her term starts on the 1st of March 2021”.
WTO members took the decision to appoint Okonjo-Iweala at a special meeting of the General Council, following a selection process that included eight candidates from around the world.
The former minister had a few days ago received the backing of the administration of US President Joe Biden for the role.
But the coast finally became clear for Okonjo-Iweala when her last challenger, South Korean Trade Minister, Yoo Myung-hee, withdrew from the race for the position.
Unlike failure which is an orphan, her success has attracted so much encomiums from different parts of the world: local, national, regional, and international.
For instance, the US trade representative in a statement cited her “wealth of knowledge in economics and international diplomacy” and said that she had “proven experience managing a large international organization.”
President Muhammadu Buhari said that by the victory, she has brought joy and more honour to the country. Buhari in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu noted that “her track record of integrity, diligence, and passion for development will continue to yield positive results and rewards for mankind.”
Buhari further affirmed that Okonjo-Iweala who over the years has set major records would excel in her new position.
Excited governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike said that the world has entered a new epoch with the appointment of Okonjo-Iweala as the DG of WTO.
Also, fellow female global leaders, such as European Commission’s President, Ursula Von Der Leyen and President of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagard among numerous others, have already congratulated her on the new appointment.
“This is a historic moment for the entire world. I am so glad to see a woman from Africa at the head. Europe is fully behind you.
“We support the reform of the WTO and will help you protect the rules-based multilateral trading system,” Leyen said on her Twitter handle.
Expectedly, Southeast governors, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Alaigbo Development Foundation have equally expressed their delight for Okonjo-Iweala as “a daughter of the soil,” reiterating that she will remain the pride of the Igbo and Nigeria in the global space.
Recall that her nomination came as a surprise to most 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.
Of course, Okonjo-Iweala and Buhari have been perceived by most Nigerians as “political enemies”, so her candidacy begged the question of what has changed for the president.
Bearing in mind that the only constant thing in life is change, it was not surprising that Buhari changed his mind, perhaps bearing in mind her competence for the job as well as what the country stands to gain with a Nigerian as the WTO D-G.
There was also an initial kick by the Egyptian government that Nigeria had forfeited its chance to participate in the race with the withdrawal of Agah’s candidature, but WTO in a statement to the development said that her nomination was still within the time frame.
With her nomination then for the job, analysts were united in their optimism that her international lobbying ability, and reform credentials, made her a compelling candidate to beat. And true to their prediction, she emerged.
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.
The Director-General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Dr Muda Yusuf told Sunday Sun that while the emergence of Okonjo-Iweala is quite gratifying and calls for celebration there is a need to manage expectations around the outcomes for the Nigerian economy given the numerous productivity and competitiveness issues the country is grappling with.
Yusuf said that Nigeria needs to build capacity for international competitiveness of its products and services so as to benefit from the WTO.
Okonjo-Iweala is known to be always on the rise. She was recently appointed the 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 that has brokered numerous agreements that 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.
Born on June 13, 1954 in Ogwashi Ukwu, present-day Delta State, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala 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.