By Our reporters
President Muhammadu Buhari and other world leaders yesterday hailed the appointment of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The WTO yesterday confirmed the former Nigeria’s Finance Minister as the first woman and the first African to head the world trade body.
Breaking the news, WTO said its on its website: “Members have just agreed to appoint Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the next Director-General of the WTO. The decision was taken at a special meeting today of the organisation’s General Council”.
The organisation said Dr. Okonjo-Iweala would become the first woman and the first African to head the WTO.
She is also expected to take up her duties on March 1 and her term, renewable, will expire on August 31, 2025.
Elated by the development, President Buhari praised the appointment as one that has brought joy and more honour to the country.
His Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said Buhari expressed the belief that, as the Harvard-educated and renowned economist takes up another onerous task of service to the world and humanity, her track record of integrity, diligence and passion for development will continue to yield positive results and rewards to mankind.
President Buhari affirmed that Okonjo-Iweala, who over the years set major records of economic reforms in Nigeria as Minister of Finance, and later Minister of Foreign Affairs, “will excel in her new position and validate the global mandate of repositioning and strengthening the multilateral institution for the greater good of all.
Meanwhile, a cross section of Nigerians has continued to felicitate with the new WTO boss,
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, in a statement , said “it is not hyperbole to say that no one could be more qualified for the job of Director General of the World Trade Organisation than her, and I congratulate her for her success at being the first female and African DG of the WTO.”
Former Governor of Abia State and Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Orji Kalu, described Dr Okonjo-Iweala as a “thorough bred-professional, with undoubted capacity and impeccable character.”
Highlighting the accomplishments of the globally renowned development economist and financial expert, the former Governor stressed that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has made Nigeria proud for being the first African and first female to occupy the position of Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in its 25-year history.
While congratulating her on the appointment, Kalu urged her to keep the Nigerian flag high, adding that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala will no doubt bring to bear her cross national and multi- sector experience in her role.
Kalu commended her achievements in the private and public spheres of life, locally and internationally, noting that she remains one of Nigeria’s best.
The Senator applauded the support of the African Union (AU), European Union (EU) and other member countries of WTO for supporting the candidature of Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala.
“The emergence of Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the first African and first female Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is a remarkable and historic feat for Nigeria and Africa at large.
“She will bring to bear her robust cross national and multi sector experience to bear in her new role in a bid to improve trade relations among member countries.
“Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has made Africa proud”, Kalu said.
While urging other officials of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to rally support for the new head, Kalu admonished the new Director General to sustain her exemplary leadership qualities anchored on transparency and accountability.
Kalu wished the new head of the trade body continued success in her career.
Also reacting to Okonjo-Iweala’s emergence, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, expressed the sentiments of the United Kingdom in a message on her Twitter handle, @CatrionaLaing1.
Laing said: “So delighted to hear this now confirmed. @NOIweala is the best possible leader for @wto at the most challenging of times. And so good to have a Nigerian woman in this top job. Congratulations!”
On his part, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, said the appointment of Okonjo-Iweala was well deserved.
In a message on his Twitter handle, @GeoffreyOnyeama, the Minister said: “Warmest congratulations, Dr. @NOIweala on your well deserved appointment as the first woman and first African Director-General @wto. Nigeria and Africa are very proud of you.”
The National President of Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce Industry Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), Hajiya Saratu Iya Aliyu, while congratulating the former Finance Minister, said: “ As a tested development economist and well respected figure in the international Finance and development circuit, who made impact in organisations such as the World Bank, we have confidence in the experience and ability of Dr Okonjo-Iweala to achieve the much needed reform at the WTO at this period in the history of the Organisation.
The Director General of Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) , Dr Muda Yusuf, said Okonjo-Iweala’s emergence comes at a time when the global trading system is faced with numerous challenges “including supply chain disruptions precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic, rising protectionism & unilateralism, growing economic nationalism, imposition of trade restrictions covering substantial amount of international trade, as well as trust and credibility concerns among members.”
And for Nigeria to fully take advantage of the opportunities offered by the WTO under Okonjo-Iweala’s leadership, Yusuf advised that the country should ensure that “it builds capacity for international competitiveness of our products and services; address trade facilitation issues, especially around port processes, ports infrastructures, international trade documentation, foreign exchange policies, trade policies and industrial policies.
“We need to promote local value addition and backward integration to strengthen competitiveness of our domestic industries. We must undertake reforms of our tariff policy in accordance with the principles of comparative advantage, which would enable the country optimise opportunities in the global trade arena and enhance the citizens’ welfare.
“It is critical to develop an AfCFTA strategy that would enable the country leverage trade opportunities both continentally and globally. There is need to improve on our strategy in managing the coronavirus pandemic ranging from ensuring compliance to safety protocols to vaccine procurement and distribution.
“While the emergence of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala as the new WTO Director General is very 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. Ultimately, these are the factors that would determine the benefits that would accrue to the economy from global trade.”
The Secretary General of Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Mr. Mohammed Barkindo, said “Iweala’s leadership capabilities, deep knowledge and her astute judgement and negotiating skills will be warmly welcomed at the WTO,” adding that she has “continuously conducted herself with the highest standards of professionalism, honesty, integrity and courage. I can think of no-one better for the position.”
The Delta State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, described Okonjo-Iweala as a brilliant, competent, world-class economist and international development expert whose works over the years had distinguished her globally.
The governor stated that the appointment of Okonjo-Iweala had broken the 24-year-old jinx of a female becoming head of the WTO, adding that she was the first African to lead the global trade body in its 25-year history.
“I am excited to hear of the emergence of our illustrious daughter, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as the Director-General of the WTO.
“Your appointment is indeed, a testament to your competence and experience as a renowned economist and international development expert”, he said
Describing Okonjo-Iweala’s victory as the most soothing news for a troubled nation, the National Chairman of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party ( PDP), Prince Uche Secondus said “it’s the most suiting news for a troubled nation in search of its soul due to poor leadership.”
The Vice-Presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 elections, Mr. Peter Obi, stated that Okonjo-Iweala’s track record of success, both in Nigeria as Finance Minister and across the world where she successfully served in various high profile positions in many global organizations and agencies, including the World Bank, stood her out as the right candidate for the job.
Okonjo-Iweala has the ability to draw from her knowledge, skills and wide experience from the economic and financial sectors, to lead the WTO to greater heights.
Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, said, “Having served in the Federal Executive Council with Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, I am confident that she will remain committed to her principles of transparency, accountability and equity, which the world is yearning for.
•Many feats of Okonjo-Iweala
Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was born on June 13, 1954 in Delta State, Nigeria, to the family of the late Obi of Ogwashi-Ukwu, Prof. Chukwuka Okonjo.
She attained secondary school education at Queens School, Enugu, St Anne’s School, Molete, Ibadan and the International School, Ibadan. Thereafter, she travelled to the US in 1973 to study Economics at Havard University and later earned a doctorate degree in regional and development economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where her thesis titled; ‘Credit Policy, Rural Finance Markets and Nigeria’s Agricultural Development.’
The 66-year-old economist spent 25 years at the World Bank and rose to the post of Managing Director by dint of hard work where she oversaw an $81 billion operational portfolio in Africa, Europe, Central Asia and South Asia. She spearheaded many World Bank initiatives to assist low income countries during the 2008 – 2009 food crises. In 2010, she was the chairperson a World Bank initiative to raise $49.3 billion in grants and low interest credit for the poorest countries in the world.
After serving in the World Bank, she returned to Nigeria in 2003 to serve as the first female Finance Minister under former President Olusegun Obasanjo and her negotiating skills helped the government seal a deal to cancel Nigeria’s debt worth $18 billion by the Paris Club of creditor nations in 2005. She served as Finance Minister from 2003 to 2006 and Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2006 and was re-appointed by former President Goodluck Jonathan where she served from 2011 to 2015. In 2005, Euro Money named her global finance minister of the year
She thereafter got appointed as the chairperson on the board of Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), an organisation that helps to distribute vaccines globally. After her term ended in December last year, she stepped down and was appointed as a special envoy for the World Health Organisation on COVID-19. In addition to the position she held at GAVI, she is a board member of Standard Chattered Bank, Twitter and the African Risk Capacity
She became an American citizen in 2019 after working in the US for many years and is married with four kids to Dr. Ikemba Iweala, a neurosurgeon.
Okonko-Iweala’s new job is to facilitate meetings, set agendas and most importantly, to mediate in trade disputes. She, however, said she plans to play a stronger role than Director Generals in the past and to reform the organisation and bring it back to its feet.