■ In October, her WTO candidacy was supported by all geographic regions at the trade body apart from the United States.
■ Okonjo-Iweala has said she can take hardship, having experienced Nigeria’s brutal civil war during her teenage years.
■ When serving as Nigeria’s finance minister, kidnappers demanded Okonjo-Iweala resign after taking her mother hostage.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been appointed the new chief of the World Trade Organization, becoming the first woman to ever lead the Switzerland-based institution and the first African citizen to take on the role. However, this is not the first time that Okonjo-Iweala makes history.
Born in Nigeria, Okonjo-Iweala graduated from Harvard University in 1976 and then earned a PhD from MIT. She then became the first woman to take on the Nigerian finance ministry and the foreign ministry too. She was also the first female to run for the World Bank presidency, where she spent 25 years.
Grateful for the expression of support from the US today for DG @WTO. Congratulations to Madam Yoo of Rep. Korea for a hard fought campaign.Thank You President Muhammadu Buhari @MBuhari &all Nigerians for your unflinching support.Thank you friends. Love to my family.Glory to God.
In October, her WTO candidacy was supported by all geographic regions at the trade body apart from the United States, where the then-Trump administration said it would continue backing the Korean candidate. However, Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment was cleared when President Joe Biden announced a few days ago his support for the 66-year old.
Her vision for the WTO The WTO is at a crossroads after many countries seemed to take a step back from long-standing norms governing international trade. In addition, its appellate body has been paralyzed for months after the U.S. — again, under the Trump administration — prevented the appointment of new judges therefore rendering it unable to rule on any trade disputes.
“My vision is also of a rejuvenated and strengthened WTO that will be confident to tackle effectively ongoing issues,” Okonjo-Iweala told WTO members during a hearing in July.
“It is clear that a rules-based system without a forum in which a breach of the rules can be effectively arbitrated loses credibility over time,” she said at the same hearing.I can take hardship. I can sleep on the cold floor anytime.Ngozi Okonjo-IwealaWTO DIRECTOR-GENERAL
Officials in the European Union and the United States have previously said the WTO needs to be reformed and its rules updated, but there is no consensus on how to do it.
“The WTO appears paralyzed at a time when its rule book would greatly benefit from an update to 21st century issues such as ecommerce and the digital economy, the green and circular economies,” Okonjo-Iweala said.
She is also likely to support female participation in global trade, having said that “greater efforts should be made to include women-owned enterprises in the formal sector.”
Sleeping on the floor Okonjo-Iweala has said she can take hardship, having experienced Nigeria’s brutal civil war during her teenage years, during which her family reportedly lost all their savings.
“I can take hardship. I can sleep on the cold floor anytime,” she told the BBC in an interview in 2012.
When serving as Nigeria’s finance minister, kidnappers demanded Okonjo-Iweala resign after taking her mother hostage. She refused to comply and they ended up releasing her mother a few days later, the BBC reported.
She has also been involved in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, being the African Union’s special envoy on the matter. Okonjo-Iweala has been a board member of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance — a public-private health partnership immunizing people in poorer countries.
President Joe Biden’s administration on Friday offered its “strong support” to Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to lead the World Trade Organisation, AFP reports.
The move marks another sharp split with former President Donald Trump who paralysed the organisation and opposed the former Nigerian finance minister who was backed by many other countries.
The US Trade Representative in a statement cited her “wealth of knowledge in economics and international diplomacy” and said she had “proven experience managing a large international organization.”
The PUNCH had reported early Friday that South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee, Okonjo-Iweala’s sole opponent in the race for the top job, withdrew her bid to lead the WTO leaving the former Nigerian Finance Minister as the only remaining candidate for the job.
Yoo was said made the decision after discussions with the United States and other major nations, and took various issues into account “comprehensively” including the need to revitalize the multilateral organization, according to a statement from Korea’s trade ministry on Friday.
All along the selection process which started mid last year, the 66-year-old former minister had said she remained positive of becoming the first African and first female director-general in the 25-year history of the WTO despite ‘hiccups’.
Okonjo-Iweala serves on Twitter’s board of directors, as chair of the GAVI vaccine alliance as well as a special envoy for the World Health Organisation’s COVID-19 fight. (Punch)
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, two-time minister, has been appointed as a member South Africa’s presidential economic advisory council.
Clarification sought by TheCable from close parties to the economist revealed that she is a member of the council, not the head as reported by some platforms.
The council is chaired by Cyril Ramaphosa, the South African president.
Pictures shared on Twitter by the official handle of South Africa’s presidency and Okonjo-Iweala showed the latter in a meeting with local authorities.
The pictures were captioned “With President Ramaphosa, members of cabinet, and members of the Presidential Economic Advisory Council in Pretoria discussing sources of growth for the South African economy and win-win economic interactions with the continent.”
Cyril Ramaphosa, the South African president, appointed the council on September 27, 2019.
In a statement published on its website, the presidency said the council will “ensure greater coherence and consistency in the implementation of economic policy and ensure that government and society in general is better equipped to respond to changing economic circumstances”.
The council, which is made up of local and international economic thought leaders, is expected to “advise the president and government more broadly, facilitating the development and implementation of economic policies that spur inclusive growth.
“The council is a non-statutory and independent body chaired by the president and brings together prominent economists and technical experts drawn from academia, the private sector, labour, community, think tanks and other constituencies. The members, who will volunteer their time and be compensated for subsistence and travel, are appointed to serve a three-year term.”
The council held its second meeting on Friday in Tshwane.
South Africa’s economy is currently in a recession; its second in two years.
Being conclusion of an interview with former Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Washington DC
Supporting someone who can’t go to school or who can’t get proper healthcare, do that that is also valid. But if you cannot do any of that and you want to help from the Diaspora, my suggestion to you is perhaps select an area of interest where you can contribute something that will change the way things are being done, lend your voice and when it comes to the time to vote, go home, register and vote.
The second government you served was criticized for presiding over corruption and if you situate that against a portion of your book where governor Duke coming to meet you say, ‘serving that government gave it some credibility.’ How did you find that moral compass to serve?
I think people should go and read a book called ‘This Present Darkness’, it is a very dark book unfortunately and it Chronicles the history of Nigeria with corruption crime over many years. And unfortunately, almost every administration in the country has been accused of corruption, during the time they were in government, after the time they were in government. It’s been happening for years so it is nothing new that’s why the issue of how are we going to get rid of this, how are going to fight will always arise. Should we just keep having this or are some people going to put their neck on the line and say we are going to fight this. So under both presidents, this existed and they both had different styles. So it is not anything new but on the ground, some of the things we used to fight corruption are what I said after that regime and the following one were not continued and there was a need to try and come back and finish off that work.
I think when we were trying to get debt relief and we initiated the reforms during the Obasanjo administration, there were more visibility and more communication about the need to fight corruption. That was there and people at least knew that there was a signal about the fact that this was not acceptable and we were going to fight it.
One of the things you will read in the book is that I thought that the second time I went back under Jonathan’s administration, we didn’t communicate well enough. Nobody even knew that we were doing anything about it and that was a weakness. So if you can’t even talk about what we were doing, there was so many criticisms and attacks every day and we were drowning under that, we were not able to raise our voices and say by the way we are doing something about it, that is very practical to also fight against corruption. It was a weakness and I do admit that in this book. I think we should have been able to articulate more and say what was happening. And you will see that throughout the book not just in terms of the fight but in terms of the money saved.
I talked about a total of $9 billion saved, part of it was money averted when people came with a scam to get government guarantees in other to borrow. President Jonathan called me and we were able to meet with those people and after months of meeting, we were able to block that particular thing. You will read in the book that the same people went to Mozambique and they were able to persuade the minister of finance to sign and the government to take that loan and Mozambique is suffering from these loans till today. I’m talking about the Ematum tuna scandal. So I am not talking in the air, it is the same people. What if we had done that, that would have been $2 billion around our neck now. But we never talked about these things at the time.
In the fight against corruption you worked under two different presidents can you describe who among them gave you the greatest support in the reforms?
On the reforms, one of the things I am proud about is that some of the reforms that we started, the ones that really matter to me, those systems GIFSM, IPPIS, TSA are in place till today. We got them 75 percent complete, there were not 100 percent complete by the time I left still but it was now in an irreversible situation. And the IMF in fact visited and their report commended us for getting that far because the resistance was very grave. And the present government is building on it I think after an initial period when it wasn’t very clear which direction, they decided to use these systems and built on them and so that is one good signal.
On the question of superintending over corruption, yes many people asked the question, why you didn’t resign. These are very good questions and I tackled them in the book. I say this is a dilemma. I could easily have stayed, that is the easy answer. Don’t you ask yourself? Why was I going, why will I put myself through what I went through. It is so easy to do what you said, to let go. But when I talked to many people they are not willing to put themselves on the line or what happened to my family to put my family in danger. I didn’t know at the time that I was putting my family in danger obviously, I wouldn’t have consciously done that but I knew I was going to suffer some consequences.
But I went because it begins with you. If all of us say we are not going to do anything about it, I think there are times when resigning sends the correct signal or not going but there are times when it doesn’t work, you just have to go there and fight and do what you can. And then the efforts to prevent me from coming at all, the thing wasn’t meant to say anything other than just to set the context for the story when I talked about Donald Duke. He was conveying a message to me from people including people who said they were my friends telling me not to come. But when I asked why and you will see it in the book, they said so as not to give the government credibility. My feeling was that at some stage, you need to take a stand. And once I got there I actually saw that people were actively trying to get me to go and that is why I didn’t resign.
How do you see the judiciary in Nigeria supporting the efforts that people like have you made over the years? We don’t seem to believe that the judiciary is making the right contribution to fighting corruption. What else needs to be done?
We really need a strong judiciary there is absolutely no doubt about it. With strong and independent, well-resourced judiciary we are on our way. We have some independent institutions to safeguard the judiciary but are they strong enough? The answer I’m sure the members of the judiciary themselves will tell you is, no. So that is one of the tasks that we have. And like you said, there is some urgency in building institutions in our country if we are to successfully fight corruption.
We need a whole new set of actions working together but above all, we need people who are willing. If everybody runs away and stays in their nice safe corner, what happens? That is what the people who are corrupt want you to do by the way. They want you to stay away, they want you to resign, they want you run off and leave them to their devices and that was what led to all the attacks.
I remember a time when the army said and is in the book, that the ministry of finance was withholding resources and therefore they were not able to fight Boko Haram and it was in the papers. People in my ministry panicked and said you have to do something because that is a really serious charge. And I had to go out to the media and give all the figures of all we had disbursed. So, other people, not just me suffered a lot. So we have to be willing. If you don’t have willing people who are ready to fight, then you can’t even have the strengthening of the institutions.
I want to thank my family, my husband, friends, colleagues, people international community who really stretch above and beyond to constantly send messages of support, saying we are here for you. And if you are going to be engaging in these kinds of work, you need that backing. So one of the things I am passionate about is trying to see if we can find a way to build a more solid support for those who are trying to fight.
What is your take on Jonathan’s decision to concede defeat in 2015 after the presidential contest?
I am giving him credit. He had already made up his mind. We were there trying to whisper to him and talk to him but the man had decided that this is what he wanted to do. So he is the only one that deserves credit and I said that very clearly in my book. When he went to go and call Buhari and tell him congratulations we were all sitting there we didn’t even know when he left. We were still trying to persuade him but he deserves the credit himself, he had decided that was the right thing to do so he deserves the credit, not me, not anyone else.
Are you not afraid that these people can come after you with all the revelations in this book?
The revelations? But I am telling the truth. I have already told the world that this book is going to lead to all kinds of attacks. The same people who were attacking me when I was in government, who attacked me after I left government, the world knows about it. That is why I said it is risky to write the book but it is also risky to keep quiet because that is all we all do. People keep quiet they never say what happens and that gives cover to all these corrupt people and they continue to do what they do and to perpetuate the same practices that are keeping Nigeria behind. So is high time we spoke up and I want people to know truly what happened to me and also I want the international community to look at the lessons for fighting corruptions, it is not that easy. It is easy for the international community to say go and fight corruption but not being aware of what it entails, the fact that vested interest is not going to give up easily. So yes, of course, I think it is risky but is out there.
You did give a reason why you went back the second and third time, will you be willing to back again if called upon to serve?
I served the country for seven years; I think I’m the longest-serving finance minister in the country. Other people now have a chance to serve, I am doing what I adore, I am having fun and my work is valued in the international community. That is what I was doing before but I went to Nigeria out of love and I want to send the signal to Nigerian young people that if they actually love the country, they can serve without being corrupt.
They are actually people who serve because they think it is a national honour and duty, I felt it is an honour for my country to ask for my service and I was duty bound to serve. And I have done that, so now I am doing other things so that other people can also serve. On the special fund for those fighting corruption, the international community needs to come together and put together resources to support people who may not be well known, who are fighting. And we heard some many examples from different countries of people who had to flee because they were been intimidated and attacked when they tried to block the diversion of the monies and the stealing of money. And if people don’t have that signal that they can go somewhere and be protected, they will be less willing to do what is right and to fight. So we need that and there is a movement and people are interested. (The Sun)