In the cesspool of corruption and continuous A-grade drama that is Nigeria, only a handful of names stood out to tell a different story, not only in Nigerian circles but across global scenes, too. One very prominent name to reckon with is the iconic name of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who through sheer hard work and pristine service has risen to the ranks of a national hero. She is a woman of reckoning across the world, sitting on many seats without breaking them, standing at many a podium, accepting heavy responsibilities and handling them all with classy aplomb, thus deserving the countless feathered caps that sit so immaculately well on her head.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is not a name that suddenly leapt out of nowhere. It belongs to a personality that has worked hard and tirelessly in the economic echelon of Nigeria. One quick mention of this is, to quote Forbes, “helping to increase the economic value of Nigeria by an average of 6%, consistently for three years”. This is no small feat as Nigeria’s economy is considered one of the largest in Africa and had been on a steady decline. This Harvard and MIT trained epitome of excellence has left a long line of achievements in her trail and, at the risk of sounding repetitive, recounted they must be.
Mrs Ngozi Okonjo Iweala has shown her devotion to Nigeria’s progress since as far back as 1981 when she bagged a PhD in Regional Economics with a thesis on Credit Policy, Rural Financial markets, and Nigeria’s Agricultural Development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She has since then, had a 25-year career with the World Bank, rising to the position of the Managing Director, the second-highest position there, and making indelible waves in procuring aid and support for developing countries. She also served as a two time Minister of Finance of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (2003-2006, 2011-2015), Coordinating Minister of the Economy (2011-2015) and Minister of Foreign Affairs (June-August 2006).
During this time, she established herself as a leader who doesn’t turn up her nose at the mess made, but as one who rolls up her sleeve to clean up the debris. This she proved by embarking on several groundbreaking projects, including helping to increase the economic strength of the country, driving negotiations that led to the relief of Nigeria’s over USD30 billion debt, initiating transparency and accountability in the system with tools and policies such as publications of monthly financial allocations to each state, the Treasury Single Account (TSA) and the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS). She also spearheaded several notable projects such as the Nigerian Mortgage Refinance Corporation (NMRC), the Growing Girls and Women in Nigeria Programme (GWIN) and the Youth Enterprise with Innovation Programme (YouWIN), which has been proclaimed as one of the most effectual agendas deployed for economic balance by the World Bank.
She has not only clinched remarkable notches to her bedpost on a national level. She has also gained acclaim on an international level, as someone capable of deriving positive results from the most strenuous of situations. The results of her work in Nigeria, a country renowned for its complacent and fraudulent elements with a high rate of corruption and poverty, are only testaments to this fact.
Apart from her position at the World Bank, this remarkable woman has held and still holds several positions with international organisations. Some of these include Chair on the Board of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI); Senior Adviser at Lazard, one of the foremost financial and asset management firms in the world; Chair of the Board of the African Risk Capacity of the AU; Nonresident Distinguished Fellow with the Africa Growth Initiative in the Global Economy and Development Programme at Brookings; Adviser on Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative at the World Bank; Board of Directors, Twitter; Special Envoy on COVID-19 for the African Union, to mention a few.
With the endless economical threats the infamous COVID-19 pandemic poses, Dr Okonjo-Iweala, a recipient of several awards and honorary degrees has written several articles and accepted several speaking engagements with World Economic Forum, CNBC Africa, World Bank among others. These were steps taken in a bid to give solid and practicable solutions to the economic and health problems caused by the pandemic.
Little wonder local, national and international organisations all over the globe have been more than eager to engage her expertise in just a few short weeks she was appointed not only as an AU Special Envoy on COVID-19 solutions and a special envoy for the newly inaugurated Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) accelerator. She also sits on the External Advisory Board of the International Monetary Fund and the Presidential Economic Advisory Council of South Africa and since she has been appointed for this latter role by the President of South Africa in March, she has been nothing but a positive influence on the growth of their economy, despite the economic influences of a global pandemic.
This unbeatable portfolio of effective leadership is no doubt a solid launching pad for Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to head the World Trade Organisation. She has the experience to deliver. She has promised to work at bringing the World Trade to a point of unity and purpose and to deploy the WTO as a platform for sustainable growth and economic recovery. From the much we know, she is more than capable of this. She is a woman that has carved a niche in a field where few can stand and walked a path where many have slipped.
While it is obvious that it will take more than a few well-constructed sentences to achieve these promises, it is also more trustworthy to say that if anyone can walk her talk with tangible results, it is Dr Okonjo-Iweala.
-Oluwakemi Makinde is dedicated to informative writing that drives positive change and impact in the society. She is an advocate of both art for art sake and art for life sake.