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African chance is here for leadership of WTO as DR OKONJO-IWEALA Okonjo-Iweala locks horn with Myung-hee

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BY OPEYEMI IMORU

– Dr Ngozi should be picked based on the principle of Global Inclusion- Oby Ezekwesili

Africans have continued to express their joy as Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s first female Minister of Finance made it to the final contest for the position of Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The WTO members, however, evicted three candidates from the race to be the next DG of the body
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According to the report from Geneva-based WTO via the General Council Chairman, David Walker, Egypt’s Hamid Mamdouh, Mexico’s Jesus Seade and Moldova’s Tudor Ulianovschi did not secure enough support in the first of three rounds of voting, saying that their expertise and high professional and personal qualities are highly valued and respected by all members.” This decision left our own Dr Okonjo-Iweala in the race alongside Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad Maziad Al-Tuwaijri, UK’s Liam Fox, South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee and Kenya’s Amina Chawahir Mohamed Jibril. It was agreed that the second phase of consultations would start from September 24 to October 6 after which the WTO would release two final candidates.

As it stands now WTO members on Wednesday, the 8th of October have selected two candidates for the final round. Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee. In a tweet, on Thursday, Okonjo-Iweala wrote: “Happy to be in the final round of the @wto DG campaign. Thanks, WTO members for your continued support of my candidacy. I could not have made it without the prayers and support of all Nigerians and friends around the world. Thank you @MBuhari and all my friends. Aluta continua!”
Dr Oby Ezekwesili, a former presidential aspirant, has revealed that Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is the best hand for the World Trade Organisation, WTO job. Ezekwesili, a former Minister of Education, stated this while reacting to Dr Iweala’s emergence with South Korean’s Yoo Myung-hee as the final two. “Though the two finalists are both qualified to lead the WTO, the Nigerian ex-Minister of Economy should be picked based on the principle of Global Inclusion.” Ezekwesili tweeted thus, “Incredible development that 2 exceptional women emerged tops for the WTO-DG post. Any of both can lead @wto strictly on MERIT at this stage.”
It might please to know that no African has served in the top position in the WTO since 1948. The current Director-General of WTO, Mr Roberto Azevêdo has announced his decision to step down on August 31, which makes the position potentially vacant, and in need for the recruitment of a new head.

President Muhammad Buhari must have considered Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s pedigree and credentials before nominating her as Nigeria’s candidate for the WTO top job. Even though she has not served in any capacity in his administration, the president might have acknowledged her contributions as Nigeria’s first female Finance minister, during which time she spearheaded an ambitious debt relief negotiation with the Paris Club of Creditors during the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo between 1999 and 2003. The efforts of her team led to the outright cancellation of $18 billion of Nigeria’s total debt stock, and a series of other measures eventually leading to the reduction of the country’s external indebtedness from $35 billion to $5 billion.

Similarly, in her second coming as Finance minister during the tenure of President Goodluck Jonathan between 2011 and 2015, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was responsible for leading aggressive but praiseworthy reforms that enhanced the transparency of the government’s accounting systems, which strengthened our public institutions against corruption. She introduced the Government Integrated Financial Management System (GIFMS), the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Management System (IPPMS), and the Treasury Single Accounts (TSA), which are now being fully implemented by the Buhari administration.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala had an impressive over a 25-year career at the World Bank, rising to the position of the Managing Director in charge of Operations of the foremost financial organisation. In 2010, she was made Chair of the World Bank’s successful drive to raise $49.3 billion in grants and low-interest credit for the poorest countries in the world.

Ever since, Dr Okonjo-Iweala has been quite preoccupied as a global finance expert, helping many multilateral and multinational organisations with their developmental ventures in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America.
At the moment, she is the World Health Organisation (WHO) Special Envoy for Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator and was recently appointed as an African Union (AU) Special Envoy to mobilise international financial support for the fight against COVID-19. She also currently chairs the boards of the African Union’s African Risk Capacity (ARC), the Nelson Mandela Institute, and the African University of Science and Technology, Abuja.
In the business world, outside the African continent, she is a Senior Adviser at Lazard and sits on the boards of Standard Chartered PLC and Twitter Inc. She further serves on the advisory boards of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Harvard University International Advisory, the Oxford University Martin School Advisory Council, Women’s World Banking Africa Advisory Board, and the International Commission on Financing Global Education. Also, she is on the advisory boards of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Tsinghua University, Beijing’s School of Public Policy, the CARICOM (Caribbean) Commission on the Economy, and the Tax Inspectors Without Borders (an initiative of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), among others.
More so, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is Chair of the Board of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which has immunised 760 million children globally and saved thirteen million lives since its inception in 2000. Through Ngozi’s leadership of GAVI, world leaders have pledged an additional US$ 8.8 billion for the vaccination of children, far exceeding the initial target of US$ 7.4 billion. The project will ensure the immunization of over 300 million children including the creation and distribution of the COVID vaccine globally and mostly in Africa.

With a growing concern that what Africa needs is trade rather than aid, to fight poverty, hunger and disease, a savvy bridge builder and go-getter in the person of an Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the right figure who can broker numerous agreements that would promote fair trade. In fact, the core objective of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AFCTA) in creating a single continental market for goods and services, with the free movement of business persons and investments across the globe could be easily achieved through her watch.

Recently Dr Okonjo-Iweala through a media chat revealed that WTO is a most important global multilateral body with challenges that require reforms. She said: “I believe it is relevant for the economic development, growth and sharing of prosperity in the world. I want the (WTO) job because I have the skills and the organisation needs some reforms to make it relevant for times we are in and I have a reputation as a strong reformer.”

With the foregoing, I strongly believe that if what the WTO is looking for is ‘a candidate with vast experience in international relations, encompassing trade and/or political experience, a firm commitment to the work and objectives of the organisation, proven leadership and managerial ability; and demonstrated communications skills,’ then Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala is not only the strongest African contender but she is a bold reformer, skilful negotiator and finest globally acclaimed developmental economists needed for the job.