The global recognition by Forbes of Dr.Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as one of the World’s leading women is a manifestation of Nigeria as home to some of the world’s best in terms of human resources.
Amid a weakening economy and elevated poverty uncertainty necessitated by poor governance, the rich human resources of Nigeria appear to be the last straw of hope for a better country someday. The country may be deviled with incompetent rulers; it hasnevertheless produced some of the world’s finest minds across all fields of knowledge. Although the list of Nigerians flying the country’s flag high on both the continental and international stage is inexhaustible, Dr. (Mrs.) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), is one Nigerian who has distinguished herself as a global public servant extraordinaire.
Acknowledgingher valuable contributions to the development of international trade, Forbes, in its 2023 list of the 100 most powerful women in the worldnamedDr. Okonjo-Iweala the 87th most powerful woman in the world. She was ranked ahead of other prominent African women thereby making her themost powerful woman in the continent. This development is notnovel as Okonjo-Iweala has been previously rankedby Forbes in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2022. Her array of achievementsincludes being listed as one of the 25 most influential women by Financial Times in 2021; one of the 50 Greatest World Leaders by Fortune in 2015; and the Top 100 Most Influential People in the World by TIME in 2014 and 2021.
Forbes may not be a perfectparameter for measuring excellence, however, itsrecognition of Okonjo-Iweala as Africa’s most powerful woman is in sync with her outstanding track record. She is a consummateeconomist and international development professional with over 40 years of experience working in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and North America. In March 2021, she became the first woman and African to serve as Director-General of WTO and had a 25-year career at the World Bank as a development economist, rising to the No. 2 position of Managing Director, Operations.
As the head of WTO, she has effectively addressedseveral challenges facing the global trading system, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the rise of trade protectionism. Whilst at the World Bank, she led several projects to assist poor countries during the global financial crisis of 2007/2008 and the world food-price crisis of 2008/2009. She is a strong advocate for the use of trade to lift developing countries out of poverty and help them achieve sustainable development.
Earlier in her career, she served as Nigeria’s Finance Minister in 2003-2006; and doubled as the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy in 2011-2015. Also, she briefly acted as Foreign Minister in 2006. As Finance Minister, Okonjo-Iweala introduced reforms to reduce corruption and increase transparency in public finances. Nigeria was able to implement some rewarding reforms in public financial management including the launch of the Treasury Single Account to boost dwindling revenue, as well as the introduction of the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System, which eliminated thousands of ghost workers from the public service system. Furthermore, the Excess Crude Account which was set up under her inspiration in 2004 saved Nigeria from lapsing into a catastrophic economic downturn in 2009 when oil prices crashed.
Notably, her immense contributions to nation-building were undermined by the hardship that pervaded the entire country at the time. A critic once described her achievements as Finance Minister as illusions propagated to insulate the people from the harsh reality. While her actions and wish were tailored towards improving the lot of Nigerians, other forces often rendered her desire ineffective. For instance, she had assured Nigerians that: “I will be the last person and President Jonathan will also be the last person to subscribe to a situation in which we pile up debt” and further stated thus: “Let me say this first, the whole thrust of what the President wants, for now, is the creation of jobs.” However, her former boss incurred a debt of $21.8 billion and failed to close the high unemployment gaps before exiting office.
Some public analysts even argue that the reforms initiated or expounded by Dr. Okonjo-Iweala were of no practical utility as thecountry’s economy remained comatose; povertysoaredover 70%; the four refineries were non-functional; power supply was under 3,000MW; government failed to promote non-oil exports; and there was large scale insecurity. Also, programmes initiated under her leadership such as Youth Enterprise With Innovation in Nigeria (YouWin!), Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Program (SURE-P), Nigerian Economic Empowerment Development Strategy (NEED), etcwere substantially undermineddue to Nigeria’s endemic corruption. Further, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala surely needs to effectively use her current position to highlight the business opportunities in Nigeria and Africa, if she hopes to truly impact on the home scene.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala may not be exculpated from the failure of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s government (being the then economy lead manager), however, she is not accountable for Nigeria’s prevailing economic woes; orfailure of the succeedinggovernments to harness the resources of the country for national prosperity and economic development, or even secure the country from criminals. More so, her attempt to secure the future via saving in the Sovereign Wealth Fund was resisted by the sub-national governments.Now, the chickens have come home to roost.
Additionally, she sits in the office of WTO DG as a Nigerian-American representing global trade interests; hence cannot overtly prioritise Nigeria and Africa. Therefore, it is incumbent on African leaders to leverage her office by aligning their trade policies to fit into WTO blueprint. Nigeria has failed to gain maximally from the WTO because it lacksa clearly defined foreign policy and has not been fully participatory in international trade discourse. For instance, there was no Nigerian representativeat the last annual general meeting of the International Monetary Fund held in Marrakech, Morocco.
Regardless of the criticisms, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is an accomplished professional of global repute. She is an inspiration to the girl-child as she has demonstrated that working class women can reach the zenith of their careers while striking a balance between their family responsibilities and job obligations. She is a pacesetter whose template success-driven professionals should adopt and adapt.