NGOZI OKONJO-IWEALA – OUR HOPE – LET THE WORLD UNITE BEHIND COMPETENCE & MERIT
The first publication that stared at me after my quiet time this morning was Reuben Abati’s incisive piece on Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s nomination for election as Director-General of the World Trade Organization. There is nothing to add. Abati’s writings are usually very deep, particularly when it comes to defending Nigeria’s interests. I still remember his publication in the Guardian on Sunday of June 11, 2006, in which he discredited a broadcast by the CNN entitled “How to Rob a Bank” which was unfortunately followed by an equally unpalatable derogatory publication on the BBC world service. Both reports contained disparaging reports about Nigeria and Nigerians. A fine user of the pen and Queens English, Reuben corrected distortions and misrepresentations by rising patriotically to put up a brilliant defence.
The publication under reference is titled OKONJO-IWEALA, WTO & AFRICA’S CHANCES, and was contained in Thisday Newspapers. It reads in part: ‘’The announcement of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as Nigeria’s nominated candidate for the position of the Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) which would now be vacant by September 1, 2020, and not 2021, following the incumbent’s decision to take his exit a year earlier was received with great excitement among Nigerians. This enthusiasm is in itself a reflection of the high regard in which NOI, as she is otherwise known, is held by her compatriots. It didn’t matter that Nigeria’s President had withdrawn an earlier nominee for the post, Ambassador Yonov Frederick Agah, Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the WTO, and a long-serving WTO insider (since 2005). In a country where ethnic sentiments run deep and every public position is seen as an opportunity to re-enact primordial ethnic conflicts, it is significant that no one complained about an Agah being replaced with an Iweala as a candidate for one of the world’s most visible positions. ‘’The resume of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala that was submitted along with her nomination by the Nigerian Government read like a national honours’’
I will leave readers to Google this illuminating piece with an admonition for all Nigerian patriots to regard themselves as Public Relations Officer of our dear country when matters like this arise. The appointee will emerge not by voting but by consensus after presentation of an address articulating her vision. We should view this as Africa’s agenda for a few reasons. Ngozi is more than eminently qualified for that position. Two, President Muhammadu Buhari and his advisers deserve huge commendation for this brilliant diplomatic maneuver. Recall President Nelson Mandela’s assertion that the whole world will not respect the black race until Nigeria earns that respect. Bits and pieces of information dished out by Reuben Abati will help Okonj-Iweala’s cause; nay the cause of humanity because she intends heading WTO as Nigeria’s nominee for the sake of humanity. Now is the time to intensify the struggle on all fronts, including our full support for Akinwumi Adesina. I admonish usually vibrant and ever restless Abike Dabiri-Arewa to circulate pieces like the one written by Abati to Nigerians on her database (I am one of them) for us to speak with one voice. My brother, Titus Olowookere who is doing a good job in Atlanta – ‘’Ise ya’’. This nation will not move forward in disunity and bits and pieces of information released into the media matter for global opinion ratings. I now release a piece written by me on our own dear Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala about two years ago for the purpose of promoting empathy. Growing ones who read could aspire to be like her and even surpass her colourful achievements.
TERRIFIC HEADLINES — THE ROLE MODELS SERIES — THE NIGERIAN WOMAN SERIES – THE COUNTRY’S HIDDEN RESOURCES: Nigeria has never been short of women of brain and brawn – women who could look their male professional colleagues eye-balls to eye-balls and stand shoulder-to-shoulder without being intellectually or professionally ruffled. Several brave, daring, courageous and pleasant personalities of the female gender who are role models by virtue of their contributions to societal and national developments have been produced by Nigeria in the past few decades. And it is highly remarkable that successful women in Nigeria have continued to be submissive to their husbands at home out of respect for Nigeria’s cultural and religious beliefs that any family unit without a head or leader would crash. One of these ‘First Class’ women is Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a two-term Nigeria’s Federal Minister of Finance; with the second tenure attracting to her Finance portfolio the position of the Coordinator of the Economy. That position was a powerful one.
Ngozi has adorned many caps and flown Nigeria’s flag at international fora. The latest is her appointment as a member of the newly-established External Advisory Group of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as announced by the Managing Director of the IMF, Ms. Kristalina Georgieva. Okonjo-Iweala, who is the Board Chairperson of GAVI Alliance, was appointed alongside some other eminent persons from around the world, drawn from their high-level policy, market, and private sector experience. An IMF statement revealed that Georgieva convened the new external advisory group to provide perspectives from around the globe on key developments and policy issues, including policy responses to the exceptional challenges the world now faces due to the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) and its economic impact. A few weeks ago, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was appointed by South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa, into the country’s Economic Advisory Council, in response to the challenges to the economy of South Africa that recently slumped into its second recession in two years. SETTING LEADERSHIP EXAMPLES: Sometimes, you meet a personality once only for you to have a lasting impression in positive terms. Ngozi’s contributions to economic development in Nigeria might not be fully appreciated as it should. As the saying goes: ‘’A prophet has no honour in his country’’ Ngozi came into the Olusegun Obasanjo regime in 2003, as the first female Minister of Finance. She spearheaded negotiations with the Paris Club of creditors that led to wiping out the US$30billion questionable debt owed with, her principal President Obasanjo travelling around the world to ‘’harass’’ developed creditor nations and groups to wipe off debts of developing countries. Ngozi also initiated processes that helped improve Nigeria’s macroeconomic management and reduce macroeconomic volatility.
I first came in contact with this global figure in 2004 while on an official visit to the Federal Ministry of Finance, Abuja a few weeks after she clocked 50 years. Research supports a popular adage showing that within seven seconds, ‘’a person will make several judgments about who you are, and if they can trust you’’. Seated in one corner of her office, I noticed how her circle of associates and professional aides came into her office, and were warmly received – Mansur and quiet and complete gentleman – Dr. Bright Okogwu, (her DG Budget) who has been taken away by the African Development Bank Group that knows his worth) great asset to Nigeria, met me on seat in the Minister’s office. I sensed that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala wasn’t an arrogant personality and was very welcoming. Pride, arrogance, and insincerity drive me back from associating with people who have those traits. I have never tolerated arrogant personalities. I congratulated NOI (as she is specially branded by her friends) and informed her my own 50 years on earth was just a few months away from June 2004 when she marked her own.
WORKAHOLIC: The former Finance Minister was a compulsive worker. The first indication was when I put a telephone call to Madam Minister’s office about 2.00 pm on a Sunday, in order to send a Fax message from Osogbo. I was amazed she picked the call herself! A few days later during a visit to the Federal Ministry of Finance, I wasn’t surprised to hear the complaint of a security guard (about 60 years old) who sat at the entrance of the Minister’s office, complaining to me bitterly that: ‘’Madam no dey let people rest. ”No be her fault. ‘’Only work, work and work ‘’She closes midnight to resume again 8.00am’’ Quite naturally, top technocrats and bureaucrats in the Ministry of Finance must adopt the schedule of the Hon. Minister. I sometimes describe the Ministry as ‘’a mad house’’. All political heads in that ministry have kept riotous schedules because of its sensitivity as the nerve-centre of the nation’s economy. Incompetence at the Finance Ministry could grind the nation to a halt, or come at great costs to the country. I made friends with a few people including Paul Nwabuikwu, her Special Adviser on Media. When she was appointed to serve Nigeria as Minister of Finance the second time, NOI was already a Managing Director at the World Bank Group, a position that was next to that of the President of the World Bank.
When a vacancy arose in the Presidency of the World Bank, I mounted unsolicited advocacy and publicity campaign for Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, requesting Nigerians in the Diaspora, particularly in the United States to let us make some noise, perhaps God would make it happen. Nigerians abroad are highly regarded as ‘’change makers, trendsetters, visionaries and thinkers, and builders. Some of the most educated immigrants in the United States are Nigerians’’ According to an online publication: OZY:‘’29 percent of Nigerian-Americans over the age of 25 hold a graduate degree, compared to 11 percent of the overall U.S. population, according to the Migrations Policy Institute. ‘’Among Nigerian-American professionals, 45 percent work in education services. ‘’The 2016 American Community Survey reveals that many are professors at top universities. ‘’A growing number of Nigerian-Americans are becoming entrepreneurs and CEOs, building technology companies in the United States to help people back home.’’
But so many factors influence several interests in an increasingly interdependent world, especially appointment into the position of President of the World Bank Group. My very close friend (now deceased) based in California, a most intelligent person, and who was conversant with the system doubted if Western nations were prepared to give away that position to Africa. My friend was right. The appointment went to Jim Yong Kim, a Korean-American physician, and anthropologist who served as the 12th President of the World Bank from 2012 to 2019. The formal requirement for the selection of the World Bank president is that the Executive Directors appoint, by at least a 50% majority, an individual who is neither a member of the Board of Governors nor Board of Executive Directors.
HOW NGOZI BECAME A SUCCESS: NOI is a world-acclaimed economist and international development expert. Certain variants are responsible for successes recorded by humanity and these are: personality, that sociologists regard as a combined product of nature and nurture, including parental background, the enabling environment provided by the society, hard work, prayers and a bit of luck. Parents are to ‘’provide encouragement, support, and access to activities that enable the child to master key developmental tasks’’. Indeed, a parent is their child’s first teacher and should remain their best teacher throughout life.’’ Ngozi had a headstart. Her parents – Chukwuka and Kamene Okonjo were both professors at the University of Ibadan. She was born into a royal family of Ogwashi-Ukwu, Delta State on the 13th of June, 1954. She had her secondary education at International School Ibadan, and St. Anne’s School, Molete, Ibadan. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala proceeded to Harvard University where she graduated with an AB honours in Economics in 1977. She holds a Ph.D. in Regional Economics and Development from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Her parents, upon retirement, settled in their hometown where her father became the traditional ruler of their town. Prof. Okonjo-Iweala, was the Obi from the Obahai Royal family of Ogwashi-Ukwu.
CAREER: As Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Vanguard Newspaper rated Ngozi as the next powerful after President Jonathan. She doubled as the Federal Minister for Finance and the Coordinating Minister on the Economy, CME. FORBES Magazine wrote about Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala that: ‘’She has helped the country’s economy, the largest in Africa, grow an average of 6% (per annum) over three years. She is credited with developing reform programs that helped improve governmental transparency and stabilizing the economy. Okonjo-Iweala is the first woman to be the finance minister and the foreign minister of the West African country with a GDP of $502 billion. But the start of the year has been difficult for Nigeria. The Harvard- and M.I.T.-trained Okonjo-Iweala spent 21 years as a development economist at the World Bank.
Okonjo-Iweala started out as an intern in World Bank Group. After graduation, she returned to World Bank Group and worked for many years as a development economist. She held the post of Corporate Secretary and Vice President. Afterwards, she was appointed as a Managing Director of World Bank Group. As the Managing Director, she led several World Bank initiatives to assist low-income countries during food and financial crises. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala In 2015, she joined Lazard, a financial advisory and asset management firm. She serves as a Senior Advisor in the organisation. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was appointed as the independent non-executive director at Standard Chartered PLC in July 2017 and also Twitter’s Board of Directors in July 2018. She is also a member of International Commission on Financing the Global Education, the Women’s World Banking, the World Economic Forum Young Global Leaders Foundation Result for Development Institutes, the B Team.
She chairs a number of boards and advisory groups including Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), Lionwork Capital, DATA, Nelson Mandela Institution, African University of Science and Technology in Nigeria and African Union’s African Risk Capacity. Okonjo-Iweala is a member of the Rockefeller Foundation, the Harvard University Advisory Council, the Mercy Corp Global Leadership Council, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank International Advisory Board and the Commission of New Climate Economy. She is also the recipient of the TIME’s European Heroes Award in 2004, named Finance Minister of the Year (Africa Investor Magazine, 2014), Finance Minister of the Year for Africa and the Middle East (THE BANKER, 2004), Global Finance Minister of the Year (EUROMONEY, 2005), Finance Minister of the Year for Africa. Ngozi was the chairman, Nigeria Mortgage Refinance Company PLC, World Bank’s Development Committee and Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation. She was a member of International Monetary and Finance Committee of the IMF, the United Nations’ Secretary General’s High-Level Panel, the Danish Government Led Commission on Africa, the Commission on World Growth and the World Economic Forum Global Leadership Council. She is a distinguished visiting fellow at the Centre for Global Development and the Brookings Institution. She has also served on the advisory boards of the Clinton Global Initiative and the ONE Foundation. (Wikipedia)
THE PLIGHT OF WOMEN AS NIGERIA’S HIDDEN RESOURCES — SUPPORTED A BRITISH GOVERNMENT STUDY ON WOMEN IN NIGERIA: The Report under reference identified Nigerian women as the country’s hidden resources and was conducted by the British Council/DFID. The foreword of the Report cited above was written by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Sanusi Lamido Sanusi who both asserted that: ”Any discussion about Nigeria’s future must necessarily entail consideration of girls and women, the role they play and the barriers they face in making the future. 54% of Nigerians still live in poverty and the proportion has doubled since 1980 (when about 28% were classified as poor). Nigeria’s human development indicators are also worse than those of comparable lower-middle-income countries. 42% of Nigerian children are malnourished. The averages hide a context that is worse for women and girls. The 2012 Report added that: ‘’Nearly six million young women and men enter the labour market each year but only 10% are able to secure a job in the formal sector, and just one-third of these are women. This situation has dire consequences for human development and conflict mitigation. This is not a problem of northern Nigeria versus southern Nigeria because the statistics are troubling in all parts of the country. It is a Nigeria wide problem which we all, as government, private sector, civil society and families must tackle. No doubt women are Nigeria’s hidden resource. Investing in women and girls now will increase productivity in this generation and will promote sustainable growth, peace and better health for the next generation. The two issues published below are related to this report.
RAISING A CHILD -EVERYBODY COUNTS: The 42nd President of the United States, President William Jefferson Clinton, in his treatise at the first Nelson Mandela Foundation Lecture in 2003 submitted that: “It takes a village to raise a child. ‘’ If we live in a global village, we are all responsible for every child. If we truly understand the nature of the modern world, then America and Europe and Australia and Asia and Africa are in the same village. And therefore, we are all part of our common endeavour to raise every child in the world. We have to be bound by simple strong values across every religious tradition. ‘’Everybody counts, everybody deserves a chance, everybody has a responsible role to play; we all do better when we work together. ‘’Everybody counts, everybody deserves a chance, everybody has a responsible role to play, we all do better when we work together.’’
GOOD GOVERNANCE: There is no alternative to good governance. Good governance is the solution. Governance entails visionary leadership that will set enlightened priorities and redeploys resources, in addition to utilizing skilled talents. Compassionate and committed leaders can and must create people-oriented policies and invest the necessary resources to empower people and improve their conditions. As Larry Diamond stated in his book, ‘’The Spirit of Democracy: The Struggle to Build Free Societies Throughout the World: “for democratic structures to endure – and be worthy of endurance – those who govern must listen to their citizens’ voices, engage their participation, tolerate their protests, protect their freedoms, and respond to their needs. Every democratic country needs to be held responsible for good governance, not just when it suits them. Without significant improvements in governance, economic growth will not be sustainable’’
Finally, and on a lighter note, I never saw Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at any campaign rally mounting the rostrum to dance and campaign for any political party, like our other pretty women who have assumed the role of dancers at political rallies. Women should now refuse to dance at political rallies forthwith but request men to take over that role while women go for elective offices. It now occurs to me that Ngozi probably belongs to the same class as Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, whom Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo recently teased by saying he envied the diplomat for being in the class of eminent people in politics, without being politicians. All those technocrats brought in at different periods made their marks.
But for the fact that God used Nasir el-Rufai and that President Obasanjo tolerated him, Abuja municipality would most probably be an eyesore today, if he never insisted of removing illegal structures and stepped on toes. A friend told me that sometimes, you require ”a little dose of madness” to successfully govern Nigeria. His ”sister” Oby Ezekwesili as Madam Due Process also laid a solid foundation for Due Process in the reorganized procurement processes of government. Dora Akunyili was a thorn in the flesh of fake drug peddlers. But I was pleasantly surprised when I saw Akinwumi Adesina on television doing it like real politicians at a campaign rally at the Adamasingba Stadium, Ibadan.
Well done! to everybody.