Nigeria’s finance minister and his first female foreign
minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, have twice been described as pioneers.
Today, as she seeks to become the first African woman to
lead the World Trade Organisation, the 66-year-old is searching for more history.
The development economist had a quarter-century at the World Bank aside from her time in
public office, rising to be managing director and running for the top role in 2012.
“I think she has delivered, whether in Nigeria or in other countries where she worked,” Idayat Hassan of the Centre for Democracy and Development research and advocacy group told AFP.
Her father, who was born in 1954 in Ogwashi
Ukwu, Delta State, western Nigeria, is a traditional ruler.
In the United States, she spent much of her life graduating from the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology ( MIT) and Harvard, where she sent her four children.
“She is not just liked in Nigeria, she is loved, because she is a symbol, and people are gunning for her because of what she represents for womanhood,” said Hassan.
– ‘She kept quiet’ –
But not everyone believes that
she has a perfect track record.
“Okonjo-Iweala may have done some box-checking technocratic transparency reforms in her ministry but the fact is, nearly a billion dollars a month were going missing from oil revenues when she was finance minister,” said Sarah Chayes, author of Thieves of State, a book about corruption.
“I think it’s a shame she is even being considered for the role,” said Chayes. “There is an appetite for this kind of good news story at a time when diversity issues are paramount, being female and black doesn’t hurt.”
The former minister has portrayed herself as a champion of rampant corruption in Nigeria, saying
that even her own mother was kidnapped because of her attempts to tackle the scourge.
Yet critics say she should have done
more to avoid it while in office.
“At the very least, she had the opportunity to resign from office and expose the corruption,” said Olanrewaju Suraju, from the Human and Environmental Development Agenda campaign group.
“Rather, she kept quiet and allowed high-level corruption to fester under the regime, only to complain after leaving office.”
Okonjo-Iweala also brushed off claims that she lacks
experience as a minister of trade or negotiator
“I’ve been doing that all my life, working on trade policy issues,” she said during a webinar organised by Chatham House in July.
“Most of all,” she said, the choice for director-general should go beyond technical skills, “you need boldness, courage”.
She was recently named Special Envoy of the African Union to mobilize international
support for the continent’s efforts to tackle the economic implications of the coronavirus pandemic.
Okonjo-Iweala has cautioned that increasing protectionism and nationalism have been spurred on by
the crisis and insists barriers need to be lowered to help the world recover.
“One way to ensure the adequate supply and equitable distribution of vaccines is to remove some of the barriers created by intellectual property and technology transfer laws,” she wrote in April in Foreign Affairs magazine.
Source: THE GUARDIAN NEWS