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Opinion

The Hope We Seek: Ngozi Iweala A Living Gem

Brief

One of the most influential women in the world is Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a Nigerian economist and international development expert. Being one of the most prominent faces globally, she sits on the boards of prominent organisations including Standard Chartered Bank, Twitter, Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), and the African Risk Capacity (ARC).

Given birth to on the 13th of June 1954, in Ogwashi-Ukwu area of the present-day Delta State Nigeria, Ngozi-Iweala has spent a 25-year career at the World Bank as a development economist, scaling the ranks to the number 2 position of Managing Director, Operations (2007–2011). When it comes to Nigerian Politics and administration, she is not at the backbench as she also served two terms as Finance Minister of Nigeria and also as Minister of Foreign Affairs. Becoming the first and only female to hold both positions. This was under two presidents between (2003–2006, 2011–2015) under the leadership of President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Goodluck Jonathan respectively.

Following her global noteworthy career prowess, In June 2020, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari nominated Okonjo-Iweala as the country’s candidate to be director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO). She later advanced to the election’s final round, eventually competing with a South Korean counterpart Yoo Myung-hee.  Ahead of the vote, she received the backing of both the African Union and the European Union for her candidacy. The WTO in its formal report said Okonjo-Iweala “clearly carried the largest support by Members in the final round; and, enjoyed broad support from Members from all levels of development and from all geographic regions and has done so throughout the process”.

Ngozi-Iweala’s influence and the impact have been felt and globally recognized strongly over the last two decades, as she was named by Fortune magazine as one of the 50 greatest world leaders in 2015, and by Forbes for five consecutive years as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world. In 2014, Dr Okonjo-Iweala was recognized by Time magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people, amidst a lot of other notable awards and recognitions from governments and institutions across the world.

Academics

Young Ngozi had an outstandingly beautiful academic history, as she has studied in the best of institutions since childhood. Thanks to her family and father Professor Chukwuka Okonjo the then Eze (King) from the Obahai Royal Family of Ogwashi-Ukwu. She started her studies at Queen’s School, Enugu then proceeded to St. Anne’s School, Molete, Ibadan, and the International School Ibadan. Following a very successful pre-degree education in Nigeria, as a teenager, she got enrolled at the oldest University in the US, and one of the most prestigious institution in the world, Harvard University Cambridge in 1973. In 1976, she graduated magna cum laude with an AB in Economics, a feat not very common amongst women in her day. In 1981, she earned her PhD in regional economics and development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a thesis titled Credit policy, rural financial markets, and Nigeria’s agricultural development. She received an International Fellowship from the American Association of University Women (AAUW), which supported her doctoral studies.

Career

If there is anything more beautiful and attractive about a life such as Okonjo-Iweala’s, it should not be more beyond her admirable career. As she has in her career span broken and set up new records which will take time and a lot more diligence to be equalized.

Dr Okonjo-Iweala brings more than 40 years of significant development and financial expertise worldwide from both world government institutions, national government, and private organizations.

According to the World Bank Official Website, As Managing Director at the World Bank, she had oversight responsibility for the World Bank’s $81 billion operational portfolios in Africa, South Asia, Europe, and Central Asia. Okonjo-Iweala spearheaded several World Bank initiatives to assist low-income countries during the 2008 – 2009, food crises, and later during the financial crisis. In 2010, she was Chair of the IDA replenishment, the World Bank’s successful drive to raise $49.3 billion in grants and low-interest credit for the poorest countries in the world. During her time at the World Bank, she was also a member of the Commission on Effective Development Cooperation with Africa, which was set up by Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark, and held meetings between April and October 2008.

Back home in Nigeria, Okonjo-Iweala served twice as Nigeria’s Finance Minister and also as Minister of Foreign Affairs. Becoming the first woman to achieve that milestone.

During her time as a minister in the Nigerian government, Iweala’s massive contributions to the proper management of National finances and remarkably being a driving force in the nation’s economic development has been undisputable. With notable touchpoints including where she directed negotiations with the Paris Club that led to the wiping out of US$30 billion of Nigeria’s debt, including the outright cancellation of US$18 billion in the Obasanjo’s administration.

She also introduced the practice of publishing each state’s monthly financial allocation from the Federal Government of Nigeria in the newspapers. This action went a long way in increasing transparency in governance.

In 2006, Okonjo-Iweala was also instrumental in helping Nigeria obtain its first-ever sovereign credit rating (of BB minus) from Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poors.

In 2011, Okonjo-Iweala was re-appointed as Minister of Finance in Nigeria with the expanded portfolio of the Coordinating Minister for the Economy by President Goodluck Jonathan. Where she amidst other noteworthy projects, empowered Nigeria’s women and youth with the Growing Girls and Women in Nigeria Programme (GWIN); a gender-responsive budgeting system, and the highly acclaimed Youth Enterprise with Innovation programme (YouWIN); to support entrepreneurs, that created thousands of jobs. A project applauded by the World Bank as one of the most effective programmes of its kind globally

With the support of the World Bank and the IMF to the Federal Government of Nigeria, she helped build an electronic financial management platform—the Government Integrated Financial Management and Information System (GIFMIS), including the Treasury Single Account (TSA) and the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), helping to curtail corruption in the process. As of 31 December 2014, the IPPIS platform had eliminated 62,893 ghost workers from the system and saved the Nigerian government about $1.25 billion in the process.

After leaving the Nigerian government in 2015, Okonjo-Iweala continued her career exploits, which led to her nomination, massive endorsement, and support for the position of the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation. She will be the first woman and the first African to lead the institution. A run that has not been an easy one for her as a person and all parties and institutions involved.

Family

She is happily married to Dr Ikemba Iweala, a neurosurgeon. With four children, a daughter, Onyinye Iweala (AB, MD, PhD, Harvard) and three sons, Uzodinma Iweala (AB, Harvard, MD, Columbia), Okechukwu Iweala (AB, Harvard) and Uchechi Iweala (AB, MD, MBA, Harvard).

Truly, words will fail, the ink will run out and fingers will faint as I continue to pour out the blessedness embossed in this amazing woman of noble virtue. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is truly a rare gem of priceless value. Amidst the uncertainties that abound today in our nation, she should be that symbol of hope for every Nigerian.   

This story has been published on CAMPUS REPORTER with very minimal editing to preserve the original voice of the author. 

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