SWITZERLAND, FEBRUARY 15 – Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been formally announced as the new Director-General of the World trade Organization (WTO), becoming the first African to lead the Bretton Woods international institution.
The official announcement was made by the global trade body via social media, as it tweeted, “BREAKING: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from Nigeria is appointed as the next WTO Director-General. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala makes history as the first woman and the first African to lead the WTO. Her term starts on the 1st of March 2021.”
66-year-old Okonjo-Iweala, is also the first woman to ever lead the Switzerland-based institution.
Born on June 13, 1954 in Ogwashi-Ukwu, Delta State, where her father, Professor Chukwuka Okonjo is the Eze (King) from the Obahai Royal Family, Ngozi had her early education in Enugu and Ibadan, before proceeding to the prestigious Harvard, where she got a degree in Economics in 1976. Following a Phd in Regional Economics and Development from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1981, her profile as a technocrat began to grow, ensuring that position at the World Bank in Washington DC as a development economist, where she has had a 25-year sterling career, rising to the post of Managing Director, the number two at the Apex international bank. In July 2003, former President Olusegun Obasanjo invited Okonjo-Iweala from the World Bank to become Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, serving in the position under the administration for almost three years before moving to head the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She left Obasanjo’s administration after a brief disagreement with the president but her stint in government is unforgettable. She returned to government in 2011 under president Goodluck Jonathan as Finance Minister and coordinating Minister of the Economy. She left government in May 2015 after Jonathan was defeated by the current President, Muhammadu Buhari.
As a Minister in the Nigerian government, Okonjo-Iweala used her extensive international connections to secure landmark deals for the country and deployed her intellectual acumen in championing monumental economic initiatives. She spearheaded negotiations with the Paris Club of Creditors that led to the wiping out of $30 billion of Nigeria’s debt, including the outright cancellation of $18 billion.
In her second term as Finance Minister, she was responsible for leading reform that enhanced transparency of government accounts and strengthened institutions against corruption, including the implementation of the GIFMS (Government Integrated Financial Management System), the IPPMS (Integrated Personnel and Payroll Management System), and the TSA (Treasury Single Accounts).
Currently, she is Chair of the Board of Gavi, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation. Since its creation in 2000, Gavi has immunized 680 million children globally and saved ten million lives. She is also a Senior Adviser at Lazard and sits on the Boards of Standard Chartered PLC and Twitter Inc after her tenure as Managing Director at the World Bank. She is also currently Chair of the Boards of the African Union’s African Risk Capacity (ARC), an innovative weather-based insurance mechanism for African countries and the Nelson Mandela Institution, an umbrella body for the African Institutes of Science and Technology as well as co-Chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate and a trustee of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
In November 2020, Okonjo-Iweala was given the Aminu Kano Award for Leadership at the Community and Human Rights (CAHR) Awards, which celebrates community and human rights heroes; individuals and organisations that have made monumental contributions to development, justice and inclusion in Nigeria.
In December 2020, Okonjo-Iweala was named Forbes Africa Person of the Year 2020, amidst a growing international profile.