Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
By Anthony Maliki
Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala goes into history books today, March 1, 2021 as the first woman and African as she resumes work as Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) at its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
She was appointed on Monday, February 15, 2021 after months of rigorous sieving and with the South Korean Minister of Trade, Yoo Myung-hee finally withdrawing from the race on February 5, 2021.
As Nigeria’s finance minister, Ngozi was instrumental to numerous financial reforms including the introduction of Treasury Single Account (TSA), the Government Integrated Financial Management and Information System (GIFMIS) and the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS).
The IPPIS as at December 31, 2014, helped Nigeria saved US$1.25billion while eliminating 62,893 ghost workers in the payroll.
She also introduced 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.
In October 2005, she led the Nigerian team that negotiated the cancellation of 60% of Nigeria’s external debt ($18 billion) with the Paris Club.
The debt deal also included an innovative buy-back mechanism that wiped out Nigeria’s Paris Club debt and reduced the country’s external indebtedness from $35 billion to $5 billion. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala oversaw Nigeria’s first Sovereign credit rating of BB—from Fitch and Standard and Poor’s—a rating that grouped Nigeria with other emerging market countries such as Vietnam, Venezuela and the Philippines.
Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala joined The Rockefeller Foundation board of trustees in 2009.
Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is former Minister of Finance for the Federal Republic of Nigeria, appointed in July 2011. She previously served as a Managing Director of the World Bank where she had oversight responsibility for the World Bank’s operational portfolio in Africa, South Asia and Europe and Central Asia. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala spearheaded several World Bank initiatives to assist low-income countries during both the food and later financial crisis. She is chaired the replenishment of over $40 billion for the International Development Association (IDA), the grant and soft credit arm of the World Bank.
From September 2006 to November 2007, she was Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Brookings Institution. From June to August 2006, she was Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria, overseeing Nigeria’s External Relations; and from July 2003 to June 2006 she served a prior term as Minister of Finance and Economy of Nigeria and head of Nigeria’s much acclaimed Presidential Economic team responsible for implementing a comprehensive home-grown economic reform program that stabilized the macro-economy and tripled the growth rate to an average 6% per annum over three years.
Her achievements as Finance Minister garnered international recognition for improving Nigeria’s financial stability and fostering greater fiscal transparency to combat corruption.
Previously, she pursued a 21-year career as a development economist at the World Bank, where she held the post of Vice President and Corporate Secretary. This included two tours of duty (1997-2000) working in the East Asia Region during the East Asian financial crisis; two duty tours in the Middle East Region, the last (2000-2003) as Director, Operations (deputy vice-president) of the region. Dr Okonjo-Iweala also served as Director of Institutional Change and Strategy (1995-1997). From 1989 to 1991, she was Special Assistant to the Senior Vice President, Operations.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was educated at Harvard and has a Ph.D. in Regional Economics and Development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including Honorary Doctorates from Trinity College, Dublin, Brown University and Amherst College, among others. She is the recipient of Time magazine’s European Hero of the Year Award, 2004, for her work on economic reform in Nigeria, Euromoney magazine Global Finance Minister of the year, 2005, Financial Times/The Banker African Finance Minister of the year 2005, This Day (one of Nigeria’s premier newspapers) Minister of the Year award 2004 and 2005. In 2006, she was named by Forbes magazine as one of 100 most powerful women in the world.
Portfolio, the Conde Nast International Business Intelligence magazine, called her one of 73 “Brilliant” business influencers in the world of business and public service.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is a member or chair of numerous boards and advisory groups: ONE Campaign, the World Resources Institute, the Clinton Global Initiative, the Nelson Mandela Institution, Friends of the Global Fund Africa, and the African Institutes of Science and Technology as well as the Center for Global Development (CGD).
Okonjo-Iweala was born in Ogwashi-Ukwu, Delta State, Nigeria, where her father Professor Chukwuka Okonjo was the Obi from the Obahai Royal Family of Ogwashi-Ukwu.
She was educated at Queen’s School, Enugu, St. Anne’s School, Molete, Ibadan, and the International School Ibadan. She arrived in the US in 1973 as a teenager to study at Harvard University, graduating magna cum laude with an AB in Economics in 1976.
In 1981, she earned her PhD in regional economics and development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology 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), that supported her doctoral studies.