Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: A Beacon of Hope
By Olusola Daniel
A critical look at the composition of the present cabinet of President Goodluck Jonathan may make one question the criteria used in selecting the persons for the different portfolios. Whilst majority of the officials have been dubbed as old guards whose reign in the federal ministries have been more like the same old story, few stand out in the midst of the pack. And, Dr (Mrs) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Coordinating Minister for the Economy, is one of those few.
Dr Okonjo-Iweala brings her suite of experience to the table as she is faced with, perhaps, the most challenging of her job functions till date – the Finance Minister of Africa’s most populous nation and second largest economy in the continent. No doubt, her present calling is one that attracts global scrutiny and commentary. And coming at a time when Nigerians are more expressive about their demands from government, it is obvious she will be severally called upon to defend and justify the radical policies she is introducing into the Nigerian economic sphere. But with what we have seen so far, one can safely vouchsafe that she is capable and well positioned to handle the onerous tasks ahead.
As the Economic Adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo in year 2000, Dr Okonjo-Iweala was charged with the responsibility of mapping a way for Nigeria out of its external debt, which was then US$30 billion. At that time, Nigeria paid US$1 billion to service this loan without any dent in the repayment of the actual loan. She was invited back to Nigeria in 2003 to head the Finance Ministry. Her most prominent achievement during her tenure as Minister from 2003-2006 was the cancellation of about 60% of Nigeria’s external debt with the Paris Club, worth US$18 billion. It is only fair to say that Nigeria leveraged on Dr. Ngozi’s goodwill with the international community to achieve the cancellation of the debt; coupled with her sound economic policies that were introduced at that time.
A woman of uncompromisingly high standards and strong personal values, she honourably resigned her appointment when she was transferred from the Ministry of Finance to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2006. She again heeded the call to national duty in 2011, when she was invited from the World Bank to again head the Finance Ministry of Nigeria. With her appointment came the news of the proposed removal of subsidy on fuel. While this made her largely unpopular among the populace, information coming to light has clearly shown the rationale behind her proposal to completely remove the subsidy on petroleum products, as some unscrupulous Nigerians have fraudulently enriched themselves from the subsidy scheme.
Her exceptional achievements have received global recognition, some of which include:
- Top 100 most inspiring people delivering for girls and women, Women Deliver, 2011
- The Bishop John T. Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award, Africare, 2010
- This Day Award of 50 Most Notable Nigerians who have contributed most to 50 years of
Nigerian Development, 2010
- Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, Amherst College, USA, May 2008
- Conde Nast International Business Intelligence Magazine Portfolio as one of 73 “Brilliant”
business influencers in the world, 2008
- Honorary Doctorate of Letters, Trinity College, University of Dublin, Ireland, December 2007
- Honorary Doctorate of Laws, Colby College, USA, May 2007
- Honorary Doctorate of Laws, Brown University, USA, May 2006
- Forbes Magazine 100 Most Powerful Women in the world, 2006
- Global Finance Minister of the Year 2005 EUROMONEY Magazine
- Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, Northern Caribbean University, Mandeville, Jamaica 2004
- Finance Minister of the Year 2005, Africa and the Middle East: Emerging Markets Magazine
- TIME Magazine European Heroes Award 2004
- Euromarket Forum, Brussels Belgium, 2004 Award for Vision and Courage in Design and Implementation of Nigeria’s Economic Reform Programme.
- 2000 Merit Award – Nigerian Lawyers Association, New York, USA.
A woman of integrity and international repute, one can authoritatively say that Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is one of the reasons to believe in Nigeria and, indeed, Africa. She brought Africa to the limelight when she became the first woman – nay African – to vie for the World Bank Presidency, a position that had erstwhile been occupied only by Americans. While she lost out in the bid to become the World Bank’s President because of Western politics, the global goodwill her candidacy attracted was a testimony to her integrity and understanding of world economics. It is worthy of note that she continues to chair the International Development Association which sourced a historic US$49.3 billion to provide grants and interest-free loans to the world’s poorest countries. Therefore, there is no gainsaying that Nigerians should rest assured that someone who has the capacity to redefine the economy is at the helm of affairs.
Even her most vocal critics will agree that she is arguably the most qualified amongst the lot to head the economic team of President Goodluck Jonathan. One can safely say that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala understands our collective aspirations as a people. Having experienced firsthand the ravages of the Nigerian Civil War, where her family lost everything and sometimes had to settle for one meal a day. It is true that with such experience comes a deeper understanding of the needs of a people: the desire to live a better life, devoid of anxiety as to where the next meal will come from.
Her impact on the national budget is also commendable. In 2006, the percentage of recurrent expenditure was 65%. By 2011, it had risen to a whopping 74.4%. Granted that many Nigerians have criticized the 2012 budget, it is worthy of mention that there was a marginal reduction in recurrent expenditure by 3.4%. And when one considers the fact that Nigeria had had four male Finance Ministers between 2006 and 2011 when the recurrent expenditure rose by 9.4%, even the most vociferous of critics would be constrained to praise this woman manager!
A consummate Nigerian, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has no tribal or regional leanings. She pursues the best and all-embracing policies, not what will be beneficial only to the Igbo people. It is easy to see that her appointment was not because of her tribe either, but her qualifications. Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s merits to the Jonathan administration cannot be concluded without pointing out her outstanding reputation in a government that is allegedly riddled with corrupt, power-hungry and self-seeking officials. So far, she is unblemished by any allegation of corruption and is held in high esteem among her colleagues, respected by her critics, with personal and professional ethics that transcend the Nigerian polity.
At a time when family values seem to be becoming old-fashioned and dignity of labour is no longer a thing of pride, Dr (Mrs) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala — married to Physician and Surgeon Ikemba Iweala, a mother of four children — is the epitome of an ideal woman. Her eldest child, Onyinye Iweala, received her Ph.D in Experimental Pathology from Harvard University in 2008 and graduated from its Medical School in 2010. Another of the children, Uzodinma Iweala, is an award-winning author.
Bringing Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala to head the Finance Ministry is one of the right decisions the Goodluck Jonathan administration has taken, and one for which it should be commended.