Written by Professor Chris Imafidon
Published on 19th of February 2021
This week’s final confirmation of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the world’s trade ‘Czar’ or Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) shows what most of us have been saying for the past 20 years. There is a genius in every child, male or female. Girls can achieve in leadership just as their male colleagues and sometimes effortlessly better. Someone once said that his “wife belongs only to the bedroom and the other room at home”.
The folly of this limitation has been a subject of endless debates, and ridicule. The phenomenal contributions of females to leadership, corporate success and scientific achievements to name but a few, make any role of women in global and local leadership inevitable and indispensable.
The initial opposition to her candidature was based more on her gender as a real woman, mother and wife rather than her African heritage. During a recent meeting hosted by the London School of Economics in 2020, this issue of women in leadership was evident in the biased question directed at her. But her reply nailed any doubt our societies have about the girl-child’s competence.
At the Brexit-African conference in January 2020 in London, she also exhibited the same level of knowledge and wisdom in leadership particularly in international trade and economics. The saddest part of her unfairly prolonged approval for a position that she is so supremely qualified to hold is societal inflexibility in acknowledging that women can be more than mothers or wives.
The talent resident in 50% of our population has been suppressed by this sheer outdated and retrogressive thinking that if you are a lady, then the Almighty created you exclusively for procreation or recreation. But with the right education, and mentorship, any girl, irrespective of ancestry, background or opposition, top leadership or the boardroom must be the final destination.
The secret of Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s success is similar to other girls who have broken any glass ceiling. From Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel, or Theresa May or Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth. Education is a greater predictor of success than any other factor.
Growing up in Bendel State Nigeria, her parents were totally committed to the education of girls as much as boys.
As a little girl, her father once gave her an ADVANCED ECONOMICS book to read for leisure! So any seed sowed will eventually yield its fruits in ways that nobody can predict.
So Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s rise may seem like a miracle to the causal person but a careful look at her journey shows that it was more of mountain climbing than an overnight success.
When she takes office on 1 March, Dr Okonjo-Iweala will become the first woman and the first African to be chosen as Director-General. Her term, renewable, will expire on 31 August 2025.
“This is a very significant moment for the WTO. On behalf of the General Council, I extend our warmest congratulations to Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on her appointment as the WTO’s next Director-General and formally welcome her to this General Council meeting,” said General Council Chair David Walker of New Zealand.
Dr Okonjo-Iweala said a key priority for her would be to work with members to quickly address the economic and health consequences brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I am honoured to have been selected by WTO members as WTO Director-General,” said Dr Okonjo-Iweala. “A strong WTO is vital if we are to recover fully and rapidly from the devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. I look forward to working with members to shape and implement the policy responses we need to get the global economy going again. Our organization faces a great many challenges but working together we can collectively make the WTO stronger, more agile and better adapted to the realities of today.”