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Okonjo-Iweala and the quest for World Bank apex job

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By Richard Ihediwa

Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala needs no further introduction within Nigeria and in the international arena.
Rising steadily in her carrier as a world class manager of finance and economy, Okonjo-Iweala is now seeking for the exalted position of the President of the World Bank. Okonjo-Iweala and two others, namely United States nominee, Jim Yong Kim and Jose Antonio Ocampo, the 59-year-old Colombian, who is a US-trained economist are seeking to take over from current World Bank President, Robert Zoellick, who is billed to step down in June this year.
Since Okonjo-Iweala’s recent nomination for the apex world finance job, she has been receiving support from African nations with the National Assembly passing a motion backing her. Okonjo-Iweala herself had remained undeterred despite the opposition of the American government to her nomination.
The two times minister of finance and former minister for foreign affairs believes she has all it takes to handle the job and many experts across the globe share the same opinion with her.
Okonjo-Iweala was Vice-President and Corporate Secretary of the World Bank Group. She left it in 2003 after she was appointed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s cabinet as Finance Minister on 15 July 2003.
In 2007, Okonjo-Iweala was considered as a possible replacement for former World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, but was later appointed to serve as Managing Director of World Bank from October 2007 to July 2011 before she came back to Nigeria to take up for the second time the position of the minister of finance.
Despite the huge support from African and developing countries, the battle ahead of Okonjo-Iweala is by no means a tea party as she is up against candidates, which like her are of no mean qualifications connections and backing.
Already the United States authorities are highly optimistic that their favoured candidate, South Korean, Mr. Jim Yong Kim, who was born in Seoul and emigrated with his parents from South Korea to the United States at age five, will win the contest.
According to US Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner “Jim Yong Kim, the U.S. nominee to lead the World Bank, will win broad international support despite an unprecedented challenge by candidates from emerging economies”.
The other candidate being considered for the top job is Mr. Jose Antonio Ocampo, a 59-year-old Colombian, who is a US-trained economist and who has excellent credentials in academia, national politics and the United Nations. He has held posts as Agriculture Minister, Planning Minister and Central Bank Chairman in Colombia’s government, and is currently a professor at Columbia University in New York.
The US optimism is coming against the backdrop that the the country is the biggest shareholder in the Washington-based bank, which has always been led by an American.
Past World Bank Presidents have included U. S. Mr. Robert McNamara, who served as Secretary of Defence during the Vietnam War, and Mr. Paul Wolfowitz, a former Deputy Secretary of Defence in George W Bush’s administration.
However, despite the hurdles, an undeterred Okonjo-Iweala said there is not going back in her bid for the position. If she gets it, she will be the first African as well as the first woman to hold the position.
She has been adjudged to be the most experienced of the three candidates because of the over two decades she has spent in numerous positions in the organization. African powers, including Angola, Nigeria and South Africa endorsed her nomination.
In a recent chat with newsmen in Abuja, Okonjo-Iweala described her nomination as “an unforgettable honour” and insisted that the opposition of the American government to her nomination would not dampen her spirit.
Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, who was spoke at the National Convention of the Peoples Democratic Party at the Eagle Square, Abuja, last Saturday, thanked African leaders for their backing.
She said: “Sincerely, I feel honoured by the decision of African leaders to back me for the job and I believe that the final decision on who occupies the office would be beneficial to the global community.
“It is elating that across the continent, the leaders spoke with one voice, and their gesture is directed at me; I am eternally grateful to them all for their support.”
She said: “I am aware of the opposition by the American government, and I can tell you that rather than dampen my spirit, it further strengthens my belief in the fact that my candidature caught the attention of very influential nations, especially the United States of America.
However, as a truly cultured Nigerians, Okonjo-Iweala also told the world that for her it was not a “do or die” affair adding that the most important thing for her is the recognition by those backing her across the world.
“The most important thing to me here is the recognition by political and renowned academic leaders across the continent for the job, which would further give the continent a better position in global economic matters.
“Even if eventually I don’t get the job, I still will feel honoured for being the target of a continental acceptance on a global matter that affects global economic growth”, she said.
Born on June 13, 1954, Okonjo-Iweala hails from Ogwashi-Uku, Delta State where her father Professor Chukuka Okonjo is the Obi, or King, from the Umu Obi Obahai Royal Family of Ogwashi-Ukwu.
Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was educated at Harvard University, graduating magna cum laude with an A.B. in 1977, and earned her Ph.D. in regional economic development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1981. She is married to Ikemba Iweala from Umuahia, Abia State and they have four children.
She is highly respected in Nigeria following the role she played as Finance Minister in October 2005 when she led the Nigerian team that struck a deal with the Paris Club, a group of bilateral creditors, to pay a portion of Nigeria’s external debt (US $12 billion) in return for an $18 billion debt write-off.
Prior to the partial debt payment and write-off, Nigeria spent roughly US $1 billion every year on debt servicing, without making a dent in the principal owed.
Okonjo-Iweala also introduced the practice of publishing each state’s monthly financial allocation from the federal government in the newspapers. She was instrumental in helping Nigeria obtain its first ever sovereign credit rating (of BB minus) from Fitch and Standard & Poor’s. Nigeria is considered to have defaulted on its sovereign debt in 1983 (debt rescheduling is considered a type of default by rating agencies)
In 2007, Okonjo-Iweala’s NGO, NOI Global Consulting, partnered with the Gallup Organization to introduce an opinion poll, the NOI poll, into the Nigerian polity. She is a fellow at the  Brookings Institution  Okonjo-Iweala also serves on the Advisory Board of Global Financial Integrity[ and on the Board of Directors of the World Resources Institute.

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