Iconic Women

First Nigerian, First African and first female WTO Boss, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

By Aisha Kabiru Mohammed | Nov 16, 2022

There is no doubt or question whether or not Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala is Iconic. She is one of the most influential women from Nigeria, and her contribution to the Nigerian and world economy should not go unnoticed.

I read a tweet that mirrors my thoughts about her:

“Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a badass. In her book, "Fighting Corruption Is Dangerous", she casually names & shames every powerful villain she encountered when she was in government. Is this even allowed?” -@seunosewa, Nairaland Founder

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a Nigerian-American economist, was born in Ogwashi-Ukwu, Delta State, Nigeria, on June 13, 1954. There, her father, Professor Chukwuka Okonjo, served as the Obi (king) of the Ogwashi-Ukwu Obahai Royal Family. 



She had her education at the International School in Ibadan, St. Anne's School in Molete, Ibadan, Oyo State, and Queen's School in Enugu. She moved to the United States in 1973 to attend Harvard University, where she earned an AB in Economics in 1976 before graduating with honours. She graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a Master's in City Planning in 1978 and a PhD in Regional Economics and Development in 1981. 

Her dissertation topic was "Credit policy, Rural Financial Markets, and Nigeria's Agricultural Development." 

The American Association of University awarded her a global fellowship. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) awarded her a global grant to help fund her doctoral studies.



Since March 2021, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has led the World Trade Organization as director general. Notably, she is the first woman and the first African to serve as Director-General of the World Trade Organization. 

She serves on the boards of Danone, Standard Chartered Bank, MINDS (the Mandela Institute for Development Studies), the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, One Campaign, GAVI (the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization), the Rockefeller Foundation, R4D (Results for Development), ARC (African Risk Capacity), and Earth Shot Prize. 

She also served on the Twitter Board of Directors in the past but resigned in connection with her nomination as Director in February 2021. 

Okonjo-Iweala works for the Brookings Institution's Global Economy and Development Program as a distinguished non-resident fellow on the Africa Growth Initiative. She co-chairs the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate and serves as an emeritus commissioner. 

She worked at The World Bank for 25 years as a development economist, ascending to the position of Managing Director for Operations between 2007 and 2011. First serving under President Olusegun Obasanjo from 2003 to 2006 and then under President Goodluck Jonathan from 2011 to 2015, Okonjo-Iweala was the first Nigerian woman to hold the position for two terms. 

She then served as Nigeria's Minister of Foreign Affairs from June to August 2006. She was voted Global Finance Minister of the Year by Euromoney in 2005.

Okonjo-Iweala worked for 25 years as a development economist at the World Bank in Washington, DC, where he eventually attained the No. 2 position of Managing Director, Operations. She was in charge of the World Bank's $81 billion operating portfolio in Africa, South Asia, Europe, and Central Asia as managing director.

Okonjo-Iweala served as Nigeria's finance minister twice (from 2003 to 2006 and again from 2011 to 2015), as well as serving briefly as foreign minister in 2006. She held both posts for the first time as a woman. She conducted discussions with the Paris Club that resulted in the cancellation of Nigeria's debt totalling US$30 billion during her first tenure as finance minister during President Olusegun Obasanjo's government. 

She oversaw initiatives in 2003 to enhance Nigeria's macroeconomic management, which included putting in place a fiscal rule based on the price of oil. The "Excess Crude Account" is a unique account that was created to save profits over a reference benchmark oil price and to lessen macroeconomic volatility. 

She also played a crucial role in 2006 in assisting Nigeria to acquire its first-ever BB minus sovereign credit rating from Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poors. She also started the custom of disclosing how much money the federal, state, and local governments received from the federal account of the nation. That move significantly contributed to improving governance openness at all levels of government, notably the sub-national level.

She left behind a legacy that included enhancing the nation's public financial institutions and boosting housing by establishing the Nigerian Mortgage Refinance Corporation (NMRC) in 2013; the industry was improved. Nigeria became the largest economy in Africa due to the first GDP rebasing project in 24 years, which she oversaw at the National Bureau of Statistics. 

To encourage entrepreneurs and the thousands of jobs they created, she also empowered women and young people via the Growing Girls and Women in Nigeria Programme (GWIN), a gender-responsive budgeting system, and the highly regarded Youth Enterprise with Innovation Programme (YouWIN). When she attempted to clean up Nigeria's fuel subsidy payments to some marketers in 2012 as a member of Goodluck Jonathan's administration, she faced death threats and her mother's kidnapping. 

Okonjo-Iweala served in the government and on the Commission on Growth and Development, presided over by Michael Spence, a recipient of the Nobel Prize. She served on the IMF's International Monetary and Finance Committee from 2003 to 2006 and again from 2011 to 2015, as well as the High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda established by the UN Secretary-General (2012–2013). 

Along with UK Secretary Justine Greening, she was co-chair of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation. She ran for president of the World Bank in 2012 against Jim Yong Kim, president of Dartmouth College, and former finance minister of Colombia Jose Antonio Ocampo. If successful, she would have been the first woman to lead the institution.

Nigeria's first indigenous organisation for opinion research, NOI-Polls, was founded by Okonjo-Iweala. She also established the Abuja-based Center for the Study of Economies of Africa (C-SEA), a think tank for development research, and she holds the title of Distinguished Visiting Fellow at both the Brookings Institution and the Center for Global Development.

When Yoo Myung-hee entered the race for the position of director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in the last round of voting in June 2020, Okonjo-Iweala was nominated by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari as the nation's nominee. She earned the European Union's support for her campaign before the elections. The American government signalled in October 2020 that it would not support the Okonjo-bid.