Like the rest of humankind, the government and people of Anambra State are delighted that Nigeria’s former Finance Minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who has also been the Foreign Minister as well as the World Bank Managing Director, has finally emerged the Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
It is remarkable that Dr Okonjo-Iweala is the first African and the first female to lead this important organisation with 164 members and 24 observer governments which was formed on January 1, 1995, to regulate international trade.
Her triumph shows Nigeria’s foreign policy is regaining the dynamism of the past decades, as Governor Willie Obiano stated in three separate letters last October 30, to President Muhammadu Buhari, Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama as well as Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed.
The Buhari administration has done three remarkable things since last year which show Nigeria is returning to the global stage with regained self-confidence and strategy.
It stood up to Ghana when it was maltreating thousands of Nigerian businessmen and women and pumped sense into the heads of the Ghanaian authorities. The only offence by the Nigerians in Ghana was that they were far more competitive than their Ghanaian counterparts in the globalised world marked by acute competition. Ever since the Buhari administration demonstrated to the Ghanaian government that “enough is enough”, the harassment of Nigerian businessmen and women and the imposition of discriminatory levies against them have ceased.
The Buhari administration also scored a bull’s eye when it refused to kowtow to the Donald Trump’s intimidating excesses and rather insisted on Dr Akinwunmi Adesina’s reelection as President of the African Development Bank (AfDB). Trump’s government had made all manner of allegations against Dr Adesina which were completely false. Trump probably has something against Africans on international assignments.
He accused the World Health Organisation Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom of Ethiopia of being a China puppet without evidence and even went on to pull the United States out of the WHO in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Of course, the administration was vehemently opposed to Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s leadership of the WTO, in spite of the massive support she enjoyed from WTO member states.
That Nigeria triumphed over Trump’s America in having Dr Adesina reelected as the AfDB chief executive and in having Dr Okonjo-Iweala as the new WTO DG shows that President Buhari and his foreign policy team have a good understanding of diplomatic charm. Rather than capitulate to the United States on each occasion, they continued to lobby the critical stakeholders.
The second lesson is the need to always put our best candidates forward on the international scene. The credentials, knowledge, skills, personal integrity and other leadership attributes exhibited by both Dr Adesina and Dr Okonjo-Iweala are unimpeachable. If Nigeria’s candidate for the International Court of Justice at The Hague last year had been solid like Dr Okonjo-Iweala or Dr Adesina, Nigeria would have had a judge at the ICJ now.
It is noteworthy that an eminently qualified Nigerian, The Honorable Justice Chile Eboe-Osuji, is the current President of the International Criminal Court of Justice at The Hague. Any country which wants to win the World Cup must assemble the best players, and not the second eleven.
The third lesson is that even in domestic matters meritocracy is the way to go. Neither Dr Okonjo-Iweala nor Dr Adesina earned global respect as a result of primordial considerations. Each won international acclaim purely on merit. Each was the best candidate at any point. Countries like Singapore, which have no mineral deposits –including drinking water– have today become development miracles because they run merit-based systems.
The fourth lesson from Okonjo-Iweala’s victory is the imperative to have a development driven foreign policy. For decades after independence in 1960, Nigerian foreign policy was afrocentric. Fighting racism and apartheid and helping African nations under foreign occupation to gain freedom were the fulcrum of our foreign policy. We thus made no economic gain from being a frontline nation in the struggle for the independence of Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Angola and Mozambique while foreign powers, including those we fought gallantly at a huge cost, became the beneficiaries of the new order in each of these countries. Nigeria can learn from such countries as Malaysia whose foreign policy in over three decades has been preoccupied with how to use its relations with the rest of the world to benefit its citizens and organisations in economic terms. This strategy may be called development diplomacy.
It is when the development of our country is made the corner stone of our foreign policy that Nigeria can benefit maximally from having our citizens like Dr Okonjo-Iweala as the WTO Director General and Dr Adesina as the AfDB Managing President. Given the acute development challenges facing our nation, we need to embrace development diplomacy as a matter of urgency.
To conclude, the government and people of Anambra State rejoice with the rest of Africa on the emergence of a great pan Africanist as the WTO DG, in spite of all odds. We commend Dr Okonjo-Iweala for her steadfastness and focus. We laud President Buhari for standing by her every step of the way.
Governor Obiano and his administration supported her unabashedly because we were convinced she would do a brilliant job if given the opportunity. We, therefore, commend Foreign Minister Onyeama and the Trade Minister, Niyi Adebayo for being proactive in the campaign for Okonjo-Iweala. There is nothing Nigerians cannot achieve in the world when we work as a team and as a united people. Truly, Nigeria is a miracle waiting to happen.