Is Sowore truly against Okonjo-Iweala’s aspiration to be WTO Director-General?

“Okonjo-Iweala obtained American citizenship in 2019, her spokeswoman told Bloomberg News, after spending most of her career at the World Bank and living in the Washington suburbs.” – Bloomberg

It is no news that top Nigerian economist and International Development expert, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is among the strong contenders for the position of Director-General of the World Trade Organisation; the largest international economic organisation in the world. Noteworthy is that the former Coordinating Minister for the Nigerian Economy, is one of two women up against six men vying for the position.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is an intergovernmental organization concerned with the regulation of international trade between nations and has existed as a replacement for the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), since 1 January 1995 after 123 nations signed the Marrakesh Agreement, on 15 April 1994. 

A report by Sahara Reporters on the development however, got Twitter buzzing Friday as it sparked a debate among Nigerians who are now reacting to the sensational headline that many says makes the former minister appear desperate. The news headline accused Okonjo-Iweala of rejecting her Nigerian citizenship in order to secure the Director-General position she is vying for despite the fact that Nigeria is solidly behind her in her ambition.

In reaction to the story however, Nigerians on social media have called out the Publisher of the medium, Omoyele Sowore, with some accusing him of pushing an agenda intended to make her lose the election. This included digging up a petition he posted on Twitter in 2015, asking Yale University to withdraw the former Finance Minister’s honorary doctorate degree as well as alleging that his wife, Opeyemi Sowore who came to public view in 2019 after several advocacy for his release when he was rearrested by the Department of State Services on charges of threat to National Security holds dual citizenship.

 

For some others, it degenerated into a tribal war as they alleged that the medium and its publisher, Sowore who is from the South West may be against her bid for the WTO job since she is not from same region as himself; citing previous reports on Okonjo-Iweala in wake of a NNPC scandal in 2014 as well as questioning his leadership capacity, having aspired to lead the country in the 2019 presidential elections.

 

From available reports, Okonjo-Iweala has spent most of her adult life working in the United States after arriving in the 1970s to attend Harvard University, and worked at the World Bank for 25 years living in the Washington suburbs, but obtained American citizenship in 2019. And according to her spokeswoman, it’s not uncommon for international civil servants who spend long stretches working abroad to take a second citizenship, especially when their families have been living overseas with them.

“Unfortunately in this rather mercantilist world we live in, some members might take nationality into account,” said Stuart Harbinson, a former senior WTO official and a senior consultant on international trade for the Brussels-based Hume Brophy communications agency told Bloomberg. “It is much more important to get the right person.” 

Although, nominated for the position on 9 June 2020, by the government of Nigeria, who have also mobilised massive support for her aspiration including securing an endorsement by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Africa’s Richest Man, Aliko Dangote, it would appear that Okonjo-Iweala inspite of a resumé full of qualifications and honourary degrees from over a dozen universities worldwide, is learning from history and leaving no gap in boosting her chances to clinch the job. She had in 2012, run for the position of World Bank President without the backing of the United States but lost to Jim Yong Kim, a Korean-American.

Bloomberg also reports that “at least two other candidates for the top WTO job disclosed multiple nationalities on their biographies posted online by the Geneva-based organization. Okonjo-Iweala’s bio doesn’t mention dual citizenship, and there’s no requirement to do so.” It adds that observers of the process have said “the revelation of her dual status may become magnified as protectionist sentiment rises around the world and national allegiances are questioned.”

It’s difficult to categorically say that Sowore is against Okonjo-Iweala’s ambition, neither can we accuse the former minister of being desperate. What is most important however, is that Nigerians (prominent and non-prominent) rally support for her aspiration and stand solidly behind her as former President Jonathan and others have done, to secure the job which economic analysts have posited would be of benefit to Nigeria.


What you need to know about WTO:

The WTO deals with regulation of trade in goods, services and intellectual property between participating countries by providing a framework for negotiating trade agreements and a dispute resolution process aimed at enforcing participants’ adherence to WTO agreements, which are signed by representatives of member governments and ratified by their parliaments. It also prohibits discrimination between trading partners, but provides exceptions for environmental protection, national security, and other important goals.

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