The Woman Who Would be King

The great kingdom that lies along the banks of the river Niger is Nigeria. A woman controls the wealth of this natural resource rich nation. The warm deep toned skin accentuates her tribal colors and a brilliant smile. She is Dr. Ngozi-Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy. Raised in a society whose religious overseers are male dominated Islamists; women’s rights are negligible and at the whims of Sharia Law. Nevertheless, Dr. Iweala has exceled in the world of finance and global economics. She has contributed to creating the beginnings of financial reform for her country. Outspoken she has widely argued for global economic parity. Her public struggles in achieving that goal have come in recognition from global financial players like Goldman Sachs, who has added Nigeria to its list of the “Next Eleven” economies. Nigeria is a member of theCommonwealth of Nations. Ngozi-Okonjo-Iweala’s bona fete is tough intelligence. She is a woman who would be king.
Born an Igbo from Ogwashi-Uku, Delta State, Dr. Ngozi-Okonjo-Iweala’s father is Professor Chukuka Okonjo and a Obi (King) from the Umu Obi Obahai Royal Family of Ogwashi-Uku. He was a high-ranking officer during the Biafra Wars. His daughter was a very young impressionable teen during that time. She witnessed the horrific ethnic cleansing. He kept her close until the time came for Ngozi Okonjo to travel to the United States to be educated in preparation to lead. Dr. Ngozi-Okonjo-Iweala earned an A.B. magna cum laude at Harvard, and then later achieved a PHD at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in regional economic development in 1981. Married to Ikemba Iweala from Umuahia, they have four children. Living in the most populous country in Africa and the seventh most populous country in the world, Dr. Iweala spent the next two decades working to bring geo-economic parity to Nigeria.
Her geopolitical visibility began with the appointment as vice president and corporate secretary of the World Bank Group, under the leadership of President Robert Zoellick. She left Washington in 2003 to become Finance Minister in Nigerian President Obasanjo’s cabinet on July 15, 2003. In October 2005, she made headlines as the team lead in brokering a deal with the Paris Club (a group of bilateral investors). With unrelenting energies, she drafted the framework that reorganized Nigeria’s $12 billion debt to the United States. The final agreement was a debt swap that resulted in an $18 billion write- off.
In 2006, she was in London negotiating better monetary opportunities for Nigeria when the news came that President Olusegun Obasanjo had removed her as head of Nigeria’s Economic Team. The news came as a shock. On August 3, 2006, Dr. Ngozi-Okonjo-Iweala resigned her position as head of Nigeria’s Foreign Minister. On October 4, 2007, she was appointed to the position of Managing Director at the World Bank under President Robert Zoellick. Years spent as Robert Zoellick’s right hand created a brilliant resume that would more than qualify her for broader global leadership. When Robert Zoellick announced that he would no longer seek another term as president of the World Bank, Dr. Iweala made a very public bid for candidacy. A media driven frenzy served to highlight her talents and voice frank criticisms if her bid was not successful. Though widely supported the heat of a politically torn Nigeria darkened her candidacy – placing an unfair burden on her reputation. She said, “I have an advantage of knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the institution being somebody who has managed a complex economy in a developing country.” Dr. Ngozi-Okonjo-Iweala was not successful in her bid as the twelfth president of the World Bank.
Meanwhile, Mr. Goodluck Jonathan replaced Olusegun Obasanjo as President of Nigeria in 2011. President Jonathon had previously restored Dr. Iweala’s position as Finance Minister of Nigeria. Work had only just begun in her renewed position when the decision was made to run as head of the World Bank. Yet President Jonathon joined the media flurry in offering his full support. Understanding that Western powers had long held dominance over the geopolitical profile of the World Bank, he appreciated the advantages in having his nations’ Finance Minister attain its presidency. This highly visible geo-political post could go a long way in achieving greater global parity for Nigeria. Nevertheless, in lieu of her failed bid, he welcomed her back to continue in the role of Nigeria’s Minister of Finance with the added role as Coordinating Minister for the Economy. Not all welcomed her.
The advantages of a western education and the successful geopolitical and economic negotiations on behalf of her country have failed to endear her in the hearts of many. Austerity measures designed to balance the country’s budget, has caused many to forget the hard won victories. Restrictive economic measures have lit the fuse to a tender box that is a nation torn by jihadist violence and high youth unemployment. When fuel subsidies were halted and consumer prices doubled overnight, the Occupy Nigeria movement came to birth. By the thousands demonstrators took to the streets in January 2012 and it turned violent. The cramped city streets swelled with chanting youth waiving signs and tossing objects, paralyzing Nigeria. Government brutality reared on its hindquarters. Armed with guns police and soldiers struck back. In the hot sun, baked cramped squalor filled with screaming rioters, law enforcers killed youth. To assuage the global outcries for a cessation of the brutality, President Goodluck Jonathon reinstated a portion of the subsidy. Much of the blame was placed at the feet of the new Finance Minister. Right or wrong many viewed the westernized stranger as an imposer of capitalist style economic oppression. The government was standing on the backs of the poor. Nevertheless, there are the emergent voices of the educated youth. Armed with global knowledge and intellectually fed by social media, Nigeria’s newest adult generation is demanding honest dialogue with their government.
The youth have formed the core of the Occupy Nigeria movement. They understand completely the growing importance of their country’s global value. To them embracing the government’s policies in subsidized fuel merely pushes their natural resource rich nation farther from their goal of joining the “western cashless society. They feel strongly that by maintaining subsidized fuel as one of the many policies meant to mask the enrichment of the profiteers, while weakening the poor.
Surrounded by controversy Dr. Ngozi-Okonjo-Iweala’s road ahead contains huge challenges. She must bring fiscal balance to an emerging nation and an eager economy that is determined to become stronger. Young Nigeria is demanding a place at the global table with other new emerging geo-economies. Dr. Iweala must not allow the government to preserve the populace ignorance. Rather the Nigerian government should understand that shared knowledge of what must be done to achieve sovereign greatness; will give its people the ability to withstand patiently the pains of necessary economic austerity.
Nigeria’s complicated culture seems to be filled with influences that will test its successful outcome. It will be a hard-unpaved path for Dr.Ngozi-Okonjo-Iweala’s role as economic chief of Nigeria. For the woman who would be king all the good she wants to realize for her Nigeria will not come easy.