By Stephen Ubanna
President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired Army Generala, may not be one of the best Presidents Nigeria had produced between May 29, 1999 and now. But when it comes to supporting top flight Nigerians seeking International appointments, the Katsina state born Nigerian President had thrown his weight behind each of the Candidates irrespective of their ethnic or religious coloration.
Take for instance the nomination of Akinwumi Adesina, a former minister of Agriculture and Rural Developmen,t under former President Goodluck Jonathan, as the Nigerian Candidate for the African Development Bank, AfDB, top job, which had been denied the country over the years.
Recall that he has the powers to stop the Adesina nomination which was made by the previous Administration, but he was said to have followed it up to ensure that he wins on the first ballot at the Abdjan, Cote d’Ivoire Headquarters of the Bank in 2015.
He was said to have mobilised other African leaders to support the Nigerian Candidate. He had his way. He was said to have given him a same support in his re-election bid, facilitating the unanimous vote which he got from member countries both within and outside the African Continent last August.
It was therefore not very surprising that When Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former World Bank, Managing Director who had served as minister of Finance and Coordinator of the Economy under former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, a retired Army General and Jonathan, declared her interest to run as the Director General of the World Trade Organisation, WTO, an agency of the United Nations, UN, based in Geneza, Switzerland. She was quickly adopted as the country’s Candidate for the WTO top job.
Okonjo-Iweala, who had needed the full support of the government because she has Yoo Myung- hee, the current minister of Trade in the Asian country of South Korea, described in world Trade circles as a very strong force to contend with. This may have informed why she had visited the retired Army General at the Villa , early October, where the duo were said to have held a closed door meeting over the WTO top job.
She was said to have left the Villa, a happy peson, with the promises extracted from the Nigerian President. He was said to have promised ‘’to do everything within his powers to ensure that she became the Director General of the UN , Agency’’. Aware that Myung- hee, is not a push over, for the WTO top job because of the US, government support and may not stand any chances of being selected by the nominations Committee , she had no option but to cry to the government . Again, Buhari was said to have reached out to other African Leaders and other member countries across Europe and Asia, to support the Nigerian nominee.
Donald Trump , the US, President may not have wanted to support the Nigerian nominee, for the WTO top job, who is acknowledged, world wide as an experienced International Bureaucrat and reformer and most suitable for the job because of the multilateral trade relationship between Nigeria and China.
The US, government major worry was that if the Nigerian nominee could be announced as the WTO Director General by the General Council of the Organisation, it would give China an edge in dictating global trade policies.
Trump, particular, had described the UN Agency, as ‘’horrible and biased towards China’’. It is not surprising why he had blocked some appointments to key roles in the Organisation including that of Okonjo-Iweala.
The US, office of Trade Representatives which had issued a Statement recently had said that this is a very is a very difficult time for the WTO and international trade, stressing that’’the dispute settlement system has gotten out of control, as only few member countries fulfill transparency obligations’’.
The US Trade office had said that ‘’the WTO is badly in need of a major reform which could only be carried out by the South Korea minister of Trade, because she’’ has ”’all the expertise to be an effective Leader of the Organisation’’. The Us government never for once see the Nigerian WTO nominee as a broad reformer who could bring about changes to the world trade body.
The ex-Nigerian minister may not have allowed the US government opposition to dampen her efforts to clinch the WTO top job. She had told those cares to listen that that her broad experience in championing major reforms at the World Bank and the Nigerian economy , ‘’made her the right person to put the WTO back on track’’.
Global Trade analysts would want the US government to drop its opposition against the Nigerian Candidate as there a re lots of work to done at the Agency . Until the resignation of Roberto Azevedo, the Brazilian, former Director General of the Agency, last August, the UN agency , was already ‘’ grappling with stalled trade talks and tension between the US an China’’.
Notwithstanding the US opposition to the recommendation of Okonjo-Iweala, the Nigerian ex-minister of Finance and Coordinator of the Economy, at the recent WTO Council General meeting at Geneva, it had recommended to the 164 member nations to appoint the Nigerian as the Director General but the US turned the request down. This may have informed why WTO General Council had called for a Special meeting for November 9, 2020,after the US Presidential Election to discuss the issue.
Many believe that the US opposition may not forestall the Nigerian nominee from being appointed as the WTO, Director General. An informed source disclosed that the Trump government, nevertheless, may still wield a considerable influence in the final decision. Perhaps, what may be going for the Nigerian WTO, Diector General, nominee, was the enormous support enjoyed from the EU. The fallout was behind the scene maneuvering to secure a consensus for her.
With 104 countries including the EU, solidly behind the Nigerian nominee, which may have paved the way for her to win the WTO top job, which announcement ought to have been made on Wednesday, October 30, 2020, in Geneva, the Switzerland Headquarters of the Trade Organisation , analysts believe that she would still make it, which would make her the first African woman, to occupy the 25year- old Global Trade watchdog.
As a prelude to winning the WTO top job, the African, AU, in solidarity with the Nigerian government, had on October 15, 2020, barely 13 days to the election of the new Director General, of WTO, decided to bury their political differences in order to give their backing to Okonjo-Iwela , to forestall Myung-hee, the South Korea nominee from succeeding the Brazilian Azevedo , the former Director General, who had resigned .
Cyril Ramophosa, the South African President and Chairman , AU, who had announced his personal support for the Nigerian Candidate, was said to have played a key role in forcing some other African countries’ Leaders who were sitting on the fence because there were three other Africans in the WTO top job race to take a stand on Okonjo-iwala.
The pressure from several quarters both within and outside the African Continent may have forced Abdel Hamid Mahmoud, the Egyptian Candidate, to withdraw from the race on September 18, 2020.
Amina Mohammed, the Kenyan Candidate who was said to have followed suit on October 8, 2020, was said to have dropped out in the second round of the convoluted election process put in place by the UN Trade Agency. The convoluted election process may have made it easy for the AU, to give their block vote to the Nigerian Candidate , without any Opposition.
It is not surprising why the Nigerian Candidate was said to have gotten Considerable support between September and October 30, 2020. The rumour making the rounds in major world Capitals, before the WTO, Council General meeting was that the Nigerian Candidate stands a chance of winning with a unanimous vote as the WTO, Director General.
The Nigerian Candidate chances of winning the WTO top job post may have been brightened on Wednesday, October 30, 2020, after the Agency Council, General Ordinary meeting at the Geneva, Headquarters of the Agency. The WTO nominations Committee members were said to have recommended to the Group’s 164 members to appoint Okonjo-Iweala, as the new WTO, Director General.
In spite of the fact that it was clear that Okonjo-Iweala was on the road to becoming the WTO Director General, the US, government which had been critical of the WTO past Leaderships over its poor handling of global trade matters had vowed’’to continue its support to Myung –hee, the South Korea Candidate, who is a Trade expert and had been involved in multilateral tariff negotiations over the last 25 years.
Global Trade sources however, believe that the Japanese government decision to support, Okonjo-Iweala, the Nigerian government nominee , for the post of the WTO Director General , may have finally sealed the hopes of Myung-hee, the South Korea nominee of taking over from Azevedo, the former Director General of the WTO, who had resigned.
The move, according to Global trade sources came against the backdrop of the semiconductor –related trade dispute between the two Asian Countries Industrial giant
. The South Korea nominee was said to have been a very strong critic of Japan, trade policies, which the government did not find funny. Indeed, the Nigerian government nominee for the WTO top job may have been further brightened when the shortlisted Candidates for the job was narrowed down to Myung-hee and Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala.
The Nigeria Foreign Affairs ministry officials and Hajia Marian Kagun, a one -Time Diplomat and Chairman of Okonjo-Iweala, Campign Strategy Team, were said to have to have taken up the challenge to drum up support for the Nigeria ex-minister of Finance by encouraging other WTO Member countries to support her Candidature , describing as ”a superior Candidate to the US backed Myung-hee of South Korea”.
The argument in both official and unofficial circles was that Okonjo- Iweala, as a former Managing Director of the World Bank, and who had successfully midwifed far –reaching reforms on the Nigerian economy was in a better position ‘’to balance the interests of the major WTO member nations and proactively contribute to maintaining and strengthening multilateral trade frameworks’’ across the global economy.