Questions about the Okonjo-Iweala WTO Candidacy


Ngoni Okonjo -Iweala

By Simbo Olorunfemi

I can see the different angles being played up on Nigeria’s nomination of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the WTO Presidency. 

First, because it put to a lie the oft-trumpeted allegation of bigotry and marginalisation of a particular group, there was confusion on what to make of it. The desperation  was to take the credit from President Buhari. 

So, someone comes up with the spin that the nomination was by America and not Nigeria. A misnomer, given that a country can only nominate her own national, but such petty lie is enough to sail the boat of those lost to the alternative reality. Then a spin of the spin – her candidacy was an American idea forced upon Nigeria. Now, some say the candidacy was an attempt to redeem an image and correct a record of bigotry. How ridiculous does this thing get?

This thing that keeps us so busy finding faults where there is none, making the simple difficult and complicating the obvious with our biases just won’t let us be. Fact is Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will not be a candidate in the election without the authorisation/approval of the President.That is just what it is. Perhaps some need to accept that they do not know the man as much as they think they know him or have simply refused to accept what does not validate  biases and presumptions.

Then, this one about the injustice of her candidacy. Some have even said that not speaking up for Dr Agah, DDG at WTO, the original Nigerian nominee, amounts to condoning injustice, hypocrisy, or whatever else. They have also managed to throw in the bit about ethnicity, even though the fact that the replacement is a Christian has seemingly incapacitated that second leg of the ready accusation.That, in spite of the fact that Dr Agah has tried to douse whatever fire anyone might be making out of this.

Now, as I have explained in more details in my article, Dr Agah is eminently qualified. He has been Nigeria’s man at WTO for many years. But to assume that there is not a wide gulf between the politics behind the office (DDG) he presently occupies and that of the DG  is to play either naive or ignorant. The move from a DDG to a DG is not like a promotional examination reserved for only internal candidates.

Indeed, that he has acquired tremendous experience in international trade and matters to do with the WTO, having been there since 2005, is not in doubt. But when his rich resume is placed side by side with that of the Egyptian, Hamid Mamdouh, some questions will pop up in the mind. The man has been around WTO, starting with GATT since 1990. So, if this was about experience, we didn’t stand a chance. I think Egypt knows that and was feeling quite comfortable. 

But then, 24 hours in politics is a lifetime. There comes the sudden announcement of resignation by the current DG and then the coronavirus, bringing regular diplomatic shuttle on its knees. Everything is now suddenly in the air. There comes an opportunity for both Nigeria and Okonjo-Iweala to change the game, even as I am not sure whose original idea her candidacy is.

Now, when people talk about injustice, I wonder if they understand the very nature of international relations and global diplomacy. It is essentially about nation-states and less about individuals, no matter how brilliant you are. Originally, international law did not confer individuals with international  rights, denying individuals the procedural capacity required to enforce international law, as the individual is a non-juristic person.

International diplomacy is like competitive team sport. Take Football as an example. It is a team game, not necessarily about any individual. The Manager decides on who makes the team list. He decides on who to take out and at what point, within the letter and spirit of the rules of the game. We see what team get up to, making strategic and tactical changes on account of the quality of the opposition, tactical formations, scoreline and even on account of time left to play. We have seen changes made at the dot of 90 minutes, with the possibility of penalty shoot-out looming. A Goalkeeper deemed a better penalty stopper comes in for the one who has acquainted himself creditably for all of 90 minutes. 

It is all about the team. It is all about the interest of the team. It is about attaining victory. It is about Nigeria. It is less about Agah and Okonjo-Iweala. There might be disappointment on the part of a player. That is to be expected. But the Coach has the information he might not have. Good team players respond with the right attitude when substituted. That is the stuff great sportsmen are made of.

The opening came and we seized it to put in a player with a great pedigree and track-record. She might not even be the most favourite player for us, but right now it is about Team Nigeria. Coach Buhari must have made this substitution for tactical reasons and possibly strategic, long-term. If the opposition is this rattled, it must mean we might have gotten something right about this. We have to support the team  and our player and see the game out. No need to bicker. Whatever the outcome, I believe we have given this a good shot.