When President Muhammadu Buhari nominated Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the soon-to-be-vacant position of Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), many were surprised given the no-love-lost between the present administration and the Jonathan administration under which Okonjo-Iweala served as Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy. The Buhari administration has since brought to light the massive official corruption which took place under the Jonathan government.

Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Indeed, in the past few years, some of the erstwhile public officers who served under the immediate past administration have been indicted and arraigned in court over corruption charges even as investigations continue on many fronts. In fairness to Okonjo-Iweala, she has not been indicted or accused of engaging in official corruption. However, many believe she shares in the blame given that she was a de facto prime minister considering her position as Coordinating Minister of the Economy.  Pundits contend that Okonjo-Iweala cannot claim not to have known or heard of the numerous corrupt activities that went on in a government where she served as a member of the kitchen cabinet. Others believe she was busy protecting her turf and enriching her resume and ignored the rape of Nigeria’s heritage that was going on then.

Aside the stated concerns roused by opponents about her fitness for the Director-General position of the WTO, what are her chances of clinching the top job? There are indications that Okonjo-Iweala may not secure enough support to win the race for the plum job.

First is the issue of her candidacy. Okonjo-Iweala’s nomination drew opposition from Egypt and some other African countries because her nomination which replaced that of another Nigerian, Frederick Agah, (who is currently a deputy director-general of the WTO), was interpreted to mean that Nigeria has forfeited its chance of fielding a candidate. This is because before her late entrance into the race, the other candidates along with Mr Agah had received the endorsement of the executive council of the WTO to contest the Director-General position. However, the WTO accepted the nomination of Okonjo-Iweala because it occurred within the nomination process. The way and manner Okonjo-Iweala dabbled into the race has caused division within the African Union (AU). The inability of Africa to forge a united front in the race for the WTO job is believed to have weakened Okonjo-Iweala’s chances of coming out triumphant when the chips are down.

Some analysts also believe that the nomination of Amina C. Mohammed, a top diplomat and career civil servant by Kenya could also pose a stumbling block for Okonjo-Iweala. As a former Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and an advocate of the High Court of Kenya as well as Assistant Secretary General of United Nations and Executive Director of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), she appears more qualified for the top job. The fact that Okonjo-Iweala does not have the requisite exposure in the field of international trade could count against her when compared to other top contenders such as the Liam Fox, member of the British Parliament and former UK Secretary of State for International Trade and Ms. Yoo Myung-Hee, Minister of Trade of Republic of Korea, who is revered for trade negotiating skills.

Perhaps a more daunting barrier is President Donald Trump’s America First Policy which will likely see America support the British for the top job. President Trump is in no mood for diplomacy and is doing everything possible to contain China. In doing this, analysts believe he is recruiting allies through promises of reward and threat of sanctions. The U-turn made by the British over allowing Huawei to provide 5G infrastructure in UK is a case of the Britain bowing to America’s pressure. It is noteworthy that Trump has blocked the appointment of appellate judges to the WTO which has frustrated multilateral resolution of trade disputes.

President Trump’s desire to rein in China mercantilist practices will likely make him support a candidate that will bend to America’s will, and if he does not have his way, may continue to block the appointment of judges to the WTO. Europe is expected to throw its weight behind a candidate from its region and while in no mood to pick a fight with Trump is expected weigh in on behalf of America.

How will Nigeria, let alone any African country surmount this challenge? A continent once described a “shithole” by Trump has not demonstrated that it is united by fielding multiple candidates. If Okonjo-Iweala eventually loses this contest, it will be the second major contest she will lose in the past few years, having lost the contest for World Bank presidency in 2012.

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