Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the 48th most influential woman in the world

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Forbes Magazine’s ranking of Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala among the top 100 most powerful women in the world has been hailed by many as quite appropriate. 

Since its inception in 2004, a number of Nigerians have made the enviable and globally acclaimed Forbes ranking in different categories. Notable among these are Nigerian billionaires Aliko Dangote and Folorunsho Alakija as well as Nigeria’s immediate past Minister of Agriculture and freshly elected President of the African Development Bank, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina. 

In 2013, Dr. Adesina emerged as Forbes Africa’s Man of the year beating four other top finalists, including his compatriots Aliko Dangote and Jim Ovia, the chairman of Zenith Bank Nigeria. 

Not surprisingly, Aliko Dangote got the award the following year 2014, as the richest man in Africa for the fourth year in a row. His Dangote Group is West Africa’s largest industrial conglomerate and has interests in cement production, flour milling, sugar refining and food and beverages. Dangote is aggressively expanding his cement company across new markets in Africa, with plans to build new plants in Kenya and Niger. The company is now present in at least 15 African countries. 

This year, Okonjo-Iweala is ranked 48th on the Forbes list of the world’s most influential women, ahead of World Health Organisation (WHO)’s Director General Margaret Chan, ranked 62nd and Liberian President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf at 96th position, among many others. 

In its citation on her, Forbes wrote: “The minister of finance for Nigeria, has helped the country’s economy, the largest in Africa, grow an average of 6% (per annum) over three years.

She is credited with developing reform programs that helped improve governmental transparency and stabilizing the economy. Okonjo-Iweala is the first woman to be the finance minister and the foreign minister of the West African country with a GDP of $502 billion.

Harvard- and M.I.T.-trained Okonjo-Iweala spent 21 years as a development economist at the World Bank.” 

Ngozi Okonjo Iweala shares this rare honour with global icons such as US Presidential Candidate and former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, ranked number 2 and German Chancellor, Angela Merkel who is ranked as the most powerful woman in the world. 

From a preliminary group of over 300 candidates from around the world, Forbes Magazine selects the 100 most influential women from eight categories or power bases: billionaires, business, celebrity, finance, media, philanthropy and intergovernmental organizations, politics and technology.

To determine the rank within each category, as well as overall rank on the list of 100, it applies four metrics: money, media presence, spheres of influence and impact.

This is not the first time Okonjo-Iweala would be so recognized. In October last year, the African Investor Magazine in Washington DC presented her with the African Finance Minister of the Year 2014 award in recognition of her contributions to the Nigerian economy. 

Long before then, in 2004, she bagged the Time Europe Hero and the ThisDay Nigeria Minister of the Year awards. 

In 2005, she was also declared the Financial Times/The Banker’s African Finance Minister as well as the Euromoney Magazine’s Global Finance Minister of the Year.

Prior to her ministerial career in Nigeria, Okonjo-Iweala was Vice President and Corporate Secretary of the World Bank Group. She left it in 2003 after she was appointed to President Olusegun Obasanjo’s cabinet as Finance Minister on 15 July, 2003.

In October 2005, she led the Nigerian team that struck a deal with the Paris Club, a group of bilateral creditors, to pay a portion of Nigeria’s external debt (12 billion US dollars) in return for an 18 billion dollars debt write-off. Prior to the partial debt payment and write-off, Nigeria spent roughly 1 billion US dollars every year on debt servicing, without making a dent in the principal owed.

Okonjo-Iweala also introduced the practice of publishing each state’s monthly financial allocation from the federal government in the newspapers. This action went a long way in increasing transparency in governance. She was instrumental in helping Nigeria obtain its first ever sovereign credit rating (of BB minus) from Fitch and Standard & Poor’s.

On October 4, 2007, World Bank President Robert Zoellick appointed her to the post of Managing Director of the World Bank, effective December 1, 2007.

In 2011, Okonjo-Iweala was re-appointed as Minister of Finance with the expanded portfolio of the Coordinating Minister for the Economy by President Goodluck Jonathan.

Coming at a time when she has just stepped out of that office, following the change in government, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s ranking is quite instructive. It is definitely a bright spot on the gloomy economic horizon that characterized the twilight of the defunct government of the Peoples Democratic Party, and sets a benchmark of sorts for the occupier of that office, in the brand new government of the All Progressives Congress.

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