By Ismaila Chafe
President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday hosted Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, newly selected Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), expressing Nigeria’s appreciation to the world over her selection.
Mr Femi Adesina, the President’s spokesman in a statement in Abuja, said that the president told the visiting WTO boss that in spite of the robust support Nigeria gave to her candidacy for the position, she also deserved the selection.
He said: “We are happy you made it, but you earned it with your record of performance both at home and abroad.
“I congratulate you, as well as the country. I know you will represent us so well.’’
The president said Okonjo-Iweala was putting Nigeria more on the world map.
He lauded Nigerian women once again, pointing to key positions they hold like Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, and many others.
He said the same way, government would encourage the youth, “so that they can be ready for the challenges of the future”.
The new WTO D-G thanked President Buhari for the pulsating support she received from her own country in the race for the position.
“You nominated me, you wrote hundreds of letters, called up hundreds of world leaders. Without your personal and direct intervention, it may not have worked.
“The people of Nigeria also supported me massively. The youth were wonderful, always encouraging, backing me up on social media.
“Mr President, the world recognises what you have done. Since its establishment, only men have led the WTO.
“Now, a woman has emerged for the first time, and she’s a Nigerian. We are so honoured,” Dr Okonjo-Iweala said.
She apprised the president of the opportunities for Nigeria in the global organisation, as well as the challenges, stressing that “WTO will do more to help Nigeria, but we need to add value to our products in order to trade more.
“We should exploit all the opportunities in front of us.”
She added that the support and leadership of President Buhari would help her a lot in her position as D-G.
Okonjo-Iweala later told State House correspondents that she visited the Presidential Villa to discuss with President Buhari on how best the WTO could work with Nigeria to uplift the quality of life of its citizens.
She said she had discussions in many areas with the president on what the WTO could do to improve the Nigerian economy.
According to her, there is a unique opportunity for the country to improve its standing in trade and add value to its products especially agriculture.
“I have come here to also discuss with Mr President what the WTO can do to work with Nigeria to improve her economy and her economic situations and we talked about a number of issues,’’ she said.
Okonjo-Iweala allayed fears that embracing the free trade policy of the WTO would harm Nigeria’s economic diversification drive.
According to her, special and differential treatment can be applied to prevent vulnerable countries from collapsing under trade competition.
The WTO boss, who assumed office on March 1, 2021 as its first female D-G, however, added that the special treatment would not be forever as such countries would have to eventually open up for competition.
She further maintained that duties could be applied on imports to prevent the country from being a dumping ground.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the General Council of WTO on Feb. 15, agreed by consensus to select Okonjo-Iweala as the seventh Director-General of the global trade club.
Okonjo-Iweala became the first woman and the first African to lead the Organisation from March 1, and her term, renewable, will expire on Aug. 31, 2025.
She had emerged the consensus candidate following the Feb. 5, withdrawal of Yoo Myung-hee, from Republic of Korea, from the race.
The Korean was initially backed by the erstwhile Donald Trump U.S. administration which refused to join the consensus around the Nigerian former Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Finance Minister.
The U.S. Trade Representative extended “strong support” to Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy after President Joe Biden defeated the incumbent, Trump, in his re-run for the country’s Presidency on Nov. 3, 2020.