First Female Nigerian Minister of Both Finance and Foreign Affairs
Hijri 1373-Present (AH); Common Era 1954-Present (CE)
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was appointed the first female Nigerian Minister of Finance by President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003 and served until 2006. In June of 2006 she became Minister of Foreign Affairs, but was let go from the position in August of 2007, while continuing as Head of the Economic Reform Team. Under her direction over three years the team devised and implemented a comprehensive reform program that stabilized Nigeria’s economy before tripling its growth rate. In 2003 this mother of four took on the momentous task of resolving Nigeria’s disastrous financial situation caused by its corrupt government, having exported $20 billion worth of oil the previous year yet still leaving its people to survive on an average dollar-a-day income. Ranked the second most corrupt location in the world after Bangladesh by Transparency International, Nigeria’s oil money is often lost to bribes, its economy having been mishandled for years. Olusegun Obasanjo, former Harvard and M.I.T. student, set out to ensure that more of these funds went to essential public services such as roads, schools, and health care. She began by cutting back its excessive civil service and fuel expenses, and systematically accounting for government spending. To prosecute internet banking scammers who cheat pensioners, she helped establish an antifraud team that caught 500 in its first year. When the discontented President Obasanjo declared his removal of the key budget and planning departments from her bureau, Okonjo-Iweala held her ground by quitting, and came back to the position only when he agreed to restore these branches. Asserting that enhancing Nigeria’s image is just as important as reforming its economy, her feats as Finance Minister gained international recognition for boosting its financial stability and cultivating more financial responsibility to fight corruption. In October of 2005 she led the team that negotiated the cancellation of 60 percent of Nigeria’s external debt with the Paris Club. Comprised of a pioneering buy-back mechanism, the debt deal cleared the Paris Club debt and reduced the country’s overall debt from $35 billion to $5 billion. In addition Okonjo-Iweala supervised Nigeria’s first Sovereign credit rating of BB from Fitch and Standard and Poor’s. Before the Ministry she led a 21-year career as a World Bank development economist, serving as Vice President and Corporate Secretary, and toured both the East Asia and Middle East regions to implement reform agendas during financial crises and facilitate involvement in high level policy discussions. Okonjo-Iweala attended Harvard before earning a PhD in Regional Economics and Development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and fluently speaks French, Ibo and English with functioning knowledge of Yoruba. Her numerous awards include: Honorary Doctorate of Letters from University of Dublin, Trinity College, 2007, Honorary Doctorate of Laws from Colby College, 2007 and Brown University, 2006, Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Northern Caribbean University, Mandeville, Jamaica, 2005, TIME Magazine’s European Hero of the Year Award, 2004, for her work on economic reform in Nigeria, Euromoney Magazine Global Finance Minister of the year, 2005, Financial Times/The Banker African Finance Minister of the year 2005, This Day Minister of the Year award 2004 and 2005. Okonjo-Iweala is on numerous boards and advisory groups, has advised several international investments groups, and lectured internationally on Africa and development. She founded NOI Polls, Nigeria’s first indigenous opinion research organization, and co-founded the Makeda fund to support women entrepreneurs in Africa.