Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has said Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former managing director of the World Bank and two-time minister of finance in Nigeria, is still eligible to run for the office as director-general of the organisation.

The WTO told TheCable on Friday that according to its agreed procedures for the appointment of WTO directors-general, a candidate only needs the backing of their country to vie for the much-coveted office.

The office of the legal counsel of the African Union (AU) had said on Thursday that the candidature of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the position violates the rules of the AU.

The legal counsel said the executive council during its 35th ordinary session held in Niamey, Niger, had asked member countries to present candidates to the AU ministerial committee on candidature by November 30, 2019, to allow it endorse a consensus candidate at its February 2020 ordinary session.

However, the Nigerian embassy and permanent mission to the African Union (AU) said claims that Okonjo-Iweala’s nomination contravenes laid-down rules are unguarded and failed all parameters of objectivity and unbiased submission.

The Nigerian government, in its letter, said Okonjo-Iweala’s candidature did not violate any laws as it was a replacement of a previously presented candidate (Yonov Agah) and not a fresh nomination.

TheCable reached out to the WTO to get clarity on Okonjo-Iweala’s position, considering the AU situation and found that she was still eligible to run, and very much in the race.

According to the WTO, there are currently four candidates vying for the office: Jesús Seade Kuri, the undersecretary for North America in Mexico’s ministry of foreign affairs; Egypt’s Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh, senior counsel at King & Spalding LLP; Tudor Ulianovschi, former foreign minister of Moldova; and Okonjo-Iweala.

WTO shared the nomination procedure with TheCable, stating that nominees only need the backing of their countries, and shall have three months to engage WTO members on issues facing the organisation.

“Members shall have one month after the start of the appointment process to nominate candidates. Nominations shall be submitted by Members only, and in respect of their own nationals,” a spokesperson of the WTO told TheCable via email.

“The candidates nominated shall then have three months to make themselves known to members and to engage in discussions on the pertinent issues facing the organisation.

“The remaining two months prior to the conclusion of this process shall be devoted to selecting and appointing one of the candidates.”

The AU and previous candidates for the office of the WTO have been at a near-similar position in the past, with the AU endorsing a candidate for the job, and another African country nominating a fresh candidate.

In 2013, the AU selected Alan Kyerematen, the former trade minister in Ghana, as its consensus candidate. Nonetheless, Kenya put forward Amina Mohamed, who they thought was a better candidate, having served at the highest levels at the WTO.

Both candidates lost.

In order not to repeat the mistake of 2013, the AU is being a little more diplomatic with the 2020 selection for the same office.

TheCable