Nigerian Women, Global Leaders

Nigerian Women, Global Leaders

In celebration of the International Women’s Day (March 8), ABIODUN SANUSI takes a look at some women of Nigerian descent who are making waves in public offices across the globe

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was appointed as the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation in March 2021. An economist, fair trade leader, environmental sustainability advocate, human welfare champion, sustainable finance guru and global development expert, she is also the first woman and first African to lead the World Trade Organisation.

Okonjo-Iweala also sits on the boards of top companies and organisations such as Danone, Standard Chartered Bank, Twitter, Mandela Institute for Development Studies, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, One Campaign, Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, Rockefeller Foundation, Results for Development, African Risk Capacity and Earthshot Prize.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

The financial expert’s appointment as DG WTO was well-received by Nigerians, many of whom started an NOI-Challenge on social media, depicting her Afro-centric dress sense.

The brilliant economist had a 25-year career at the World Bank in Washington DC, United States of America, and rose to become a managing director at some point.

She also serves Brookings Institution as a non-resident distinguished fellow with the Africa Growth Initiative in their Global Economy and Development Programme. In addition to this, she is a Commissioner Emeritus and Co-Chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.

Having broken many records in the course of her illustrious career, Okonjo-Iweala was the first woman to serve two terms as a Minister of Finance in Nigeria. She was initially appointed by President Olusegun Obasanjo from 2003 to 2006; and secondly, under President Goodluck Jonathan from 2011 to 2015. From June to August 2006, she served as the country’s Minister for Foreign Affairs.

In recognition of her contributions, Euromoney named her Global Finance Minister of the Year in 2005.

During her first term as the Minister of Finance in the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, she spearheaded negotiations with the Paris Club that led to the wiping out of US€26.60bn of the country’s debt, including the outright cancellation of US€15.96bn.

In addition to her role in government, Okonjo-Iweala served on the Growth Commission (2006–2009), led by Nobel Prize winner, Professor Michael Spence; as well as the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda (2012–2013). She also co-chaired the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation. In 2012, she was a candidate for the post of President of the World Bank, running against Dartmouth College President, Jim Kim. If she had been elected, she would have become the organisation’s first female president.

After leaving government, Okonjo-Iweala became a member of the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity (2015–2016), chaired by Gordon Brown, and the Eminent Persons Group on Global Financial Governance, which was established by the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors (2017–2018). Since 2014, she has been co-chairing the Global Commission for the Economy and Climate, with Nicholas Stern and Paul Polman.

Since 2019, Okonjo-Iweala has been part of UNESCO’s International Commission on the Futures of Education.

In June 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari nominated Okonjo-Iweala as the country’s candidate for the post of Director-General of the World Trade Organisation. After an intriguing process, Okonjo-Iweala was appointed as the DG on February 15, 2021.

Before she started blazing the trail in the financial sector, Okonjo-Iweala had her elementary education at Queen’s School, Enugu, before proceeding to St. Anne’s School, and the International School, both in Ibadan for her secondary education. She went on to study Economics at Harvard University and graduated in 1976. Five years later, she earned her PhD in Regional Economics and Development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Funmi Badejo
Born in Kogi State, Nigeria, Funmi Badejo’s parents later immigrated to the United States of America, where she was raised in the state of Florida.

Badejo, who lives in the US capital of Washington DC with her husband and son, is another Nigerian woman making giant strides on the global scene.

She currently serves as a Special Assistant to the United States’ President, Joseph Biden. She is also an Associate Counsel in the White House Counsel’s Office. Before her appointment in 2021, she served as General Counsel of the US House of Representatives Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis; Counsel for Policy to the Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Division at the U.S. Department of Justice; Ethics Counsel at the White House Counsel’s Office; and Attorney Advisor at the Administrative Conference of the United States.

Funmi Badejo

She began her legal career as an associate with the law firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. She also worked as a legal counsel at Palantir Technologies Inc.

Her appointment into Biden’s cabinet in January 2021 got many Nigerians excited, with the Kogi State government releasing a statement to congratulate her.

The statement read in part, “We are delighted that Kogi citizens in the Diaspora are making us proud. Your appointment is a testimony that Kogi people are exceptional. You are a rare asset worthy of this advancement and many more in the years ahead. We believe you will be bringing with you your wealth of knowledge and experience (here) for a better Kogi of our dreams.”

Badejo studied Political Science at the University of Florida, and went on to bag a Master of Public Administration degree from Harvard University. She also holds a doctorate in Law from the University of California School of Law.

Enoh Ebong
In 2021, Enoh Ebong was appointed by US President Joe Biden to the post of Director, United States Trade and Development Agency.

Earlier in her career, she had served as the Permanent Secretary of Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Economic Development and Reconstruction.

She worked in the United States Trade and Development Agency as an attorney-advisor from 2004 to 2007; acting regional sub-director for Sub-Saharan Africa from 2007 to 2007; Assistant General Counsel from 2008 to 2010; Deputy General Counsel from 2010 to 2013; General Counsel from 2013 to 2015; acting Director in 2017; and Deputy Director and Chief Financial Officer from 2015 to 2019.

Enoh Ebong

She rejoined the USTDA as CFO and acting director at the start of the Biden administration. Before joining the USTDA, Ebong worked as a lawyer, representing public and private companies.

Ebong earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania; a Master of Arts degree in History from the University of Edinburgh.

She is also a member of the Massachusetts Bar Association. From 1997 to 2004, she worked as a finance and business associate at Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky, and Popeo.

Oluwakemi Badenoch
Olukemi Badenoch is another Nigerian woman blazing the trail on the international scene and in public service.

The British politician of Nigerian descent currently serves as Minister of State for Levelling Up Communities, and Minister of State for Equalities in the United Kingdom. Badenoch grew up in Wimbledon, London, where she was born, and Lagos where she had her High School education and returned to the United Kingdom at the age of 16 to study Computer Systems Engineering at the University of Sussex. She started her career as a software engineer at Logica in the UK and went on to work at the Royal Bank of Scotland Group as a systems analyst before working as an associate director at Coutts, and later as a director at The Spectator Magazine. While working, she studied law part-time at Birkbeck, University of London, and completed her degree in 2009.

Oluwakemi Badenoch

Badenoch is the only black woman in the UK’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s government, and she is married to Hamish Badenoch, with whom she has two daughters and a son.

She ventured into politics at the age of 25 when she joined the Conservative Party. Five years later, she contested the Dulwich and West Norwood constituency election. In 2012, she stood for the Conservatives in the London Assembly election where she was placed fifth on the London-wide list. She has been a Member of Parliament representing Saffron Walden since 2017.

In February 2020, Badenoch was appointed Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Minister for Equalities) in the Department for International Trade. A year earlier, she was appointed as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families by Boris Johnson. Prior to that, she was appointed as the Conservative Party’s Vice-Chair for Candidates, in January 2018.

Amina Mohammed
A diplomat and politician, Amina Mohammed is currently the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations. Prior to that, she was Nigeria’s Minister for Environment from 2015 to 2016. During that time, she was Nigeria’s representative on the African Union Reform Steering Committee, chaired by Rwandan President, Paul Kagame. She later resigned from the Federal Executive Council on February 24, 2017. Later that year, the United Nations’ Secretary-General, António Guterres, announced his intention to appoint Mohammed as Deputy Secretary-General of the global body. In this capacity, she is a member of the UN Interagency Coordination Group on Antimicrobial Resistance.

From 2012, Mohammed was a key player in the Post-2015 Development Agenda process, serving as the Special Adviser to the then UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, on post-2015 development planning. In that role, she acted as the link between the Secretary-General, his High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons, and the General Assembly’s Open Working Group, among other stakeholders. From 2014, she also served on the Secretary-General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group on the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development. Mohammed later became the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Centre for Development Policy Solutions, and an Adjunct Professor for the Masters in Development Practice programme at Columbia University, USA.

Amina Mohammed

In 2005, she was charged with the coordination of Nigeria’s debt relief funds towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Her mandate included designing a Virtual Poverty Fund with innovative approaches to poverty reduction, budget coordination and monitoring, as well as providing advice on pertinent issues regarding poverty, public sector reform and sustainable development.

Between 2002 and 2005, Mohammed coordinated the Task Force on Gender and Education for the United Nations Millennium Project.

Prior to that (1981-1991), she had worked with Archcon Nigeria, an architectural design firm. In 1991, she founded Afri-Projects Consortium.

Though a conservative dresser, Mohammed is also meticulous when it comes to her looks. She always appears modest but well put together, and that has earned her the admiration of many, both male and female.

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