Numerous social media posts claim Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as seen here in 2020, was appointed the new WTO chief (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP) (AFP / Fabrice Coffrini)

Again, Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala has not yet been appointed head of WTO

  • This article is more than one year old.
  • Published on October 29, 2020 at 14:29
  • Updated on February 17, 2021 at 16:51
  • 4 min read
  • By Segun OLAKOYENIKAN, AFP Nigeria
For the second time this month, social media posts have claimed that Nigeria’s former finance minister,  Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has been named as the new director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO). But this is false; while the WTO General Council Chair has recommended Okonjo-Iweala to lead the organisation, her appointment remains subject to the approval of the General Council made up of member states.

Posts claiming Okonjo-Iweala was named the new head of the World Trade Organization (WTO) were published by several major Nigerian media organisations, politicians and celebrities.

“Finally! Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala becomes the first African to head the World Trade Organization. Congratulations Nigeria,” reads a tweet by Nigerian former lawmaker Dino Melaye. His tweet, which was also reposted on Facebook, has been liked more than 8,000 times. AFP Fact Check has previously debunked another post by Melaye. 

Screenshot taken on October 29, 2020, showing the false Twitter post

Reports by Nigerian daily newspapers ThisDay, Leadership, The Nation, The Daily Sun, and Daily Independent also claimed that the Nigerian former finance minister had “emerged” as the new WTO director-general.

Okonjo-Iweala, who is a former managing director of the World Bank, is lobbying to succeed current WTO head Roberto Azevêdo. As reported by AFP, the Brazilian career diplomat announced in May that he was stepping down a year before the end of his tenure for “personal” reasons.

WTO race stages

The initial pool of eight candidates for the WTO leadership race was first narrowed down to five and then to two: Okonjo-Iweala and South Korean Minister of Trade Yoo Myung-hee.

On October 28, 2020, WTO General Council Chair David Walker recommended Okonjo-Iweala for the top job after the third round of consultations. 

Although this brings Okonjo-Iweala a step closer to becoming the first woman and the first African to head the global trade watchdog, her appointment has not yet been confirmed.

US opposes Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy 

Despite the strong support for Okonjo-Iweala, she was opposed by Washington, whose delegation instead supported her rival.

South Korea's Yoo Myung-hee (L) and Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (R) are left in the WTO DG race (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

“One delegation could not support the candidacy of Dr Ngozi, and said they would continue to support South Korean minister Yoo; the delegation was the United States of America,” said WTO spokesperson Keith Rockwell on October 28, 2020.

The US Trade Representative’s office expressed support for Yoo in a statement issued on October 28, 2020, calling her “a bona fide trade expert who has distinguished herself during a 25-year career as a successful trade negotiator and trade policy maker”.

Screenshot taken on October 29, 2020, showing the statement on the US government’s website

“She has all the skills necessary to be an effective leader of the organisation,” the statement said. “The WTO is badly in need of major reform. It must be led by someone with real, hands-on experience in the field.”

DG’s appointment subject to consensus

The WTO’s 164 member states still need to determine whether they will support Okonjo-Iweala before their next General Council meeting on November 9, as reported by AFP.

“The candidate that had the best chance of attaining a consensus of the membership is Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria. Consultations on the way fwd will start immediately (sic),” WTO quoted Rockwell in a tweet.

“Dr Ngozi looks forward to the general council on 9 November when the committee will recommend her appointment as director-general,” The Guardian quoted Okonjo-Iweala’s spokesperson as saying. “A swift conclusion to the process will allow members to begin work together, on the urgent challenges and priorities.”

Series of false claims

Several false claims about who heads the World Trade Organization have circulated on social media in Nigeria as the country’s nominee moved through the steps in the leadership race.

AFP Fact Check has previously debunked similar claims about Okonjo-Iweala’s purported win, as well as claims that Kenya’s former foreign minister Amina Mohamed had been named the new WTO chief. 

UPDATE 17/02/2021: Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was appointed as head of the World Trade Organization on February 15, 2021.

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