Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: The Relevance of Women in Igbo African World and the Lessons in the Current Global Economic Crisis

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Current Global Economic Crisis
The news of the South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee abandoning the race to head the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was on air by February 5, 2021. This singular move paved the way for Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to emerge as the next Director-General of the apex financial organization in the world. The WTO is an intergovernmental organization that is concerned with the regulation of international trade between nations. It creates forum to open intergovernmental trade negotiations and agreements. It should be recalled that three months ago, at the final phase of this selection, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was preferred by the EU and key WTO ambassadors but the adamant opposition of the United States under the administration of Donald Trump stalled the process since the consensus needed for the selection could not be reached.
Sources revealed that pressure from the same United States now under the administration of Joseph Biden which preferred Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala had caused the Korean to back down.

Observers suggest that with 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea to defend its borders from the nuclear-armed North Korea, its government knew better than jettison the body language of the Biden administration. Joe Biden once more proves himself as ready to take back US back to the world scene to play its global role by standing with the rest of WTO’s key partners and as more race/gender sensitive than Donald Trump by looking beyond the colour of Iweala’s skin to the strength of her curriculum vitae. Most importantly, Joe Biden has inadvertently played into a very important aspect of the Igbo -African culture crisis management.

The story of Aba women riot of 1929 and “Ahia attack” women trade engagement during the Nigerian civil war are classical examples of the role of women in the Igbo-African world in moments of crisis. For the records, in Olokoro, Bende Local Government Area of Abia State, women took to the streets in protest over oppression and illicit taxation by the unscrupulous colonial government. The peaceful protest which turned bloody lasted for at least two months which saw to the limiting of the powers of the warrant chiefs, who served as tools in the hands of the colonial administration, and sanity in the colonial government’s economic strategies. During the Nigerian civil war, when Biafra was barricaded on all sides without aids and children were starving and dying of kwashiorkor, it was the women who engaged in the dangerous “Ahia attack” which included daring the armed enemy soldiers especially within occupied Biafran territories, to procure food items, bring them into the Biafran hinter lands to ensure the feeding of the soldiers and children. The survival of the Igbo race from that thirty-month genocidal war cannot be chronicled without the story of those amazons. These above instances will not be surprising to anyone abreast with the role of women in the Igbo culture. In the larger African environment, the mass action campaign of the Liberian women during the civil war that ravaged the country in recent history is there to be seen. From the late 1990’s, Liberian women had seen the trajectory of the nation and had begun to make their voices heard both as individuals and groups. When the war broke out in 2000, they, like the Igbo women, stood strong for the wounded and hungry. During the peace accord that held in Accra, Ghana, 2003,even without being invited, they joined forces with Ghanaian and Nigerian women to prevail on the men to resolve the conflict. Back home, they continued the campaign for peace and produced the first African female Head of State, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

In America, the face of Martha Washington appeared on the ten dollar bill simply because she was a president’s wife and after her in close to two centuries, no other woman has so been honoured. As spirits are reawakened as to honouring a woman in the dollar bill, it is Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman, two black women who are making the spot because of their achievements. Eleanor Roosevelt who trails them, again because she was a wife to a president. It is not surprising that African women make their marks in the affairs of society and enhancing human life and society much more than their white counterparts.

In the Igbo social arrangement (a pattern that is prevalent in Africa), the traditional institutions that constitute government and the administration of justice, equity and fairness include Umunna, Umuada, Otu Igbo and Nze na Ozo. Umuada is the organization of married women in their maiden families. They are especially resourceful in knotty cases, interpersonal/ interclan rifts and even wars. Once Umuada steps into any case, there is no longer option of appeal; it is dealt with decisively.
Back in the days, the Igbo women enjoy financial independence, even the spiritual entity referred to as Umuoku which was the custodian of livestock was female. Recall that livestock was a major source of income and was majorly the women’s business, added to cocoyam and the processing of palm fruits and breadfruits(Ukwa). The men were basically farmers of yam. The Igbo-African woman has strong voice and is a good choice to bring peace and solutions to conflict and crisis situations.

Meanwhile, the world ravaged and changed by the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges is in crisis albeit health in nature, but moreso socioeconomic. Many social analysts have described the times as war with invisible enemies or war without fronts or war on all spaces. To battle this war, economic activities in various countries were brought tons standstill. The World Bank, by the middle of 2020 raised alarm about the economic consequences of COVID-19, including that the pandemic is expected to plunge most countries into recession in 2020, with per capita income contracting in the largest fraction of countries globally since 1870.

The Gross Domestic Product(GDP) of countries is plummeting while hunger and starvation are having their toll on humanity. In a situation like this, women are once more at the forefront of the battle, making sure that there is food on the table, taking care of the infected and seeking solutions to end the crisis. In Africa this is what women do best and many household still hold together through these shattering times because the women are fighting. With the rate of poverty and disease attributed to Africa even before COVID-19, one would have thought that the pandemic will be most devastating in the continent. On the contrary, it is contained and women in individual families and diverse ways are standing up to it.
It is within this context that the selection of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the Director-General of World Trade Organization makes all the sense. She is a woman, an African and of Igbo descent. In other words, she traversed all the groups that make up our criterion. Ngozi is from Ogwashi-Ukwu in Delta State of Nigeria and she is proud of her Igbo descent. Ogwashi-Ukwu, though located west of the Niger, traces origins to Nri tradition which is a principal lineage in the Igbo genealogical studies. She has a weighty profile that cannot be ignored by the world, a glimpse of her intimidating resume can be seen at https://ngoziokonjoiweala.com More than her profile, the fact that she is a woman adds to making sense of the choice of her and the expectations from her leadership.

Ngozi was at the heart of the Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan administration. For all the corruption with which those administrations were labelled, her records stands sterling and crystal, for all touted fight against corruption by the present Muhammadu Buhari administration, Ngozi is reputed globally as a champion in the fight against corruption. In spite of the smear in Nigeria, the global community did not fail to see the quality of work she has put in for over three decades which political rhetoric did not diminish. What it remains for the world to see is that she is bringing the Igbo-African woman’s resilience in time of crisis, justice and equity to situations of injustice and socioeconomic strangulation, emotional intelligence to debilitating human conditions and power of foisting negotiation(when factions are at dagger’s end) to the table. She is the quintessential Igbo woman along the lines of Dora Akunyili and scarcely others who have harnessed the best of Igbo cultural disposition to achieve something for themselves and humanity.

The Igbo-African women of the twenty-first century should not battle nonexistent encumbrances towards the maximum realization of their natural potentials. In Igbo social dispositions, obstacles/barriers do not hinder human progress, they fan the embers of creativity, and innovation.

In more recent times, before COVID-19 pandemic, women in Africa and Igbo land have undertaken and engaged in varied ways to foster the sustenance and development of the society. In many churches, for instance, women undertake sweeping and cleaning of the church building and compound. This practice follows from the old custom which had these women engage in such community service. Even when they can afford to hire workers and pay, they still maintain that feminine significance which is remarkable and symbolic. Again it seemed like a tradition in the old Catholic Diocese of Awka that women build rectories and parish halls and heavily finance other projects. One cannot imagine the progress of the church in this clime without women. In the secular society, the experience is the same; women in Africa and Igbo land always come in to rescue bad hopeless situations. However, they seem to be more active and involved in their various social groups than as individuals. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is one of the few women who in their person embody that feminine energy and strength that the Igbo-African women represent. Her outstanding achievement, and in deed that of other women before her, should motivate the rest of the womenfolk to rise up to the moment.

Nigeria is at the brinks of collapse; the primary purpose of the state which is security of life and property has become an unaffordable luxury for everyone, irrespective of class. Every space in Nigeria is threatened by insecurity, including the Aso Rock Villa. So while Nigeria joins the rest of the world to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, at home, insecurity threatens its corporate existence. Like in war times, this is the time for the Igbo-African feminine energy to be injected into the system. This is not the time to waste in self-indulgent talks of abuse, marginalisation and denigration of women funded by the West which leads the contemporary Igbo-African women away from the reality of their priced position in the Igbo-African world. The Igbo-African women are powerful collaborators with their men to make society work for all. For Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to have spited all odds and achieved this feat, it should serve as motivation to the womenfolk, especially as individuals, to engage with society with the mindset of rescuing it from collapse; now is the time. In a broader sense, every Igbo, not just the womenfolk should look upon Ngozi as having shattered the glass ceiling to become the first woman to head WTO, nay the first African and many other firsts. Joe Biden should be given kudos for taking the side of truth and fairness and in doing so aligning himself with the essential feminine character of the Igbo-African women which Ngozi will sure bring on board to WTO to rescue a world that is at an economic precipice.

Author : Chika J.B Gabriel Okpalike

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