Okonjo Iweala As Modern Day Deborah!

By Isaac Asabor
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If there is any biblical personality whose leadership sagaciousness aptly fits the description of the uncommon leadership disposition of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, she is Deborah. The aptness with which her leadership qualities fits that of Okonjo-Iweala came to the fore, more than ever before, after Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment as the Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) was announced on Monday, February 15, 2021. Without resorting to sexism in this context, she has no doubt answered the question, “What Can a Man Do That a Woman Can’t?” in the affirmative.

There is no denying the fact that Deborah remains one of the biblical Amazons many in the Christendom think about and really admire. Her leadership exemplifies manyqualities that contemporary leaders of today can learn from. The fact that Deborah was a woman and a known leader in the Bible makes not few people want to know her even more.

It would not be out of place at this juncture to say that many Nigerians and Africans who wish they were living during the time of the Deborah will no longer bemoan theopportunity of not meeting her in flesh and blood as they have her carbon copy in Okonjo-Iweala. Perhaps they would have sought her out and asked her to mentor them, but they have the opportunity now; even if we are in the part of the world where exemplary leadership qualities are not emulated. The reason for the foregoing cannot be farfetched as anyone that is drawn to the intersection of faith, leadership and psychology, will find Okonjo-Iweala in many ways a representation of Deborah as an ideal leader.

As the biblical narrative goes, Deborah helped lead the Israelites against the Canaanites, who had been oppressing the Israelites for twenty years. Inspired by God, Deborah aided Barak, a male military leader to lead the armies of Israel to Mount Tabor in an all-out assault on the Canaanites. They were able to defeat Sierra, the commander of the Canaanites. The Israelites then lived in peace for the next forty years. However, Okonjo-Iweala is not going to WTO as a soldier or an Amazon who is a big, strong, warrior-like woman.

Even at that, is she not qualified to be seen as anAmazon, having survived the murky waters of politics in Nigeria, where her mother was kidnapped to send her a message, and rising to number two at the World Bank?

According to Time International magazine in one of its most recent editions, “Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has much loftier goals for the organization she is expected to take the helm of next week—the first woman to ever hold the position of WTO director-general. She tells TIME that global trade can help ease the COVID-19 pandemic, tackle climate change and restore faith in the system of cooperation that has faltered in recent years. The WTO has a central role to play as facilitator, Okonjo-Iweala says. “If the WTO did not exist,” she says, “you would have to invent it.”

The Bible is also clear that Deborah was a prophetess. Matthew Henry, a 17th and early 18th century English minister and commentator writes: Debra was intimately acquainted with God. She was instructed in divine knowledge by the immediate inspiration of the Spirit of God, and had gifts of wisdom, to which she attained not in an ordinary way; she heard the words of God.

Just like Deborah who had her spiritual and courageous credentials going for her, Okonjo-Iweala’s rare macro-economic credentials were irresistible to her interviewers and members of the selection team. Both local and international media space was agog towards the ending of 2020 that there was every indication that the strong preference for Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the DG of the global trade body was mouth-watering except objection from the US team.

General Council Chair David Walker of New Zealand and his two co-facilitators in the selection process to choose the WTO’s next Director-General told the organization’s members on 28 October, 2020 that based on their consultations with all delegations that the candidate best poised to attain consensus and become the 7th Director-General was Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria.

“She clearly carried the largest support by Members in the final round and she clearly enjoyed broad support from members from all levels of development and all geographic regions and has done so throughout the process. I am therefore submitting the name of NgoziOkonjo-Iweala as the candidate most likely to attract consensus and recommending her appointment by the General Council as the next Director-General of the WTO until 31 August 2024,” Amb. Walker said.

Amb. Walker stressed at a Heads of Delegation meeting on 28 October, 2020 that this was the assessment of the “Troika” of facilitators and that a formal decision had to be taken by the members at a General Council meeting, which he scheduled for 9 November, 2020. For the sake of clarity, the General Council is the WTO's pre-eminent decision making body, save for the Ministerial Conference which normally meets every two years. But the assessment was challenged by the United States which said it would continue to support Minister Yoo and could not back the candidacy of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Given the foregoing, there is no denying the fact that with the exactitude with which Deborah muscled against every foreseeable opposition in the biblical days that Okonjo-Iweala’s impeccable credentials and economics background surmounted every opposition that came her way in the selection process. For instance, while she enjoyed broad support from WTO members including the European Union, China, Japan and Australia, the United States, under the Trump administration, had favored Yoo.

To this end, I believe there is much for Nigerians to learn today from Okonjo-Iweala’s leadership through the eyes ofDeborah’s leadership. The following are 8 qualities found in Deborah’s leadership.

For instance, Okonjo-Iweala is woman of wisdom just like Deborah who people flocked to for counsel and guidance. As scripturally captured in Judges Chapter 4 verse 4, “Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time”. She exercised wisdom. In comparison, Okonjo-Iweala is a renowned Economic Consultant who has what it takes to advise countries and organizations on which macro-economic step to take.

Still in the same nexus, Bible scholars have it that Deborah was approachable as they documented that the people of Israel came to her; she was sought after. She would sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the mountains of Ephraim. And the children of Israel came up to her for judgment (Judg. 4:5). More than likely they saw in her countenance a quality of approachability.

In the same vein, as people from Ogwashi-Uku, whereOkonjo-Iweala hails from in Delta State would attest to, Ngozi, as she is fondly called by the elders, is approachable, reason for her approachability cannot be farfetched as she has royal blood flowing in her vein as her father, Professor Chukwuka Okonjo was the Obi (King) from the Obahai Royal Family of Ogwashi-Ukwu.

Just the same way Deborah knew God and spent time with Him and she understood what He wanted for His people, so also does Okonnjo-Iweala knows God and spends time with Him, and above all understands what God wants for the people; quality governance.

Also in the same vein, like Deborah, Okonjo-Iweala is a leader to leaders. This can be buttressed as Barak wasthe military leader of the Israelites. He was a man in a high-powered position, overseeing thousands of men. Despite his military stature and prowess, Deborah leads Barak in his decision making process. She then accompanied him to battles, continuing to instruct him in what he should do; “Up! For this is the day in which the Lord has delivered Sisera into your hand. Has not the Lord gone out before you?” (Judg. 4:14).

When it comes to courage and understanding leadership role, it is not an exaggeration to say that Okonjo-Iwealahas equally exuded the same virtues with the same mannerism Deborah did.

Unarguably, Deborah’s heart wa s with the people: “My heart is with the rulers of Israel who offered themselves willingly with their people” (Judg. 5:9). Inspiring leaders care deeply about people. Her heart is with her people.Still in the same vein, Okonjo-Iweala’s heart is with the people of Nigeria, and the entire black nations being the first African and the first woman to occupy the position.

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