Okonjo-Iweala Remains Nigeria’s Candidate for WTO Headship, FG Insists

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Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
  • Rejects opinion by AU Legal Counsel
  • Says ex-minister’s replacement of Agah not fresh submission

 

Obinna Chima

Nigeria has said that former Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, remains its candidate for the position of the Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

According to it, Nigeria, like other sovereign states, reserves the right to nominate, withdraw or replace a candidate for any position, especially when a consensus has not been agreed to endorse a single candidate.

The federal government made its position known in a Note Verbale dated June 18, 2020, that was addressed to the African Union Commission, Members of the Ministerial Committee on Candidatures, among others.

The Note Verbale is a response to an earlier statement that was attributed to the Office of the Legal Counsel (OLC) of the African Union, which had earlier faulted the nomination of the former minister.

The OLC had stated that the nomination of Okonjo-Iweala was against the rules of procedure and the decision by the AU Executive Council.

A document from the office of the OLC stated that Okonjo-Iweala’s nomination violated Rule (11), 1, 2 and 3, Rule 12 and Rule 15(3) of the rules of procedure of the committee on candidatures within the International System of the AU.

However, Nigeria in the diplomatic document, rejected the judgment of the OLC in a June 15, 2020, Note Verbale by the Legal Counsel, saying it, “failed all parameters of objectivity, academic rigour and unbiased submission, a high standard for which the African Union is to be held.”

The document stated that the Permanent Mission of the Federal Republic of Nigeria would not be a party to any propaganda and/or actions that supplant the vision and objectives of the African Union, by supporting a willful, obviously partisan and outlandish interpretation of rules and decisions.

“For the avoidance of doubt, the central objective of Note No. 150/2020 dated 8th June, 2020 from the Mission of Nigeria, is anchored on a request for a simple and uncomplicated clarification, that is, an express proclamation by the OLC, where Decision EX-1090 foreclosed the substitution/replacement of candidates by any of the three AU member states.

“Truth be told, the long, winding and tortuous opinion demonstrated in Note No. BC/OLC/24/5056.20 of 15th June, 2020 from the OLC, is a classic case of red herring – a demonstration of unsolicited and unguarded submission under the guise of a legal opinion.
“This is because, at no time should our minds and attention be moved away from the grundnorm, as to do so amounts to willful and deliberate acquiesce to re-writing the rules, in obvious contravention of our noble Constitutive Act,” it added.

The federal government noted that the OLC had the opportunity to set the records straight, by admitting its obvious error in the advisory opinion provided to the Candidatures Committee at the latter’s meeting on June 4, 2020.

It said: “Neither individuals nor institutions are immune to mistakes,” adding that, “the challenge only comes when we become defensive in admitting errors made inadvertently, by attempting to wish away or covering it with effusively lame, egregious and outlandish display of words and misinterpretation of rules and decision.”

It added: ‘It is obvious that the OLC is stubbornly trapped to the unfounded notion that the candidature of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a fresh submission and cleverly refraining from recognising it as replacement for Ambassador Yonov Frederick Agah, an earlier submission, duly made in line with all known rules.

“By the same token of illogic, does it then mean that a country whose candidate steps down as a result of natural causes or act of force majeure becomes ineligible to replacing such candidate according to OLC?
“Such conclusion is not just patently wrong, but worrisome and grossly uninformed.”

According to the Permanent Mission of Nigeria, the Rules of Procedure referred to in the Note Verbal by OLC, relates fundamentally, to the submission of a new candidature for a position and not “by any shred of imagination, a substitution/replacement of an earlier submission duly made in line with all rules.”

“Hence, Nigeria’s substitution/replacement of Ambassador Yonov Frederick Agah with Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as candidate for DG-WTO cannot be treated as fresh nomination for the position, and as such cannot be said, or even imagined “not to conform” with Rules 11 (1,2,3,4,5), 12 or indeed any of the Rules of Procedure deliberately highlighted by OLC to mislead.

“To state that the same submission is not in line with Executive Council Decisions EX 1072 and 1090 of July, 2019 and February, 2020 is an aberration, as none of these decisions preclude any member state from substituting its candidate, especially given that a sacrosanct decision was yet to be taken by the executive council to endorse one particular candidate in this instance.

“That neither the stated decisions of the executive council nor any of the AU Rules of Procedure on candidatures, expressly or impliedly, forbids the substitution/replacement of candidates by any member-state,” it said.

In addition, the federal government explained that to state that “Nigeria is latching on its sovereign right to change existing rules of procedure and relevant decisions of executive council as well as decisions of other policy organs,” was unbecoming, unfortunate and a gross misinterpretation and misrepresentation of facts from an office established to be dispassionate, neutral and professional.
“Nigeria, like other sovereign states, reserves the right to nominate, withdraw or replace a candidate for any position, especially when a consensus has not been agreed to endorse a single candidate.

“It is in the spirit of the stated Assembly Decision 795(XXXIII) of February, 2020, as well as other relevant decisions, that after due consultations, the Republic of Benin stepped down her candidate in total support of Nigeria’s Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for DG-WTO; and,

“That the WTO has acted upon the withdrawal of the nomination of Ambassador Yonov Frederick Agah and accepted and processed the nomination of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as appropriate.

“In view of the highlights provided above, it is demonstrably clear that the OLC has substantially failed to substantiate how the Federal Republic of Nigeria, in exercising her sovereign right, flouted any of the said decisions or rules of procedure, as none of them categorically precludes the substitution of a candidate by the member-states.

“In this regard, the Federal Republic of Nigeria wishes to put on record that only advisory opinion that does not neutralise the time-honoured practice of respecting the sovereign right of member states to nominate, withdraw or replace candidates, as applicable will be respected.

“Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is, and remains, the candidate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for the position of DG – WTO,” the Note Verbale stated.

It thanked the Republic of Benin and other AU member states for supporting the Nigerian nominee.

Meanwhile, in a June 15, 2020, Note Verbale, the country had explained that it was true that the Executive Council, through Decision EX.CL/Dec.1072 (XXXV) of July 2019, called on all AU member-states to consider presenting competent candidates to the AU Ministerial Committee on Candidatures in the International System for the position of DG-WTO by 30th November, 2019, with a view to endorsing one candidate during the February, 2020 36th Ordinary Session.

However, no single candidate was endorsed at the 36th Ordinary Session of the Executive Council. Rather, the executive council, through Decision EX.CL/Dec. 1090 (XXXVI) of February, 2020, “endorsed” the candidatures of Benin, Egypt and Nigeria, as a shortlist.
Nigeria explained that the council further requested the Ministerial Committee on African Candidatures within the International System to consider the matter and report to the executive council at its 37th Ordinary session, with a view to agreeing on a single African candidate.”