5 Things to Know About Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala 

Named one of the world’s most influential women by Time magazine, Nigeria’s finance minister cut her teeth at the World Bank and is a fierce advocate for cleaning up corruption in her nation’s economy.

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Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala 

Mychele Daniau/Getty Images 

Time magazine released its annual list highlighting the world’s 100 most influential people. A few of those named were no-brainers—music icon Beyoncé, film mastermind Steve McQueen, Pope Francis and President Barack Obama—but why is Nigeria’s finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, listed among these luminaries?

Ai, yi, yi—where do we begin?

1. She's eradicating Nigeria’s debt.

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Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (right) at the African Finance Ministers press briefing in 2003

Rabih Moghrabi/Getty Images

In the novel Half of a Yellow Sun, author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie incorporates historical events into the fictional tale and explains how Nigeria’s new economy, at the brink of its independence, was inherently weak because of all the predatory loans forced upon them by Great Britain and the other European colonizers.

Okonjo-Iweala’s work addresses the residual effects of those sorts of practices today by meeting with world leaders to persuade them to eradicate Nigeria’s debts incurred from the Cold War era. Her success in this effort might affect other West African countries with similar predicaments. She’s got a great traveling buddy who has tagged along on a few of those trips: U2’s Bono. He wrote Okonjo-Iweala’s profile in the Time magazine issue and gushed about how she’s a great boss: “I couldn’t be prouder to work for her.”

2. She’s a student of the world.

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Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, then managing director for the World Bank Group, at the Adolescent Girls Initiative in Washington, D.C., Oct. 6, 2010

KIMIHIRO HOSHINO/AFP/Getty Images

Slots for international students at Ivy League schools are scarce and highly coveted, yet Okonjo-Iweala—born and raised in Nigeria—graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and went on to earn a Ph.D. in regional economic development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

She’s received honorary doctorates from prestigious schools around the world, including Brown University, Amherst College, and institutions in Ireland and Jamaica.

3. She’s a World Bank economist.

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The United Kingdom’s then-Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, then-World Bank Group President Paul Wolfowitz and Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala talk after a news briefing at the International Monetary Fund April 21, 2006, in Washington, D.C.

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Okonjo-Iweala is a brilliant economist and cut her teeth at the World Bank in posts such as vice president and corporate secretary. In fact, she was on a short list to replace World Bank President Robert Zoellick at the end of his term in 2012.

4. She’s opening the books.

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Nigerian President Olesugun Obasanjo, Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Transparency International Chairman Peter Eigen during the inauguration of new TI headquarters in Berlin March 16, 2005

John MacDougall/Getty Images

As Nigeria’s finance minister, Okonjo-Iweala’s administration began the practice of publishing the federal government’s monthly expenditures for each of Nigeria’s 36 states, in order to increase transparency and lessen internal bickering and accusations of tribalism.

5. She abhors corruption.

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Nigeria’s Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala with French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici during the opening session of the Franco-African economic conference in Paris Dec. 4, 2013. 

ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty Images

Who hasn’t gotten an email from one of Nigeria’s 419 scam artists, asking for a bank-account number to deposit money to be invested? Okonjo-Iweala is at the forefront of unraveling the perception that Nigeria is economically corrupt. As finance minister, she makes sure that any revenue received from Nigeria’s oil sales go right back into sectors like infrastructure, agriculture, health and education.

Read more about Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria and Time magazine’s “Most Influential” list here:

Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that features expert advice for TV and film’s most complex characters. Follow Lectures to Beats on FacebookTwitter and YouTube. 

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