While proud Nigerians expect to benefit from Okonjo-Iweala’s leadership of the body dealing with the rules of world trade, experts say that her commitment to free and open multilateral trade clashes with Buhari’s much more protectionist record. Under Buhari’s leadership, Nigeria has imposed temporary border closures, enacted currency controls and introduced lists of banned imports in a bid to spur local manufacturing. Apart from Eritrea, which has yet to sign, Nigeria was the last country to sign up to the pivotal African Continental Free Trade Area in July 2019. Sand Mba, executive director of Africa International Trade and Commerce Research, says there is a wide gap between Okonjo-Iweala’s vision for open trade policies and Buhari’s policy record. Okonjo-Iweala has a lot of work to do to convince the Nigerian government to reverse its trade policies, the experts say. But some say that the popular director-general, highly respected in the country after her stint as a finance minister and World Bank managing director, can exert a subtle influence on Buhari. In mid-March, Okonjo-Iweala visited Nigeria for the first time since becoming director-general and met with Buhari, who she thanked for backing her leadership bid. She pledged the WTO’s support for the country, but was not afraid to take on thornier topics.
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