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Last Updated: Monday, 24 April 2006, 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK
Profile: Nigeria's respected finance minister
The BBC's Sola Odunfa in Lagos profiles Nigeria's Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, one of the architects of the country's settling of almost all of its foreign debts.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala does not wear expensive fabrics
President Olusegun Obasanjo is not one of the most popular leaders with Nigerians, but his Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is one of the most admired.

While the president is held responsible for the adverse effects of the government's economic reforms, such as frequent mass sackings in the public service, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, 52, is held up by many Nigerians as a selfless, hard-working and dedicated person who would not hurt a fly.

Two things stand in her favour: giving up her cosy World Bank job in Washington and her apparent incorruptibility.

Simple fashion

Most Nigerians believe that she must genuinely love her country to have agreed to leave Washington to take up the task of re-shaping Nigeria's battered and corrupt economy.

Since she came here six years ago she has patented simplicity in personal appearance.

GDP: $76.4bn
GDP per person: $390
Below poverty line: 60%
Life expectancy: 47
Oil revenues: 20% of GDP
Foreign debts: $35bn
Currency reserves: $34bn
She is the first female senior member of government to be seen in public neither heavily bedecked in precious stones nor wearing dresses made of the most expensive fabrics.

She has made high fashion out of her low-cut hair, simple scarf tied, seemingly loosely, on her forehead and dresses made of printed cotton.

Indeed she is a special breed of the Nigerian woman.

She has refused to grow out of her strictly conservative background.

Her parents were impoverished by the Nigerian civil war of 1967 to 1970 and so she was denied the pampering she might have recieved from her father who was a renowned economist and professor.

She marched on in life, nevertheless, ending her formal education with a doctorate in economics from the prestigious MIT in the United States, thanks to a loan by the school.

Family phone

Mrs Okonjo-Iweala married her childhood sweetheart, who now practises surgery in the US and looks after their four children.

Man paddling a canoe in Lagos
She has a huge task to eradicate poverty in Nigeria
She is so attached to her family that she has a phone line dedicated to their exclusive use.

In Abuja she buries herself in work, most of the time having an 18-hour day.

However she does not impose her strict regimen on her staff, although all of them have grown to share her passion for success and strict application of rules.

Unlike most of her fellow ministers, she does not maintain a large retinue of domestic staff or fleet of cars.

When time permits she does her own shopping for foodstuff and her cooking.

Hero of the year

Her social life revolves around official parties and communal engagements in her native south-east.

People who have come across her say she is very friendly.

She has been Nigeria's finance minister for three years. She is one of the most trusted by President Obasanjo in his cabinet.

She has won many awards across the world, including the Euromarket Forum Award for Vision and Courage, three years ago, and was named Hero of the Year by Time magazine in 2004.


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