EDITOR’S NOTE: Many Nigerians wonder what actually it takes to get work in an international organisations. Questions like: Do I need to be nominated? If yes, who is going to nominate me? Do I need to be a politician to be nominated? Do I need my country to help me win once I got nominated? What kind of qualifications are required etc. Dr Joe Abah in a recent thread on his Twitter handle, answers these questions while congratulating Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the former Nigerian Minister of Finance, for her nomination as the Director General of the World Trade Organisation.

With the nomination of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the DG of the World Trade Organisation position, let me try to explain how things like this happen. If I have blocked you, you are not the type that needs the information.

If it is a position you are qualified for, the first thing you need is information. You need to know when the position of the incumbent is running out. You need to be aware of any “zoning” formula (yes, there is zoning in the international community too, even if it’s informal).

Even for positions within the country, having good information helps. There is one DG that overstayed his tenure by a whole TWO YEARS. Nobody outside the organisation knew. You’ll never see him in the press. He kept everyone sweet, until one person whispered to one of my friends.

That my friend was the MD of a big multinational but he wanted to work in the public sector. Armed with the information that the tenure of the DG had since expired, he wrote to the President to call his attention to it and attached his CV. He was appointed DG shortly after.

Anyway, back to International Organisations. When the tenure of an incumbent is about to expire, the first thing to check is that Nigeria is a member of that international organisation. It would help if we’ve been paying our membership dues. It is member countries that nominate.

Photo Credit: Mat-Reding 

If Nigeria is a member, then your first port of call is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If you are abroad, you should start with the Nigerian Embassy where you live. Word of advice: Even if you have dual nationality, always ensure that you register with Nigerian embassy.

If you are young and are emigrating to Canada or anywhere else, don’t go and burn your Naija passport thinking “I am NEVER having anything to do with Nigeria again.” One day, constant light, good healthcare and hire-purchase Benzes will no longer be enough for you. Think am o.

In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, you need to find the right person, usually a Director with the title: ‘Under-Secretary for Regional and International Organisations.’ They are usually fiercely patriotic and will do everything to assist you once they know you are qualified.

The Under-Secretary will take you to the Perm Sec. The Perm Sec will scrutinise you CV and weigh you chances, because your nomination will cost Nigerian diplomats some political capital. Once he is convinced, the Perm Sec will take you (or just your file) to the Minister.

If the Minister is happy, he will direct the Perm Sec to prepare a letter which the Minister will send to the President alerting him of the vacancy and recommending your nomination.  To get all of these things done, you need to waka o. If you are abroad, you need to come home o.

Fortunately, the diplomats in the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs are very polished people. They will NEVER ask you for money or “mobilization.” Don’t insult them by offering. It will damage your chances of being supported. They are very conscious of the country’s image.

The President may or may not approve your nomination. He may have promised another President that supported a Nigerian candidate in another election that he won’t present a candidate against his country when next there’s a vacancy. The President may also not just like your face.

Once the President approves, the lobbying and the politics starts. You see, it’s an election. Francophone countries are a mafia. They get together, speak French and EVERY francophone country supports one francophone candidate. Anglophone countries will be there speaking English.


That is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs comes into its own. They will start calling in favours they’ve done in the past. They will get Mr President to make a few phone calls and make some deals. Civil servants will travel to Geneva, New York or wherever to start the lobbying

You too will need to work your contacts. You may need to get NGOs & the press to start shouting that no African/ West African/ Nigerian/ Anglophone person has ever occupied the position. They will highlight the strength of your CV. Be yabbing PhD Twitter, you hear? Sorry for you.

The night before the election is just like the primaries night for APC or PDP, except that money doesn’t change hands (usually). You must work your contacts throughout the night. If you sleep, by the time you wake up, alignments have already realigned and you’ve lost.

If you win, remember to thank all the people that helped you along the way, especially. Don’t forget the civil servants that started the whole journey for you. Write to Mr President and request audience. He will receive you with pomp and pageantry. If you lost, wait and try again

Not everything about Nigeria is useless. Sometime in the future, I will tell you how to apply for appointment (not election) in an international organisation and how to prepare yourself to ensure you are eligible. Good luck to Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria. End.


DR JOE ABAH is a lawyer, Governance, Public Service Reforms and Public Policy Consultant, and the Country Director of DAI. This article was originally published by him here.