Nigeria on Monday said West African regional body ECOWAS had backed its choice to head the World Trade Organization (WTO) as the continent looks to get behind one candidate.

The WTO this month kicked off the process for selecting a new director-general, after its current chief Roberto Azevedo decided to leave a year early.

Diplomats acknowledge that Africa may be in line for the post since the continent has never before provided a WTO director-general.

Nigeria is lobbying for its former finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to get the top job.

She currently serves as board chair of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, and as a special African Union (AU) envoy to help fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Could she be the one?
Could she be the one? AFP / Bryan R. Smith

Nigeria's foreign ministry said in a statement that ECOWAS heads of state had thrown their support behind her candidacy due to "her long years of managerial experience at the top echelons of multilateral institutions".

The AU has voiced the ambition to settle on a single African candidate to put forward, but it remains unclear if it will manage to do so before the July 8 deadline.

Several other candidates from the continent appear likely to be in the running, including former Egyptian diplomat Hamid Mamdou, who worked with the WTO for years.

The AU, like everyone else, believed it had more time on its hands, since the search for Azevedo's successor had been scheduled to start in December.

However, the surprise announcement of his early departure has left everyone scrambling.