By Reuben Abati
The Board of Governors and the Ethics Committee of the African Development Bank (AfDB) have given Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, the Bank’s President, a clean bill of health in a report dated May 5, wherein it is stated that Adesina has been “entirely exonerated of all allegations made against him.” The background to that development is useful and it is as follows:
On January 19, a group of anonymous whistle-blowers who described themselves as “a group of concerned staff members” of the AfDB prepared a document titled “Disclosure of Acts Related to Alleged Breach of Code of Ethics by an Elected Officer, to the Attention of the Director of the Integrity and Anti-Corruption Department (PIAC) and the Chairpersons of the AUFI and Ethics Committees.” The “elected officer” in question is Akinwumi Adesina, the Nigerian President of the Bank. The whistleblowers wanted him to be investigated for alleged breach of the institution’s Code of Conduct, in order to check fraud and corruption and prevent an institutional crisis. In that January document, Adesina is accused of non-respect of internal rules and regulations in recruitment, nepotism, impunity, questionable award of contracts, preferential treatment of Nigeria and Nigerians, using Bank resources to collect awards in personal capacity, political lobbying of Heads of State, and turning himself into “the unchallenged travel champion of the Bank.” On March 3, six weeks after the group submitted its petition, it protested that the Ethics Committee was either unable or unwilling to investigate the 16 allegations it raised against Adesina and that there was evidence that certain forces were trying to prevent the Ethics Committee from doing its work. It urged the Ethics Committee to commission an independent investigation. In April 2020, this same “Group of Concerned Staff Members” submitted yet another petition against Adesina titled “Additional Cases of Alleged Breach of the Code of Ethics by the President of the African Development Bank Group to the Attention of the Governors of the African Development Group.” They raised four additional allegations including “use of Bank resources for self-promotion and private gains” and abuse of due process in the appointment of country managers.
There was however a twist in the tale when a counter-complaint, dated March 13, was submitted to the Chairman of the Ethics Committee by another group, called “a group of indignant members” who denounced the “Group of Concerned Staff Members” and stated clearly that they were “outraged” by the latter’s attempt to “take hostage of our institution.” They claimed that the mastermind of the anti-Adesina protest is a certain Executive Director – Stephen DOWD (American, member of the Ethics Committee) and a group of non-regional Executive Directors who are “not for the good governance of the African Bank of Development but to discredit the candidacy of the current President for his re-election.” The “indignant members” disclosed that they were members of the “Group of Concerned Staff Members” until they discovered that they were being manipulated by Dowd and other non-regional Executive Directors. They asked the Ethics Committee to investigate Dowd. The Concerned Members rebutted this and said the indignant members were never part of their group.
All the petitioners on both sides of the aisle, pro- and anti-Adesina did not reveal their true identities but it was obvious that there was sharp division within the bank over Adesina’s leadership and tension between regional directors and non-regional directors of the Bank. The externalization of the conflict was bad for the image of the institution. Akinwumi Adesina himself did not hesitate to proclaim his innocence. In an April 6, 2020 statement, he wrote: “I am 100% confident that due process and transparency, based on facts and evidence, will indicate that these are all nothing more than spurious and unfounded allegations.” Now, with his exoneration by the Bank’s Ethics Committee last week, Adesina can claim to have been vindicated. He received an added morale booster when Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari congratulated him and described him as a good ambassador of Africa and Nigeria. Both votes of confidence should bring huge relief to Adesina’s friends and supporters within and outside the Bank and brighten his chances of re-election for a second term.
There is little doubt that Adesina’s emergence as AfDB President, his leadership style, and his reform efforts constructed around what he calls the High Fives continue to ruffle some feathers within the Bank. His emergence in 2015 was hotly contested. But with President Goodluck Jonathan, then President-elect Muhammadu Buhari, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and many other African leaders strongly behind him, it was easy for him to score 60% of the votes to beat seven other contestants including Chad’s Bedoumbra Kodje, Zimbabwe’s Thomas Sakala, Ethiopia’s Sufian Ahmed and Cape Verde’s Cristina Duarte (the choice of non-regional members). On his part, Adesina came to the competition with excellent professional and academic credentials – a First Class in Agricultural Economics from the then University of Ife, Nigeria, Ph.D, Purdue University, former Vice-President, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), former senior economist, West African Rice Development Association (WARDA), former senior scientist, Rockefeller Foundation, and Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (2011 – 2015). Above all, Adesina is hardworking, focused, highly driven, cosmopolitan, and self-motivated… We worked together in the Jonathan government.
The 2015 AfDB election was particularly important to Nigeria. In 2005, Nigeria’s Olabisi Ogunjobi lost the AfDB position to Rwanda’s Donald Kaberuka who went on to serve two terms. To become AfDB President, a candidate must have a double majority of the African and non-regional members. Nigeria is AfDB’s largest shareholder with over 9% of the capital and yet since the AfDB was established in 1964, it was only in 2015, that it got its candidate elected for the first time as President of the Bank. Akinwumi Adesina became the presumptive President on May 28, 2015 and assumed office on September 1, the same year. He had hardly settled down in office before France began to complain that he rarely speaks French, whereas he is fluent in both English and French. Three Vice Presidents also left the Bank. The conspiracy against him reared its head early, and has re-emerged more aggressively towards the end of his first term.
Nonetheless, Adesina has had a good run in his first five years as President of the AfDB. No one can doubt neither his commitment and passion, nor his resolve that the mission of the AfDB is to help accelerate the development of Africa, create a new Africa, and provide new opportunities for every African. He has also been very outspoken in promoting partnerships, calling upon bilateral and multilateral institutions to support Africa to build infrastructure, human capital and ramp up economic growth. Under Akinwumi Adesina, the AfDB has consistently maintained its AAA rating achieved under Donald Kaberuka. The Bank is also comparatively more innovative, people-oriented and far more visible. It is better decentralized. Its standing among global financial institutions is strong. The Bank’s income has increased. It is far richer today than it has ever been.
In recognition of his efforts, Adesina has been widely decorated with honours and awards. He has been named African of the Year (2019) by the African Leadership Magazine; countries have decorated him with their national honours – Senegal, Liberia, Tunisia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, Togo. Universities have awarded him Honorary Doctorate degrees.
In 2017, he won the World Food Prize, which is regarded as the Nobel Prize for Agriculture. In 2019, he received both the All Africa Business Leaders African of the Year award and the Sunhak Peace Prize. His critics allege that he uses his position for self-promotion. Every award that Adesina has received as AfDB President is never without an acknowledgement of the achievements of the Bank. He has also used the opportunities presented by his international recognition to promote African causes. The World Food Prize came with a tidy sum of $250, 000 and the Sunhak Prize, $500, 000. What did he do? He donated all the prize money, his own personal contributions and the support of friends and philanthropists, to set up a Borlaug-Adesina Fellowship Programme and the World Hunger Fighters Foundation to fight global hunger. Norman Borlaug, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate established the World Food Prize in 1986. The Borlaug-Adesina Fellowship is managed by the World Hunger Fighters Foundation. It has already graduated a number of Fellows.
But for me, perhaps if there is any personal gain for the bank’s President, it is the manner in which he has managed to emerge as a role model for many young Africans who want to study Agriculture and Economics because of him. They also want to become agri-preneurs because they believe him when he says the future of Africa is in the agriculture value-chain and that agriculture is not land cultivation, but big business.
Adesina’s finest moment is perhaps not the honours and awards that he has received but his presence at the 45th G7 Summit held in Biarritz, France, 24 -26 August, 2019. This was at a time when the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced that it had arrested one Invictus Obi and was looking for about 80 other Nigerians who over a period had been involved in identity theft and wire fraud in the United States. It was a low moment for many Nigerians at home: some of our compatriots had again damaged the country’s image and denigrated the Nigerian Green passport. It was at this exact time that the pictures of Akinwumi Adesina, another Nigerian, showed up in the media, meeting with world leaders at a G7 Summit in France. The G7 Summit is a meeting of the most powerful leaders in the world. And there was Akinwumi Adesina having a tete-a-tete with President Donald Trump, shown in conversations with Chancellor Angela Merkel and others, standing side by side with the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. Many young Nigerians drew inspiration from this. Their reaction was that Adesina at a critical moment helped to show, unwittingly as it were, that there are gifted Nigerians making positive contributions, who can be admitted into distinguished, global company. Many said they would want to be like him. Others wanted him to return home to run for the Nigerian Presidency in 2023. I am sure Adesina himself would not be so tempted. He must have learnt a lesson or two about African politics when he served as Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture. Participation in partisan politics in Africa requires many adaptations that many intellectuals or technocrats may not be best suited for, except of course, they are willing to take the risk and damn the consequences.
Hence, understandably, much earlier, on June 14, 2019, at the 54th Annual Meeting of the Bank in Malabo, Equitorial Guinea, Adesina announced his intention to run for a second term as President of the AfDB. The election was meant to take place during the 55th Annual Meeting of the Bank which was originally scheduled for May 25 -29, 2020 but which due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the “resulting global disruption” has now been re-scheduled for August 25 -27. Adesina’s supporters insist that the attack on him by the “Group of Concerned Staff Members” is meant to politicize and frustrate his re-election bid. Apart from his open proclamation of innocence, Adesina has also been very philosophical about the attack on his person and tenure. A devout Christian and a prayer-warrior, each time President Jonathan asked him to lead the Council in prayers in those days, you were bound to receive a song and a long prayer with Pentecostal flavor and quiet murmurings from across the Chamber that the prayer warrior should make his supplications brief, and so it is not surprising that as the allegations against him circulated, Adesina occasionally resorted to prayers and Bible passages (Psalm 60:12; 2 Corinthians 12:9) on his twitter account.
Prayers can help but there is a lot more to be done. The verdict of the Ethics Committee may be favorable but still, that is not the end of it. President Muhammadu Buhari has re-affirmed Nigeria’s support for Dr. Akinwumi Adesina. The African Union (AU) and all the Heads of State and Governments of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have also openly endorsed him for a second term. AU Chair, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and others have, most recently, commended Adesina and the AfDB for announcing a $10 billion facility to fight Corona Virus in Africa. He also enjoys the backing of Africa’s Organized Private Sector. Former President of Liberia, Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson has told Adesina that African leaders trust him. “We trust you,” she said.
But Dr. Adesina must study the power game a bit more closely. Will his enemies quietly accept their humiliation and sheathe their swords? Do they have any hidden aces up their sleeves, especially as it has been suggested that they are being sponsored by non-regional stakeholders? What is their strength? Can they still do any damage? The AfDB comprises 54 African countries and 27 non-African members, the latest in the latter category is Ireland. AfDB voting power is weighted relative to share of capital, with Nigeria, United States, Japan and Egypt having the greatest share. Does he have enough numbers to gain the required double majority? Even if he does, my take is that the re-scheduling of the 55th Annual General Meeting of the AfDB offers him an advantage. He has the advantage of more time to embark on diplomatic and fence-mending outreaches to turn his adversaries within the system into friends. He and his allies must not ignore those aggrieved “whistle-blowers” or seek to shame them. This is not the time for triumphalism. The right thing to do is to engage the naysayers. Adesina’s overall goal should be a united, inclusive, democratic and open AfDB, not a divided institution. The AfDB must remain focused on its development objectives not in-house politicking.
In 2010, Donald Kaberuka (Rwanda) was re-elected by acclamation. Before him, Omar Kabbaj (Morocco) was also re-elected in 1995. There is no reason why Akinwumi Adesina, a sole candidate, should not be re-elected. He has earned it. Nigeria deserves it. The Nigerian Government should stand by Adesina to ensure his re-election.