Akinwunmi Adesina, President, AFDB

By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU

The insistence of the United State Government that already rested corruption allegations raised against the President of the African Development Bank, Nigerian-born, Akinwunmi Adesina is re-opening battle-lines in the institution, continent and world, a Business Hallmark investigation has revealed.

Adesina, a long-standing international diplomat and former Minister of Agriculture in the Goodluck Jonathan presidency had assumed office as President of the continental development finance establishment in 2015 and is presently on the verge of being re-elected to serve out a second and final term in the saddle of that highly prized establishment.

However, after securing critical endorsements from several African nations and indeed the African Union, fresh spanner is being thrown into the works for him, no thanks to the insistence of the United States of America, one of several non-African contributors to the fund, that an already rested probe into allegations of favouritism and corruption should be exhumed and addressed once again by a fresh and independent probe panel.

As the heat over what has come to be seen as the Adesinagate fiasco grew, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who had himself being at the butt of spirited opposition from likeminded Western powers that had mobilized against his emergence as Secretary-General of the United Nations over a decade ago, has risen in defence of Adesina. Joining him is Nigeria’s Finance Minister, Zainab Ahmed.

In a letter of protest, the former Nigerian leader, who had also been one of the lead drivers of the alternative African Finance Corporation, AFC project waded into the fray and asked that everything should be done to protect what was left of the institutional integrity of the AfDB.

According to him, the current move to challenge the findings and outcome of the statutory ethics committee of the development bank that has already sat on the matter and dismissed the allegations against the embattled President of the bank smacked of bullying and should therefore not be allowed to stand. To strengthen the pressure, Obasanjo is asking several other past fellow heads of state in the continent to join in with him to put pressure on the United States and its allies on this subject to drop their objections and allow Adesina commence a hitch-free second term in office.

For Nigeria’s Finance Minister, the fact of Adesina having been initially acquitted by the Ethics Committee and the legacy of the basket of achievements that he has garnered in his first term in office is the primary points around which she is weighing in. In a letter to her colleague in Cote D’Ivoire who also doubles as chair of the AfDB Board, Zainab Ahmed paid tribute to Adesina’s legacy and counselled that the institution should not be allowed to be rubbished at a time like this.

On his part, Adesina has himself reportedly provided copious responses to the allegations against him. In his rebuttal, he explained that there was indeed nothing in the allegations raised against him to warrant his being sanctioned and as such he did not see any reason why they should continue to be held against him.

Imperialism fights back

Commentators have been weighing in on the subject and trying to provide both context and perspective to it. One of them, Abdul Hamid vividly remembers the AFC initiative very well and tends to agree that Adesina may only be the latest casualty in a long-drawn-out political environment and battle-front where the thrust has seemingly not changed through the years. As he sees it, the current crisis is flowing from the long-entrenched penchant of powerful non-African nations that had been invited to subscribe to the development finance institution to dictate to the majority African owners, and call the shots at the institution:

‘This exactly is what had led to the formation of what can be termed the rival African Finance Corporation in the Obasanjo era. Nigeria was at the forefront of the initiative and the idea was to have in place something that would be almost wholly driven from Africa and would then be worthwhile in terms of a sustained focus on African development.’

Explaining further, Hamid says that it is this angling for a streak of independence that he suspects is also being resisted now.

‘We have never really had a major stake in the AfDB at Abidjan. When it began to be quite glaring a couple of years ago, we started to work out on the launch of another organisation. It was a rebellion of sorts and Nigeria was an arrowhead and led to a challenge. It was a move to give African nations some of the true muscle and leverage which they had lacked all along in the extant AfDB.’

‘I don’t think Adesina has done anything spectacularly wrong at this time other than his being caught in the crossfire of the current global political fever and the inclination of US President Trump to replace him at all costs with a more malleable alternative. It is the continuation of the ongoing global trade war and to an extent a spill-over of the COVID 19 battles. I daresay a lot of things will be happening in Abidjan between now and the US elections later on in the year.’

Further underscoring the fact that the current ruckus fits into a trail that stretched further down the historical ladder, Hamid calls up a similar opposition years ago by likeminded foes to the Eqyptian, Boutrous Ghali’s second term bid for the United Nations Secretary-General seat:

‘It is a long-running pattern. Recall that the West also flushed out Boutrous Ghali after a term as UN Secretary-General after opposing Obasanjo’s bid for the same position. In Adesina’s case, the polls will be in August and he (Adesina) is already in pole position to win having secured critical continental endorsements.

‘The allegations are therefore a deliberate move to cast aspersions on his integrity to deny him and Nigeria the position. Come to think of it, if we are even to review one of the famous points being raised against Adesina, namely that of facilitating the employment of relatives and acquaintances (which he has however since denied or explained), did the US President Trump himself not give jobs to relatives and acquaintances? Who questioned him on those?’

A final sore point for Hamid is the fact that though Nigeria is nominally the largest single stakeholder at the AfDB in Abidjan in the decision-making process, things are more intricate and the country does not get any real benefit from this status.

Indeed one of the fallouts of the crisis is that it has exposed some of the grave divisions across the continent and world that some had assumed had been taken care of. In an era and world where the foreign scene is seen as an extended playground for strong domestic policy expostulations, part of the challenge that has been revealed is the fact that the nation may have played too many casual games with the imperative of boosting and projecting its foreign affairs reflexes more definitively in the Muhammadu Buhari years. Notable losses that were recorded in this period they say include the nation’s poor handling of the South Africa xenophobia riots, the choice of personnel for the presidency of the United Nations General Assembly and several other top-notch diplomatic postings like that of ambassador to the United States and the shoddy handling of the Eco Currency and African Continental Free Trade Agreement, AfCFTA.

In the view of some observers, things may however now be on the verge of changing giving the fact that President Buhari’s new pick as Chief of Staff is a well-heeled foreign affairs player and as such he is expected to help give more critical direction (if permitted) to the nation’s policy conception and implementation at the highest level.

Indeed, feelers at the weekend were that Gambari was already billed to hold consultative talks with critical policy apparatchik at some of the feeder institutes that ordinarily drive the nation’s foreign policy discourse at the weekend.

Commentators also harp on the need to have a pointed and focused programme at this juncture that takes the Adesina second term as a first peg but which also builds more fully into a comprehensive redefinition of what should be Nigeria’s role in the world in the years ahead.

In this, they point to the need to tap inputs from experienced and veteran practitioners on the nation’s foreign policy scenes such as the likes of Professors Bolaji Akinyemi and George Obiozor. They also point to the need to tap into cross-cutting continental and Diaspora synergies.

For example, one such expression of solidarity in the Adesina affair has already come from Equatorial Guinea. In a piece, ‘The African Development Bank: Tolling bells for humanity,’ Cesar Abogo, Minister of Finance, Economy and Planning, Equatorial Guinea outlines:

‘COVID-19 is severely testing Africa’s social, economic and political resilience. While it is true that our countries are taking bold actions to slow down and contain the spread of the virus, it is also undeniable that recession looms in our continent. The Central African sub-region is one of the areas most exposed to an economic recession. We face a double danger. On the one hand, we are fighting COVID-19 with a scarcity of financial resources and fragile health systems. On the other hand, we are trying to mitigate the adverse economic effects of this pandemic and safeguard our economies, especially those extremely dependent on revenues from natural resources. It is not a secret that the most affected countries in Central Africa are Sao Tomé and Equatorial Guinea. In terms of the impact on the economy, we have been punched by COVID-19 like no other country.

Improving accountability and transparency COVID-19 is an unprecedented challenge. But crisis moments also present opportunities. I frankly believe that COVID-19 could inadvertently spark a better future for Africa. For that to happen, we need Africa’s flagship development institution, the African Development Bank, AfDB, to be stronger than ever, as it is the primary duty of the institution to assist Africa at this critical time. We, therefore, salute the AfDB’s bold response and its commitment to assist our countries by creating a $10 billion COVID-19 Response Facility to help cushion the economic and social impacts of the pandemic in regional member countries. We are certainly satisfied with the bank’s performance and the visionary leadership of its President, Dr Akinwumi Adesina. I would like to commend the credible and exhaustive work of the Bank’s Board-constituted Ethics Committee’s chaired by the Honourable Takuji Yano. The committee’s report referencing 16 allegations by whistle-blowers against Dr Adesina and other executives of the Bank, unequivocally stated that “these allegations are not valid and should be rejected.” Concerning the whistle-blower’s rejection of the conclusions of the Ethics Committee, we express our deep concern about how this not only undermines and affects Dr Adesina’s credibility but is also contributing to the erosion of the bank’s credibility, especially the strength of its internal institutions. We believe that this is just the opposite of what humanity needs at this time when we are facing an unprecedented crisis. We, therefore, echo the call by the Chair of the Board of Governors, Honourable Niale Kaba, for “restoring peace and serenity within the Bank.” In conclusion, and as a testimony of my support for Dr Adesina and all the bank executives, who are personally and adversely affected by this situation and unfounded allegations, a few verses penned by John Donne (and popularised by Hemingway) come to mind. “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod is washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.” Today in the African Development Bank, AfDB, the bells toll not for Dr Adesina, but for Africa … for humanity.’

On his path, the economist Boniface Chizea, while acknowledging that Adesina has done quite well in piloting the affairs of the development bank, would, however, want some caution to be applied in resolving the face-off that has presently emerged. It is in this wise that he says thought should be given to allowing the second probe being called upon by the US and its allies so as not to suggest that anything is being hidden.