Akinwumi Adesina’s Acquittal: A Sweet Relief

Akinwumi Adesina, President AfDB cleared of all allegations
Akinwumi Adesina, AfDB President

The Insight by Lateef Adewole

In the midst of plethora of distasteful revelations in Nigeria about mind-boggling corruption, financial heist and massive stealing of public funds by public officials, elected and appointed, news like the one that exonerated the President of the African Development Bank (AfDB) on Tuesday, was a sweet relief. It was like a soothing balm on a sore wound. Why such feelings?

Sincerely, when the allegations surfaced months ago about wrongdoings which bothered on unethical practices against Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, there were serious concerns and genuine worries by people of goodwill across the globe, and by us in Nigeria in particular. This was because, when Nigerians want to show pride in recent years, Adesina represents a source of such pride to us among many other distinguished Nigerians all over the world. He is one other “export” from Nigeria who has been doing us proud.

So, to read about such accusations against him was a rude shock to us. Worse still, he is bound for reelection in August 2020 for another five-year term. And such allegations were completely at variance with all we knew and believed he represents. A sentiment that pervades global political and economic terrain. How then could that have happened? Why? At what time? These are few of many questions that agitated our minds.

When this was considered in the midst of various negative stories going around the world about different financial crimes committed by our nationals in different countries, one will find it difficult to blame those who are either always suspicious of Nigerians anywhere and in any position or who are skeptical about giving us the benefit of doubt. Some miscreants have misrepresented us around the globe.

Also, the conduct of our leaders at home does not help matters, if what is going on in the past weeks and months are anything to go by. They are heart-wrenching. Fortunately, his case is at international stage where people believe there is a modicum of fair hearing, since it involves people from different countries. The possibility of unilateral conspiracy against him was likely to be limited. And that seemed to be what saved Dr. Adesina.

President Muhammadu Buhari backed Akinwumi Adesina on probe allegations
President Muhammadu Buhari backed Akinwumi Adesina on probe allegations

In January, 2020, a faceless group, “The Group of Concerned Staff Members of AfDB”, under the pretence of whistleblowing, wrote a damning petition that contained sixteen allegations against Dr. Adesina. Among which were that he has been favouring Nigeria in the bank’s interventions, employment of his country people, approved huge unmerited severance packages for some staff who resigned under questionable circumstances, used bank’s resources for self-promotion and personal gains, and so on.

Many believed the group was sponsored by those who want to truncate his chance of a second term. They were suspected to have done all that to tarnish his soaring profile and impugn on his personality, so as to halt his efforts at repositioning, reorganisation, and restructuring that he embarked on since he assumed office. Some people will always resist change.

Fortunately for Adesina, he has wide acceptability and support from his home country, Nigeria, other African countries and around the world. In fact, he is one person who was able to defy the usual “PHD” syndrome in Nigeria. I mean; “Pull Him Down”. This is a common practice in Nigeria when such situation as we had in 2015 arises. At that time, Dr. Adesina, who was the then Minister of Agriculture, was nominated as the country’s candidate to occupy the seat of AfDB president. A position no Nigerian has occupied in its 50 years of existence at the time, despite Nigeria being the biggest shareholder in the bank with 9.1 percent shares. That’s ludicrous in itself. How could that have been for so long?

That also speaks to the non-cooperativeness back home and lack of proper coordination of government policy to position Nigeria and Nigerians in strategic places in global political and economic communities. Oftentimes, what we saw were efforts by individuals who had personal drives and aspirations to get to such spots, without any serious support from the government. This often affected their chances. After all, “ile l’ati n k’eso rode” (charity begins at home). We have seen many cases.

African Development Bank (AfDB)

Hence, it was a delight that former President Goodluck Jonathan nominated Adesina and gave him massive support. Unfortunately, that was an election year and he lost in his bid for a second term in the 2015 presidential election to the then opposition candidate of APC, General Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd.). Many thought that was the end of Adesina’s quest, given the kind of bitter politics played by both the then ruling party PDP and the incoming opposition APC. That was made worse by the vicious, virulent and divisive campaigns that brought the new administration to power.

Then, the unexpected happened. The new president, Buhari declared his support for Adesina’s bid. Not only that, he raised a high-powered delegation of eminent personalities to that effect, led by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who had previously defected to APC in 2014 towards the general election, given his reach, network and influence. Atiku had President Buhari’s mandate to reach out to leaders in Africa and around the world, to shore up support for Adesina’s election. He did that marvelously well. Adesina won!

This singular action of the president helped boost Adesina’s chance to the top. Many of us will forever appreciate that action of President Buhari. That was the real display of statesmanship. I say this because this was a president of a party which did not want to have anything to do with the previous administration at the time. In fact, it was the complete condemnation of anything PDP that gave him power.

I suspected that so many of his associates and party leaders would have dissuaded him from supporting Adesina, but he chose to place national interest above partisan or personal interests. That was a true reflection of his famous inauguration quote: “I belong to nobody and I belong to everybody” (though unfortunately, that was found to be plagiarised).

Many of us wished he had upheld that virtue throughout his administration in the past five years. Many things have since changed. May be he caved in to influence of selfish, parochial and jingoistic people eventually. Something that brought us to where we are now. May be it is his innate character but that Adesina’s case was just an exception, like few others.

So, following the allegations against Dr. Adesina, the Ethics Committee of the Board of Governors of AfDB, which is statutorily mandated to handle such complaints, was activated to investigate the matter. They listened to the submissions from all parties. After rigorous excersice, they cleared Dr. Adesina of any wrongdoing in April. They submitted their report to the higher authority of the bank procedurally, the Bureau of the Board of Governors, which also upheld the verdict after proper examination and review. Many thought that was the end, but no! That was just the beginning. His transducers did not cease hostility. “Ija sese bere ni (the fight had just begun).

Of note was also the massive support that Dr. Adesina has been getting from home and around the world. This was led by President Buhari himself, who stood by him, did not ask that he not be investigated but demanded fair hearing to be given to him. Other leaders like Chief Obasanjo, Atiku, and almost all Nigerians had faith in him and championed his cause. They saw it as “witch-hunt”.

Before anyone could sing any song of victory, they came from behind. This time, it was at a higher level. The US Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin wrote to condemn the outcome of the probe and rejected the verdict that exonerated Adesina. This generated another round of controversies and agitations. At the end, Dr. Adesina did not mind the call for a fresh investigation by outside independent panel.

A High Level Independent Review Panel was set up which consists of “three wise men”, not minding that the leader is a woman, Mary Robinson, who is a former Ireland’s president, a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Chairperson of the Elders, a global body of wise persons concerned with the world’s wellbeing; Mr. Leonard F. McCarthy, a former Head of the Directorate of Special Operations of South Africa, who has served as the Vice President of Integrity for the World Bank for nine years. He is a former Director of Public Prosecutions, and a former Director for the Office of Serious Economic Offences; Mr. Hassan B. Jallow, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Gambia.

These eminent personalities finally exonerated him in their report they released on Tuesday. They upheld the decision of the Ethics Committee that was previously released. We all expect that this should lay all matters to rest. Those who want to become the bank’s president should wait for another five years after Adesina’s tenure might have expired, since he will likely get elected unopposed at the bank’s AGM in August, 2020.

This should also be a wakeup call for Africans and African countries. How come non-Africans and non-African countries will be in position to dictate how an institution within the African continent should be run? Who does that? No other continent around the world will tolerate such nonsense. Even global organisations which “supposedly” belong to the whole world like the World Bank, IMF, UN, WHO and so on, are still highjacked and controlled by the few countries from other continents. Africa has no place or extremely weak place in them.

We were all witnesses to the Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s bid to lead the World Bank some years ago. She could not succeed, not because she was not eminently qualified but for some “unspoken” sentiments that could bother on racial discrimination. She is again in the race for the Director General (DG) of the World Trade Organization (WTO). President Buhari has given her his blessing, though, there are some internal saboteurs who started a campaign of calumny against her. The typical “PHD” syndrome I earlier mentioned.

Nigeria leadership and community should rise and mobilise support for her globally, rather than the almost “one-woman” show we have seen her undertake. Unfortunately, there are other candidates from Egypt and Kenya. Egyptian leadership has been castigating Nigeria for substituting Iweala for the previous candidate from Nigeria. That should be coming from position of inferiority complex. Only Africa has three contestants. Other continents have only one each. That’s a minus for Africa. It is in this situation that the African Union (AU) supposed to intervene for the benefit of the continent. We can only wish Dr. Okonjo Iwealla success in her outing.

Understandably, the USA is the second highest shareholder in AfDB with 6.5 percent and there are other non-African members too. However, this should not give the USA the power to “bully” the rest of the member states to heed to their demand, even when it contradicts and undermines the laid down governance structure of the bank. They are still in the minority. And as the saying goes, “minority is supposed to have their say while majority have their way”. The opposite seemed to be the case here. When will Africa wean itself of slavery mentality, stand on their own and for themselves?

In the final analysis, we are glad it was done and that all these are now over. Otherwise, the aspersion already cast by the US Treasury Secretary on the clean bill of health given to Adesina could have become a dent on his image, personality and achievements at the helm of AfDB which are too numerous to highlight here. Distinct among them include the provision of 10 billion dollars emergency credit facility as support to African countries to mitigate the devastating consequences of coronavirus pandemic.

Also, there were many unprecedented feats by the bank under his leadership like increased capitalisation from 93 to 208 billion dollars from the shareholders. The bank now has branches in many of the member African countries for proximity to clients. All these are enviable achievements which could drive small-minded people to want to pull him down.

We are happy. Many people around the world are happy. We wish him greater success in his journey to getting a second term to lead the bank to greater heights.

Congratulations to Dr. Akinwumi Adesina.

Congratulations to Nigeria and Nigerians.

Congratulations to Africans.

Congratulations to AfDB!

God Bless Nigeria.

Lateef Adewole is a political analyst and social commentator can be reached by email [email protected] or via WhatsApp +2348020989095 and @lateef_adewole on Twitter