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Noose tightens around AfDB President, Adesina

The chances of Dr. Akinwumi Adesina getting a second term as president of the African Development Bank (AfDB) are being threatened following allegations of corruption…

The chances of Dr. Akinwumi Adesina getting a second term as president of the African Development Bank (AfDB) are being threatened following allegations of corruption and favouritism levelled against him.

Election to the coveted seat of the AfDB president is fast approaching while pressure from different quarters is increasing by the day for the Nigerian-born development banker not to get a second chance at the continental financial institution.

Beyond the African continent, world leaders have vested interests in how the affairs of AfDB are run.

Adesina’s travails began when a group of anonymous concerned staff of the bank, riding on the whistle-blowing policy, had in an 18-page petition titled ‘Communication relating to alleged breach of the Code of Ethics by the President of the African Development Bank Group,’ addressed to the Board of Governors of the AfDB, accused Adesina of breaching the code of ethics of the development finance institution.

In the petition written in April 2020, the complainants said they had previously filed a complaint on January 19, regarding cases of alleged breach of the said code of ethics by the AfDB president.

The complaint was filed with the ethics committee of the board of directors through the chair of the committee, ED Yano (Japan), the chair of the audit committee, ED Dowd (USA), and the director for the integrity and anti-corruption department, Mr. Bacarese.

They stated: “We feel it has become our duty to alert you directly about the very serious situation that the bank faces, which could in the short term threaten its very existence if no action is taken.

“Our complaint illustrates various cases of alleged breaches of the code of conduct: unethical conduct, private gain, impediment to efficiency, preferential treatment adversely affecting confidence in the integrity of the bank and involvement in political activity,” the petitioners added.

The group further alleged that the ethics committee failed to act within reasonable time hence the need to escalate it to the governors of the bank.

“On March 3rd, six weeks after our initial complaint, we came to the conclusion that the ethics committee was unable or unwilling to proceed with their preliminary examination of the complaint and that we should not have trusted it.

“The committee could not give us reassurances of any progress, on the contrary, attempts were made to uncover our identities, which should have been protected under the whistle-blowing policy,” they alleged.

The petitioners also claimed that they “fear that if a stronger scrutiny is not placed by the board of directors and the board of governors on these two aspects, and that if politics or scare tactics prevent staff, executive directors and governors from requesting accountability and integrity from the top or if they allow for double standards, the bank might not survive as staff will leave, trust in the institution will deteriorate, shareholders will question their support.”

Even though Adesina had reportedly “cleared” the allegations levelled against him and therefore to certain extent improved his chances of getting a second term, the United States’ Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, unequivocally objected the purported “in-house” exoneration of the embattled Adesina by the AfDB board.

Analysts believed this might not be unconnected with the position of the whistle-blowers who insisted for the urgent commission of an independent investigation into the alleged excesses of Adesina.

The allegations in summary

The 20-count allegations against Adesina bordered on recruitments, awarding contracts to friends and associates, alleged preferential treatment for Nigeria and Nigerians, using resources of the bank to receive awards and political lobbying for his re-election.

Though the Daily Trust could not get a response from him, Adesina, in a statement issued on Monday, April 6, 2020, and published by Le Monde, debunked the claims by the whistle blowers saying he will continue to work with the Board of AfDB to resolve all issues contained in the petition.

He stated: “An article in Le Monde has come to my attention. Following its publication, I have been overwhelmed by the tremendous show of support and solidarity I have continued to receive.

“The African Development Bank has a very high reputation of good governance.

“The bank was rated as the 4th most transparent institution in the world by Publish What You Fund.

“I have strong confidence in the governance systems of the bank put in place by the board of governors of the bank.

“The ethics committee of the board of directors is following its internal review systems and should be allowed to complete its review and work without interference from anyone or the media.

“I am 100 per cent confident that due process and transparency, based on facts and evidence, will indicate that these are all nothing more than spurious and unfounded allegations.

“I would like all our highly dedicated bank staff, shareholders and partners not to be moved or shaken by any of these blatantly false allegations.

“I will stay calm and resolute. I will not be distracted. No amount of lies can ever cover up the truth. Soon the truth will come out,” he said.

 Beyond the whistle blowing angle

Daily Trust reports that even before Adesina issued a statement claiming that he will not join issues with the whistle-blowers at AfDB, there was a counter-complaint dated March 13, which was submitted to the chairman of the ethics committee of the bank by another group called ‘The Indignant Members” who denounced the ‘Group of Concerned Staff Members’ and stated 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 Development Bank 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 and advised that those against Adesina should also be investigated.

The concerned members, however, 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, a development that largely made the whole matter ‘light’ until when the US Treasury joined in the call for a serious probe.

 How the case is progressing

Daily Trust reports that after what it deemed as a thorough investigation, the ethics committee of AfDB turned in a report, which reportedly exonerated Adesina of all the allegations.

But reacting to the findings of the ethics committee, the United States, which has 6.5 per cent equity and therefore second largest shareholder after Nigeria, rejected the committee’s report and expressed deep reservation about the integrity of the committee.

Mnuchim, in a letter dated May 22, addressed to Madame Minister NIale Kaba, Chair of the Bureau of the Board of Governors of the AfDB and Minister of Planning and Development, Republic of Cote d’Ivoire, faulted the total exoneration of Adesina on all the allegations and called for an in-depth investigation by an independent outside investigator.

He wrote: “We have deep reservation about the integrity of the committee’s process.

“Instead, we urge you to initiate an in-depth investigation of allegations using the services of an independent outside investigator of high professional standing.

“We emphasise that undertaking an independent evaluation of facts, at any stage, is not at odds with a presumption of innocence.”

Any hope for Adesina?

It is, however, not all bleak for Adesina.

Speaking on Monday, May 25, Cesar A. Mba Abogo, who is the Minister of Finance, Economy and Planning, Equatorial Guinea, said: “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 sixteen 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.

“With regard to 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,” he said.

 Test the validity of the allegations – Experts

When asked by Daily Trust about his views on the lingering allegations and counter-allegations, a chartered banker and investment consultant, Dr. Boniface Chizea, said it was good to test the allegations within the context of international standards with a view to determining the culpability or otherwise of the AfDB’s president on the allegations levelled against him.

Chizea, a former top official of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), believed that the allegations against  Adesina might not be unconnected with envy which, he said, many Africans do always exhibit whenever any Nigerian is occupying prime positions either at global or continental level.

“We pray he is exonerated so that his record does not suffer any blemish,” he said.

A civil advocate and Executive Director Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Comrade Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani), said there was need for all holding position of authority at national and international levels to always ensure transparency, fairness and justice in the way they operate public institutions.

Although Rafsanjani, who is also the Head of Transparency International Nigeria, did not fault the AfDB’s president in any way, he harped on the need for him to consistently eschew any action that might cast aspersion on his integrity and have negative repercussion on Nigeria.

 The presidency position?

Daily Trust didn’t get response to a text message sent to the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina seeking to know whether the Presidency would still support Adesina to run again as AfDB president.

In a reply text in Yoruba language, he said, “E ku aseku odun” which literally means “happy celebration in arrears.”

It would be recalled that Nigeria had played key role in Adesina’s emergence as AfDB president in 2015.

Similarly, on May 7, 2020, President Buhari hailed Adesina over the clean bill of health given him by the board of directors of the financial institution.

In a statement by his spokesperson Femi, Buhari said Dr. Adesina had served the African continent well and made his motherland proud.

Until his appointment as AfDB president in 2015, Adesina had previously served as Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development under ex-President Goodluck Jonathan.

And until his appointment as minister in 2010, he was Vice President of Policy and Partnerships for the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).