The vindication of Akinwumi Adesina

Last week, the panel investigating African Development Bank President, Akinwumi Adesina for alleged mismanagement and fraud finally submitted its report to the bureau of the Board of Governors.

The Governors, comprising African Ministers of Finance and Economy, constitute the highest Authority of the bank.

The Bureau is currently chaired by Niale Kabba, Ivoirian minister for planning and economic development.

My gentle readers would recall that, in January, Adesina had formally expressed his intention to stand for a second five-year term when his tenure expires August ending. He had been endorsed by our government and also by ECOWAS. He remains the sole candidate running for Africa’s topmost banking job.

In February, several allegations erupted from a shadowy group of whistle-blowers and “concerned staff members”.

They ranged from outright fraud to financial mismanagement, favouritism, nepotism, abuse of office, conflict of interest and breaching of the bank’s human resources rules.

In June, the bank’s Ethics Committee cleared him of any wrongdoing. But U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other non-regionals insisted that they would only accept the findings of an independent external panel, arguing that “an independent review is fully consistent with a presumption of innocence”.

Although the bank’s statutes have no provision for a panel of that sort, the high Authority wisely decided that it was necessary to fulfill all righteousness.

Chaired by Mary Robinson of Ireland, its mandate was to work, in the interest of the Bank Group, “to find a solution that would carry every Governor along in resolving the matter, as well as to preserve the integrity of the Bank Group and its governance mechanisms”.

Whilst the panel was doing its work, the bank’s Vice President for Agriculture, Human and Social Development, Jennifer Blanke, announced her resignation with effect from July 4, 2020. Ms. Blanke, who had joined the bank in early 2017 and had overseen a number of the bank’s key programmes, announced that she was leaving for “family reasons”.

The panel has absolved Akinwumi Adesina of any wrongdoing in respect of every single one of the 16 charges.

I have read every line, sentence and syntax of the final report. It seems very evident that the committee took their task quite seriously and applied themselves with forensic assiduity.

They not only rigorously reviewed the initial handling of the case by the bank’s Ethics Committee but also thoroughly reviewed all the documents and evidence submitted. In the interest of fairness and due process, they also gave audience to Adesina to make his own case.

The AfDB General Counsel served as counsel and secretary to the panel while the Auditor-General of the bank provided the relevant figures and data on financial operations.

As far as the panel is concerned, the allegations of favouritism and breach of the bank’s rules remain unfounded.

The allegation that Adesina used undue influence in providing a grant of US$40 million to a named beneficiary, was dismissed by the panel. He was also absolved of involvement in the alleged wrongful employment and promotion of staff.

The panel also took the view that the complainants could not prove that the 2017 the US$250,000 World Food Prize awarded to Adesina in 2017 and the Sunhak Peace Prize worth US$500,000 that he received in 2019 were awarded to him in his capacity as President of the bank rather than in recognition of his own contributions to international service. The complainants also failed to produce evidence that both her and the staff that travelled with him went at the expense of the bank.

In reaching their conclusion, the panel were careful to point out that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”.

They also underlined the fact that it would be unfair to place undue burden on “a holder of high office in an international organisation, to prove a negative, in the absence of sufficient grounds”.

One of the lawyers working for Adesina was quoted as saying that a distinction needed to be drawn “between alleged institutional failure at the Bank and the conduct of the president”.

I congratulate Mary Robinson and her team for doing a thorough and professional job. Nobody, in my humble opinion, can question the credentials or integrity of all three members of the panel. None is a push-over.

Leonard McCarthy is a distinguished South African lawyer and public servant; a former Director of Public Prosecutions; a former Director for the Office of Serious Economic Offences; and a former Head of the Directorate of Special Operations of South Africa. He also served for almost a decade as World Bank Vice President for Integrity.

Hassan Boubacar Jallow is Chief Justice of The Gambia and a former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice of his country; a jurist known for his integrity, fearlessness and impartiality.

The chair, Mary Robinson, is a former President of the Republic of Ireland (1990-1997) and a former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. She currently chairs the Elders forum set up by Nelson Mandela, a body of elder statesmen and women concerned with advancing global wellbeing. A legal prodigy in her youth, she was a Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Dublin at age of twenty-four before rising to become President of her country.

We hope this brings to closure the disruptive acrimonies of the recent past.

Adesina, in my view, merits a second term.

I spent some of the most formative years of my career as an economist at the African Development Bank. I was Chief Economist in the Planning and Budgeting Department. I drafted the bank’s first ever Strategic Plan 2003—2007. The AfDB is one of the most successful regional institutions in our glorious continent. It has preserved its Triple-A rating through vicissitudes and upheavals.

Akinwumi Adesina has brought leadership and vision to the bank; enhancing its status as a knowledge institution. He has boosted its assets by US$115 billion, to its current total capitalisation of US$208 billion. He has anchored his development strategy on agriculture, agribusiness, power, infrastructure, technology and industrialisation. He has also brokered major investment deals while reaching out to China and other emerging economic powers. In so doing, he may have irked some of our so-called “development partners”.

When he was minister for agriculture in Nigeria, I was not particularly impressed by his policies that seemingly favoured foreign agribusiness multinationals instead of the small peasant farmer. But I see in him an outstanding leader who is passionate about our continent and its future. A fluent French speaker, he is an urbane cosmopolitan who has the gift of bringing diverse peoples together.

A former Ghanaian colleague sent me an SMS after the verdict: “I guess you are over the moon now”.

My reply: “My brother, you know me. I’m not a sentimental person.  Akinwumi Adesina is not perfect. You know the bank as much as I do, with its vicious intrigues. Although Nigeria is the biggest shareholder, we Nigerians are often treated like crap. What is most irritating is the labelling implied in the accusations by shadowy, anonymous staff.

Because Akinwumi Adesina is a Nigerian, it is presumed that he cannot NOT be doing something corrupt. In a land of 200 million, there will be 10 per cent who are real devils and at least 10 per cent who are on the side of the angels.

I am persuaded that Akinwumi Adesina is on the side of the angels. I have travelled the length and breadth of Africa, and I can tell you in all truth, that some of the most righteous and generous Africans I have met are Nigerians. I was prepared for him being found guilty on at least one or several of the charges, though a good number looked silly and frivolous.

It’s remarkable that he’s been fully exonerated.

Recall that President Boubacar Ndiaye allegedly divorced his wife and married a notorious girl at the bank; promoting her to the position of Director of Audit.  The heavens did not fall. Can you imagine what would have happened if Adesina had done anything remotely close?

Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth the trouble.

In the eighties, my late mentor Gamaliel Onosode, a renowned classical scholar and boardroom executive, was headhunted for AfDB President, but he politely declined the offer.”

 

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