Nigeria: As Adesina’s Fate Hangs

My heart is filled with regret and anxiety this morning. When a former Agriculture Minister, Akinwumi Adesina, left our shores to serve as the Chief Executive of African Development Bank (AfDB), he left with him a banner without stain like it says in our old and more meaningful national anthem, “Nigeria we hail thee”. Now he stands on the threshold of destiny; pleading for a renewal of his mandate, and skeletons are falling out of his cupboard that threaten his chances for a second term. Not just he alone needs that second term, but Nigeria, more significantly.

After it seemed clear that Akinwumi Adesina had cleared his hurdles through his local defence of a whistleblowers petition against a renewal of his mandate, a severe setback came from the US Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, who officially objected to plans by AfDB’s board to clear its President, Akinwumi Adesina. Mnuchin this week, asked Niale Kaba, chairwoman of the bank’s board of governors, to order an independent probe into allegations against Adesina. Because the US Treasury is the AfDB’s biggest non-African shareholder, this all but throws a spanner in Adesina’s hopes. The US can lead western nations in the bank against the bid.

What is the case against Adesina? The whistleblower is a group of staff members, and accuse Adesina of a typically Nigerian phenomenon called “suspicious contract awards to cronies, associates, and relations”. The allegations are serious, and an embarrassment if proven for they do not qualify a financial institution with the AAA rating that Adesina had maintained these past five years. Many more faux pas are listed in the litany. The accusers also cite “the overrepresentation of Nigerians” in the bank’s top management, considered in flagrant abuse Nigeria’s prominent leading shareholding of nine per cent of the capital. Besides one of the AfDB’s seven vice presidents being Nigerian, four other Nigerians that include Vincent Nmehielle, Chinelo Anohu and Chukwuma Okonkwo were said to have been recruited by Adesina to top management positions of the AfDB.

Adesina’s hopes now hang precariously on the support of President Muhammadu Buhari whose action African members may copy to give Adesina the edge over the American objection. But even with a nine per cent holding, against the US 6.5 per cent stake, Nigeria noting America’s clout as a leading major financier, might be compelled to take a second look at Adesina’s tenure and examine favourable derivable benefits if any, before firmly pitching in favour of its candidate. How did Adesina respond to Nigeria’s agricultural needs that he had helped to articulate so eloquently as Minister of Agriculture which earned him the Buhari administration’s prompt “no objection” to that appointment to the position? In the last five years, Buhari has had to push a rice revolution in mostly the Northern part of Nigeria, ravaged by farmer-herder conflict and banditry, and as well an agricultural produce export from the southern states. Did Akinwumi respond to these challenges with a helping hand in such a manner that proved he had valued President Buhari’s endorsement?

Then there is a sore thumb in Ms. Chinelo Anohu-Amazu, former Executive Secretary of the Nigerian National Pension Commission (PenCom), a position she left rather ignominiously in 2017 only to be rewarded as it seemed, with entry into AfDB as senior director in charge of African Investment Forum (AIF) in September 2019. Did Adesina in doing so upset his sponsors Nigeria? Was this a deliberate slight of the Buhari Government that was at the point of ordering an inquisition into Ms Anohu’s alleged mismanagement of PENCOM? Was he narcissistic in his mix of Nigerians at the AfDB without due regard to the opinion of the Buhari Government? Adesina has not directly responded in person to the allegations publicly, except to say that they were spurious and unfounded.

When two weeks ago, the Board of Governors and the Ethics Committee of the African Development Bank (AfDB) cleared Adesina of all allegations made against him, President Buhari wasted no time to welcome the development. It was clear that the Nigerian government had given the nod to Dr. Adesina to proceed with his ambition for a second term as sole candidate in the forthcoming election. He is a very highly admired passionate Nigerian. He stuck out as a consummate and well focussed Minister of Agriculture under President Goodluck Jonathan who appointed him to served as Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development in 2010. Until his appointment as Minister, he was Vice President of Policy and Partnerships for the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) from where Goodluck Jonathan noticed him. Even when he won the election to the African Development Bank at the twilight hour of the Goodluck Jonathan administration on May 28, 2015, it was an overjoyed President Buhari who supported Adesina’s emergence as AfDB President recognising how important it was for a Nigerian to for the first time occupy the presidency of the bank. His tenure in the last 5 years has seen the bank become more Afro-centric, taking the continent’s agricultural potential to the world. Adesina can not have pleased the US given his track record. He is an agricultural economist that believes that lender funds should support a homegrown solution to agricultural challenges on the continent. He is an ardent apostle of import substation urging all the time that Africa must feed itself and feed the world. This is opposed to the normal run of play preferred by western powers, where lenders also want to dictate the direction of development, and have their lent funds in pursuit. But even as Akinwumi Adesina is without doubt a Nigerian that his country remains ever proud of, President Muhammadu Buhari will certainly distance himself from Adesina without sentiments if the allegations of his traducers especially any that carry even the slightest whiff of corruption are proven.