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Adesina: When Integrity, Probity Trump Imperialism – Prof. Phil Alalibo

By Prof. Phil Alalibo | NNP | October 11, 2020 – The example of Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, Jonathan’s agriculture minister (2011 to 2015) and African Developmental Bank (AfDB) president since 2015, is quite commendable and worthy of emulation. The triumph of his integrity, professionalism and probity in the recent allegations of impropriety and corruption at the continental bank, has rejigged a prideful glee in being a Nigerian.

Dr. Adesina, the first Nigerian president of the AfDB, was reelected unopposed in August to a second five-year term, earning a 100% of the shareholders’ vote. But in the weeks leading to his reelection, he was accused of corruption for giving hefty contracts to friends and employing relatives to juicy bank positions. The “Group of Concerned Staff Members” of the bank accused him of using the bank’s resources for self promotion and personal gain, participation in political activities, impeding efficiency, while giving huge and undeserved severance pay to staff who resigned under suspicious circumstances. He was also accused of favoring the Nigerian staff (though a minority when compared to staff from other African countries) members over others and attempts to nigerianize the bank. All of these they alleged eroded public confidence in the bank and compromised its integrity.

These accusations were weighty given the critical role of the bank in the development of the continent and the need for transparency in the management of its affairs. While for others, the maxim of innocence until proven guilty may apply, for Nigerians, the reverse is often the case, given the corrupt antecedence of Nigerian leaders. This, among other reasons to be discussed later, were the challenges of Dr. Adesina, the 8th president of the bank. Dr Adesina, who earned his PhD in agricultural economics from the prestigious Purdue University in Indiana, proclaimed his innocence, saying the accusations were attempts by some to “tarnish his reputation” to further their self-serving interests.

He stated, “In spite of the unprecedented attempt by some to tarnish my reputation and prejudice the bank’s governing procedures, I maintained my innocence with regards to the trumped up allegations that unjustly seek to impugn my honour and integrity.” The 60-year old banker who was once told by his Nigerian teacher that he was not good enough to be accepted into Purdue University because of his poor math scores, further stated, “I am confident that fair, transparent and just processes that respect the rules, procedures and governance systems of the Bank, and the rule of law, will ultimately prove that I have not violated the Code of Ethics of this extraordinary institution.”

In the ensuing weeks, the Bank’s Ethics Committee after an exhaustive investigation agreed with its president and cleared him of all charges, stating they were without merit and could not be supported by evidence. This conclusion, however, was not accepted by the U.S., the bank’s second largest investor among the 27 non-regional members with almost $80 billion in investments, and its fourth largest investor after Nigeria, Egypt and Germany. Its Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, objected to the findings of the Ethics Commitee in a letter personally signed by him.

The U.S. position was supported by the quartet of Norway, Denmark, Finland and Sweden, all undermining the veracity of the committee’s findings that did the improbable of clearing the Nigerian, an outcome they didn’t expect. Mnuchin’s letter addressed to the Chairperson of the Bank’s Board of Directors, Niale Kaba, stated, “We have deep reservations about the integrity of the committee’s process. Instead we urge you to initiate an in-depth investigation of the allegations using the services of an independent outside investigator of high professional standing.”

At the core of Mnuchin’s letter was the determination to undermine the principled leadership of Adesina. Mnuchin was less interested in transparency than he was in the ouster of Adesina. But why? The reasons were many. Aware of his bold and unprecedented reforms in the agricultural sector while a minister in Nigeria, the U.S. vigorously opposed his election in 2015, sensing he would not kowtow to its dictates. Upon assumption of office, his independent demeanor and bold reforms to move the bank away from U.S. and Western dependency, deepened U.S. suspicion and thickened its plot to support his ouster.

In the 55-year history of the Bank, none of its presidents has embarked on such bold reforms designed to chart the independent path of the bank and wean African countries away from the destructive clutches of foreign aid that assured perpetuate dependency. To accomplish this, Adesina presided over a drastic increase in share capital of the bank to allow it to be in a position to support African countries and initiate programs for the sustainable development of the continent.

In 2019, he led an initiative to increase the bank’s shareholder General Capital Increase from $93 billion to $208 billion. The year before, he led an investment drive that promised more than $80 billion in infrastructural investments. These bold and unprecedented initiatives portended of a bank president with an independent agenda driven by pan-Africanist ideology that stood at odds with U.S. position.

This is why Mnuchin’s letter should be viewed within the prism of neo-colonial lens, a modern-day lynching of a highly successful and independent-minded African leader. It impugned the integrity of the Bank’s Ethics Committee which consisted of executive directors of shareholder nations, mostly African nations. But perhaps more troubling was the fact that it underscored the imperialistic disposition of the U.S. and its Western allies, imposing their will on an independent institution formed by African states and dedicated to the development of the continent. The move was a pretext for the U.S. (as in the case of the World Health Organization) to divest from the bank and compromise the effectiveness of its developmental programs.

There is also another point to consider which borders on the geo-economic struggle for influence between China and the United States in Africa. The U.S. was concerned that Adesina had not expressed sufficient opposition to the increasing economic influence of China, a development that seeks to threaten and undermine U.S. interests as the key economic player on the continent. Adesina has been indifferent to this position and has taken attention off Chinese economic presence and focused it on U.S. economic absence in the continent.

U.S. insistence on a second independent investigation against the vehement protest of the Nigerian government, appeared to reveal a more sinister plot to whitewash Adesina’s carefully curated career with the basement reasoning that nothing good could come from an investigation led by Africans. I am reminded of the story in John 1:45-46, where Nathanael asked Philip, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” The Americans and their Western allies must have asked a similar question, “Can anything good come from an ethics committee led by Africans?” When news broke of a second investigation at the insistence of U.S. and the quartet of Scandinavian countries, Adesina didn’t object even though such external investigation was outside the processes of the bank. He simply restated his innocence. The second investigation by an independent committee led by the former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson, reached the same conclusion as the Bank’s Ethics Committee.

Dr. Adesina’s exoneration predicated on his integrity and probity has laundered the image of Nigeria far more than the efforts of any foreign PR firm. Adesina belongs to a cadre of highly educated and efficient managers, technocrats of Nigerian origin, who have proven their worth in the international stage.  The likes of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Dr. Obi Ezekwesili, and the late Dr. Dora Akunyili, have collectively demonstrated excellence and integrity in their work. They have sent a strong message that integrity, a virtue that is grossly lacking among Nigerian leaders, is the currency for efficiency and success.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala who may become the next head of the World Trade Organization (WTO), acquitted herself credibly as a Managing Director at the World Bank. As two-term finance minister, she was a straw in the murky waters of Nigerian politics. It is noteworthy that both Adesina and Okonjo-Iweala served in the PDP government, yet were appointed and sponsored by APC government, an indication of their merit and dedication to public service.  Dr. Adesina has beaten the odds again; after attending Purdue University (he rejected admission from Cambridge University to attend Purdue) against the affirmation of his teacher, he has beaten the odds against imperialist attempts orchestrated by powerful forces to tarnish his hard earned reputation.

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Posted by on Oct 11 2020. Filed under Africa & World Politics, Articles, Columnists, Headlines, NNP Columnists, P. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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