Lessons from recent governance issues at African Development Bank

As the three-day annual meetings of the African Development Bank (AfDB) open on Tuesday, August 25, the Governors of the…

As the three-day annual meetings of the African Development Bank (AfDB) open on Tuesday,
August 25, the Governors of the African regional development bank are expected to re-elect the President of the Bank, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, for a second five-year term. Dr. Adesina is the only candidate penciled down for the job since there is no contending candidate. And with the conclusion of the work of the Independent Review Panel, the coast is clear now for his re-election and inauguration.It is on record that some African leaders past and present had since hailed the result of the independent panel that cleared Dr. Adesina of all the allegations levelled against him, but some Nigerian economists and analysts believe that there are lessons to learn from the probe that almost tainted the image and integrity of the illustrious African chief executive of the regional development bank.

It will be recalled that Dr. Adesina’s travail began when a 15-page report in January claimed that the bank under his watch had been tarred by poor governance, impunity, personal enrichment and favouritism. In May, the Ethics Committee of the Board of Directors of the AfDB, charged with investigating the charges cleared Adesina. But the United States, which is one of the bank’s biggest shareholders, demanded an independent investigation into the allegations. However, the panel concurred with the bank’s committee in its findings in respect of all the allegations against Dr. Adesina.

The independent panel of experts, headed by former Irish President Mary Robinson, had on Monday, July 27, completely cleared Adesina of all charges in an investigation that has spanned seven months. The panel of three experts also had the Gambia’s Chief Justice Hassan Jallow and the World Bank’s integrity Vice President Leonard McCarthy as members.

The excited Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, was the first to send his congratulatory message to Dr, Adesina and the panel for doing a good job. On Tuesday, July 28, Buhari said in his congratulatory message that the exoneration of Dr. Adesina of the corruption charges, was further validation of his competence and integrity to lead the institution.

According to the statement by the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the President, Mr. Femi Adesina, President Buhari called on Dr. Adesina to remain steadfast as he continues to lead the institution.

The Nigerian leader also hailed AfDB’s Board of Directors, the Ethics Committee and members of staff for their courage, maturity and patience in following through the process of investigations, and acceptance of the report of independent experts, which reviewed the report of the Ethics Committee of the AfDB, and Dr. Adesina’s response.

Buhari also commended the eminent personalities, consisting of Mary Robinson, Justice Hassan B. Jallow, and Leonard F. McCarthy, who handled the review of the report of the Ethics Committee, and their professionalism in rejecting support services and providing a unanimous report.

He expressed the hope that the conclusion of the review should finally draw a curtain on the allegations that created distractions for the entire institution for a period and serve as an impetus for more diligence in handling responsibilities, while fuelling the zeal to deliver on the promises of a greater Africa.

In the same vein, former Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf congratulated Dr. Adesina after he was cleared of the corruption allegations levelled against him by an anonymous group. Sirleaf said that the declaration of Adesina as innocent, came as expected, according to a tweet on her official handle. “We rejoice that, as expected, AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina has been declared fully innocent of all accusations by the Independent Panel headed by Mary Robinson,” the former Liberian leader said.

Apart from the goodwill messages from some African leaders, some Nigerian economists and policy analysts expressed their delight on the outcome of the probe and went ahead to advise Dr. Adesina on the way forward.

For instance, a Nigerian economist, Mr. Pita Ochai, said: “For me, it was good a proper probe was done. The probe has given him a cleaner image as the President of AfDB, he can now operate without stain and that will bring a better image for the bank and its operations.

“Imagine what image challenge will be hanging on him if elected as the president of the bank in the next five years. It was all good for image purpose, both for him and the bank. According to Ochai, the probe turned out to exonerate him, which means more confidence on the bank and its operation that will definitely give the bank a better rating.

“You cannot ensure that the reason is that most of the non-Africa countries have enough shares to call the shots in the AfDB. The largest shareholder is the UK with approximately 14% then the US with 6.5%, then Japan with 5.4%. The total of these three alone is about 25% of the banks shares. So they will always have a say in the bank’s affairs,” he said.

In his reaction published recently by Nigeria’s Punch newspaper on the issues raised against Dr, Adesina and his exoneration by the panel of investigation, Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), stated that although the bank’s statutes have no provision for a panel of that sort, the high Authority wisely decided that it was necessary to fulfil 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,” he said.

He noted that the panel absolved 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,” he said.

According to him, in reaching their conclusion, the panel was careful to point out that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”. It 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”.

He congratulated 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. “We hope this brings to closure the disruptive acrimonies of the recent past. Adesina, in my view, merits a second term,” he said.

He, however, recalled that he spent some of the most formative years of his career as an economist at the AfDB as Chief Economist in the Planning and Budgeting Department. After stating some of the landmark achievements of Adesia, he brought out a new dimension to the travails of Dr. Adesina in the bank. According to him, “Adesina 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. Adesina 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.” 

Mailafia recalled that a former Ghanaian colleague of his sent him an SMS after the verdict: “I guess you are over the moon now”. His reply was: “My brother, you know me. I’m not a sentimental person. 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 Adesina is a Nigerian, it is presumed that he must be up to some corrupt behaviour. In a land of 200 million, there will be 10% who are real devils and at least 10% who are on the side of the angels.

I am persuaded that 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, even 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,” Dr. Mailafia said in the article. Some other Nigerian economists are of the view that Adesina should in his efforts to expand the capital base of the bank in his second term assist some African countries that are yet to pay up their share capitals in the bank to do so in order the reduce the over bearing influence of the non-regional members of the bank and avoid a recurrence of what has transpired during his first term.

Adesina, a former Nigerian Minister of Agriculture, is a highly decorated and distinguished technocrat and globally-respected development economist. He was awarded the prestigious World Food Prize in 2017 and the Sunhak Peace Prize in 2019 for global leadership in agriculture and for good governance.

According to local media reports, since Adesina took over as the President of the Bank in 2015, he has introduced several innovative reforms, including a High development strategy; restructuring of the bank, setting up offices in several African nations to get closer to its clients; an Africa Investment Forum that has attracted $79 billion in investment interests into projects in Africa between 2018 and 2019. He successfully led a historic General Capital Increase campaign that culminated in the Bank’s shareholders raising the institution’s capital from $93 billion to $208 billion, in October 2019.