People & Money

BIG READ: AfDB: The True Cost of Dr. Adesina’s Victory

 

“The prevalent objective view at the AfDB is that every President brings in his own people; Dr. Adesina has only tried to achieve the number they attain in two terms in only two years. (He is the first President from Nigeria). One former President is said to have elevated an economist he was dating to the position of chief economist of a major member-state. The charismatic Adesina is also said to have been very bullish in having his way, thus making enemies”.

On Thursday, May 7 2007, Professor Paul Wolfowitz announced that he was resigning as the President of the World Bank after just two years on the job. The political scientist and neo-conservative, who was widely seen as the architect of the Iraqi war, had tried to stay on despite allegations that he arranged a $60,000 salary rise for his girlfriend.  The woman, Shaha Riza, an Oxford graduate and gender expert who joined the World Bank in 1997, had begun dating Wolfowitz while he was the Deputy Secretary of Defense of the United States of America.

President George Bush, to whom Wolfowitz was very close, had to withdraw support because the Europeans insisted (in private discussions) that serious misconduct had taken place. By June 2007, Wolfowitz was gone despite the Board of the World Bank’s statement that accepted he “acted ethically and in good faith” and that explained that “a number of mistakes were made by a number of individuals in handling the matter under consideration…”

Wolfowitz’s exit was triggered by anonymous complaints from two staff that he had asked the human resources department to grant the generous pay rise.

Now in his mid-70s, Wolfowitz must be astonished by how the President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Nigeria’s Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, has survived a gale of whistleblowers’ allegations that he helped his friends secure jobs at the bank.

Consider just one of them. The AfDB hired Mr. Victor Oladokun, Dr. Adesina’s old friend from their days at the former University of Ife, first as a public communications consultant and subsequently as Director of Communications. Oladokun got the positions despite not having worked for a single day in a policy communications role or in a development or multilateral institution. He has spent the greater part of his career as a broadcaster on a Christian television station. In his defense, Dr. Adesina correctly pointed out that no AfDB rule bars the President’s friends from working at the bank.

 

There are other allegations of AfDB hiring friends who may not have gotten in without Dr. Adesina’s help. It is said that he sometimes instructed the human resources department to shortlist and employ his preferred candidates.  Three Directors of Human Resources left the bank during Dr. Adesina’s first four years as President.

The prevalent objective view at the AfDB is that every President brings in his own people; Dr. Adesina has only tried to achieve the number they attain in two terms in only two years. (He is the first President from Nigeria). One former President is said to have elevated an economist he was dating to the position of chief economist of a major member-state. The charismatic Adesina is also said to have been very bullish in having his way, thus making enemies.

Anti-African Plots and African Exceptionalism

It requires very little evidence to convince even highly educated Nigerians of the existence of a Western plot to oppress and repress Africa. The AfDB crisis which saw America, supported by Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland, pushing to have the allegations against Dr. Adesina reexamined by independent external investigators provided a lot of material for conspiracy theorising.

In February 2020, the World Bank President David Malpass criticized regional development banks, naming the Asian Development Bank, the African Development Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, for worsening the debt burden of developing countries. He accused the development banks of lending without demanding domestic policy reforms which would enable the countries to generate economic growth. Malpass had cited ADB and AfDB’s lending to Nigeria, South Africa and Pakistan as examples. Only Dr. Adesina’s AfDB responded to Malpass with a very combative statement replete with illogicalities.

The AfDB statement pointed out that “the World Bank’s operations approved for Africa in the 2018 fiscal year amounted to $20.2bn, compared to $10.1bn by the African Development Bank”, implying that the World Bank is even more guilty of lending to a poor policy environment. But the World Bank could have lent money to African countries with better policies rather than Nigeria and South Africa which David Malpass singled out.

Besides, the World Bank mostly lends towards projects and could hence, to an extent, stipulate specific conditions required for the projects to deliver intended benefits. The African Development Bank had handed over cash (budget support” in development aid speak) which governments could largely spend the way they pleased despite abundant evidence Nigeria and South Africa were misusing their own funds. An internal press unit report on AfDB’s website documents Nigeria’s appreciation to the bank for providing “a much-needed lifeline at a time when it was very difficult to secure budget support loans from anywhere else.” Nigeria did not receive budget support loans from “anywhere else” because the Nigerian government had chosen to spend more on fuel subsidy than on education and healthcare and to waste its reduced oil earnings on defending the naira.

The AfDB also insisted in its response to Malpass that “there is no systemic risk of debt distress”. The reckless statement was seized upon as one of Dr. Adesina’s sins for which the American Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, was seeking to eject him from the African Development Bank.

Video clips in which Dr. Adesina revealed deep development insights such as the need for Africa to transform cocoa into chocolates, an aspiration which any Nigerian above 40 years had heard since kindergarten days, were adduced as evidence of why the Westerners wanted him out. Pundits also cited Dr. Adesina’s dalliance with Chinese development finance as the reason the Americans were out to get him.

It was thus within a very auspicious climate of public opinion that Dr. Adesina launched a full-scale pan-African campaign to prevent the independent investigation that the so-called non-regional shareholders, led by the Americans, demanded.

African elders and notable advocates of good governance such as former Nigerian Presidents, Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan, were recruited to issue statements of support. There were reports that President Muhammadu Buhari let Dr. Adesina have use of his presidential jet so he could crisscross Africa to rally support. An elaborate media campaign was also initiated. It looked more like a battle for APC or PDP primaries ticket rather than the usual behind-the-scenes jockeying for the headship of multilateral institutions.

Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina’s June 8 2020 submission to the AfDB Ethics Committee to address the 16 allegations against him, which found its way into the Nigerian media, stoutly defended the credentials of his friends that the bank had hired. Victor Oladokun, whose company was hired for a three-month communications consulting assignment at the cost of $326,000, is described as “a highly accomplished globally respected leader in communications, with well over 30 years of global practice and corporate experience”.

Dr. Adesina explained in his statement that Mr. Oladokun’s company 3D Global Consult had to be hired to “save” the AfDB’s annual general meeting from a crisis after the last Director of Communications resigned abruptly 7 weeks to the AGM. So many questions arise. Is the Communications Department of the AfDB so short of staff it could not have executed communications support for the AGM? How often does a “highly accomplished globally respected leader in communications”, whose company commands $326,000 fees for three-month gigs, usually leave their company to work full-time in a regional bank? We found neither a website for Mr. Oladokun’s 3-D Global Consult nor a single person on LinkedIn working for the company. Dr. Adesina’s statement contained superlative descriptions of the qualifications of his other friends that the AfDB hired.

Mnuchin, the American Secretary of Treasury, expressed “deep reservations about the integrity of the committee’s process” i.e. the original investigation by the AfDB’s Ethics Committee which dismissed the allegations against Dr. Adesina because the whistleblowers had failed to provide evidence, arguing that this would reveal their identities. It seems AfDB rules prevent the Ethics Committee from investigating the allegations itself. The “in-depth investigation” the Americans demanded would have involved an attempt to garner evidence from people involved in recruitment at the AfDB, including the HR Directors who have left the bank. It would have conclusively verified if it was indeed the outstanding qualifications of Dr. Adesina’s friends that got them jobs at the bank.

Dr. Adesina’s pan-African campaign against the US-led demand for an independent investigation resulted in a compromise. Rather than the new investigation Mnuchin called for, the Americans agreed to have the AfDB’s Ethics Committee’s report reviewed by an Independent Review Panel which on July 28 reported that it concurred with “the committee in its findings in respect of all the allegations against the president and finds that they were properly considered and dismissed by the committee.”

Dunyako Ahmadu, a former lawyer at the AfDB, commented that Dr. Adesina’s “final exoneration” by the external panel amounts to merely rubber-stamping the ethics committee’s findings. Mr. Ahmadu, now a counsel at the Washington firm, AEGIS Law, told the Financial Times, “The notion of putting the burden on whistleblowers to provide substantive evidence is completely misplaced.” Ahmadu said that the AfDB should have investigated the allegations against Dr. Adesina rather than dismiss them on procedural grounds i.e. because the whistleblowers did not supply the ethics committee with evidence. What kind of evidence could whistleblowers who wished to remain anonymous have sent by email or courier to prove that the President intervened to have his friends hired by the bank?

African elites often choose to and often get away with operating according to a different set of standards using the continent’s sad history of unequal relations with the West as a shield. Even the Western media has skirted around the allegations against the AfDB President, wary of being accused of racism. It may not be worth asking if a Singaporean or South Korean in Dr. Adesina’s position would have survived because these countries would not have risked relations with the American Treasury no matter the merits of an international bureaucrat’s case. Even the American President had to withdraw support for Wolfowitz in order not to strain relations with European allies. National interests are permanent while the jostling for a specific position is transient.

The Nigerian Government openly confronted major shareholders of the AfDB over Dr. Adesina’s second term, riding on public perception that white people were dictating to Africans how to run a bank owned by Africans. An insider at the AfDB said in May 2020 after Mnuchin asked for an independent investigation, “I think AfDB is Africa’s most valuable institution…But what you have now is the biggest paymaster, the US, in a stand-off against the Africans. If you read Mnuchin’s letter carefully, it has put the bank on notice”. Nigerians poorly understand how important shareholders like the USA could be to the AfDB and hence their economy and their livelihoods.

The African Development Bank’s Euro-American Triple A

Many Nigerians think that America was trying to dictate to African countries because Africa is poor, the belief being that other regions fund and run their development banks completely independently. In reality, America is either the largest or second-largest shareholder in all regional development banks. This is why, unlike Dr. Adesina, a President of the Asian Development Bank would not openly send ripostes the way of the World Bank President, an appointee of the American President and in Malpass’ case, also a very close friend of the Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin.

Leaving African countries to solely fund the AfDB, as some Nigerians who rue the fact that the advice of former Nigerian President Shehu Shagari to this effect was rejected in 1982 want, is asking the world’s poorest and most capital-starved region to reject funds that much richer regions are assiduously courting to invest in their development. The United States of America is the largest shareholder even in the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Regional Development Banks and Top 5 Shareholders

The African Development Bank’s dependence on the non-regionals like the USA, France, Britain, Denmark etc. is even much deeper than their 41% shareholding suggests. They guarantee the much-vaunted AfDB’s Triple A credit rating. The funds that the AfDB invests in African countries is mostly raised from private investors in the West; the bank requires good credit rating to raise funds in adequate quantity and at low-interest rates. The AfDB’s credit rating depends on the credit rating agencies’ and investors’ perceptions of the capacity of its shareholders to cough up some of the capital shares they have subscribed to but not paid up.

In case the AfDB loses the investors’ funds it lends to member countries, capital would have to be “called up” from shareholders. The large shareholding of Nigeria is hardly worth the paper it is written on; Nigeria pays out close to three quarters of its income to service debt and lacks the funds to invest even in its own needs. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, Nigeria paid 9. 248% interest to borrow from western capital markets while Germany paid only 0.031% on similar 30-year bonds, a reflection of Nigeria’s very poor credit rating.

The two other AfDB major African shareholders, Egypt and South Africa, are scarcely in better fiscal health. Both have had to borrow from the IMF; due to its fiscal problems, South Africa now borrows from domestic investors at a higher interest rate than Nigeria. Very clearly without the so-called non-regional shareholders, AfDB credit rating would be near junk status. No investor would lend money to the AfDB because Nigeria or South Africa would cover potential losses by paying up part of their share capital.

There is even another big benefit of having non-regional shareholders – they have contributed to the share capital and guarantee AfDB’s credit rating but do not borrow funds from the AfDB.

The Cost of the Victory

At current oil prices and without debt relief, Nigeria is due to devote more than 90% of its income in 2020 to servicing debt and is facing a severe foreign currency shortage that is hindering the ability of businesses to import goods and industrial inputs. Africa is also due to pay $44 billion in 2020 to service debt at a time when countries in the region are struggling to find money to spend on healthcare. The American Treasury Secretary usually has a weighty voice in discussions of things such as debt relief or generous IMF programmes that supply struggling countries with billions of dollars at very low interest rates. (It is worth stating that Nigeria has never been advanced funds under an IMF programme).

If Nigeria had serious plans to mobilise external public financing for its development or plead the case for debt relief for Africa, it would certainly not have so publicly picked a fight with the American Treasury Secretary. It is often the case that international development lenders see the urgency for Nigeria to improve the external financing of its economy affordably i.e. through cheaper borrowing from international public institutions such as the IMF more than the Nigerian Government itself does.

Nigeria often chooses to muddle through the economic hardship that comes with reduced oil income rather than implement the structural reforms it requires to access concessional external loans and remodel its economy. Steve Mnuchin must by now have been briefed not to sit back smugly, expecting to see an apologetic Nigerian delegation with caps in their hands.  If he has any funds to lend to Nigeria, he must drag and beg us to accept it.

Hence, the real cost of Nigeria’s campaign against AfDB’s non-regional shareholders is that the extremely damaging idea that Nigeria and Africa have failed to develop because powerful nations are bent on exploiting and dominating them has been reinforced. This is a very enormous cost as Africa’s poverty significantly has derived from resisting sensible policy ideas out of suspicions over the motives of Westerners.

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10 Comments

  1. Excellent article. My compliments.

    In recent weeks, there have been a number of articles and videos put out by Mr. Adesina’s supporters. All these campaigns would have taken money to run, and it is not clear who is financing these and to what purpose. It will be instructive to ask what Adesina has promised to whom, and how this is impacting the effectiveness and the credibility of the institution. These are not documentaries on Adesina- these are promotional pieces, so lacking in any objective treatment as to be worthless.

    All these drives have one thing in common. Adesina is portrayed as a person without flaws or blemishes. He is the next savior of Africa, and can do no wrong. I do not know what the intended audience is, but it cannot certainly be that class of people who can analyze or nuance an argument. Such class of people abhor unidimensional portrayals of character that lacks objectivity and is shameless adulatory. If the purpose is build public opinion, it is dangerous – a technical institution cannot and should not be driven by political campaigns. Fortunately, it does not seem to have worked outside Nigeria. Successive (and progressively more outlandish) campaigns have met with derision and dismay among most people.

    The notion that complex issues of development and governance can be tested at the altar of populism is simplistic at best and perilous at worst.

    All objective indices suggest the exact opposite. Adesina is a President who is so unsure and insecure that he surrounds himself with utterly incompetent but fiercely loyal cronies whose only job appears to be to protect him and to create multiple layers of allies. These worthies are all granted important positions with unthinkable salaries through money that is paid by tax payers of member countries. He chooses his allies well and uses a modus-operandus that is simple, if unimaginative. After flooding the Bank, immediately after his arrival with friends, owing no allegiance to the Bank but to himself, and giving them unthinkably high grades (many levels above their capacity), he manipulated the selection processes of senior managers by having his cronies in the interview panels. While this gave the impression of transparency and competition, it was actually nepotism in its most naked form. He knew which positions he wanted to control- and made sure that his friends (or those he could influence) occupied these. These were positions of power and influence and he could not tolerate anyone with even a modicum of independence here.

    Adesina has been a disaster as a President. While he tom-toms his achievements, all the relevant metrics of the Bank’s effectiveness are going South. Decentralization, his pet project, is in shatters. The Bank has spent millions in getting rid of people. The ones that have left are often those the Bank needed the most. These were not yes-men (and therefore, useless for the President), but were invaluable to the Bank. Adesina cannot tolerate- much less accept- constructive criticism. Under his Presidency, the number of cases to the tribunal have seen the sharpest rise- with the Bank being least successful in defending its position. We have a deeply disillusioned staff working, for months now, in an MDB that has become rudderless. There is increasing cynicism and depression among its ranks. During this crisis, we have seen some of the most inhumane personnel policies that govern the staff – at a time when humanism and sensitivity is what is needed.

    Adesina is playing with the proverbial fiddle when the institution he heads is aflame. His actions in the last few months demonstrate that he cares only about himself- and will not hesitate to sacrifice the African Development Bank for his own survival. He is a pygmy standing on the stilts of his office pretending to be a giant.

    The Bank deserves better. The continent deserves better.

    It never ceases to amaze me how, well-meaning people, who think they are helping their friends end up writing pieces that achieve the exact opposite. Mr. Rasheed Akinkuolie, clearly has no idea how an international organization works. This, by itself, is nothing to be ashamed of. Many people do not understand the multilayered, multi-dimensional and complex character of MDBs. That, most multilateral development institutions achieve technical excellence is, to a large part, on account of technical and procedural rigor, respect for dissenting views, and encouraging diversity of opinions and multiculturalism. Narrow parochial interests have no place in these organizations.

    Yet, in his ignorance, Mr. Akinkuolie makes pompous, hollow and illogical statements. He confuses nationalism with merit, power with intellect and believes that, somehow, Africa should follow different standards of transparency and accountability than the rest of the World.

    An article that surfaced recently was by Mr. Rasheed Akinkuolie. It amazes me how someone could put his signature on arguments so flawed and contradictory as one sees in his piece. He derides the previous Presidents and calls them stooges. His selective use of facts is laughable at best and dangerous at worst. The Bank was never a large financing body- but it had made great efforts in building its credibility, of promoting systems and institutions that worked. In the 20 years before Mr. Adesina assumed office, the Bank steadily increased its approvals, remained financially viable through prudent policies, attracted the right talent and was on its way to becoming a reference for Governance in Africa. The two Presidents that Mr. Akinkuolie so easily dismisses were responsible for the largest movement of professional staff from Ivory Coast to Tunisia and back, an effort that required great leadership, planning and finances. They saw revolutions in Cote D’Ivoire and Tunisia. Yet, they led from the front and did not bankrupt the Bank. They did not divide the Board to rule.

    Mr. Adesina inherited a fine Bank- a healthy and performing institution with a hard- working and motivated work-force. It is not to suggest that they did not have blemishes, but the blatant acts of nepotism and favoritism that have come to characterize the Bank today would not have been possible during their time. Today, proximity with the President is the sole determinant of merit, and any adverse voice is not only discouraged, but crushed. Mediocrity at the senior levels (because it is at these levels that the President brings his cronies) has become so pervasive that serious candidates do not apply for these positions- lest they lose their reputation outside the Bank.

    In the five years that Mr. Adesina has been around, the expenses of the Bank have increased by almost a third (from 323 million UA to 415 million UA). Yet, he has not seen any crisis that his predecessors have gone through. Most of these expenses, the largest share of which goes to salaries, come from the ADF- almost entirely funded by the non-regionals. So much for Mr. Akinkuolie’s dream of expelling the outsiders.

    The one area that the President has succeeded is in creating an alliance of the incompetent and corrupt. His answers to crises is to run to his political masters. Adesina makes much of his World Food Prize, but does not mention that his was the most controversial- with Devex writing that “..some of the prize’s recent choices have frustrated critics, especially members of the food sovereignty movement, which prioritize food systems that are healthy and culturally appropriate, and not dictated by corporations or markets. With selections such as ..African Development Bank President Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina in 2017, critics say the prize seems to be validating a private sector role in the effort to improve global nutrition.”.

    This is not surprising for people who know Adesina. He has always been close to private players, so much so that the Bank projects now seem to be driven by private interests. It is not uncommon to see private firms being a part of official Bank missions, that end up becoming marketing events. An note prepared by CABI has this to say, “..The 2017 Evidence Note identified seed treatment as a possible use of pesticides for FAW control, and a product (Fortenza Duo) based on cyantraniliprole and thiamethoxam is being promoted by Syngenta and the African Development Bank.”. So much for brand neutrality that international organizations with a modicum of objectivity are supposed to embrace.

    Make no mistakes. The private players, so close to the President, and his political masters (who will plunder and loot the Bank) will make all out efforts to get him the Presidency. If that happens, however, the reverse clock of the institution’s demise would start ticking.

    All it takes to stop this from happening is an independent, objective probe. Is this asking too much if the alternative is the death of the institution?

    1. Hmmmm, story story, you write-up is not even ‘catchy’ Too verbose and meaningless. Oga go and sit down

    2. I wonder where you copied this bull crap of a comment from.
      I tried to find out specifically what you’re trying to point as Adesina’s wrong but saw none.
      Just a bunch of unrelated jargon in one piece

    3. I think it’s uncharitable publishing a character bashing article of the President of African Development Bank, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, in this manner after he has been cleared by a second layer of investigative panel made up of reputable personalities across the world and knowledgeable in subject matter.

      I do not think Adesina could have successfully “bribed” the whole membership of the panel to have the eventual exoneration if indeed he was culpable. It is rather dangerous and counterproductive that it’s from Nigeria that this kind of pull-him-down syndrome is rearing its ugly head and your platform seems to be urging this on unfortunately. Why don’t you, or any other individual or body for that matter, sue the man if you have any case against him?

      1. God bless you. However, even the good books says that , mans enemies shall be people of his own households.

  2. I don’t have time to write much, but I wonder what next you guys will want AfDB to do to exonerate Adesina. Maybe bring God to come and head the panel. I am also suprised to see that these are Nigerians writing these nuseating articles after he has been exonerated by a pan headed by former president of a western country(an independent panel) The author even expected AfDB to turn herself into a corruption investigation body just to find out whether a president that nearly tripled her capital base did wrong. This is ridiculous to say the least

  3. This man is a Kenyan I believe? Please if the man has been exonerated from all allegations by an independent outside investigative body. What else do you want?

  4. In all these verbose write up, he hasn’t pointed out Adesina’s incompetence in running the AfDB. He didn’t mention how the so called nepotistic character of Adesina has ruined the bank. He didn’t mentioned Adesina’s achievements or inefficiency because these ought to be the effective mean of measuring performance.
    This is someone that has tripple the capital base of a bank, and under his leadership the bank has witnessed tremendous success. What more do they want?

  5. I could read and smell personal biases. I think leaders should be measured by the ŕesults and not by peoples perceltions.

  6. The Nigerian elites in collaboration with the ruling class always protect their own at any cost. I did not need an elaborate write-up like this to know that Adesina must have messedup the place. Just like they do at home. When sharing the loot of office, they are Nigerians with common interest but when in need of public support to achieve a goal, the play the religious, ethnic and all kinds of sentiments to achieve their goal. In case of AFDB the racism card, Africanism being bullied by the Western Powers was played.
    Adesina has successfully exported Nepotism and lack of transparency to the International Stage.
    All they do is play to the gallery at the expense of the masses. Now Nigeria spends over 90% of revenue on debt servicing while more taxes, double tariff on electricity, high cost of food, increase petrol pump price is placed on the Masses in a period when they’re struggling with the covid-19 effect on both global and individual economy.
    The Masses needs to wake-up from the sleep of death imposed by the political class. All their actions is padded with deciet and selfishness.
    This people doesn’t give a hoot if they die.

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