Akinwumi Adesina: Why the US is targeting a flamboyant Nigerian banker

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The US and the African Development Bank have fallen out over allegations of corruption in opposition to the financial institution’s Nigerian head, writes former BBC Africa Business editor Larry Madowo.

Akinwumi Adesina is a sharp dresser recognized for his costly tailor-made fits, immaculate white shirts and an infinite provide of vibrant bow ties.

But the clear public persona of the 60-year-old president of the African Development Bank (AfDB) is now being questioned after a string of corruption and abuse of workplace allegations from his personal workers spilled into the open. Mr Adesina has denied all the allegations.

The board of governors of the 55-year-old establishment met on Tuesday to debate whether or not to herald an outdoor investigator into the allegations regarding the Nigerian’s conduct simply days after the US rejected an preliminary inquiry that cleared him.

The prospects of an unbiased probe comes solely three months earlier than he was anticipated to be re-elected unopposed at its annual basic assembly in August.

US at odds with Africa

The 20-point allegations of “impunity and bad governance” from unnamed workers have uncovered a rift between Mr Adesina and abnormal workers.

The “Group of Concerned Staff Members of the AfDB” claimed that Mr Adesina has used the financial institution’s sources for self-promotion and private achieve whereas additionally paying out large however undeserved severance packages to workers who resigned mysteriously, and favouring his fellow Nigerians.

US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin personally signed a letter to the board rejecting an inside investigation that cleared Mr Adesina.

“Mnuchin’s move is significant because it has now cast a limelight on governance issues and on [the] importance of an independent investigation to uphold the integrity of the AfDB,” mentioned Barbara Barungi, the financial institution’s former lead economist on Nigeria. “There are very few people that were willing to stick their necks out.”

Besides the core 54 African nations, the US is considered one of the 27 non-regional members of the AfDB and its second largest shareholder.

AfDB’s 10 greatest shareholders:

  • Nigeria: 9.1%; US: 6.5%; Egypt: 5.5%; Japan:5.4%;
  • South Africa: 4.9% Algeria: 4.1%; Germany: 4%;
  • Canada: 3.8%; Ivory Coast: 3.7%; France: 3.6%

“I think AfDB is Africa’s most valuable institution,” mentioned one insider who spoke on situation of anonymity.

“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.”

The BBC has obtained the authentic whistleblowers’ e-mail from January 2020, despatched to 2 govt administrators of the financial institution, Yano Takuji (Japanese) and Steven Dowd (American), and the British director for its Integrity and Anti-Corruption Department Alan Bacarese.


We concern that the wholesale dismissal of all allegations with out acceptable investigation will tarnish the popularity of this establishment [AfDB]”

In an April replace circulated to a wider pool of senior managers, the whistleblowers mentioned the Ethics Committee headed by Mr Takuji failed to look at their issues.

The committee later carried out an investigation and declared that Mr Adesina was “totally exonerated of all allegations made against him” and really helpful that the board of governors undertake its conclusions.

In early May, the board’s chair – Ivorian Planning Minister Nialé Kaba – wrote to shareholders that the African finance ministers who supervise the financial institution’s administration supposed to clear Mr Adesina.

“We fear that the wholesale dismissal of all allegations without appropriate investigation will tarnish the reputation of this institution as one that does not uphold high standards of ethics and governance,” Mr Mnuchin wrote again.

“Therefore, the United States cannot support dismissing the allegations at this stage,” he added.

Mr Kaba mentioned in a assertion that a resolution had not been made about Mr Adesina and he remained in workplace.

“The bureau, which I chair, wishes to reassure the public that it is seized with the matter and it is treating it with the utmost seriousness that it deserves,” he mentioned.

‘Trumped up allegations’

The whistleblowers have accused Mr Adesina of main conflicts of curiosity in his dealings with present and former workers, unethical conduct and preferential therapy.

Eight issues about Akinwumi Adesina:

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  • First Nigerian to steer AfDB
  • Elected for five-year time period in September 2015
  • Was Nigeria’s agriculture minister from 2011 till his transfer
  • Named Forbes Africa Person of the Year in 2013 for his “bold reforms” in farming sector
  • Was informed by a tutorial in Nigeria he would by no means get into Purdue University as his maths was poor
  • Proved him fallacious by entering into the prestigious US establishment
  • Cancelled his admission to UK’s revered Cambridge University
  • Got his PhD in agricultural economics in 2008

Sources: AfDB; Forbes journal

Mr Adesina, who holds a PhD in agricultural economics from Purdue University in the US, didn’t reply to BBC requests for remark however launched a assertion.

“In spite of unprecedented attempts by some to tarnish my reputation and prejudice the bank’s governance procedures, I maintain my innocence with regard to trumped up allegations that unjustly seek to impugn my honour and integrity,” he wrote.

“I am confident that fair, transparent and just processes that respect the rules, procedures and governance systems of the Bank, and rule of law, will ultimately prove that I have not violated the Code of Ethics of this extraordinary institution.”

The AfDB board assembly is mentioned to have agreed to an unbiased investigation into the allegations regarding Mr Adesina’s conduct after Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland supported the US place, Bloomberg information company first reported.

“Should it surprise the world that we’re getting a second investigation backed by no African country? What does that say about the other countries that have lined up behind the US?” wonders Debisi Araba, a good friend of Mr Adesina’s.

“He’s due to run unopposed but you want to muddy the waters with this stain of corruption. I believe he will be vindicated.”


Who the AfDB says it helped in May:

  • Cape Verde:$33m mortgage authorized to sort out Covid-19

  • Zimbabwe:$13.7m grant authorized to enhance well being sector

  • Cameroon and Chad:$45m allotted for bridge to hyperlink the two states

  • Eswatini:$1.67m given for research on constructing dams

Source: AfDB

Mr Araba labored for Mr Adesina in the Nigerian authorities and was additionally an intern at the financial institution whereas doing his PhD in 2009.

He says the financial institution has all the time had a tradition of salacious hearsay and gossip however faults the US for formalizing the “crass, bargain basement reasoning” into a grievance.

This was denied by a US Treasury spokesperson, who informed the BBC: “The United States continues to value the AfDB and its efforts to promote development, reduce poverty, and address the current health and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on the African continent.”

Chinese ‘buying spree in Africa’

Some coverage analysts at think-tanks in Washington, DC, fear about the timing of the American pushback and its longer-term penalties in Africa.

“A prolonged battle will be a distraction for the AfDB when its resources are more desperately needed than ever for its borrowers,” Nancy Birdsall, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development informed the BBC.

She mentioned it was not good for the AfDB if Mr Mnuchin was sad and urged that “the US Treasury should look for some form of quiet compromise in which no-one loses face”.

Ms Birdsall additionally reiterated a suggestion she made in a 2018 paper for the management of the AfDB to open up its shareholding, together with to China and oil-rich economies.

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China has performed a key position in bettering infrastructure in Africa

But Daniel F Runde, senior vice-president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, disagreed.

He mentioned the Abidjan-based financial institution that lends completely to African governments represented considered one of the few non-China-led and western-funded approaches to growth on the continent.

“If Adesina is cleared, the US may need to mend fences with the management because China will probably go on a shopping spree in Africa after Covid-19, and we will need every non-Chinese tool to respond,” he mentioned.

Mr Runde noticed Mr Mnuchin’s letter as “disruption” and referred to as it a good tactic however a poor technique.

“Now that the Trump administration has caused disruption and perhaps made a point, they have to decide when this plays out,” he mentioned.


Independent accountability measures strengthen establishments and reinforce their legitimacy”

Last October, the 81 shareholders of the financial institution pledged further funds to greater than double its capital to $208bn (£170bn).

Missouri Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver, who sponsored a invoice backing the capital improve in the US House of Representatives, got here out in help of the new inquiry.

“Independent accountability measures strengthen institutions and reinforce their legitimacy – both domestically and internationally. I am pleased the African Development Bank’s Board agreed to take this important step,” the Democrat informed the BBC in a assertion.

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Mr Adesina is an eloquent advocate for Africa and the financial institution and a good fundraiser, however his detractors say he guarantees greater than he delivers.

“His administration hasn’t always been fantastic and perhaps he has run roughshod over some people. Maybe the practices haven’t always been what they should be, and the feeling is that the board just whitewashed the investigation,” the insider mentioned.

Accused of favouring Nigerians

The whistleblowers additionally accused Mr Adesina of preferential therapy for Nigeria and Nigerians.

“I don’t think we should trivialise the issues and reduce them to anti-Nigerian sentiment,” mentioned Ms Barungi, the Ugandan-born, Lagos-based former financial institution worker.

“It’s really more about governance concerns that require attention and the investigation to help clear the air,” she added.

Mr Araba, a Nigerian, mentioned speak of the “Nigerianisation of the bank” was false as the nation was under-represented in worker numbers regardless of being the largest shareholder.


Mr Adesina’s fastidiously curated profession may crumble if a new investigation criticises his reign at the AfDB.”

As the disaster at the financial institution escalates, workers, consultants and authorities officers in African capitals, in addition to American overseas coverage nerds, surprise how this deadlock will finish.

But at the Treasury constructing proper subsequent to the White House, Mr Mnuchin and his advisors are doubling down.

“Undertaking an independent evaluation of facts is not at odds with a presumption of innocence, and by promoting transparency and good governance, it can only strengthen the AfDB’s capacity to deliver results to people across Africa,” the spokesman informed the BBC.

Mr Adesina’s fastidiously curated profession may crumble if a new investigation criticises his reign at the AfDB. His type is strong, however the substance is now underneath scrutiny.

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