The Nigerian federal government has asked the African Development Bank (AfDB) to follow its own “laid down process to protect and preserve our bank” as the United States makes moves to unseat Akinwunmi Adesina as President of Africa’s biggest multilateral lender.

Adesina, 60, has been accused of favoritism and nepotism in the running of the affairs of the Côte d’Ivoire based bank.

US President Donald Trump and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari hold a joint press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 30, 2018 (Presidency)
US President Donald Trump and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari hold a joint press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 30, 2018 (Presidency)

A group of unidentified whistleblowers have accused the former Nigerian Agriculture minister of handing contracts to acquaintances and appointing relatives to strategic positions at the bank, Bloomberg reports.

Adesina is due for re-election in August.

The call for an independent probe

Two weeks after the bank’s ethics committee found no evidence to support allegations of favoritism levelled against Adesina, the U.S. is calling for an independent probe.

In a letter dated May 22, 2020 and addressed to Niale Kaba, who is chairperson of the AfDB’s Board of Governors, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said her country rejected plans by the AfDB’s board to end an investigation into its president.

Mnuchin also said the Treasury disagrees with findings by the bank’s ethics committee that “totally exonerated” Adesina.

Steven Mnuchin wants an independent probe of Adesina (CBS)
Steven Mnuchin wants an independent probe of Adesina (CBS)

The U.S. has a 6.5% stake in the AfDB. Which makes Donald Trump’s country the largest shareholder of the bank after Adesina’s home country of Nigeria.

In February, World Bank President David Malpass criticized multilateral lenders like the AfDB for “granting loans too quickly and adding to the debt burden of African nations.”

It was an allegation the AfDB strongly refuted as “inaccurate and not fact-based.”

Nigeria reacts

On May 28, 2020, the Nigerian federal government, through the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, wrote a letter of support for Adesina, to the AfDB.

Addressed to Niale, Nigeria noted that “the Ethics Committee, following three months of work to examine the whistleblowers’ allegations made against the president, dismissed each and everyone of them as unsubstantiated and baseless.

“The Nigerian government welcomes this conclusion of the Ethics Committee and the decision of the Chair of the Board of Governors.”

Nigeria also wrote that the “call for an independent investigation (by the U.S.) is outside of the laid down rules, procedures and governing system of the bank and its Articles as it relates to the Code of Conduct on Ethics for the president.

“As Board of Governors, we must uphold the rule of law and respect the governance systems of the bank. If there are any governance issues that need improvement, these can be considered and amendments proposed for adoption inline with laid down procedures.

“The re-election of Dr. Adesina as President of the AfDB originally planned to be held on May 28, 2020 has now been postponed to 25-27 August 2020. Dr. Adesina is the sole candidate for the election. He has delivered impactful programs and impressive results at the bank.

The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed [Twitter/@ZShamsuna]
The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed [Twitter/@ZShamsuna]

“One of his major accomplishments is securing a General Capital Increase of $115 Billion, the largest ever in the history of the bank.

“To fight the coronavirus pandemic, he led the bank to develop a $10 Billion Crisis Response Facility for Africa.

“Dr. Adesina also led the bank to launch a $3 Billion ‘Fight COVID-19 social bond, the largest US dollar denominated social bond ever in world history.

“The African Union has endorsed his candidacy for re-election, following his endorsement by the ECOWAS Heads of State and governments.”

Obasanjo, Atiku, Sanusi back Adesina

Prominent Nigerians have also thrown their collective weight behind Adesina.

Former Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo wrote that “unfortunately, the U.S government has written a public letter to disagree with the conclusions of the Ethics Committee of the Board of Directors and the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the bank.

Former Nigeria’s President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and current President Muhammadu Buhari. [Twitter/@BashirAhmaad]
Former Nigeria’s President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and current President Muhammadu Buhari. [Twitter/@BashirAhmaad]

“Instead of accepting the exoneration of the president of the bank, they called for an ‘independent investigation. This is outside of the rules, laws, procedures and governance systems of the bank.

“The U.S Treasury Secretary disparaged the bank and ridiculed the entire governance system of the bank, which has been in place since 1964.

“If we do not rise up and defend the African Development Bank, this might mean the end of the AfDB, as its governance will be hijacked away from Africa.”

Former Vice President and serial presidential candidate in past Nigeria elections, Atiku Abubakar, tweeted that “In 2015, after 50 years of AfDB with Nigeria being its largest shareholder, I travelled around Africa at the instance of @MBuhari to lobby African Heads of States to support Dr @akin_adesina. Even now, we should all stand up and support Dr Adesina, Africa and @AfDB_Group.”

Former Central Bank of Nigeria Governor and former Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, told TheCable that: “It is a simple adherence to global best practices in governance. AfDB has clearly defined rules and processes for investigating and dealing with allegations of misconduct. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty.

“Since those processes were duly followed, it is unheard of for the rules to be changed because someone does not like the outcome.”

Sanusi added that the support being shown for Adesina should not be viewed as “defending a Nigerian or a friend.”

“I have watched him at AfDB and his stellar performance is there for all to see. This is not about defending a Nigerian or a friend.

Sanusi
Sanusi

“It is about standing up for what is right, for justice and for principle. Africa and its friends must stand up at this point.

“My hope is that everyone will see reason and respect the rules. As the minister has said, if you don’t like the rules, change them, but not retroactively.”

Adesina responds

The African Development Bank’s top governing body has responded by saying Adesina hasn’t been asked to step down from his position while it continues to review the fallout of a whistleblower complaint.

Adesina has acknowledged the support from his home country and from across the continent.

“On this day, May 28th, five years ago, I was elected as the 8th President of the African Development Bank. As President, I express my deepest gratitude to all the shareholders of the Bank for your support, and continued support, today and for the future. Thank you all,” he tweeted.

The U.S. isn’t acting alone in attempts to oust Adesina.

According to Bloomberg, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland are among countries that wrote to the AfDB to back U. S. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin’s demands for professional outsiders to look into the allegations against Adesina.

The AfDB is Africa’s biggest multilateral lender. It has an AAA rating from Fitch Ratings, Moody’s Investors Service and S&P Global Ratings.

Its shareholders are Africa’s 54 nations and 27 countries in the Americas, Europe, Middle East and Asia.