The United States government demands an independent investigation of the president of the African Development Bank – a former Nigerian minister – who was charged with gross misconduct but was cleared in an internal investigation of the bank. Nigeria opposes the US request for further investigations, thus setting up a potential clash of influences between the regional power and the most important non-regional member of AfDB.
By Chudi Okoye
Nigeria and the United States of America are at loggerheads over how to handle the case of Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, the president of the African Development Bank Group (AfDB) who had faced charges of gross misconduct. Dr. Adesina was cleared in an internal AfDB investigation accepted by the Nigerian government which is nevertheless spurned by the United States. Nigeria and the US have the highest voting powers in AfDB and each wields significant influence in the bank and across the region.
A former Nigerian head of state, General (rtd.) Olusegun Obasanjo, himself with subsisting influence in Africa and the United States, has weighed in on the matter and is mobilizing some former African heads of state in support of the incumbent and the Nigerian position.
The AfDB president, Dr. Adesina, had been accused of a series of misconducts by whistleblowers in the bank. The allegations appeared to be serious, including corrupt use of bank resources for private gain, nepotistic and arbitrary intervention in the bank’s recruitment processes, inefficient personalization of management decision-making and political lobbying, among other allegations. He was specifically accused of awarding exorbitant contracts to personal acquaintances, appointing relatives and friends to strategic positions, and misuse of bank resources including payment for personal projects.
Following the allegations, an internal AfDB investigation was launched which ran for three months. The investigation, conducted by the bank’s Ethics Committee, concluded by dismissing all allegations against the bank’s president.
Dr. Adesina was elected in May 2015 for a five-year term and is well-positioned for re-election as an unchallenged candidate. But his prospects are tangled up with the whistleblower allegations and with what appears to be geopolitical intrigue.
▲ Dr. Akinwumni Adesina, incumbent AfDB president
The United States, an important non-regional member of the African Development Bank, appeared to have taken issues with the findings of the Ethics Committee and its adoption by the bank’s Board of Governors. Shortly after the committee’s report was adopted, the US released a widely circulated letter in which it dismissed the findings, pointedly questioning the integrity of the bank’s internal investigation.
In the letter, dated May 22nd and addressed to Mrs. Nialé Kaba, chairwoman of the bank’s Board of Governors, the U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin rejected the findings of the Ethics Committee and the decision by the AfDB’s Board of Governors to accept the Ethics Committee’s conclusions and end the internal investigation. It called for an independent probe into allegations against the AfDB president.
“We have deep reservations about the integrity of the committee’s process,” Secretary Mnuchin declared. “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.
“Considering the scope, seriousness, and detail of these allegations against the sole candidate for bank leadership over the next five years, we believe that further inquiry is necessary to ensure that the AfDB’s president has broad support, confidence, and a clear mandate from shareholders,” Mnuchin said.
But the Nigerian government has thrown its weight behind the embattled AfDB president. Dr. Adesina had served as Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development in Nigeria prior to his AfDB accession in 2015. Nigeria proclaimed itself satisfied with the internal AfDB investigation and the findings of Ethics Committee.
In a letter also addressed to Nialé Kaba, AfDB board chairperson, the Nigerian government said that it had closely followed the allegations against the AfDB president and that it welcomed the report of the Ethics Committee which exonerated him. The 28 May 2020 letter, seen by Awka Times, was signed by Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed.
According to the letter,
“The Ethics Committee in carrying out its work, as clearly as stated in their report, called on oversight organs of the Bank (Anti-Corruption, Auditor General, Human Resources) to answer questions and provide any relevant information related to the allegations. They did so and these were clearly stated in the Ethics Committee report. The Committee also called on the whistleblowers to submit ay additional evidence, facts and documents to buttress their allegations but they did not.”
The letter also stated that:
“The Ethics Committee has conducted and completed its work following the rules, laws, procedures and guidelines as laid down by the Resolution of the Board of Governors. The Resolution calls for the Ethics Committee to submit its report, and supporting documents, to the Chair of the Board of Governors.”
▲ Nigeria’s finance minister, Zainab Ahmed
The Nigerian finance minister averred that the Board of Governors in turn duly followed laid down rules in reviewing the Ethics Committee’s report.
“The Chair of the Board of Governors followed the laid down rules, procedures, guidelines, and the governing laws of the Bank, and ruled appropriately that she concurred with the report and conclusion of the Ethics Committee that dismissed all allegations against the President.”
The affirmative letter from Nigeria was sent only days after the United States had rejected the findings of the Ethics Committee.
The US’ call for an independent investigation is opposed by the Nigerian government. In her letter to the Chair of the AfDB Board of Governors, Nigeria’s finance minister of noted that America’s demand for “independent investigation” was unjustified because it went “outside of the laid down rules, procedures and governing system of the Bank…”
“As Board of Governors we must uphold the rule of law and respect the governance systems of the Bank,” the statement insisted.
It is unclear as yet how the United States will react to Nigeria’s acceptance of the extant findings and its opposition to the US demands.
A former Nigerian head of state, Olusegun Obasanjo, who is intervening on behalf of Dr. Adesina, also expressed concerns about the rules and the US stance. In a letter dated May 26th which the former head of state sent to a number of influential former African heads of state, Obasanjo called for a united front against US intervention.
“The US Treasury Secretary disparaged the Bank and ridiculed the entire governance system of the Bank, which has been in place since 1964 [when AfDB was established]. This is unprecedented in the annals of the African Development Bank.”
▲ Former head of state, Olusegun Obasanjo
Gen. Obasanjo has had his differences with the administration of Major General (rtd.) Muhammadu Buhari but he is nevertheless aligned with the administration in canvassing the Nigerian position.
“If we do not rise up and defend the African Development Bank,” Obasanjo argued, “this might mean the end of the… Bank, as its governance system will be hijacked away from Africa.”
The general proposed that the former heads of state issue a collective press statement to support “the laid down procedures” which were used to investigate the allegations against Dr. Adesina and which subsequently exonerated him. Gen. Obasanjo attached a draft of a joint press statement to his letter for review by the addressees.
It is not yet clear how the other African leaders would react to Obasanjo’s proposal. But it would be surprising if Gen. Obasanjo would make his intervention public were he not reasonably certain of positive response from his counterparts. Nigeria wields a lot of influence in AfDB, alone funding one of the lending instruments of the bank, Nigeria Trust Fund (NTF) from which many African countries secure beneficial loans.
It remains to be seen if the United States, likely motivated as much by transparency concerns as by geopolitical considerations, will buckle under pressure from Nigeria and its allies in the AfDB.♦