Photograph — IISD

After much pressure and criticism from international partners against its rulings, the Office of the Board of Governors of the African Development Bank (AfDB) recently approved the use of an independent investigation to look into the allegations of whistle blowers regarding the governance of Akinwumi Adesina.

This came after the United States (U.S.) Treasury mounted pressure on the bank, to do a fresh and detailed private investigation of the corruption charges leveled against Adesina.  The bank’s ethics committee had earlier exonerated Adesina from allegations of wrongdoing raised by “whistle-blowers” in the AfDB.

The U.S. government expressed its deep reservation concerning the integrity of the Committee’s process. In a letter signed by the secretary of the treasury, Steven Mnuchin on May 22, 2020, the American government stated fears 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.” 

The letter was addressed to Niale Kaba, the Chair of the Bureau of the Boards of Governors of the AfDB, who is also Ivory Coast’s Finance Minister. The US stance was firmly supported by Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland.

How it all began

The controversy that has surrounded Adesina in the past few weeks is unparalleled. According to a document, a group of staff who posed anonymously as “Group of Concerned Staff Members” in compliance with the Whistle Blowing and Complaints Handling Policy of the bank, detailed a long list of grievances (16 in the English version) against the AfDB President. 

On January 19th 2020, the Ethics Committee of the Boards of Directors (ECBD) received a complaint entitled “Disclosure of Acts Related to Alleged Breach of the Code of Ethics by an Elected Officer” via email, to the attention of the Director of the Integrity and Anti-Corruption office (PIAC) of the Bank, as well as the Chairpersons of the Audit and Finance Committee (AUFI) and the ECBD. 

The whistle blowers disclosed various cases of alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct in an address to the Office of Integrity and Anti-Corruption (PIAC) and to the presidents of the Ethics Committee and Audit and Finance Committee.

According to a report, Adesina has doggedly managed the Bank, which could have amounted to him stepping on many toes while creating more enemies for himself since he assumed office in 2015. In the first few years, several departures were recorded among top executives, especially the bank’s three Vice Presidents. 

To summarize the complaints of the group as stated in a report, high-level allegations like favouritism, nepotism, gross misconducts, illegal appointments and departures, blatant disregard for statutory and ethical rules, and unethical approval of several contracts by Adesina’s teams were leveled against the President. But after much consideration, the Committee dismissed the Group’s allegations as baseless and lacking concrete evidence with some of their arguments founded on hearsay.

It should be noted that these allegations surfaced after it became clear that Adesina was going to be the sole candidate for this year’s election with all odds working in favour of his re-election office for a 2nd term.

Building a fence around Adesina

As tension began to mount against Adesina over the past few days, a report indicates a bold move by former President, Olusegun Obasanjo who copied 14 former African leaders in a letter urging them to support the bank’s President.

He called them to cooperate in protecting the leadership of the AFDB so that the government of the bank is not hijacked away from Africa. The recent development has raised the question as to why foreigners should have such a huge influence in an African institution.

President Obasanjo proposed that the former regional leaders all collectively issue a press statement to support the laid down procedures embarked upon to evaluate the allegations against the bank’s President. Furthermore, he urged the past leaders to support the board of governors, as well as the ethics committee, to uphold the bank’s process and its outcome.

Dousing the tension

On Thursday, May 28, 2020, Kaba mentioned that the board met again on Tuesday, May 26, 2020, to revisit the matter. She said it was part of efforts to reduce the tensions that came as a result of the recent controversy with the bank’s president. Restating AfDB’s support for its president she further mentioned letters received from some shareholders expressing various views, noting publications in the national and international press with regards to the issue on ground. 

In her capacity as the Chair of the Bureau, Kaba reassured the public with some clarifications which include, the fact that the Bureau has seized the matter and is treating it with utmost seriousness, that it has not taken any decision as falsely conveyed in some publications and that there was no governance or constitutional crisis at the AfDB Group. 

She further said that it was indeed false that the President has been or is being asked to step down from his position, and that all the Governors will be carried along in resolving the issue. Nevertheless, she urged everyone to let the Bureau do its work.

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