The United States government has demanded that a fresh and in-depth investigation be conducted into the allegations against the president of the African Development Bank, Akinwunmi Adesina, using an independent investigator.
The call came after the bank’s ethics committee had cleared Mr Adesina of all allegations of wrongdoing raised by “whistle-blowers” within the organisation. Mr Adesina is the sole candidate for Bank leadership over the next five years.
The U.S., a member of the bank 1983, said in a May 22, 2020 letter to the chair of the AfDB’s board of governors, Niale Kaba, that the U.S. did not accept the decision of the ethics committee to totally exonerate Mr Adesina of all allegations, saying it was not yet time to make such a declaration.
“We have deep reservations about the integrity of the Committee’s process. 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,” the letter, signed by secretary of the treasury, Steven Mnuchin, said.
“Had the Ethics Committee undertaken a proper preliminary examination that was in line with the Board of Governors Resolution B/BG/2008/11, standard practices at other international financial institutions, and the Bank’s own rules and procedures, it would have reviewed available facts that could be gathered by external counsel and found in internal Bank records.
“We fear that 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,” it said.
But what is Mr Adesina, Nigeria’s former agriculture minister, accused of? And how was he cleared?
Ethics Committee Report
On April 26, the Ethics Committee AfDB led by Takuji Yano, a Japanese, released an eight-page report on a January 19 complaint received from some members of staff of the organisation who described themselves as a Group of Indignant Staff Members, against Mr Adesina.
The document exonerated Mr Adesina and concluded that the petition received from the whistleblowers “was not based on any objective and solid fact”.
The committee explained that it reached the conclusion “with the help of information verbally communicated to the committee by the director of the Office of Integrity and Anti-Corruption (PIAC) and by the bank’s auditor general during committee meetings held on 26 March and 2 April 2020”.
The committee chairman said the whistleblowers did not provide any supporting proof of their allegations and added that when they were asked to do so they declined, arguing that doing so would compromise their anonymity.
President Muhammadu Buhari welcomed the ethics committee’s report clearing Mr Adesina.
The whistleblowers, however, argued the ethics committee sat on their complaint for six weeks and did nothing about it.
They alleged that instead of investigating the allegation, attempts were made to uncover their identities. They said not until they decided to share their complaint with a wider audience that the ethics committee decided to do anything about their petition.
They further accused some staff members close to Mr Adesina of actively working to sabotage the duties of the Ethics Committee. They said that part of the attempt included a counter-complaint filed against Steven Dowd and executive director from the United States “for allegedly colluding with the whistle-blowers (us). The complaint comes from a group claiming to be dissidents from our own group, which can be easily proven to be a false claim.”
They also accused Mr Adesina of deliberately vetoing a meeting of the Ethics Committee using social distancing as an excuse. Lastly, they accused a vice president of the bank, Jennifer Blanke, of intimidating the chairman of the Ethics committee by filing a complaint that he allegedly verbally abused one of her staff members suggesting that it may have forced him to baulk at thoroughly investigating their complaint.
“The sole objective of these tactics is to stall the work of the Committee, which we find very disturbing and a good indication that our initial complaint was not too far off the mark,” they wrote.
Alleged breaches of code of conduct
The original complaint seen by PREMIUM TIMES include 16 cases of alleged breaches perpetrated by Mr Adesina and an additional four cases of breaches later sent to the Board of Governors.
The allegations range for alleged misconduct and favoritism, arbitrary recruitment, private gain, impediment to efficiency, singlehandedly overruling decisions taken by directors, nepotism, political lobbying, use of bank resources for private gains.
The whistleblowers claimed that almost immediately after Mr Adesina’s assumption of office, he usurped the role HR manager, “playing very active role in the recruitment of all managerial positions”.
They claimed that Mr Adesina’s involvement has resulted in long delays in filling vacant positions as well as resulting in an unusually high turnover of HR directors at the bank.
The whistleblowers kicked against the appointment of Chinelo Anohu-Amazu, a former director-general of Nigeria’s National Pension Commission (PenCom) as a senior director in charge of African Investment Forum (AIF) in September 2019. They alleged that Mrs Anohu-Amazu was dismissed by President Buhari in 2017. They said Mr Adesina ignored the allegation against Mrs Anohu-Amazu and went ahead to hire her. They said the incumbent AIF director, Stella Kilonzo, resigned in June that year partly because she refused to hire Mrs Anohu-Amazu as a consultant for a fee considerably higher than what was allowed on Mr. Adesina’s request.
The whistleblowers also accused Mr Adesina of preferential treatment in the appointment of Nigerian-born Martin Fregene. They alleged that Mr Fregene is an in-law to the bank’s president. They claimed that Mr Fregene was an aide to Mr Adesina when he was Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and was appointed a lead expert to the Bank’s vice president on Agriculture in 2017 before being promoted to an adviser without competition.
Mr Fregene was later made the bank’s director of the Agriculture and Agro-industry Department on January 1 2018 when Mr Ojukwu the incumbent was not expected to retire until January 31, 2018.
Other alleged recruitment misconducts levelled against Mr Adesina included:
— The appointment of Maria Mulundi, a Kenyan and an alleged long-time associate of the president of the bank as a Director for Cabinet without competition with a 32.7 per cent salary increase in breach of Rule 43.01 of the Staff Rules. Mrs Mulindi was later promoted as the director in charge of Civil Society and Community Based Organizations and transferred to the Southern Region. The whistleblowers claimed that her latest promotion was a duplication of the already existing position of Director for Gender, Women and Civil Society and wondered if she was not posted on “special duty to take care of Mr Adesina’s wife, who was receiving treatment in South Africa.”
— The alleged preferential treatment in the appointment of Victor Oladokun, a Nigerian and owner of 3D Global Consult, in 2017 as a consultant on a $326,000 contract. The whistleblower alleged that Mr Oladokun and Mr Adesina are childhood friends raising suspicion of conflict of interest.
The whistleblowers also raised concerns over the appointment of Kapil Kapoor, the bank’s former director-general of Southern region as a consultant immediately after he retired in August 2019.
“He was then immediately recruited by the President as a consultant and was kept in office in Pretoria with a very comfortable monthly fee of USD 23,000. Mr. KAPOOR, who is no longer a staff member, continues to enjoy the advantages of the position of director-general. And he does so in utter disregard for the presence of a Deputy Director General in Pretoria,” he said.
Mr Adesina was also accused of overruling the decision of the HR director not to confirm the employment of Emmanuel Ezinwa, a Nigerian who was accused of harassment while on probation. The whistleblowers said that decision was among what forced the HR manager to resign after barely six months after she took office.
The TAAT allegation
The whistleblowers claimed that Mr Adesina impeded efficiency in his management of a $120 million Technologies for African Agriculture transformation (TAAT) programme after he allegedly used his “political weight” to compel a reluctant Board of Directors to award the initial grant of the programme worth $40 million to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Nigeria.
“One has to remember that the President worked for IITA and AfricaRice, and both institutions were to benefit from the grant. The mastermind behind the project, Mr. FREGENE, is also an IITA alumnus and the task manager, Mr Mude, is an alumnus of ILRI, another institution financed by the programme.
“In 2018, IITA, the implementing agency, proceeded to purchase through direct procurement USD 5.46m worth of pesticides from a multinational company, while the grant contract specifically prohibited such procurement method. Fortunately, the fiduciary controls of the Bank stopped the process, but Mr. FREGENE went ahead and personally negotiated the price directly with the supplier and asked for the shipment of the pesticides. When confronted by senior management, he tried to launch a competitive bidding process to cover up the direct purchase. The fiduciary controls of the Bank worked once again, and the payment of the supplier’s invoice was blocked for non-compliance with Bank rules.
“When informed, the President himself requested the payment to be released to the supplier,” the petition stated.
Preferential treatment for Nigeria and award received
The whistleblowers also alleged that under Mr Adesina’s presidency, the bank’s organisation chart was altered to promote Nigeria to an almost full-fledged region.
“Admittedly, Nigeria is AfDB’s largest shareholder with over 9%, but it’s not clear if this justifies a preferential treatment. Nigerians have also been particularly well treated in the massive recruitment drive that was launched due to the restructuring of President ADESINA between 2016 and 2018. When roughly 9% of new recruits were Nigerians (or dual nationals of Nigerian origin) – in line with Nigerian shareholding –, they made up roughly 25% of the newly recruited managerial functions. It is not clear if this preferential treatment was justified by a previous under-representation,” they said.
They also accuse Mr Adesina of using the bank’s funds to cover associated costs in two major awards he won – the World Food Prize (USD 250,000) and the Sunhak Peace Prize (USD 500,000) – 2017 and 2019 respectively and wondered if the awards were not made to the bank why did the bank cover the associated costs of the awards?
“Dozens of people, Bank staff, executive Directors, former Head of State, entertainers or family members attended the award ceremonies at the Bank’s costs (one in Des Moines, Iowa, the other in Seoul, Korea). If these awards were private, why did the Bank support associated costs? If they were awarded to the President of the Group of the Bank were the awards returned to the Bank?”
Political lobbying and using bank resources for self-promotion
The whistleblowers described Adesina as “the unchallenged travel champion” of the bank and accused him of using the opportunities of his travels to meet regional heads of States and making financial promises to obtain their support for his re-election.
They also accused Mr Adesina of recruiting a biographer, Leon Hasser to write his authorised biography: “Against All Odds. World Food Prize Laureate Dr Akinwumi Adesina and His Drive to Feed Africa” (ISBN: 9781728315386) with the bank’s resources.
“It is unclear why the Bank paid for this biography, which was not officially promoted by the Bank, nor translated to the other official language of the institution. It primarily focuses on the accomplishments of the President when he was Minister of Agriculture in Nigeria and only received some limited publicity in Nigeria. More surprisingly, the terms of reference of Dr HESSER’s mission state that “all outputs delivered under this consultancy contract will remain the property of the protagonist of the book (Dr Akinwumi A. Adesina)” in contradiction with the usual Bank provision on intellectual property which states that “all proprietary and intellectual property rights (…) will be vested in (…) the Bank.”
PREMIUM TIMES has not succeeded in obtaining Mr Adesina’s response to the allegations. We could not reach his Abidjan-based media aide, Charles Moyela, on the phone after multiple attempts. His mobile phone provider claimed his number was unavailable.
However, Paris-based publication, The Africa Report, reported that Mr Adesina wrote a 260-page document where he condemned the method used by his accusers stating their petition was gratuitous and not based on any objective and proven facts, and should be dismissed by the committee”.
“The purpose of the complaint is not to report fraud, corruption or other acts of misconduct. Quite the contrary, it has other, hidden motives. The idea that other people are acting in concert with the whistle-blowers is not pure speculation,”he said.
On the allegation of using the bank resources to cover associated costs of his award, Mr Adesina explained that he paid for his family to attend the award ceremonies and added that he “donated the money from the two awards to help create the World Hunger Fighters Foundation”
He further explained that “AfDB staff did not attend these events because the president was the recipient of the World Food Prize, but because the bank was promoting the launch of its Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) programme during these events”.
On the allegation that the $120 million TAAT contract was improperly awarded, the Africa Report explained that though Mr Adesina admitted that the condition under which the contract was awarded did in fact violate the terms signed by AfDB and TAAT, he explained that he intervened to protect the bank’s reputation under the threat of a pending legal action.
“As president, [it is incumbent on me] to make sure that sound decisions in the bank’s best interest are being taken in order to protect the bank’s reputation and ensure that it isn’t at risk of legal action which could harm its reputation and jeopardise its privileges and immunities,” Mr. Adesina wrote in the memorandum.
Concerning the alleged preferential treatment for Nigeria and Nigerians, Mr Adesina said: “The whistleblowers were wrong to attribute the bank’s current organisational structure to the president, as the Board of Directors carried out its statutory role of approving appointed officials”,
In fact, the Ethics committee supported Mr Adesina when it ruled that one African country and one other non-regional country of the bank have “more officials at the bank than Nigeria does”.