Nigeria: AfDB Leadership Tussles and the Powerful Outside Bully From Within

African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina at the 45th G7 Summit press conference in Biarritz, France, 2019.
opinion

Dr. Akinwumi Adesina's passion in value addition by Africa to African commodities, in the context of a solid African support base from influential leaders like Ouattara, can only be ruptured by a powerful outsider from the inside. With about 6.5 per cent shareholding in the Bank, the U.S.A is it's largest non-regional shareholder. The present mediocre leadership in Washington is therefore the perfect outside bully from within for the job.

I was the natural company Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the former president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, had sought when President Allasane Ouattara of Cote d'Ivoire extended an invitation for him to spend the 2016 new year holidays with him in Abidjan

The two were exceptionally close as presidents. Ouattara's Bretton woods profile and influence within the franchopone world, among other things, alongside Nigeria's clout and muscles, helped create the Abuja-Abidjan corridor of influnece for more than half a decade. There was very little the duo couldn't fix within the subregion, Africa as a whole and sometimes even beyond. I was the official diplomatic face for most of their initiatives and I would modestly say, their favourite diplomat too. Ouattara is eternally grateful for the role President Jonathan and Nigeria had played during it's disputed elections and civil war in the late 2000s. Dr. Jonathan was then the chairman of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government, and Nigeria, the chair of it's powerful Security and Mediation Council.

Nigeria's Dr. Akinwumi Adesina had also just settled in as the first ever Nigerian president of the continent's most influential development institution, the African Development Bank (AfDB). The Bank itself had only recently relocated back to Abidjan then from Tunis, where it took refuge while the Ivorian capital was overtaken by war.

Our touchdown in Abidjan International Airport was at 6 p.m. local time and President Ouattara, alongside his entire cabinet, were courteously at hand to receive us and his former colleague; a very good friend and brother. The septuagenarian, urbane, grey-haired and soft spoken former managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and prime minister of Cote d'Ivoire, as well as its second term president, had earlier in the day overruled his entire state protocol establishment. It is against established protocol for a sitting president to publicly and officially receive anyone but a fellow incumbent. Such is the strength of the relationship between the duo that Ouattara did not only defy that institutional advice but insisted his whole cabinet joins him at the airport that evening instead. Drs. Akinwumi Adesina (now president of the African Development Bank and Jonathan's former minister of Agriculture and Rural Development) and Ngozi Ikonjo Iweala (who then sat on the boards of Standard Chartered Bank, Twitter, Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, and the African Risk Capacity. And also a former managing director at the World Bank and Jonathan's coordinating minister of the Economy and Finance) were the receiving party at the Sofitel Ivoire Hotel final leg of the journey.

The plan for the next day was explicitly detailed. First, a presidential lunch at the private villa residence of the Allasane Ouattaras, off the coast of the Atlantic Ocean in Grand Bassam, about an hour's drive in south-east of Abidjan. Then a dinner at the State House to be hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Ouattara.

Heads of international multilateral institutions have been known to enjoy presidential privileges and protocols, and the AfDB was determined to do just that. President Ouattara and his security details, including his ministers of Defence and Internal Security decided that the whole party was going by road and boat to admire the breathtaking picturesque countryside and even a glimpse of the Ivorian past tucked away in the swampy forests of Grand Bassam. AfDB, on the other hand, thought that was too much of a risk for its brand new bespectacled chief executive, in a country that had just recovered from a civil war five years earlier. So, while the host president took the road with his guests and entire security details, the AfDB president hovered overhead and was dropped neatly by a chopper on the warm sandy beaches of the villa. It was then time to explore the magnificent beauty of the beach and perhaps even a walk in the Atlantic. And later on, an elaborate lunch.

President Ouattara had left us dazed around the lunch table and later over dinner with his mesmerising personal accounts of an international career, politics, war and conflict, peacebuilding and difficulties of economic management in a third world democracy. The graphic details of how brothers and comrades in arms within the Ivorian defence and security forces turned their service armoury against each other was the most chilling. He explained in the most uncomfortable of details how his loyal ADC was ruthlessly killed by the Laurent Gbagbo boys. And how he and his top supporters were taken hostage for months, amidst shelling, within the confines of the upscale Golf Hotel in Abidjan.

He narrated a particular day that he had given up and had to take tough decisions as the leader. Golf Hotel was cut off entirely from the rest of the country. Power, diesel, food, drugs and other essentials had all dried up and there were neither resources nor reliable sources to mobilise and bring them in. Nigeria had sent in the much needed cash several times and he believed it had exhausted its best under the circumstances. Afterall, Nigeria and Ivory Cost were not the best of friends historically. He was all at Gbagbo's mercy and Laurent is all but merciful. At least not to his then helpless arch-rival and political Achilles, who he had completely surrounded! The French were urging them to hang on for a few more days but he knew their time was up and all they had were just hours and had to take that harsh decision, not about who dies; but who dies first, which he chose to be himself.

Dr. Akinwumi Adesina wasn't just another suit wearing, "Dr."-bearing and grammar speaking minister of President Jonathan. No, he also has a single-minded devotion to causes. He is a value addition enthusiast, and is almost ideologically committed to it. One is always crystal clear on where he stands when it comes to international commodity politics and diplomacy.

Outside family members, among those he called to thank and say his final goodbyes, was Nigeria's president and the commander-in-chief of it's armed forces, who was also the chairman of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. Mr. Jonathan had just won a national election and was awaiting the official announcement of results later that evening when an embattled Ouattara connected through. He thanked President Jonathan for the principled support and solidarity of Nigeria and through him the ECOWAS in their hour of need. He said what Jonathan did was particularly important to him because he (Jonathan) had never met him before. Like President Macron of France did, Jonathan too asked him to just hang in there for a few more days. But again, Ouattara repeated that all they had were hours. Jonathan was to add that at the end of that very difficult conversation, he made the resolve that Nigeria, himself and the West African subregion won't let a good man on a good cause die just like that.

Nigeria, the only regional air power, scrambled it's fighter jets and put the Air Force on high alert. Moments later, Jonathan connected back to Ouattara to ask what he would need most to survive the next hours. Ouattara answered that it was cash. Money in cash can buy you a lot in a war situation. Beyond food and critical supplies, it can also get you fleeting loyalties, either from within the enemy camp or anywhere it is (as is often) on sale. Within hours, Nigeria had dispatched the much needed cash across international boundaries to reach the precints of the Golf Hotel in Abidjan. The courier, Mr. Mamadi Diane, an Ivorian American, beat Gbagbo's tight security and intelligence network to deliver the message right under their noses through the Abidjan International Airport. A few days later, the French troops arrested Mr. Gbagbo, alongside his powerful wife, and sent them to The Hague.

Ouattara also asserted his determination to get the Ivorien cocoa farmers befitting value for their commodities. He was passionate about the lost jobs and economic opportunities that afflicted Africa, alongside it's exported primary commodities. He insisted that Ivory Coast would become not only a coacoa economy but a chocolate one in his lifetime. Like President Ouattara, Dr. Adesina too firmly believes that African farmers and, by extension, the whole continent will remain poor, while the industrial West benefits off it's commodity riches, if we continue to fail to add value to our primary products. I gauged the passion around the table and quickly concluded that a fire would soon ignite at the AfDB headquarters in Abidjan and President Ouattara is very likely to back it up. I was right.

Dr. Akinwumi Adesina wasn't just another suit wearing, "Dr."-bearing and grammar speaking minister of President Jonathan. No, he also has a single-minded devotion to causes. He is a value addition enthusiast, and is almost ideologically committed to it. One is always crystal clear on where he stands when it comes to international commodity politics and diplomacy. He got the whole Federal Executive Council, and most especially President Jonathan, high on that idea. He was well known, as Nigeria's minister of Agriculture for his long rhetorics (even if sometimes comical) on cassava bread and flower substitution. What wasn't however known was Adesina's plans to escalate this rhetoric to both the continental level and ultimately the global stage. To execute this agenda, the bow tie wearing global agricultural economist of repute had his eyes firmly set on the AfDB top job; its presidency.

The AfDB's raison d'être is to fight poverty and improve living conditions on the African continent through the promotion of the investment of public and private capital in projects and programmes that are likely to contribute to the economic and social development of the region. The Bank is a financial provider to African governments and private companies investing in the regional member countries (RMC).

Initially, Adesina's ambition to sit at the top desk of the Bank wasn't Nigeria's but entirely Adesina's. The bureaucrats at the foreign office felt that Nigeria had grabbed more than enough at both the regional and continental levels and advised against pushing our luck too far by contesting the AfDB presidency, ten years after we lost it in 2005. That was however not an official position yet, but a very strong sentiment that even the foreign ministers were initially willing to subscribe to. In the art of multilateral diplomacy, it is far more strategic and dignifying for a 'powerful' country to not contest at all but play the king maker instead, than to indicate interest and loose face. But Adesina would have none of those negative professional vibes.

After an impressive tour of duty at the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in Nairobi, Kenya, Dr. Adesina is on first name basis with most African presidents and prime ministers. He is also extremely charismatic, overly self confident, with native proficiency in both French and English. Again, his American education and impressive career records had made him well respected in Washington and other Western metropoles. Besides, most Western institutions and organisations had already rated his performance as the agriculture minister high and acceptable. He, accordingly, took his fate in his own hands and embarked on a solo diplomacy.

Nigeria was to host a follow up meeting at summit level on HIV and Malaria titled, "Abuja +12" between July 12-16, 2013, in Abuja. All African heads of state, the United Nations and most donor agencies were expected to attend. That was a perfect opportunity for Dr. Adesina to make his move. During such summits, it was my sole responsibility to assign ministers to receive visiting heads of state, right at the foot of their planes, chaperone them throughout their stay in Abuja, and see them off at the airport on behalf of Mr. President. I usually had sleepless nights standing in for ministers who, for one reason or another, could not be promptly available. Then an angel came along... Dr. Adesina was willing to share that protocol burden with me. He also got himself the prime opportunity to give a vote of thanks in fluent french at the end of the well attended summit.

Dr. Adesina must by all means clear his name, but it gladdens me that for once a key African development institution and it's continental stakeholders have called off the imperial instincts of an administration that can neither manage the legitimate concerns of its minority citizens nor scientifically handle a viral pandemic.

It was only weeks after the summit that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs realised that he had probably already discussed his ambitions to vie for the AfDB top job with a good number of the African leaders informally. Even though the initial feelers weren't entirely positive, diplomatic sources indicated that we could get lucky if we worked double. Dr. Ngozi Ikonjo Iweala was to later privately share similar concerns with me and we both agreed to step up consultations in our individual capacities and advise on the best course of action at the right time.

Foreign Ministers are accustomed to urgent summons to see Mr. President. So, I wasn't particularly expecting anything specifically when I received a call to immediately see the C-in-C in his office. But when I saw Dr. Adesina, sitting alone with the president, who was holding a Memo, I knew he (Adesina) had won. Nigeria, the largest voting block of the AfDB was officially putting the Bank on notice to the effect that it's honourable minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina would be on the ballot for it's presidency the following year!

The president directed the two of us to map out a strategy and begin its implementations immediately. I resigned my appointment as a minister and member of the Federal Executive Council a few weeks after that encounter to accept my nomination as the deputy gubernatorial candidate in Jigawa for the 2015 general elections. President Muhammadu Buhari eventually replaced Jonathan as the president and worked tirelessly to deliver the position for the first time to Nigeria.

I am very familiar with the operations of the AfDB. At 9.1 per cent, Nigeria is the highest shareholder of the Bank and it's largest voting block as well. It also has 100 per cent ownership of the Nigerian Trust Fund (NTF) and the Nigerian Technical Cooperation Fund (NTCF), both domiciled in the Bank. I was the final approving authority for the NTCF in my capacity as Nigeria's minister of incharge of cooperation and integration in Africa. The multi-million dollar fund is meant to finance hundreds of high value projects and services that would improve capacity, build skills and exchange expertise, all to facilitate the eventual economic integration of the continent. There was no love lost between the AfDB head office in Tunis then and mine here in Abuja. In my patriotic views, the Fund was poorly negotiated against Nigeria. For some arbitrary reasons, Nigeria was not to be a direct beneficiary of any of the projects and services it (NTCF) finances. I had to sadly live with that for my entire stay at the Tafawa Balewa House.

I have followed President Adesina keenly in his value addition crusade and he seems to be well on course in many priority areas. The Bank is financing ambitious private and public sector initiatives across the continent. Cote d'Ivoire now processes more and more of its own coacoa. Many more African countries and investors have also regained confidence in it's (AfDB's) new independence and faith in their capabilities. Then came the whistleblowers and their claims of favouritism, nepotism and Nigerianisation at the AfDB Headquarters. The chickens are finally home to roost. Dr. Akinwumi Adesina's passion in value addition by Africa to African commodities, in the context of a solid African support base from influential leaders like Ouattara, can only be ruptured by a powerful outsider from the inside. With about 6.5 per cent shareholding in the Bank, the U.S.A is it's largest non-regional shareholder. The present mediocre leadership in Washington is therefore the perfect outside bully from within for the job.

Dr. Adesina must by all means clear his name, but it gladdens me that for once a key African development institution and it's continental stakeholders have called off the imperial instincts of an administration that can neither manage the legitimate concerns of its minority citizens nor scientifically handle a viral pandemic.

The board of governors of the Bank, chaired by no other than the no nonsense Ivorien minister of Finance, Mrs. Niale Kaba (affectionately referred to as 'Madam No' by President Ouattara for her no serious mien and professional behaviour) has cleared the incumbent president of the Bank for another term of five years. Nigeria has also written sternly in defence of her illustrious son. And about 17 African former presidents and prime ministers have written in solidarity too. This is certainly a very rare display of international statesmanship, robust solidarity and pan-Africanism from the 'black' continent. The lines are decisively drawn on the sand and may the good guys win!

Nuruddeen Muhammad is Nigeria's former minister of state for Foreign Affairs.

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