Nigeria: Buhari Hails Independent Panel's Affirmation of Adesina's Innocence

African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina (file photo).
29 July 2020

President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, got his path to a second term of office smoothened yesterday as the independent panel instituted to review his clearance of alleged corrupt practices by the bank's Ethics Committee affirmed his innocence.

The panel's report, which became public, early yesterday morning, received an instant endorsement from President Muhammadu Buhari, who said it was an affirmation of the integrity of Nigeria's candidate for the headship of the continental development agency.

A petition by anonymous staff of the bank had earlier in the year accused Adesina of corrupt practices in a clear move to block his second term aspiration. He is the sole contestant in the presidential poll scheduled for May, which now holds in August.

He was, however, cleared of all allegations by the bank's Ethics Committee. But the United States, a shareholder in the bank, expressed reservations about the outcome of the committee and requested for a review by an independent panel.

Although the American request was outside the processes of the bank, the board felt it was necessary to carry along all shareholders. It, therefore, instituted the independent panel, which eventually affirmed the Ethics Committee's clean bill of health issued to Adesina.

Buhari was excited by this development yesterday, describing the clean bill of health as a further affirmation of Adesina's competence and integrity to lead the institution.

The president's media adviser, Mr. Femi Adesina, in a statement, said Buhari also congratulated AfDB Board of Directors, the Ethics Committee and members of staff for their courage, maturity, and patience during the process of investigations, and acceptance of "Report of Panel of High-Level Independent Experts, which reviewed the Report of Ethics Committee of AfDB, and Dr. Adesina's response."

The president also hailed Ms. Mary Robinson, Justice Hassan Jallow and Mr. Leonard McCarthy, whom he described as the eminent personalities who handled the review of the report of the Ethics Committee.

He also applauded their sense of professionalism by rejecting support services, and rather proceeding to provide a unanimous report.

According to Buhari, with the conclusion of the review of the investigative report and its output, distractions caused by the allegations for the entire institution for a notable period must now be put behind the bank.

However, he was swift to add that the development should serve as a recipe for a more diligent handling of the bank's responsibilities.

The president said the development should also simultaneously fuel the zeal for a more effective delivery of the promises for a greater Africa.

He encouraged the AfDB president to remain steadfast, dedicated and resolute in the pursuit of his noble goals for the institution, more so with his expected second term in office, as he assured him of the prayers and support of Nigerians.

The Bureau of the Board of Governors of the bank had on June 4, 2020, mandated the High-Level Panel of Independent Experts (HLPIE) to carry out an "independent review of the report of the Ethics Committee of the Board of Directors on the allegations made by whistleblowers against the President of the AfDB Group."

However, in a report obtained yesterday by THISDAY, the HLPIE absolved Adesina of all charges levelled against him by the internal whistleblowers.

The HLIPE unanimously stated that "it has considered the President's (Adesina) submissions on their face and find them consistent with his innocence and to be persuasive."

It added that the complaints, which were made against Adesina, "were correctly dismissed at the stage of preliminary examination."

It described the allegations against Adesina as lacking "specificity and are not supported by any information or evidence. Hence do not satisfy the threshold of credibility and substantiation required by the resolution and should be dismissed."

The panel, headed by a former President of Ireland, Mrs. Mary Robinson, considered the Report of the Ethics Committee of the AfDB on 16 allegations preferred against Adesina and affirmed all the conclusions of the ethics committee that freed Adesina of any blame and culpability.

Other members of the HLIPE were the Chief Justice of The Gambia, Mr. Hassan Jallow and the President of LFMcCarthy Associates, Mr. Leonard McCarthy.

The panel considered each of the 16 complaints of the whistleblowers and dismissed them for either being frivolous, unsubstantiated and factually wrong in some instances.

Robinson expressed the HLPIE's satisfaction that the ethics committee of the AfDB considered the complaints received by it on January 19, 2020, in a comprehensive and responsible manner and followed correct procedures.

She said: "The panel (HLPIE) concurs with the committee in its findings in respect of all the allegations against the president (Adesina) and finds that they were properly considered and dismissed by the committee."

Robinson noted that the panel carried out its work in line with "the terms of reference of the panel as laid down by the Bureau of the Board of Governors of the AfDB on June 4, 2020," which included "the establishment of the propriety or otherwise of the process undertaken by the ethics committee," adding that "the ethics committee carefully maintained the confidentiality of their procedures."

The HLIPE, in its concluding observations on Adesina's response, said it was mindful of the fact that "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

It noted that "it appears to us to be an undue burden to expect a holder of high office in an international organisation to prove a negative in the absence of sufficient grounds."

This conclusion implied that Adesina had no case whatsoever to answer as the panel said a distinction should be drawn between alleged institutional failure at the bank and the conduct of its president.

The panel considered the complaints provided to the ethics committee by the whistleblowers and found them to have been "properly considered and dismissed by the committee."

The panel also frowned on the manner "the whistleblowers' complaints were wrongly publicised," stressing that "fairness required that the president be heard."

The HLIPE said it considered "the president's submissions on their face and finds them consistent with his innocence and to be persuasive."

The panel noted that the complainants declined to provide any evidence in support of their allegation number one on non-respect of internal rules and regulations in recruitment, which alleged that Adesina was "playing a very active role in the recruitment of all managerial positions, acting as the de facto HR manager."

It affirmed the ethics committee's conclusion that the allegation was unfounded and should be dismissed on the grounds that the staff rules bestowed authority on Adesina as the president of the bank in respect of all staff and gave him the power of appointment and promotion of staff.

It added "that all structures of the bank on appointments and promotions are advisory to the president."

The panel also dismissed allegation number two in which the petitioners alleged that a staff member was appointed to the bank despite having been dismissed from the National Pension Commission of Nigeria following allegations of improper conduct and that the president of the bank must have been aware of these circumstances.

It noted that the complainants declined to proffer any evidence of the alleged dismissal of the staff member or of the personal involvement of the AfDB's president in her recruitment as a consultant to the bank or of any protest or resignation by the head of HR of the bank.

On allegation number four, the panel held that the decision of Adesina to issue the directive to pay a global supplier who delivered seed-coated technology used in the SADC region to prevent spread and infestation of fall army worms was within the confines of his powers.

The panel said Adesina exercised this power "in the best interests of the bank to ward off a possible civil suit against the bank for violating contractual obligations, and to protect its reputation, privileges, and immunities. The panel considers the president's account of his actions to be reasonable."

The HLIPE also dismissed complaint number nine, which alleged that Adesina promoted Nigeria to a fully-fledged region, giving preferential treatment to its nationals.

It agreed with Adesina's response that these decisions were made under his predecessor's watch and that he could not have violated the Code of Ethics by a board decision taken before he assumed office.

"On that basis, he (Adesina) is clearly correct," the HLIPE stated.

Similarly, the panel was satisfied with Adesina's defence that he donated the two cash awards he received for the World Food Prize and the Sunhak Peace prize (for a lifetime of accomplishments) in 2017 and 2019 respectively, to the World Hunger Fighters Foundation, in order to support young African Agribusiness innovators contrary to the whistleblowers' allegation number 10 that portrayed the World Food Prize event as being for his personal benefit.

The panel noted that the complainants did "nothing to counter these points."

The panel also accepted Adesina's response to the allegation of political lobbying and bribing of some African heads of state, ostensibly to support his candidature in his re-election bid, which Adesina described as fanciful and baseless allegations that impugned the integrity of those persons.

On complaints numbers 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 that covered a range of human resource administration breaches and alleged preferential treatment and questionable rushed promotions, irregular contracting of consultants, biased confirmation of probationary periods, irregular settlements for staff separations and disregard of rules regarding senior management travel and leave of absence, the panel noted that it has already considered allegation number eight on alleged sexual harassment by a colleague during his probation period, and found it to be lacking in substance.

It said the danger with this type of accusation "is that it later appears to be based on lopsided reasoning."

The HLIPE observed that Adesina performed his role in the ordinary course of duties of confirming staff appraisals in each case without knowing the staff member in question and "was entirely unaware of the alleged disqualification, and that the whistleblowers got the chronology wrong.

"The complaints appear to be no more than conjecture. There also appears to be little merit in the allegation of impropriety in the president's granting of a waiver for the short term recruitment of a retired director general who led the work, to support him in his capacity as chairman of the Multilateral Development Banks...

"The president's (Adesina) role was to give a final stamp of approval. He executed this fairly and equitably, informed by the fact that all these candidates came with excellent credentials and were highly recommended by the sitting interview panels."

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