NIGERIA – The US and the African Development Bank have fallen out over allegations of corruption against the bank’s Nigerian head, writes former BBC Africa Business editor Larry Madowo. Akinwumi Adesina is a sharp dresser known for his expensive tailored suits, immaculate white shirts, and an endless supply of colorful bow ties.
But the clean public persona of the 60-year-old president of the African Development Bank (AfDB) is now being questioned after a string of corruption and abuse of office allegations from his own staff spilled into the open. Mr. Adesina has denied all the allegations.
The board of governors of the 55-year-old institution met on Tuesday to discuss whether to bring in an outside investigator into the allegations concerning the Nigerian’s conduct just days after the US rejected an initial inquiry that cleared him.
The prospects of an independent probe comes only three months before he was expected to be re-elected unopposed at its annual general meeting in August.
The U.S. at odds with Africa
The 20-point allegations of “impunity and bad governance” from unnamed employees have exposed a rift between Mr. Adesina and ordinary staff.
The “Group of Concerned Staff Members of the AfDB” claimed that Mr. Adesina has used the bank’s resources for self-promotion and personal gain while also paying out huge but underserved severance packages to staff who resigned mysteriously, and favoring his fellow Nigerians.
US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin personally signed a letter to the board rejecting an internal investigation that cleared Mr. Adesina.
“Mnuchin’s move is significant because it has now cast the limelight on governance issues and on [the] importance of an independent investigation to uphold the integrity of the AfDB,” said Barbara Barungi, the bank’s former lead economist on Nigeria. “There are very few people that were willing to stick their necks out.”
Besides the core 54 African countries, the US is one of the 27 non-regional members of the AfDB and its second-largest shareholder.
“I think AfDB is Africa’s most valuable institution,” said one insider who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“But what you have now is the biggest paymaster, the US, in a stand-off against the Africans. If you read Mnuchin’s letter carefully, it has put the bank on notice.”
The BBC has obtained the original whistleblowers’ email from January 2020, sent to two executive directors of the bank, Yano Takuji (Japanese) and Steven Dowd (American), and the British director for its Integrity and Anti-Corruption Department Alan Bacarese.
In an April update circulated to a wider pool of senior managers, the whistleblowers said the Ethics Committee headed by Mr. Takuji failed to examine their concerns.
The committee later carried out an investigation and declared that Mr. Adesina was “totally exonerated of all allegations made against him” and recommended that the board of governors adopt its conclusions.
In early May, the board’s chair – Ivorian Planning Minister Nialé Kaba – wrote to shareholders that the African finance ministers who supervise the bank’s management intended to clear Mr. Adesina.
“We fear 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,” Mr. Mnuchin wrote back.
“Therefore, the United States cannot support dismissing the allegations at this stage,” he added.
Mr Kaba said in a statement that a decision had not been made about Mr. Adesina and he remained in office.
“The bureau, which I chair, wishes to reassure the public that it is seized with the matter and it is treating it with the utmost seriousness that it deserves,” he said.
‘Trumped up allegations’
The whistle-blowers have accused Mr Adesina of major conflicts of interest in his dealings with current and former employees, unethical conduct and preferential treatment.
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