15 Former African Presidents Back Adesina, Urge US not to Distract Him

Akinwumi Adesina

•Okonjo-Iweala: AfDB boss doing a great job, he’ll find a way through the squabble

Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja and Dike Onwuamaeze in Lagos

Fifteen former African Presidents yesterday released a joint statement backing the embattled President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Akinwumi Adesina, after the United States and several other European countries called for a fresh “impartial and independent” probe of his affairs at the bank.

On the same day, the Board Chair of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and former Managing Director of the World Bank, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said Adesina was doing a good job at the AfDB and expressed optimism that he would find a way through the squabble.

The US Treasury Secretary had called for an independent investigation following allegations that Adesina violated AfDB’s Code of Ethics, which he had strongly denied as fabrications and misinformation to disparage and discredit him.

The call by the United States and its partners for an independent probe is also seen as going for the jugular of Adesina.

While calling for caution, the former African leaders told the United States Government that no nation, regardless of how powerful, had veto power over the African Development Bank and urged all shareholders to work together.

In a joint statement signed by the 15 former African Presidents, they said at this critical time that Africa was battling with COVID-19, the bank and its President should not be distracted.

The African leaders said that the continent was facing an unprecedented challenge with the COVID-19 pandemic and that all hands must be on deck to tackle it.

They said the Ethics Committee of the Board of Directors, a legal oversight body of the bank, made up of representatives of shareholders, cleared Adesina of all 16 allegations, declaring them as baseless and unsubstantiated and exonerated him completely.

They said: “We understand that the bank fully followed its rules, procedures and governing systems, which have served it well since African countries established it in 1964.

“Governance is all about respecting and abiding by rules, laws and established governing systems of organisations. In the case of the AfDB, while differences may exist among parties, the best way to address them is to first respect the rules, procedures and governance structures of the bank.

“To do otherwise will be tantamount to undermining the bank and its long and hard earned reputation, and that of its President.

“The African Development Bank is a pride for all of Africa, and its President, Dr. Adesina, has taken the bank to enviable heights. At this critical time that Africa is battling with COVID-19, the bank and its President should not be distracted.

“Differences will always occur but we urge that all shareholders work together. All shareholders should work with mutual respect, and honour the rules and procedures of the bank and its governance systems that have served it well for 56 years.

“No nation, regardless of how powerful, has a veto power over the African Development Bank, and no nation should have such power.”

They pointed out that the AfDB, under the leadership of Adesina, had been doing a remarkable job in steering the organisation.

They said that the bank announced a $10 billion crisis response facility to support countries in Africa, while it also successfully launched a $3 billion “Fight COVID-19” social bond, the largest ever US dollar-denominated bond in world history.

The African leaders noted that the bank “is powered by Adesina’s vision and leadership,” and that the shareholders from 80 countries all approved a general capital increase of $115 billion for the bank, the largest in its history since establishment in 1964.

They stressed further that the bank had been doing a lot for women, with a $3 billion fund to provide access to finance for women, supported by G7 countries and Africa.

They emphasised that across the continent, the bank’s presence and work had been highly visible and impactful, adding that in less than five years, the bank’s High 5 agenda had impacted over 333 million people, from access to electricity, food security, access to finance via the private sector, improve transport and access to water and sanitation.

“The bank has maintained its stellar AAA rating among all global rating agencies. The shareholders of the bank have all played very important roles in supporting the bank to achieve these impressive results,” said the African leaders.

The statement was signed by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of Nigeria; Boni Yayi, former President of Benin Republic; Hailemariam Desalegn, former Prime Minister of Ethiopia; John Kufour, former President of Ghana; Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia and Joyce Banda, former President of Malawi.

Others are Joaquim Chissano, former President of Mozambique; Tandja Mamadou, former President of Niger; Goodluck Jonathan, former President of Nigeria; Mohamed Marzouki, former President of Tunisia; Benjamin Mkapa, former President of Tanzania; Ameenah Gurib-Fakin, former President of Mauritius; Rupiah Banda, former President of Zambia; Kgalema Motlanthe, former President of South Africa and Jakaya Kikwete, former President of Tanzania.

Okonjo-Iweala: AfDB boss doing a great job, I hope he’ll find a way through the squabble

Also endorsing AfDB President, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala said, “I think Dr. Akinwumi Adesina has done a good job with the bank. There was a (study) that made a good and very important report. “He has done a good job. He is one of our own. My extreme hope with this is that this will come out right; that he will find a way through the squabble.”

She gave the commendation yesterday during an interview she granted to the Arise TV, where she spoke on the need for the federal government to widen Nigeria’s tax base and advised that the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) should commence as soon as possible.

Okonjo-Iweala, who was Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance, also advised the federal government to devise a long term strategy that would encourage players in the informal sector to register their businesses and make them taxable in order to cope with the sagging oil revenue.

She said: “We need to figure out ways to tax those in the informal sector. We have to embark on a long term strategy that can attract young people and women who are creating businesses in the informal sector to register their businesses and become tax payers in the next five years. These are some of the things Nigeria has to do to enlarge its tax base so that we can tax these sectors better.

“We also need to look inward to see how we can generate internal revenue. Oil is experiencing its lowest prices and we need to ask ourselves how do we focus on other sectors of the economy that can help us to generate growth like investing in agriculture and the creative industry that creates a lot of jobs for the young people. We need to increase power supply to drive our manufacturing capabilities. We also need to focus on gas, which is a transition energy that can take us 10 years down the line.”

Okonjo-Iweala also revealed that African countries had been campaigning for a two years standstill on debt servicing and repayments from their creditors to enable them have resources to deal with the impact of COVID-19 pandemic.

She said that the standstill would provide the time needed to study the debt obligations of each African country for appropriate recommendation in terms of outright debt forgiveness for very poor countries or debt re-profiling.

She said: “The G20 has opened the door by agreeing to grant a standstill till the end of this year. But we said that it is not enough and pushing for more.

“We are still pushing China to take the lead in granting Africa the two year standstill. My advice for countries going for debt is to do so cautiously by taking the volume of debt they can service while growing their economies. They should not always look at debt to GDP ratio but at debt service revenue. So, they should please do it cautiously.”

Okonjo-Iweala , who is also one the African envoys nominated by the African Union to campaign for debt standstill, also called on African leaders to commence the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) as soon as possible.

She advised that African countries should make improving their manufacturing base the cardinal goal of the AfCFTA by specialising in the manufacturing of certain things they could trade with their neighbours.

“You know that we import 94 per cent of the pharmaceutical products we use in the continent. Why can’t some countries specialise in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals? We also need to go digital in order to facilitate trade in the continent,” she said.

Okonjo-Iweala said the continent needs to attract investments that would boost effective transmission and distribution of power at an affordable price to the population in a manner that could clear the market and enable power companies to operate in a profitable manner. “We have to work out the financial bases in the power sector of many countries to know our investment needs. This is what that is holding us back. Two-third of our power has not been built. So Africa has opportunity to lash on to renewable energies,” she said.

The former managing director of the World Bank also expressed the view that the global economy would have a dismal economic projection in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and advised African countries to start planning for a better economic outlook from 2021.