A lengthy confidential memorandum sent on April 8 to the Ethics Committee of the African Development Bank (AfDB) board of directors — and subsequently leaked — has revealed the pushback from President Akinwumi Adesina to corruption allegations.
In this detailed pro domo plea (18 pages of arguments followed by 240 pages of annexes), he responds both to accusations of violation of the AfDB’s statutory rules and to the most numerous objections concerning its governance, its choice of collaborators and its management mode.
Here are the five highlights of Adesina’s defence.
“In the new organizational chart introduced by President [Adesina], the Nigeria country office is now an autonomous entity […]. While Nigeria is the largest AfDB country […], it is not clear that this justifies preferential treatment,” the authors of the “Denunciation” note first revealed in Le Monde.
In response, Akinwumi Adesina recalled: “The decision to open a country department in Nigeria was taken by the Board of Directors under the leadership of President Kaberuka, my predecessor. I cannot have violated the code of ethics for implementing a decision of the Board taken before I took office. Such an allegation bears the deepest marks of gratuitousness.”
In their missive, the AfDB’s “worried employees” expressed concern about the “preferential treatment” given to Maria Mulundi, a long-time employee of Akinwumi Adesina, a member of her transition team before she was appointed cabinet director and then head of special missions. “According to our information, the “special” mission entrusted to her by the President is to look after his wife, Grace Adesina, who is currently in South Africa.
In his letter, Akinwumi Adesina recalls: “My wife lives in Abidjan and not in South Africa. Aren’t the whistleblowers ashamed? Once again, this allegation is an example of the kind of allegation that any decision-maker should ignore because it is not based on any objective and established facts.”
Lobbying and campaigning
One of the controversial points raised by the whistleblowers concerns the numerous trips made by Akinwumi Adesina and a supposed “political lobbying” in favour of his re-election. “He is using the opportunities provided by these trips to meet with regional heads of state and make financial promises … to gain support for his re-election for a second term and to stifle competition,” the whistleblowers stated.
In an equally angry response, Akinwumi Adesina accused his critics of “questioning the integrity, leadership and honesty of 16 African presidents and ECOWAS”, who gave him their support at the end of December.
Adesina also recalls that in February 2020, he obtained the unanimous support of the “Executive Council of the African Union, composed of 55 Ministers of Foreign Affairs”. “Following the wobbly logic of whistleblowers, one could deduce that I bribed all 55 African presidents. This allegation shows a degrading contempt for Africa, Africans and African leaders,” he said.
Friends of the President
The “whistle-blowers” denounced the recruitment and dispensations granted to various Bank executives because, according to them, of their proximity to the institution’s president. This is the case with the recruitment and promotion of Nigerian Martin Fregene, director of the agriculture department, who is presented as Adesina’s brother-in-law, and Victor Oladokun, a long-time friend of the Nigerian leader and former director of communication.
Regarding the former, concerned employees point out: “It is not clear whether, in the event that it is confirmed, family membership was disclosed during the recruitment process or whether it played a role in promotions.
“First of all, Mr. Fregene is NOT my brother-in-law,” replies Akinwumi Adesina, who goes on to point out that the Nigerian executive is “a world-class geneticist, internationally recognized for his work on cassava plant genetics,” who, “contrary to the allegation contained in the denunciation, was not ‘appointed Director of Agriculture’, but ‘participated in a transparent competitive process organized on a global scale’, subject to ‘rigorous and independent review by a jury'”.
Referring to Victor Oladokun, who retired in early 2020, the AfDB boss acknowledges their friendship since their university years, but points out that “nothing in the Bank’s rules says that being a friend of someone being recruited is against the rules”, which he says only excludes the recruitment of “a direct family member, wife, husband, son or daughter”.
He further recalls that the latter was urgently called in as a consultant, following the “sudden” resignation of the director of communications at the beginning of 2017, in order to ensure the organisation of the annual meetings in India.
Subsequently, “Mr. Oladokun applied for the position of Director of Communications, which was advertised internationally and opened to competition. The President was not a member of the selection committee or the independent interview panel” who “unanimously declared Victor to be the best candidate and to have achieved the highest score among all candidates”.
Another point raised by the whistleblowers particularly irritated the AfDB president: the length of time some executives, including the vice-president in charge of regional development, Egypt’s Khaled Sherif, have been abroad. “The president does not control or manage staff leave as human resources does,” Akinwumi Adesina said, before recalling: “The truth is that the vice president had personal health problems to take care of (his privacy must be respected), which required him to be absent for long periods, as needed.”
The whistleblowers have noted some controversial contracts in their letters. These include a contract worth more than US$5 million with the Swiss seed company Syngenta, paid for by the AfDB despite the failure to comply with the terms of the contract, and two contracts awarded by private treaty for US$2.1 million to the Kenyan recruitment firm Career Connections by David Ssegawa, then director of human resources, who was allowed to resign after an investigation was reportedly launched against him.
In the first case, Akinwumi Adesina defends the payment made to Syngenta, pointing out that, despite the breach of procurement rules, the quality of the products supplied and the positive results of the crop year that they allowed argued in favour of settling the invoice.
According to Adesina, the Swiss group was threatening the bank with legal action for breach of contractual obligations. “I asked the Senior Vice President to talk to all parties involved and ensure that the right decisions are made…to protect the Bank’s reputation and to ensure that the Bank is not exposed to legal action that could damage its reputation and jeopardize its privileges and immunities,” he said.
Regarding the Kenyan company, Adesina says that “there was absolutely no investigation into David Ssegawa when he resigned [in November 2018], and no investigation was planned. Indeed, an audit of these contracts was launched “due to widespread rumours that he awarded these contracts fraudulently and is indeed the owner of the company”.
However, the AfDB boss recalled that “the report of this investigation [was] submitted to him […] on March 24, 2020, two years after David Ssegawa’s departure”, and denies the inappropriateness of the awarding of these contracts. “How could the president have allegedly accepted his resignation because of an investigation that had not yet been launched at the time and was not concluded until two years after his resignation? “Akinwumi Adesina wonders.
Call for sanctions
In his letter to the Ethics Committee, the AfDB boss refers to two major points in the bank’s “whistle-blowing policy”. He reminds that the confidentiality of the whistleblower’s identity can be lifted, particularly in the case of “false accusations”.
Furthermore, it notes that according to these regulations: “Any member of staff who makes statements which are gratuitous or without the firm belief that the information provided is true shall be liable to disciplinary action in accordance with the Bank’s regulations.”
No doubt the whistleblowers will see this as a call for retaliation. Citing a whistleblower’s report that “is full of examples of allegations that are gratuitous or not based on objective and established facts, or allegations that are in fact refuted by objective and established facts,” the AfDB boss assured the ethics committee: “I have a clear conscience.”
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