From experience, countries that contribute to the shareholdings of multilateral banks do so for both reasons of altruism and national interest. Given that these institutions wield enormous influence in national development policies of recipient countries, donor countries often tend to jealously guard their voting powers as a means of exerting policy influence in those institutions, and via those institutions, on regional member countries. The experience in practice has been that Nigeria has never really exercised any influence commensurate with its status and voting power in such institutions especially the African Development Bank, where it has the largest shareholding. Nigerian influence remains weak at the highest levels of management while Nigerian staff have had occasion to feel that they have not been given their due when it comes to promotion within the professional ranks.
It is on this note we see as a great relief and gladly welcome the recent emergence of Dr Akinwumi Adesina as President of the African Development Bank, AfDB at the 50th Annual General Meeting of the regional bank held in Cote d’Ivoire last week May 28th. The AfDB is the largest financial institution on the continent. The CEO of that institution is therefore the most influential banker on the continent. He will on 1stSeptember succeed current holder Donald Kaberuka of Rwanda.
AfDB is the only regional finance institution where non-regional members have a major say in who heads the organization. For the World Bank, we all know that the Americans have continued to insist that it is their exclusive preserve. The Japanese have held on to the headship of the Asian Development Bank. Our own AfDB is one of the few where foreigners have as much right as Africans to decide who should head the bank. There were eight candidates in all: our own Akinwunmi Adesina, former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development; Sufian Ahmed, the highly respected Minister of Finance of Ethiopia; Tunisian Finance Minister Jaloul Ayed; Cape Verdian Minister of Finance, Christian Duarte, the only woman in the pack; Sierra Leone’s Foreign Affairs Minister Samura Kamara; Chadian Finance Minister Kordje Bedoumra; Islamic Development Bank Vice-President Birama Boubacar Sidibe; and recently retired AfDB Vice-President Thomas Zondo Sakala of Zimbabwe. After two rounds of voting, Adesina clinched the prize with 58 percent of the votes, followed by Kordje Bedoumra with 32 percent and Christina Duarte with 10 percent.
Dr. Adesina was a bit of an oddball among the pack, given that, stricto sensu, he did not come from a finance background. He is an agricultural economist who has worked mostly in international development institutions. Everybody agrees that he acquitted himself well as agriculture minister. Before the voting, it was clear that the Governing Board was not favourably disposed to appointing insiders to the highly exalted role. Kordje Bedoumra, Zondo Sakala and Birama Sidibe were all former bank staffers. Kordje Bedoumra was a highly accomplished VP for Infrastructures; a cool-headed and highly effective technocrat. There were other good candidates who were as good as Adesina.
No doubt, Dr. Adesina won the presidency on merit. He stood out by his intellectual brilliance, impeccable record as an international civil servant and astuteness as a statesman and one of the best ministers in the out gone Goodluck Jonathan administration. While we believe that Adesina will give his ultimate loyalty to the AfDB and to Africa, we cannot avoid facing the fact that his victory is a redeeming grace for Nigeria’s dwindling influence in African and world affairs.
We recall that in May 2005 Bisi Ogunjobi lost the presidency to Donald Kaberuka in, of all places, Abuja. We lost on the home-ground. It was a painful and embarrassing ordeal.
For much of its independent existence, Nigeria has been a major contributor to the financing of multilateral institutions. Within the African context, Nigeria is a major contributor and dominant shareholder of such institutions as the African Development Bank Group, Shelter Afrique, Afrexim Bank, and the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development (EBID). In most African regional institutions in which Nigeria has been involved, she has contributed as much as 40 percent to the operational costs of those institutions. During the early nineties, the Nigerian government underwrote a significant portion of the operational budget of the OAU/AU, at a time of fiscal difficulties when most member countries were not forthcoming. Nigeria was one of the prime movers for the creation of the African Development Bank. At the inception of the African Development Bank in 1964, with an initial share capital of UA 250 million (US$470 million) by the 25 member countries, Nigeria was the third-largest shareholder, following behind Egypt and Algeria. Today, the AfDB has a total capitalisation of US$100 billion. As at year 2005 Nigeria’s shareholding stood at UA 300 million, representing a voting power of 9.2 percent, the largest single shareholding in the organisation
Dr. Adesina would be taking over the bank at a time it stands at a critical juncture in its fifty-year history. Many of its stakeholders have felt it has become a massive, top-heavy bureaucratic behemoth that is losing touch with its critical clientele. There is no doubt that the organisation has done some things right, but it is very clear that it has also manifested key weaknesses in several critical sectors. Now is the time to reposition the AfDB to make it a lean organisation that can be a catalyst for the much-vaunted African Renaissance. This is a call for bold leadership, for reform and for courage in repositioning the AfDB so that it can serve the interests of all its shareholders. What is needed is boldness, courage and intellectual originality, all which Adesina has in abundance.

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