Victor Oladokun profiles Akinwunmi Adesina | Banker of Africa and #YNaijaPOTY2020 Nominee

What a year Akinwunmi Adesina has had.

At the beginning of the year, it seemed that he had everything going for him. On account of his sterling leadership as President of the African Development Bank Group (AfDB), Adesina was expected to be elected, unopposed for a second five-year term.

The 60-year-old banker was going into the elections as an incredibly popular candidate, his chances buoyed by the smart kick off of his High 5 agenda, an ambitious five-point strategy designed to provide transformational development for Africa over a ten-year period. The critical areas of interest identified by Adesina include agriculture, electricity, industrialisation, integration and improved livelihood.

Then the shocker came. Or should I say the Americans did?

Anonymous employees of the bank under the umbrella of a whistleblower group submitted a 15-page report to governors of the bank. The report contained 16 allegations of ethical wrong doing, including the hiring of Nigerians to senior positions at the Bank. Adesina responded to each single accusation calmly and with clear eyed detail before dismissing them as “spurious and unfounded.” Investigations and reviews were conducted on three different occasions to ascertain the validity of the claims viz:

• The Bank’s Ethics Committee constituted of executive board members representing African and non-African shareholder countries.

• An investigative review by the Governors of the Bank, which was made up of Finance Ministers of shareholder countries.

• An Independent Review Panel led by former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, including Justice Hassan Jallow, former minister of Justice in Gambia; and Leonard McCarthy, a former vice president of the World Bank Integrity Vice Presidency.

Adesina, eventually survived the investigations and most importantly, a process that would have undermined the years of competence and dedication he had put into his well decorated career; on his way to winning a hard fought second term.

Born into poverty in a one-room house, without electricity to a line of unskilled workers who labored in farms owned by other people, In spite of this, Adesina was determined to shine from the beginning, as he embraced the opportunities that a solid education opened up to him.

As a student prodigy, he enrolled at Poly Ibadan for his A/Levels at the age of 14. He would later graduate with First Class Honors in Agricultural Economics from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), and was the first student of the university to record this honour. He completed his PhD. in Agricultural Economics from Purdue University, Indiana (1988); where he won the most outstanding PhD Thesis Award.

Adesina’s AfDB has been at the center of major development gains and the most important economic decisions of the last half decade. His work centers the principles of free markets and good governance while at the same time pushing for increased agency for African countries to meet local challenges.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic Adesina’s AfDB responded proactively, supporting African countries with a $10 billion crisis response facility. The AfDB under Adesina’s capable leadership also floated a financial framework to support Africa’s fight against the pandemic.

The Bank’s $3 billion “Fight COVID-19 Social Bond” was a big hit on the international capital market. With an interest rate of 0.75%, the effort met the target within a few hours of its launch. This bond, now listed on the London Stock Exchange, is the largest US Dollar denominated social bond in history.

According to the AfDB, 18 million people now have access to electricity while 60 million people have benefitted from improved access to clean water and sanitation thanks to the efforts of Adesina and his colleagues. Working to close the infrastructure gap across the continent, Adesina’s tenure marked the biggest capital increase in the bank’s 55-year history, a giant leap from $93 billion to $208 billion. 

Long before he worked at the AfDB, Adesina had devoted his career to serving the needs of the continent. In 2017, Adesina was awarded the World Food Prize, recognised widely as the ‘Nobel Prize’ for Food and Agriculture. The former minister for agriculture pledged the entire $250,000 cash prize to supporting young people in food and agriculture.

This gave rise to the World Hunger Fighters Foundation, operating in partnership with the World Food Prize Foundation. Adesina also pledged his $500,000USD Sunhak Peace Prize to the same cause. Outstanding young Africans are now inducted as Borlaug-Adesina Foundation Fellowship recipients.

Famous for his smart suits, bow ties and bright smiles, Adesina is a consensus builder, with the charisma and know-how to reach across political, national and even international divides. This willingness to listen and compromise is responsible for helping him survive what could easily have been a contentious period as minister of Agriculture. At home with farmers as he is in the corporate and development space, Adesina’s intellect is massive, his administrative skills top notch.

Give it up for Africa’s banker.

To vote Akinwunmi Adesina as YNaija Person of the Year 2020; visit ynaija.com/personoftheyear2020

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