By Okello Oculi
As a former Policy Consultant to the Minister of Agriculture, Federal Republic of Nigeria (between 1995 and 1997), I took a more than a casual interest in the widely favourable reporting in the media about Adewumi Adesina, the Minister of Agriculture in 2014. His regular face on television and photographs in the print media became lodged in my subconscious.
That picture of him rushed out when two female Secondary School students we had taken to the airport to travel to Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Airlines, were barred from entering the Boarding Hall by a gatekeeper who insisted that they were late. Having failed to get a concession from him, Ms Kate Bello, the Principal of the School was speechless.
She had rushed from the Embassy of Ethiopia where her pleas for visas stamped in the passports of the girls, had failed to impress Embassy staff. She now invoked that familiar Nigerian strategy when faced with a seemingly insoluble problem, namely: to say: ‘’Na fight to finish’’, and refused to accept that her girls would return to the terror of facing their peers as failures. Officials of Africa Vision 525 Initiative, the NGO which invited by Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, and the London-based Olusegun Obasanjo Foundation to send the students Addis Ababa, prayed for some miracle to fall down as ‘’manna’’ from space.
The students were to attend an ‘’African Youth Forum’’ and speak as Zimbabwe’s President, Robert Mugabe, and Senegal’s President, Macky Sall, in a mini-simulation of an ‘’Assembly of the African Union’’. Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was expectant about their promotion of Pan-Africanism to Africa’s youths, while former President of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, was interested in their speeches emphasizing the quest for food security in Africa and youth interest in agriculture as future business careers.
As we waited for the impossible to happen, I turned to look at the gate we had come through to look at no one in particular. With a surprise, I saw the man who had always been a photograph. I walked towards him and told him the obvious truth that we had never met in person but I had two little girls who must travel by the Ethiopian airline on the tarmac to attend an ‘’African Youth Forum’’ starting tomorrow.
He walked to the girls and greeted the anxious girls. He then turned and asked the gatekeeper if it was too late to let the girls in. The man remained adamant. Dr. Adesina expressed sympathy for the girls, and continued to walk to the gate. A few minutes later, an airline staff came running to call the girls in. Minister Adesina came to ask Ms Bello, the Principal, to bring over her students.
Unlike other ‘’big men’’ in Nigerian officialdom, Adesina did not bark at the gatekeeper to violate the operational rule at the airport and let the girls in. He also did not tell the Principal that he would invoke his official status to serve her wish. When the girls entered the aircraft unaccompanied by an adult as their guardian, he instructed his aide to be their guardian. He would later introduce them to former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
This encounter and his meeting both Dlamini-Zuma and Obasanjo as joint organizers of the ‘’Africa Youth Forum’’ would almost certainly have fed into Adesina’s revival of the partnership between the African Development Bank (AfDB) and Civil Society community in Africa.
Although launched in 2000, it was in 2018 that new energy was put into the partnership with the creation of the ‘’Bank-Civil Society Committee’’. It expresses a forging of strong linkage and collaboration with the Civil Society community; and expects them to insist on accountability by the Bank to implementing its commitments.
In specific terms, President Akinwumi Adesina has fired the imagination of Civil Society groups by manifesting a passion for implementing what he calls the ‘’5 High Priority Areas’’. These are: (1) Feeding Africa; (2) Lighting Up Africa; (3) Industrializing Africa; (4) Integrating Africa, and (5) Improving the quality of life for the people of Africa.
Coming at a time when over 600 million youth in Africa are either under-employed or unemployed and disillusioned with corrupt political leadership across Africa, these objectives offer a rare window of hope.
This has been reinforced by his performance. On the issue of linking trade and markets in Africa, his injection of $670 million to build a road between Addis Ababa and Nairobi is reported to have reduced the transport of ‘’30 tonnes of freight …to only about 24 hours’’ unlike the previous ‘’two weeks to drive between Addis and Nairobi’’. In the goal of providing electricity, a loan of 155 Euros to Morocco has ensured that 12.8 million people are now receiving electricity from the national grid, thereby ending the familiar wrapping millions in most Africa countries with exclusion from electricity.
A case of combining industrialization with agriculture is manifested in funding a fertilizer plant in Port Harcourt on Nigeria’s Atlantic Ocean coast up the tune of UD1.2 billion. A beneficiary reported that fertilizer had boosted his crop yield by 40 per cent. The AfDB has, since 2015, funded projects for promoting access to clean water and better sanitation to 43 million people. For millions of women and children who draw water either from streams or wells tapping underground water – and walk long distances – this relief will not arrive quickly enough.
In the face of measures to combat the COVID-19 virus pandemic, notably: regular washing of hands and ‘’social distancing’’, Civil Society groups have criticized African governments for past failures to provide food security; adequate shelter; training adequate numbers of doctors and nurses, and have welcomed Adesina’s record of performance.
One of Adesina’s strategy for promoting Africa’s development which Civil Society find most welcome is ‘’boosting the entrepreneurial power of Africa’s young people’’. Africa has a ‘’young and quickly growing population’’. His vision to ‘’leverage 1 billion Euros’’ by public and private sources to be combined with 50 million Euros each by AfDB and the European Investment Bank to fund ‘’innovation and incubating and piloting promising new ideas’’ will enhance Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) by young people.
In the context of growing social decay (following corruption by ruling political networks which is promoting growing inequality in most African countries), Adesina’s focus on Africa’s youth will ‘’promote the democratization’’ of economic activities and access to income. In South Africa the commemoration of the ‘’Freedom Charter’’ (adopted on June 26, 1955), which declared that ‘’The people shall share the wealth of this country’’, Civil Society groups are convinced that it is the promise and passion for funding the blocked innovation and productivity by Adesina as President of the African Development Bank is what is needed to stem growing bitterness and hunger of millions crowded inside shacks and those sleeping on open spaces.
Prof. Oculi, Founder of Africa Vision 525 Initiative, writes from Abuja