• Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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Africa gathers in Lagos to honour its Chief Optimist, Akinwunmi Adesina

Akinwunmi Adesina

In the deep pain spreading in Nigeria, there should be space to ponder on inspiring outcomes from some African countries, courtesy of the great work by local boy Akinwunmi Adesina who has been christened Africa’s Chief Optimist by leaders of the continent.

The President of the African Development Bank group was in Lagos on Thursday to receive the coveted Obafemi Awolowo prize for leadership and Africa put up a show stopping performance for the one who is the beloved of most of Africa. A few years ago, Adesina launched the African investment forum that has now attracted over $100bn in investment capital for funding key projects in the continent and it is no wonder he has been awarded the highest national award by nine African countries.

Read also: Adesina: Awo Leadership Award is well-deserved

On Thursday, no fewer than ten present and former heads of government in Africa led the applause for Adesina and were joined by as much as five present and former presidents and vice presidents from Nigeria. The VIP count included more than 20 current and past state Nigerian governors which was for me the largest gathering of eminent leaders of Africa in one venue that Nigeria may have hosted in a long while.

Perhaps the key part was what was said about the encouraging green shoots that are emerging from around Africa and which should inspire the giant Nigeria into waking up from her long slumber.

The Prime Minister of neighbouring Togo who represented her president, proudly announced that as part of the collaboration with the AfDB, Togo now exports soya beans to Europe. She met with effusive applause. The elegant President of Ethiopia, Sahle-Work Zewde, highlighted the great strides being made by her country in the cultivation of wheat. After only four years and helped by a significant grant from AfDB, Ethiopia is not just self-sufficient in wheat, it is also now able to export the crop to other countries.

Further enquiries by BusinessDay found that the same grant of $252m was offered to Nigeria by the AfDB but was spurned by senior officials and aides of the now disgraced Muhammadu Buhari and it is now hoped the offer will be revived by the Tinubu administration. The Ethiopian experiment is nothing short of a miracle given the countries struggles with division and perhaps more importantly, the geographic conditions.

The AfDB is not just writing the cheque, officials are also helping Africa perfect the use of heat resistant varieties of wheat to turn local communities commonly seen as zones of economic misery where militancy and wars fester into regions of economic prosperity and hope through farming. It was said on the day that our own Africa has the largest uncultivated land and the biggest collection of able youths in the world. Mention was also made of the AfDB is building Africa’s Sahel region into the world’s largest solar farm as well as the massive road project to open up the West African sub region from Nigeria to Cote d’Ivoire. Adesina in his two-term as president of the bank has impacted more than 350 million persons in Africa according to data supplied by the outgoing chair of the Africa Union and President of the Comoros Azali Assoumani who led other leaders of the continent to the event.

Adesina who believes strongly in empowering the private sector as engine of economic development was fondly called “my brother” by the visiting presidents and heads of government who were also lavish in their praise of his attainments.

In video messages, Kristalina Georgieva the head of IMF called Adesina a rare leader with amazing impact. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who served with Adesina in the government of President Goodluck Jonathan described him as practical and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair called Adesina a doer. Ajay Banga the head of the World Bank spoke about Adesina’s strong commitment to Africa’s development and it was the Tanzanian President and chair of the occasion Samia Suluhu Hassan who drew the loudest applause when she referred to Adesina as Chief Optimist of Africa.
She said Adesina embodies the bold commitment of the legendary Obafemi Awolowo who never did small things but pursued ideas with the biggest impact on the people.

When he took the podium to thank his guests, it became clear that the man for whom the whole of the continent had gathered also has a soft side. He said his greatest achievement in life was asking his wife grace to marry him and having her to say yes. His wife in return said, “I do not know how he does it, but he still gets me.”

Turning to Nigeria, Adesina who led the war to end the inglorious fertilizer procurement and distribution scandal in Nigeria, said history has thrusted upon him a responsibility from which he cannot turn back.

The agriculture economist said Nigeria must do five things quickly to make rapid progress. Firstly, Africa’s most populous nation must banish food poverty by enthroning sound policies capable of transforming lives in the rural communities and feeding the people for as he said, “there can be no pride in begging for food.”

Secondly, he advocated health for all in Nigeria by learning the lessons from how it beat Covid-19. He was forceful in pushing the idea that the health of Africa’s 1.4 billion persons cannot be left to the generosity of others. “What if they are not so generous?” he asked, rhetorically. He said AfDB will make the required investment to boost local manufacturing of medicines and vaccines in Africa, starting with Nigeria.
Thirdly, Adesina advocated the concept of education for all in Nigeria and rest of Africa through the provision of safe classrooms and better salaries for teachers and the AfDB is investing $650 million in Nigeria to promote technological skills and adaptation to grow the country’s digital economy. He argued that instead of watching as its children escape to Europe and America for education, Nigeria must aim to keep its best while seeking more from abroad for the skills required for rapid development.

The need to expand housing opportunities for the people was the fourth agenda that was pushed by Adesina who remembered growing up in a neighbourhood without water.
Finally, Adesina strongly defended calls for restructuring in Nigeria saying it was the panacea for accountability and true fiscal federalism.