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Akinwunmi Adesina, the sophisticated conversationalist and President of the African Development Bank was the recipient of the 2023 Obafemi Awolowo Foundation Prize for Leadership the other week. He was the cynosure of all eyes at the glittering and superbly-packaged ceremony. The African Development Bank of which Nigeria has had the good fortune of Adesina’s leadership these eight or so years came alive on Wednesday, March 6, 2024 as if it was being inaugurated or introduced to its primary constituency – the African continent – for the first time.

The address or acceptance speech of the awardee contained assertions that are as deliberately true as they are deliberately offensive. Adesina’s ideas about development are not only thoroughly original as we have ever had him express them, they speak to the laid back or relaxed posture of many, if not all, African States respecting development.

Shorn of venom or vulgarity, Adesina painted an epigrammatic, if cynical, picture of Nigeria. His verbal thrusts were a wry commentary on life in Nigeria but – the diplomat that he has become – they were basically too good-natured to qualify as a centure or tirade. Adesina probably deliberately turned the expectations of his audience upside-down.

For sure, the Nigerian glitterati take no interest in the development strides of other nations until it is told them that Nigeria’s epic back row position in the comity of nations has become worrisome or is a global embarrassment or that the train of development has since departed and left Nigeria moping in a deserted or disused train station.

Even though Adesina gleefully announced to his audience that he does not indulge in boring arguments or revel in acerbic criticism, he agrees with Oscar Wilde that though they may be vulgar, criticism and arguments are often convincing. Adesina’s quips and comments at the award ceremony reflected the true picture of the African, nay Nigerian, dilemma – abject lack or untold want in the midst of stupendous plenty.

Voltaire (1694-1778) had, in mock derision, referred to France as a nation divided into two species: the one of idle monkeys who mock at everything; and the other of tigers who tear or devour all that belong to all. Voltaire may well have had Nigeria in mind. Some commentaries have skeptically clothed Nigeria in malediction or in the opposite of benediction.

The theme of Adesina’s address at the august ceremony which attracted the creme de la creme of the Nigerian political elite and the gracious attendance of foreign dignitaries including five Presidents of sovereign nation states, however invokes hope, charts a pragmatic course for Nigeria’s salvation, and infuses dynamism into an otherwise staid development trajectory.

Adesina’s strategies for transforming the Nigerian socio-economic and political space draws largely from the time-tested Obafemi Awolowo’s 5 cardinal programme development. The awardee’s thesis “Making a New Nigeria: welfarist policies and people-centred development “ reads like a studious peep into Awo’s playbook.


Given Nigeria’s high level of poverty, for instance, Adesina identifies welfarist policies as the tonic for exponentially expanding opportunities for all, for reducing inequalities, and for improving the quality of life of the people. Awo had foresightedly intoned:

“In order to attain the goals of economic freedom and prosperity, Nigeria must do certain things as a matter of urgency and priority. It must provide free education (at all levels) … for the masses of its citizens”. It remains a wondrous anxiety that those in government are reluctant, afraid or ambivalent in their approach to the welfarist prescription of free education even as they ought to recognise that”…Education is that process of physical and mental culture whereby a man’s personality is developed to the fullest”.

Awo’s integrated rural development programme is rejigged by Adesina as the salutary complete transformation of Nigeria’s rural economies for ensuring food security. Adesina notes that at the heart of the transformation of rural economies is agriculture. He projects agriculture as moving away from being a way of life to being a business. Higher incomes and wages from agribusiness, he evinces, will necessarily support education and health and “spur even greater job creation for millions of youths”.

Adesina recalls the halcyon days of the establishment of farm estates and the expansion of rural roads as contributory to the stabilisation of prices of farm produce even as “prudent fiscal management of cocoa revenues powered the economies” of the old Western Region.

Adesina has listed in his order of priorities, health as next to agriculture and food. “A nation without a sound health care system is a nation that is defenceless against the invasion of all forms of disease or epidemics”. In his own comments on the constitutional framework for Nigeria in December 1976, Awo said concerning health:”In the field of health, there should be provisions in the constitution to the following effect: that free medical treatment shall be available to all within 5 years; and that schemes whereby the production of medical practitioners will reach, within 15 years, a target of one doctor to at least 20,000 people, shall be introduced annually or quinquennially”.

Until those in authority can appreciate the dictum: “To be wealthy, the nation needs to be healthy”, the requirement to provide free health facilities for all citizens will be gravely lost on them.Even as Adesina advocates a better quality of life for the people of Nigeria to be evidenced by access to decent and affordable housing for all, he poohed “the opprobrious policies that seek to upgrade slums”. For Adesina, the most damning of the development trajectory of Nigeria is the critical lack or the impunitous absence of accountability. 


The requirement of fiscal decentralisation of a skewed federal system is a sine qua non for true development.  Government without citizenship accountability, Adesina asserts, is a synonym for democratic dictatorship – itself an aberration. There is a greater need today for e-governance systems to enhance transparency and accountability of government.

For the success of the much-vaunted welfarist or people-centred policies, it is imperative that the governance system be changed as to devolve powers to States which by nature have enormous potential for unlocking the huge resources inherent in them.


To get released from the present imprisonment of exclusively relying on a federal behemoth, there is an urgent need to restructure Nigeria even as Adesina identifies economic and financial viability as the necessary and sufficient desiderata for political viability.

The spirit of Awo loomed large in that hall as all that Adesina spoke about were a refreshing rehash of all that Awo untiringly told us. Awo is noted for visionary boldness and spartan resoluteness. Our country needs men and women with vision, courage and fortitude.

Lennox Mall

Adesina dreams of a new Nigeria that would unleash massive wealth across the states; of Nigeria in which our union will be fully participatory; of Nigeria where there will be a change in the relational mindset between the states and Abuja; a Nigeria in which the states will be the fulcrum and the centre will play a necessary support role.Adesina envisions a new Nigeria powered by torrents of hope, trusts, equity, fairness and wealth at every level, in every state … by all and for all; a new Nigeria we all will be proud of to call our home.
In closing, we cannot but note Adesina’s presentation for the do-able spirit in which its canon is cast.

Guardian Nigeria


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