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Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, AfDB President

Adesina extols Awolowo’s virtues, charts path for better Nigeria

By Olawunmi Ashafa
Lagos, March 7, 2024
Dr Akinwunmi Adesina, President of Africa Development Bank (AfDB), says Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Premier of the defunct Western Region of Nigeria, remains the pacesetter and forerunner for development in Africa.
Adesina made the remark when he received the 2023 award of Obafemi Awolowo Prize for Leadership, on Wednesday in Lagos.
The event coincided with the 115th  posthumous birthday anniversary of Awolowo and 37 years after his death.
Adesina, who became the fourth recipient of the award, noted that, as a teenage follower of  Awolowo, he promised himself to follow the footsteps of the late premier, if he ever got into public office.
According to him, growing up in the old western region in the 1960s, only one name was synonymous with people-centered development:  Awolowo.
“We lived in the same community as the sage, in Okebola, Ibadan. As a young child, passing by the frontage of his house was a favourite pastime.
“I remember peering over its low walls, to see if I could just catch a glimpse of the man who transformed the lives of millions in the then western region.
“My father was enamored by Chief Awolowo; he devoured his books, writings and articles. The name ‘Awolowo’ was a constant guidepost for every discussion in our home.
“So much was the admiration that when I was 19 years old and Chief Awolowo ran for President under the Unity Party of Nigeria in 1979, myself and a close friend desperately wanted to simply catch a glimpse of him,” he said.
Adesina, a former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development in Nigeria, said Awolowo’s intellectual capacity, vision, pragmatic social welfarism, helped him accomplish what was seemingly unimaginable at the time.
“I dare say that Chief Awolowo implemented the sustainable development goals decades long before the phrase was coined.
“He was an inspiration for Africa, far beyond the shores of Nigeria. His philosophy, ‘Awoism’, was studied globally and helped shape programmes and policies in other countries,” Adeshina said.
Adesina, in his lecture, titled: ‘Making a New Nigeria: Welfarist Policies and People-Centered Development’, said he was influenced by the same drive as Awolowo.
He listed four cardinal objectives as steps toward a better Nigeria, and by extension Africa.
They are rural economic transformation and food security; health care security for all; and education for all.
Others are access to affordable housing for all and government accountability and fiscal decentralisation for a true federalism.
The AfDB president said that in Nigeria, the bank is developing the zones in eight states with 518 million dollars, adding that the second phase of the programme in Nigeria, which would cover 23 more states, would be financed with one billion dollars.
According to him, the bank and partners recently launched a three billion dollar Alliance for Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones.
Also, he said Nigeria needs health care for all, stressing that smart governments provide universal basic health coverage for their citizens.
He disclosed that Africa loses 2.6 trillion dollars annually in productivity, due to sicknesses and diseases.
“Just as every nation has a national defense system to protect its citizens against all forms of aggression, the same is true for healthcare systems.
“A nation without a sound healthcare system is a nation that is defenseless against the invasion of all forms of disease or epidemics.
“COVID-19 exposed the weakness of Africa’s health systems. While developed economies spent 19 trillion dollars in fiscal stimulus programmes, approximately 19 per cent of the world’s GDP, Africa spent only $89 billion.
“Africa’s urgent need for basic vaccines was pushed to the bottom of global vaccines supply chains,” he added.
 “The AfDB boss said the bank also put in place a 10 billion dollar facility to support African countries in their fight against  the pandemic.
 The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the event was graced by former heads of state from within and outside Nigeria, state governors, royal fathers and other distinguished Nigerians.
 Speaking at the event, former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon (Rtd.), described Adesina as a brilliant man, who “represents the best of Nigeria.”
“The choice of Dr Akinwumi Adesina can only be described as having been very well done. He represents the best of Nigeria, hardworking, diligent, brilliant, forward-looking, and deeply patriotic,” Gowon stated.
Also, former Secretary-General, the Commonwealth, Emeka Anyaoku, commended the choice of Adesina as the fourth recipient of the prestigious award which was started in the honour of late Awolowo.
He said, “Out of the many reputable nominations received, members of the selection committee unanimously considered Dr Akinwumi Adesina as having in his career to date in a large measure, the Chief Obafemi Awolowo attribute that I have sought to describe.”
President Samia Hassan of Tanzania and the Chairperson of the event,  said Adesina has a rare ability to turn vision into concrete transformational solutions that impact the lives of millions of people across Africa.
She  said that Tanzania was one of many African states that had benefited from Adesina’s leadership.
“Through his leadership and support, we have raised $3.8 billion to support the construction of the regional standard gauge railway that will connect Tanzania to DR Congo and Burundi.
“Over the past eight years, he has been instrumental in Tanzania’s development agenda. Under his leadership, the African Development Bank has invested massively in energy, transport, agriculture, water and sanitation, and infrastructure for regional connectivity. “
 Also, in her welcome address, Dr Olatokunbo Dosumu, Executive Director, Obafemi Awolowo Foundation,  said that Adesina’s nomination was supported by global icons including former British Prime Minister, Sir Tony Blair; former United Nations Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon; and Global Center on Adaptation CEO, Prof. Patrick Verkooijen, among others.
According to her, Ki-moon and Verkooijen jointly affirmed that they could not think of any person more highly qualified or deserving of the prestigious award other than Adesina who they declared is forged in the same mould as Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
“In December 2023, the selection committee unveiled Adesina as its unanimous choice because he more than met the strict criteria for the award as they described him as possessing the attributes for the award to the highest degree.
“In selecting winners, the selection committee places emphasis on characteristics of leadership and food governance that are in tandem with Chief Awolowo’s values.
“Awolowo was a leader generally acknowledged for his integrity, credibility, discipline, courage, accountability, tenacity of purpose, enviable vision, people-centred leadership and selflessness,” Dosumu said.
Present at the event were former Presidents, Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan, while President Bola Tinubu was represented by Vice President Kashim Shettima.
The governors at the event were  Babajide Sanwo-Olu (Lagos), Alex Otti (Abia), Dapo Abiodun (Ogun), Usman Ododo (Kogi), and Mohammed Bago (Niger), amongst others.

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