The Rise And Rise Of Akinwunmi Adesina

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“Always put your best foot forward, you don’t know who’s watching” – Ololade Ajekigbe

If there was one minister who stood out for excellence in carrying out his duties during the much criticized Goodluck Jonathan administration, it is Akinwunmi Adesina, the immediate past Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. The 55 year old first class graduate of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife was one of the few shining lights in an arguably forgettable era. As if to appreciate his giant strides in the Nigerian agricultural sector, just a day before the democracy day handing over ceremony of the previous government to the new one, the news filtered in that Adesina had just been elected as the next President of the African Development Bank (AFDB). A position he is due to assume in September,2015. Dr Adesina will be the eight president and first Nigerian to hold the post in the organization’s history.

The innovative technocrat who has had a sterling career so far in various positions he has held and who once described himself as “the son of a farmer who came out of poverty” definitely has a story many of us can relate to…the classic “Grass to Grace” tale of one who came out of nothing to defy the odds to make something out of life. Akinwunmi Adesina masterminded a remarkable turnaround in a previously neglected agricultural sector which had taken a back seat for decades as Nigeria became increasingly dependent on oil. The long time clamour for a shift in the over-dependence on “black gold” to a more diversified economy, particularly one where agriculture would take its rightful place at the forefront of such diversification was a project previous administrations paid lip service to before Nigeria discovered the right peg for the right hole with Adesina at the helm of affairs at the Ministry of Agriculture.

If there was one thing Former President, Goodluck Jonathan got right, it was giving the much needed and long overdue attention to the agricultural sector by appointing the right man for the job. Our travails with the Ministry of Sports and the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) where mostly square pegs are placed in round holes is a typical example – a situation that led to the downward slide of our football, in much the same way as several other sectors of the economy.

There is no gainsaying the fact that thorough professionals like Dr Adesina exhale a breath of fresh air into the economy. The stats don’t lie. Food production increased by 22 million tons and food imports dropped from 1 trillion naira to 466 billion naira under his watch. The Ogun State born revolutionary’s uncommon zeal and passion to use agriculture to end hunger, create wealth and jobs and drive equitable economic growth in Africa to lift millions out of poverty has yielded remarkable results! Through his reforms which included ensuring increased private sector participation in the agricultural industry; a move that invariably led to increased lending by banks to the sector, and most especially the tremendous success recorded in cleaning up the corrupt fertilizer industry by launching the E-wallet initiative which delivers fertilizer and seeds directly to farmers, as well as creating incentive, the former minister not only revived a hitherto comatose sector but also transformed it into the beautiful bride of the Nigerian economy.

In less than 3 years, Dr Akinwunmi Adesina ushered in a vibrant and prosperous agricultural industry and by so doing set Nigeria on the path to regaining its place as the agricultural powerhouse it was known to be in the sixties when export crops were the country’s main foreign exchange earner. His exploits earned him the award of the “African Person of the Year” by Forbes Magazine in 2013, among many other awards and recognition. He was appointed as one of the 17 leaders to spearhead the Millennium Development Goals by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki- Moon, before this latest feather in his cap as the President-elect of the AFDB- one of the biggest lending institutions in the world.

Whoever says hard work does not pay is clearly ignorant of what they are talking about. Adesina’s accomplishments in the Nigerian agricultural sector certainly paved the way for his nomination and subsequent election as the new president a prestigious financial institution of the stature of the AFDB. A task that he has promised to carry out with a view to delivering a more inclusive economic growth across the African continent in order to lift many out of poverty.

I am going on and on about the laudable achievements of this cerebral technocrat because it makes for a good story. The best stories are those that chronicle a rise from grass to grace, from obscurity to prominence, from being a nobody to becoming someone that people simply cannot ignore. It should be an inspiration to many who see their less privileged background as a barrier to success, especially in an age where the get-rich-quick mentality has pervaded the psyche of the younger generation.

Dr Adesina’s story is just one of the many that abound around us. I would hardly be surprised if he is called upon to a higher service in the World Bank after a successful stint (a feat I have no doubt he would achieve) as President of the African Development Bank. In the words of the British Conservative politician and writer Benjamin Dislaeri, “Diligence is the mother of good fortune.” Hard work does pay off!