When he died on April 25, 2018, Prof. Adebayo Adedeji was already 87 years old, but many Nigerians still felt heart-broken by the loss of a man who was one of Nigeria’s greatest minds. He served the country on every possible field which, in the end, earned him the national honour of the Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR). Indeed, seven different African countries found his service worthwhile that each awarded him some of their highest national honours. He was so special that he became one of the few prophets honoured at home. In his home state of Ogun, he was honoured and appointed by the Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Adetona, as the Asiwaju of Ijebuland, a prime minister of the Ijebu Kingdom.
Adedeji was one of the earliest economists Nigeria produced. He was a product of the Ijebu Ode Grammar School before he proceeded to the University College, Ibadan, for his Bachelor’s degree in Economics. The University College was then an affiliate of the University of London. In between, he also earned a Master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Leicester and his Ph.D in Economics from Harvard University.
He was subsequently engaged by the regional government of Western Nigeria as an assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Economic Planning between 1958 and 1963. He then shifted from the civil service to the academic world and in 1963, he became the Deputy Director of the Institute of Administration of the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, became a substantive director in 1967 and in 1968 while on a leave of absence with the National Manpower Board, he was appointed a professor. He thus became Nigeria’s first professor of public administration, and at the ‘tender’ age of 36.
In 1971, he was given a most challenging job as the Federal Commissioner (Minister) for Economic Planning and Reconstruction by the General Yakubu Gowon administration following the end of the Nigeria Civil War. It fell on his shoulders, therefore, to implement the government’s promise on reconciliation, rehabilitation and reconstruction. Perhaps, among the few long-lasting fruits of his efforts is the National Youth Service Corps scheme which since 1973 tries to inculcate in Nigerian youths the spirit of oneness of all Nigerians irrespective of culture and background.
Adedeji was credited with the Second National Development Plan which he supervised between 1970 and 1974 which essentially was designed for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of war damage. But among the high points of his achievements was the formation of the Economic Community of West African States which sought to integrate West African countries into an economic entity. In spite of visible shortcomings, the ECOWAS is considered a successful effort at regional integration. It is given credit for the peace in the region and its positive influence in African affairs.
Adedeji became a world figure through his service as the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, an agency for the economic and social development of Africa which also promotes inter-regional cooperation. It was a challenging job, especially when he discovered that his position was sometimes at variance with some of the policy thrusts of some of the Bretton Woods organisations. For instance, he was aghast at IMF’s Structural Adjustment Programme, a programme which is thought to have promoted the pauperization of Africa than its development. He eventually proposed an alternative called the “African Alternative Framework to Structural Adjustment Programme” which promoted self-reliance and self-sustaining programmes.
At the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Adedeji’s death was mourned by the African Union Commission’s Chairman, Moussa Faki Mahamat, who noted the remarkable advice Adedeji gave to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in the adoption of the 1991 Abuja Treaty on the African Economic Community. “The signing of the Continental Free Trade Area Agreement on March 21, 2018 (a month before Adedeji passed on) had its genesis in the pioneering groundwork of Prof. Adedeji and others,” he said.
He was a true patriot as acknowledged by President Muhammadu Buhari who in his tribute noted the foresight of Adedeji in identifying vital issues like the environment and development goals in the 1980s, long before they became topics of general conversation in development. Adedeji was not too happy with the country’s progress since independence. He regretted that the country was “perennially at war with itself and under this situation, no significant development can take place.”A kernel of wisdom which the nation’s leaders must always think about.