There was therefore the urgent need to facilitate first a theoretical articulation of what public administration could mean for a newly independent country and what it could be used to achieve in post-independence Nigeria struggling with its own plural character. As first a deputy director (1963), and then the substantive director (1967), Adebayo Adedeji contributed to the inaugural task of fashioning a public administration curriculum that will be truly postcolonial.
A similar experiment was going on at the ABU Institute of Administration. Professor Adedeji’s pioneering intellectual work at the Institute of Administration remains a gold mine of historical and intellectual history of public administration that is not yet written. What is more, its contribution to the famous administrative successes of the Old Western Region, and especially the Awolowo-Adebo model that was central to the success of the civil service in the old Southwest, remains largely unstudied.
But even while laying multiple foundations for postwar reconstruction, economic viability and national consolidation, the late Professor Adedeji had his eyes on larger ideological objectives involving the West African regional integration and a larger continental economic profile. I am not sure of the curriculum contents that was fed Adebayo Adedeji while he was a student at Leicester, London and Harvard, but I suspect that he must have had some sort of contact with pan-African and other ideological literatures that not only stressed Africa’s marginal relationship to the world economy but also the urgent need to undermine that marginality. And the ideological battles for the economic and administrative soul of Africa had to be fought against the behemoth Bretton Wood institutions—the World Bank and IMF—and quite surprisingly too, against the orthodox assumptions about Marxism and its relevance for Africa. If we know that Adedeji came across the writings of Samir Amin and Immanuel Wallerstein, then we may likely understand this ideological stance the more. It just seemed to make sense to Adedeji that the neo-classical economic policies underlying the Washington Consensus, for instance, and all the economic policy doses that Africa was fed, could not in any way enable Africa make any tangible development progress.
With his fundamental knowledge of public finance and development economics, Professor Adedeji certainly saw the negative implications of the structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) long before most governments in Africa experienced its terrible consequences, manifesting in the institutional dismantling of essential structures and processes around which African states could have facilitated their economic survival and transformation. By 1975, two distinct dimensions of Adedeji’s ideological objective fell in place. Most importantly, he became the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). And that became his institutional platform for initiating the reforms he had written on for so many years as he gained more ideological and intellectual tractions on the problems confronted by Africa in the grip of neoliberal conditionalities.
Adedeji held on to the conviction in regional integration as the most pragmatic means by which Africa could be liberated from the global economic hegemony. This is one tough idea that the old school African social scientists, from Samir Amin to Ali Mazrui have emphasized as the way forward for postcolonial Africa for a long time.
Adebayo Adedeji operated at the level of the theoretical and the empirical, and he had a measure of institutional successes. In 1975, he laid the foundation for the emergence of the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS). We can consider this to be Professor Adedeji’s crowning glory as a public administrator and pan-Africanist. It was a short step from ECOWAS to other regional bodies like the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) in 1983, and the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) in 1993.
Regional integration, for Professor Adedeji, was supposed to serve as the ideological crucible on which Africa can forge national development in individual African states. As I see it, a serious relationship between ECOWAS, COMESA and ECCAS was meant to initiate a bold economic interactions and networking that could instigate internal economic development among African states, especially along the areas of comparative advantages. This internal development, in Adedeji’a assessment, would be mediated pragmatically by the market economy as well as strong state interventions to push the market in the proper direction sometimes, and intervene in the case of a market bust or meltdown. Ultimately, regional integration is to be founded on national self-reliance. We therefore turn full circle to understand Adedeji’s grounding of the second and third national development planning.
Professor Adebayo Adedeji’s legacy in pan-Africanist thought could be considered in the light of his dedication to alternative frameworks and ideas around which Africa could redefine its identity and its transformation outside of the socioeconomic prescriptions of hegemonic global players, from the United States to the United Nations. From the Lagos Plan of Action to the Africa’s Alternative Framework to Structural Adjustment Programs for Socio-Economic Recovery and Transformation (AAF-SAP), Professor Adedeji dedicated himself firmly to ideological practical actions. He even founded the African Center for Development and Strategic Studies (ACDESS) as a demonstration of his total commitment to the progress of the continent. Of course, he did not always succeed. Indeed, the unfortunate part of Adedeji’s narrative of renewal and renaissance for Africa is that he was undermined and undercut by the same people he was fighting for.
His ideas and legacies are still intact, left on the burner and awaiting that revolutionary government that would push them into bold implementation. Nothing else would constitute the proper honor for Professor Adebayo Adedeji—pan-Africanist, public intellectual, economist, national development planner, and scholar.