Professor Adebayo Adedeji

By Tunji Olaopa

The world recently lost a colossal intellectual figure. The name of Professor Adebayo Adedeji resounds in critical places across the globe where issues of regionalism, economic ideologies, engaged public administration and national and continental development constitute discourses that affect and transform lives, especially if these lives are Africans and Nigerians. In this sense, the whole of the African continent is left to mourn at a different level of loss. This is so because in the late Professor Adedeji, Africa had one solid pan-Africanist whose thinking and activities were even more solidly tied in with the postcolonial predicament and promises of the continent. Professor Adebayo Adedeji was an intellectual of many parts. He was also a Nigerian, and this was demonstrated in the seamless ways in which he was able to articulate the Nigerian economic predicament through an understanding of the larger continental debacle. This is one of the few scholars who were able to tie together the national in the regional. It is in this sense that he was both an African and a Nigerian, without any sense of contradiction involved in his fight for the economic betterment of both.

I share a sense of loss too, at a more personal and professional level. Let me put it on record that it was Professor Adedeji that discovered my potential as a public administration scholar. The year was 2000, and I was then the head of the policy division at the Federal Ministry of Education who was also struggling to make headway with my doctoral programme at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Professor Adedeji was also at that time coordinating the Federal Government’s orientation programme for federal officers. Providence initiated our meeting when it was my turn to partake of the weeklong orientation seminar. On the first day, during the seminar, I stood to make a contribution, and his response was to ask for my name. I made another contribution on the second day, and his question to me was, “Tunji, are you truly a career civil servant or you are here on sabbatical?” At that point, the orientation took on a renewed interest for me. The erudite professor would generate several administrative issues and asked for my opinion. By the third day of the seminar, he had already gone to meet the then head of service, Mr Abu Obe, to inquire more about me. His flattering thought was that it was really confounding to think that the civil service could still have something to teach him.

By the end of my set’s participation in the orientation seminar, I had been appointed to a technical team. Professor Adedeji also delivered to me a letter to be the guest speaker at his 70th birthday that was to happen a week after the orientation programme. But the most far reaching of his efforts on behalf of my scholarship and career was that he put in a word for me with Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Professor Akin Mabogunje. Chief Obasanjo took up his high recommendation and I was subsequently appointed as the technical head of the team that developed the 2003 national public service reform strategic at the Management Services Office at the Presidency. No one should therefore wonder why this tribute is not just another tribute for me. The late Professor Adedeji was critical to my scholarship and strategic placement within the civil service system in Nigeria.

And this leads me to my second point. Professor Adebayo Adedeji’s public administration credential stands as a critical signpost for every aspiring Nigerian, and indeed African, public administration scholar and professional. Any significant effort to tease his contribution to public administration must be prepared to adequately rewrite a large portion of that contribution as a unique addition to the discourse and practice of public administration in Africa. Adebayo Adedeji embodies an essential legacy of administrative thinking that was motivated by the true essence of service. The trajectory of his scholarship and professional career makes for an interesting dissertation on patriotic public administration. And this is in a country where it is very difficult to be a patriot.

There are at least three crucial levels at which his contribution to public administration could be highlighted. The first is the level of professional service at the national level. This is where the Professor first cut his professional administrative teeth, and eventually laid the foundation of his engagement with development economics and national development planning. By the time he had finished deploying his significant knowledge to the problematic of post-war reconstruction efforts under the Gowon regime, Professor Adedeji had earned himself the sobriquet of “The Professor of National Development Plan.” Appointed as the Federal Commissioner for Economic Development and Reconstruction, the then freshly minted Harvard University graduate was tasked with the onerous responsibility of mapping the economically messy terrain of post-war Nigeria. He definitely benefitted from the First National Development Planning (1962-1968). But the challenges involved in this cannot be compared with the post-war national planning that had to go into the second and the third national planning, especially for a 36 year old fresh graduate who had to piece together the fundamentals of economically designing a blueprint that will enable the government make sense of an ethnically divided nation. From the second to the third development plans, the young professor at the Obafemi Awolowo University had the brilliant collaboration of sound minds, from Chief Olu Falae to Chief Ime Ebong.

But Professor Adedeji had his eyes on more intellectual challenges. And this is to be expected as the first professor of public administration in Nigeria. The establishment of the University of Ife Institute of Administration marked a significant turning point for the domestication and further transformation of the study of public administration in Nigeria. It came at a very critical point because Nigeria had just gained independence, and the administration of the country was already an issue. 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.

– Dr. Tunji Olaopa is the Executive Vice Chairman, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (;