Adebayo Adedeji was a child prodigy who attained the rank of professor at a relatively young age of 36. With this solid intellectual prowess acquired from the University of London in the United Kingdom, combined with the zest of youth, he plunged his energy into efforts to build a Nigerian economy that will be at the commanding heights of Africa’s growth and development.
At the end of Nigeria’s civil war in 1970, it was clear to all that rebuilding the country economically would be tough and would require the best brains in the art and science of economic engineering.
Adedeji was chosen by the military administration of the time to spearhead efforts to actualise the policy of three R’s- Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation-as the country’s Federal Commissioner for Economic Development and Reconstruction from 1971 to 1975. That policy was thought to be a platform for re-uniting Nigeria as a nation.
One of the most profound post-civil war policies and programmes that Prof Adedeji offered the General Yakubu Gowon administration was the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), of which he became pioneer chairman between 1973 and 1975.
He must have acquitted himself so creditably in the onerous task assigned to him by the Nigerian government that the world took note and gave him greater responsibilities that required his laying a strong foundation for the building of the economy of Africa and position it as a counter-force to the imperialism that was dominating the African socio-economic and political space. In 1975, he was appointed the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), a United Nations facility based in Ethiopia. He was later promoted to the rank of Under Secretary General of the United Nations. He remained in that position until July 1991.
The circumstances that surrounded his exit from that job, till date, provides a study in patriotism when he dared his employers, the Bretton Woods institutions – World Bank and International Monetary Fund – especially their policies as they affect developing nations particularly in Africa. He deliberately crossed the red lines when he openly accused the institutions of being terribly bad physicians who prescribed the same remedy for all ailments, challenged their orthodoxies and provided African alternative to the Western push for structural adjustment programmes.
He criticised the World Bank/IMF- inspired Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) enunciated by the General Ibrahim Babangida administration, particularly its lack of social safety nets that could have cushioned the effect of that policy thrust which dislocated the economy irreparably and threw it off trajectory till date. Using the platforms of seminars, conferences and workshops, he educated Nigerians on what the programme entailed and its likely implication for the general well-being of the people.
He was a man of immense intellectual depth which he gave vent to with the founding of the African Centre for Development and Strategic Studies (ACDESS), a non-governmental independent continental, not-for-profit think-tank dedicated to multi-disciplinary and strategic studies on and for Africa.
Even in death, Africa will remember Professor Adedeji as a peerless champion for regional integration who rendered remarkable advice to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in the preparation and adoption of the 1991 Abuja Treaty on the African Economic Community (AEC). The signing of the Continental Free Trade Area Agreement on 21 Marchwww, 2018 had the imprint of the renowned economist. Before these, he was instrumental in the establishment of the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS), which is today one of the pillars of African regional integration.
He did not see himself as just another economist, he was also a diplomat and pan-Africanist who played his role in the emancipation of Africa from the last vestiges of colonialism, neo-colonialism and oppression in Southern Africa in general and the struggle against apartheid in South Africa in particular. Prof Adedeji laboured with others towards building an independent economic growth and development for Africa. After his retirement from the UN, he continued writing and was recognised as one of the world’s best 50 minds on economic development. He equally played a significant role in pushing the AU Peer Review Mechanism forward as well as the first efforts on African Union (AU) Reforms.
Locally, he served his community as Asiwaju of Ijebuland among other responsibilities in collaboration with Awujale, the paramount Ijebu king.
He planned his retirement into Ijebu-Ode, his ancestral roots from where he ran his African Centre for Development and Strategic Studies (ACDESS). An appreciative Nigeria honoured him with the third highest national award, Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR).
May his soul rest in peace.
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