Forty-six years after, Yakubu Gowon, former military Head of State, has again defended the Udoji award to civil servants after the Nigerian civil war.
Mr Gowon was speaking at the Memorial Symposium in honour of Adebayo Adedeji, a former Executive Secretary of the United Nations body, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), held on Saturday in Lagos.
He said that contrary to the belief that the late Adedeji was against the Udoji award, every member of the executive council at that time, including Mr Adedeji, supported it.
Mr Adedeji was the federal commissioner for Economic Development and Reconstruction under the Gowon – led government.
According to Mr Gowon, everybody, including the civil servants were very excited about the post-civil war award.
He recalled that during his period, there was no industrial (strike) action by the organised labour during his nine years in power.
“We decided within ourselves that it was important to reward the workers for their support and dedication during the difficult period of the war,” he said.
Mr Gowon also praised the contribution of the late Mr Adedeji, describing him as a selfless international civil servant.
“Adedeji, though a global personality, always put Nigeria first. His key role in the formation of the Economic Community of West African States was worthy of emulation.
“Adedeji worked tirelessly with the Nigerian Foreign Affairs and all our diplomatic diplomatic missions in the West African sub-region.
“His belief was that if ECOWAS was successful, it would be easier to recommend it to other sub-regions on the continent.
“The world recognises his achievements, making him more than a Nigerian product.
“We are exceedingly proud of him. Particularly, he will always stand tall in my estimation,” Mr Gowon said.
The symposium had in attendance representative of the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, in the person of Yemi Dipeolu, the Special Adviser on Economic Matters in the office of the vice president.
Members of the diplomatic circle, academia and other stakeholders were also in attendance.
Notable among them were Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary, ECA; Peter Anyang Nyongo’o, Governor, Kisumu County, in Kenya; Hage Geingob, President of Namibia; and Amos Sawyer, former President of Liberia.
Also in attendance were Ibrahim Gambari, former Minister of External Affairs and former Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the UN and Under-Secretary-General; and Eloho Otobo, non-resident Senior Expert at the Global Governance Institute.
Emmanuel Nnadozie, Executive Secretary, Africa Capacity Building Foundation, was the moderator of one the presentations and panel discussions, ‘Reflections on Africa’s economic development agenda: Hopes, failures, opportunities. (From Lagos Plan of Action to the African Continental Free Trade Area)’.
Other sessions included ‘Adebayo Adedeji in the trajectory of public administration and development in Africa’, moderated by Adele Jinadu, former Director General, Administrative Staff College, Lagos.
‘Governance and the challenges of economic transformation in Africa (the governance context to economic development in Africa)’, moderated by Abdoulaye Bathily, was the another session.
In her opening remarks, ECA boss, Ms Songwe, said the purpose of the symposium was to highlight key accomplishments of Mr Adedeji with regard to Africa’s economic development agenda, and how they underpin the current context of the continent’s development and structural transformation prospects.
She said for the 16 years Mr Adedeji served at the ECA, structural transformation was his mantra for Africa.
“This is a good fight that still guides the economic thinking of the institution that I currently lead.
“Adedeji is remembered by all those who had the privilege of working with him as an intellectual giant, a bold thinker and a passionate believer in African Regional Integration, in the context of the advocacy for the continent’s development.
“It is impressive how the finger prints of the Lagos Plan of Action echoes Adedeji’s work on the establishment of the Abuja Treaty.
“The fact that he was able to live the historical moment of the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement this late March, in the same year that he left us, is a sign that we, as him, are on the path of fighting ‘the good fight’ for the economic independence of Africa.
“For this and several other reasons, the Economic Commission for Africa is proud to carry the name of this son of Ijebu Ode, Adebayo Adedeji,” she said.
According to her, the symposium complements other activities that ECA undertakes in honouring the achievements and contributions of Mr Adedeji.
“ECA organises the annual lecture – the Adebayo Adedeji Lecture during our annual Conference of Ministers of Finance, Economic Planing and Development.
“Different scripts and stories can be written and told about Adebayo Adedeji.
“We can see Adedeji the Pan-Africanist; Adedeji the apostle of regional integration; Adedeji- the intellectual non-conformist; Adedeji – the institution builder; or Adedeji- the community leader.
“But whichever we view him, Adebayo Adedeji was one of the most outstanding personalities of late 20th and early 21st Century in Africa who contributed tremendously to the economic and social development of the African continent,” she said.
While presenting Vice President Osinbajo’s goodwill message, Mr Dipeolu described Mr Adedeji as a towering figure of Africa’s immediate post-colonial period, whose thinking and contributions continue to frame policy discourse in Nigeria, Africa and indeed globally.
He said this is well demonstrated by the ideas the late Mr Adedeji propagated and the causes he advanced.
“Such is the breadth and scope of Adedeji’s contributions that recounting them can almost leave one breathless,” he said.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that the late Mr Adedeji served in various capacities at one stage or the other, including Director of the Institute of Public Administration at the then University of Ife.
He was Federal Commissioner of Economic Development and Reconstruction.
He also served as the UN Under Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa; Executive Chairman of the African Centre for Development and Strategic Studies.
He was past President and Fellow of the Nigerian Economic Society; pioneer Chairman of the APRM Panel of Eminent Persons; pioneer Chairman of the National Youth Service Corps.
Mr Adedeji was also member of the Senate of the United Nations Institute for Namibia.