Ladipo Adamolekun and the traditions of Boko Halal
In May this year the autobiography of Oladipo Adamolekun, foremost scholar of publication administration, was published to great acclaim by the intelligentsia. Two separate book launches were held within days of each other. The first was at the ornate conference hall of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Victoria Island, Lagos, on Thursday 12 May; the second, at Merit House, Maitama, Abuja, on Tuesday the 17th of same.
I was privileged to be at the Lagos event, which was chaired by the eminent geographer and doyen of Nigerian urban planning, Professor Akin Mobogunje. It was attended by grandees such as Lt. Gen. Alani Akinrinade, a former Chief of Army Staff; publisher of the Vanguard newspapers, Sam Amuka Pemu; eminent historian and former Ambassador to UNESCO Michael Abiola Omolewa; retired Federal Permanent Secretaries Goke Adegoroye and Tunji Olaopa; former Managing Director of Daily Times, Yemi Ogunbiyi; and schoolmates and bosom friends of the author’s such as South Africa-based writer and scholar Kole Omotoso and celebrated geologist and renaissance man Ebenezer Ajibola Meshida. To add colour and solemnity to the occasion, Meshida a life-long friend of Adamolekun’s who is an accomplished classical pianist and composer, gave a beautiful musical rendition from one of English poet John Keats’s immortal paeans.
I was, however, unable to attend the Abuja leg of the event. But from all indications, it must have been even grander, given that it was attended by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and a glitterati of ministers, senior public officials and other celebrated Nigerians.
I knew about Professor Adamolekun right from the time I was a student at ABU Zaria. His fame as foremost scholar of public administration had irradiated all over the country and beyond. But I only got to meet him in person only as late as 2003—2004, when he worked for us as a consultant at the African Development Bank Group in Tunis. We hit it off immediately.
Although a generation apart – with his authoring and co-authoring of 30 books and over 100 articles in refereed journals – there was absolutely no trace of arrogance or condescension on his part. He would engage with me as an intellectual equal.
I was later to discover that we had a lot of things in common. Adamolekun hails from Iju in Ondo State, having attended Christ’s School Ado Ekiti. I myself did my national service year in Ondo State, having taught at Akoko Anglican Grammar School at Arigidi-Ikare. We both went to missionary boarding schools, he in the primeval rainforest of Yoruba land and me in the ancestral savannah of the Middle Belt. We also share a common love for the inimitable French language. Adamolekun studied French at Ibadan in the early sixties while I studied French Language and Civilisation in the idyllic Auvergne region of France in the eighties. We both have academic interests in public administration. And it so happens that we both have the privilege of counting Oxford University as our beloved alma mater. And we have both pursued careers in academia and the international civil service.
The title of today’s piece is freely borrowed from remarks by Professor Mabogunje the effect that Adamolekun represents the best ideals of ‘Boko Halal’. At a time when mediocrity is at a premium and people look with disdain on men and women of excellence, Ladipo Adamolekun indeed is the unrepentant embodiment of the scholar-gentleman and intellectual gadfly. Embedded in that deceptively small frame is a mighty brain and the heart of a lion. Ladipo Adamolekun does not suffer fools gladly.
His autobiography, I Remember (Safari Books 2016), tells the story of a humble rural childhood in the Yoruba heartland and his rise to prominence as a scholar and international civil servant. He was born on 20 July 1942 in Iju, a town between Akure and Idanre in Ondo State. After local elementary school, he attended the well-known Oyemekun Grammar School, and subsequently, the more famous Christ’s School Ado Ekiti, for his A’ Levels. He later bagged a First Class Honours degree in French at the premier University of Ibadan’ subsequently earning his doctorate in politics and public administration at St. Antony’s College Oxford.
His 382-page autobiography is a moving account of his early life, his schooling and career as a scholar and international civil servant working for the UN, and, later, the World Bank. One is gripped with nostalgia about that rare and sadly disappearing breed of Nigerian that combines both excellence in learning and excellence in character and virtue. The autobiography is particularly rich with detail and anecdotes, helped by the fact that the author has kept a meticulous diary for most of his life.
As a schoolboy studying Latin, he discovers the maxim, “per ardua ad astra” (through struggle to the stars), which he swiftly adopted as his personal motto. One could see indeed that his has been a life of struggle and courage that has seen him attain the summits of achievement in his chosen field. He was to add to that aphorism, some lines from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as the guidepost for his life: “The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight; but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.”
His experience of leadership started rather early: “My appointment as an Assistant Librarian at the beginning of my second year freed me from the task of cutting grass….It was in the library that I met Kole Omotoso…” (p. 24). Interestingly, former Secretary to the Federal Government, Olu Falae, was one of his teachers at Oyemekun during the gap-year between A’ Levels and entry into the University of Ibadan in September 1960.
Adamolekun was a rather brilliant scholar throughout his academic career, winning laurels from his school days right through to his undergraduate and post-graduate years. He has fascinating anecdotes of some of the interesting people he met at Oxford: “Outside college I have fond memories of meeting some famous Oxford dons: Dame Margery Perham, famous British colonial historian …Hugh Trevor-Roper, fellow of All Souls College, notorious for his ‘Africa has no history’ quip; Thomas Hodgkin, fellow of Balliol College and a foremost Africanist, husband of Dorothy Hodgkin, 1964 Nobel Prize Winner in Chemistry; Dr. Kofi Busia, an alumnus and a former Prime Minister of Ghana…” (p. 74).
The rest of the book is taken up by his career as an academic in Ile-Ife. From joining the University in 1968 after Oxford, by December 1978 he had risen to the pinnacle of his career as Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Public Administration. He was only 36. Henry Kissinger once remarked that university politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small. Adamolekun was unfazed by the inevitable intrigues of academe. After a stint in the UN system he moved to the World Bank’s Development Institute. He was later appointed Country Director for Togo.
Unlike some Africans who get totally mesmerised and brainwashed by international agencies, Adamolekun maintained a healthy dose of scepticism to the very end: “I never became a fully mainstreamed Bank staff…it is loudly and consistently asserted that the Bank has no philosophy of its own…that the Bank has no interest in pushing any particular point of view. This is both true and false.” (p. 237).
In his entire career, Ladipo Adamolekun has proven himself to be a widely respected performer. He also has a gift for mentoring younger professionals. His first doctoral student at Ife, Dele Olowu, happens to be a friend of mine and a former colleague at the African Development Bank. Dele and his former teacher have remained life-long friends and collaborators.
In December 2005, Adamolekun was conferred with Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM), the highest recognition for intellectual achievement in our country. Of this he says: “I have no hesitation whatsoever in affirming that becoming a NNOM laureate is the crowning jewel of all my intellectual accomplishments.” (p. 281).
Through the struggles and vicissitudes of life, Ladipo Adamolekun has known his own share of sorrow. In August 1979, their daughter Omolola Morenike succumbed to a congenital heart disease that left the family totally devastated. The laments in his diary entry for August 1979 are heartbreaking: “Lola fell down at night from her bed – the first time since she returned from UCH. This morning, the poor girl asked whether she would ever be well again. I was moved to tears…We returned her to UCH where she died”. (p. 121).
Whilst in Lomé as World Bank Resident, tragedy struck again. His wife, Olukemi, was visiting Nigeria in connection with her NGO work of providing succour for the elderly in their hometown of Iju. “She left Lomé early morning on May 2nd …to finalise arrangements for the formal launching of Kaleyewa House (a home for the elderly). She departed with invitations to the patron and matron, Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti…and Professor Bolanle Awe….Then tragedy struck in Ibadan on May 4th; she was killed in broad daylight by carjackers” (p. 226). He was sorely grief-stricken: “Olukemi’s loss was a watershed in my life. What I remember clearly is the combination of helplessness and emptiness…I was weak, very weak.” (p. 226).
The wickedness that some Nigerians are capable of beggars belief. It is terrible that our country has capacity for such gratuitous, random violence upon a harmless, defenceless woman. Some people would have read it as a sign never again to set foot on their fatherland. Not my egbon Ladipupo. He mourned Olukemi for years. But he still decided he must return home upon retirement. Sadly, ours is still a country in the grips of violence, banditry and random, nihilistic violence. My family and I have been in mourning with our friend former FIRS boss Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru and her family over the recent death of her beloved mother in similar circumstances.
After many years of loneliness and pain, Adamolekun decided to remarry. His companion and helpmate today is the winsome Olajumoke Adamolekun, a woman of exceptional poise and virtue. In retirement, he has spent his time doing good works not only in his hometown of Iju but also in Ondo State and beyond. He briefly served as a Visiting Professor and Vice-Chancellor at two of the new-breed universities. Alas, it didn’t work out too well. Our universities are, sadly, a world removed from what they were in the good old days. Far from being fresh oases of enlightenment and civilisation; they are, with rare exceptions, cesspools of intrigue, cultism and whoredom.
In the language of English cricket, Ladipo Adamolekun has had his innings. He has paid his dues to both God and Country. But I would insist that our country is still in need of his wisdom to guide us in reshaping the contours of public administration for greater performance and accountability. I have always insisted that all our grandiose national development schemes will come to nought unless and until we have a civil service worthy of the name. I humbly submit that there is hardly anyone in this country who approaches his stature as a scholar and specialist of public administration and governance reforms. His work is far from ended.