Celebrating Ladipo Adamolekun at 79, By Isaac N. Obasi

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Prof. Ladipo Adamolekun

Tuesday, 20 July 2021 marked the 79th birthday of Prof. Ladipo Adamolekun (NNOM) – one of Nigeria’s most distinguished intellectual giants of our time. As a shining light in the discipline of public administration, Prof. Adamolekun was awarded the Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM) in December 2005. So far, he is the only academic in the discipline of public administration in Nigeria, to receive this most prestigious award. NNOM as we know is the ‘highest national prize for academic and intellectual attainment’ given to ‘distinguished Nigerians who have been adjudged to have made outstanding contributions to the academic, intellectual and professional development of Nigeria and the world at large’ (See http://www.meritaward.ng or http://nnma.gov.ng). 

In 2019, the Governing Board of the Nigerian National Merit Award (NNMA) revealed that since 1979 it has “been able to successfully bestow the prestigious NNOM Award on 76 distinguished Nigerians who have passed through the litmus test for the conferment of the award” (See Programme of Events, 12th Annual Forum of Laureates of the NNOM, 2019, p. 19).

  By the way, the intellectual endowment of any nation seen in the availability of a critical mass of productive intelligentsia is a major factor in the rapid development of that nation. Within the productive class of intelligentsia, can be found yet a special group of first class brains or thinkers (best and brightest if you like) in the academia, public service and industry whose ideas when effectively used go a long way to determine the position of that country in the trajectory of development. We are very proud to say that Prof. Adamolekun belongs to this group of first class strategic thinkers in Nigeria. But like we all know, Nigeria is not a nation where men and women of ideas are given both the opportunity and freedom to implement brilliant ideas in the public governance space, as a result of what I call ‘bad politics’ (and not just politics) that determines or dominates everything. 

Born in Iju in present day Akure North Local Government Area of Ondo State on July 20th 1942, the young Oladipo O. Adamolekun can be described as belonging to a meteoric class of students during his primary and secondary education, as well as during his Higher School Certificate (HSC) progamme and university education at the both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. As early as his first year in the secondary school in 1956 (which is by the way the year of my own birth), the young Oladipo adopted as his personal motto per ardua ad astra which means through struggle to the stars (See I Remember, The Autobiography of Ladipo Adamolekun, Safari Books Limited, Ibadan, 2016, p. 23). He came across the motto according to him from one of his first year Latin textbooks. 

Again, within a year or two, he added another inspirational statement that reads: ‘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’ (pp. 23-24). This quote he revealed was taken from ‘The Ladder of St. Augustine’ by Henry Wardsworth Longfellow. A stupendous and avid reader in his first year, the young Oladipo was rewarded with an appointment as an Assistant Librarian ‘for reading the highest number of books in the library among 120 students in junior school (Forms One, Two and Three)’ (p. 24). This distinguished accomplishment became a spring board that further defined him during his undergraduate and postgraduate education.

When he entered the University of Ibadan (UI) in 1964, he distinguished himself with many firsts in his class and collected awards in UI as well as during one year study programme overseas, all of which culminated in his graduating with a First Class Honours degree in French (major) and Political Science (minor) in 1968. With this solid foundation in UI, he gained admission later into the Oxford University for his doctorate, which ultimately produced him as a ‘mature scholar’. From this well-grounded experience, Prof. Adamolekun can be said to be a perfect exemplification of the power of nurture in determining what one can achieve or who one can really be. This serves as a good lesson for the younger generation which may be highly discouraged that recognition of the virtue of hard work is fast vanishing on the altar of unbridled provincialism and nepotism in our present day Nigeria. Be that as it may, let us briefly discuss further the nature and nurture controversy as it applies to Prof. Adamolekun.    

We are fully aware of the controversy surrounding Francis Galton’s 1869 coinage of Nature Versus Nurture in determining a person’s personality (See for instance http://www.experimental-origins.weebly.com. Some great philosophers (e.g. Plato) have for example argued that it is Nature, while some others (e.g. Aristotle) argued that it is Nurture. And of course, there are others who argue that man is a product of both nature and nurture. Although, there are merits on both sides of the controversy, this piece is celebrating a man today whose enviable accomplishments demonstrate the power of hard work (nurture) which incidentally is one of his powerful guiding philosophies of life as he espoused in his Autobiography I Remember…. Summarising the virtues or values he acquired from both of his parents Chief Joshau Famutimi Adamolekun and Madam Juliana Bamo, he aptly said, the most impactful (in a ranked order) on his life over the decades are: faith and deeds; hard work; the importance of education; and a high sense of responsibility’, (p.3). Looking at the man’s history and success story, it is all about working very hard regardless of the fact that by nature, he was endowed with a high level of intelligence. Hard work with intelligence enabled him to excel to the fullest.    

His working life was full of accomplishments. For example, his years at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo Univesity), Ile-Ife, can without any iota of doubt be described as meritorious, exciting and fulfilling, thereby reflecting clearly the very solid foundation that produced him at both UI and Oxford. Again, his years as a public sector management specialist at the World Bank were also very impactful and fulfilling. 

This piece will ‘hang it here’ as it has focused primarily on Prof. Adamolekun’s background and education. The second part (at the next most appropriate time) will focus on his professional accomplishments as well as his great ideas. As a man of genuine progressive ideas, Prof. Adamolekun has since 2005 maintained that Nigeria should ‘devolve or die’. This statement can now be regarded as perfect truth as evidence on ground today confirm clearly the validity of its prophetic power. 

Prof. Obasi of the University of Abuja, is a Visiting (Adjunct) Research Professor at the Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria, (ACAN), ICPC, Email: [email protected].