Home Opinion Ladipo Adamolekun at 80: Celebrating a distinguished author, By Isaac N. Obasi

Ladipo Adamolekun at 80: Celebrating a distinguished author, By Isaac N. Obasi


Today July 20, 2022, marks the 80th birthday  of Prof. Ladipo Adamolekun, one of Nigeria’s and Africa’s outstanding scholars who is still standing strongly and reverberating with great ideas. Thanks to the almighty God that made this possible by sustaining him over the years. Prof. Adamolekun is an ideas man par excellence who is not tired of writing and publishing great ideas to make Nigeria assume its rightful position as the giant of Africa. An ideas man is “a person who is particularly good at thinking of new or original ideas.” (See Oxford Lexico via http://www.lexico.com/definition/ideas_man). 

As a man destined to be rich in great ideas, he adopted at a young age two personal mottos, one of which precisely at age 13. The first was “per ardua ad astra.” meaning “through struggle to the stars.” The second motto adopted within a year or two after was: “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.” This quote was taken from one of the novels he read namely The Ladder of St. Augustine by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  

Born in Iju in present day Akure North Local Government Area of Ondo State on July 20th 1942, to Chief Joshua Famutimi Adamolekun and Madam Juliana Bamo, the young Ladipo belonged to a meteoric class of students during his years at the primary and secondary schools. A stupendous and avid reader in his first year in the secondary school, he 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)’ (See I Remember: The Autobiography of Ladipo Adamolekun, p.24). This early accomplishment became a spring board for greater academic performance at the University of Ibadan, and the Oxford University, United Kingdom.

When, he entered into the University of Ibadan (UI) in 1964, he gradually distinguished himself with many firsts in his class and collected awards, 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 great man of ideas in the intellectual marketplace.

His working life was full of accomplishments. First, at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile-Ife, his close to 20 years of service was without doubt meritorious, exciting and fulfilling, thereby reflecting clearly the very solid foundation that produced him at both UI and the Oxford University. He did his very best to offer quality leadership as Head of the Department of Public Administration, and later as the Dean of the Faculty of Administration. Secondly, his years as a public sector management specialist at the World Bank for about 18 years were also very impactful and fulfilling. It was there that he deepened his comparative knowledge and established himself firmly as one of the global masters of comparative public administration.  

Prof. Adamolekun has remained a fully dedicated scholar (some would add with great passion) all his years both at Ife and at the World Bank. His publication history as a scholar demonstrated amply that he is an ideas man. A visit to his website (http://www.adamolekun.com) reveals that he has to date prolifically published 36 books and monographs, as well as 111 journal articles and chapters in books on politics and public administration in Africa. Consequently, he deservedly won many honours and distinctions both at home and abroad. The most prestigious was his conferment with the Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM) award in December 2005 which is the “highest national prize for academic and intellectual attainment,” and 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.” Secondly, in 2016, the Lead City University, Ibadan awarded him Doctor of Science (DSc) in Public Policy and Governance, (honoris causa) which of course was a recognition of his distinctive accomplishments in this area of academic endeavour.  

The celebration of this octogenarian here will not be complete without providing a sample of his profound thoughts on Nigerian’s seemingly complex but redeemable developmental problems.  As a prolific author, his ideas were passionately and widely expressed at both national and international publication outlets when Nigeria began drifting away from the trajectory of a giant to that of a dwarf. And unfortunately, this dwarf status has even been diminished further to the height of (a non-dwarfed) new born baby. 

A sample of his ideas is as follows:

There are three fond memories of my childhood, teenage and early adult years that are missing in my early old age: educational excellence, meritocracy and strong institutions. All three are certain to rank high among the characteristics that distinguish Nigeria of those days – a Nigeria that worked – from today’s Nigeria that was not working by the time of the 2015 election cycle (See, I Remember…p.291).

Elaborating on this idea he said:

It is incontrovertible that military rule contributed hugely to the de-emphasis on educational excellence. The major explanation was the anti-intellectualism of successive military rulers. Because military and academic professions are very far apart in their values, orientations, structures, and functioning, it is no surprise that solders and academics were strange bedfellows, notwithstanding the fact that some academics accepted to serve in successive military governments. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the academic servants in military governments had to subordinate their academic culture to military culture, pp.292-293).

Prof. Adamolekun identified three major causes of the decline of educational excellence as (a) over-centralisation, (b) implementation failure, and (c) de-emphasis on the value of education and decline of the teaching profession. He added however, that corruption is intimately linked in varying degrees to both over-centralization and implementation failure. He then proposed five solutions to the cumulative decay and decline of academic excellence which are: (a) devolve educational development, (b) increase funding to education, (c) ensure reliability of educational statistics, (d) leapfrog use of ICT in education, and (e) enhance university autonomy (p. 294 & pp.307-321).

With respect to the issue of meritocracy, he said:

It was widely acknowledged that efficiency standards of the civil services was due, in large part, to merit-based recruitment. The competent and efficient civil services were critical to the achievement of good development performance in the country from the second half of the 1950s through the 1960s and early 1970s.The good development performance was reflected in quality public services and low poverty level, estimated at about 25% in the mid-1960s…Although the objectives of the ‘federal character principle are both sensible and desirable…its application across governments has resulted in its bastardisation with negative consequences for public management performance…The way forward is to establish transparent guidelines for the application of the federal character principle to prevent  the perpetuation of its interpretation as a crude quota/patronage arrangement…To ensure effective protection of the merit principle…I would recommend the establishment by law, of a seven-member Merit Protection Board (pp.296-298)..           

And on the issue of strong institutions, he observed that Nigeria’s governance institutions at a particular period in history, were all characterised by politicisation, inefficiency and corruption, as political parties, legislatures and the judiciary became generally weak and polluted by corruption. As a solution, he proposed that priority should be given to the rebuilding and strengthening of all the institutions of governance.

Lastly, underlying all these is the faulty federal system, which he persuasively argued needs to be restructured because a true federal system is “the only basis on which Nigeria can remain united,” a quotation he attributed to Nigeria’s first Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa. For Prof. Adamilekun therefore, the challenge:

“is to accommodate the ethnic, linguistic, religious, cultural, regional and geographical divisions within a federation… In the circumstance, continued maintenance of the centralism and uniformity of the military era is antithetical to the goal of keeping Nigeria one. Unfortunately, many features of the military-style centralism and uniformity remain enshrined in the country’s 1999 Constitution” (p.301)

This suggests strongly the inevitability of devolution. And as he bluntly put it an earlier publication in 2005, Nigeria should devolve or die. Conclusively, we can humbly join Prof. Adamolekun to say that restructuring of the present Nigerian federation, is the way to go towards putting Nigeria back to the trajectory of being a GIANT.  

Prof. Obasi, a winner of Sir Isaac Dina Memorial Prize as best Political Science student in Public Administration in UI, July 1981, (and formerly at UDUS, UNN, & University of Botswana), is currently of the Department of Public Administration, University of Abuja, Email: [email protected]   

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