The Scriptures say, “you give honor to whom honor is due” That precisely is my goal in offering this tribute after sleeping on it for more than 30 years. I was first privileged in 1977, to meet and to serve as Under Secretary (Estab) in the Federal Ministry of Establishments where Mrs. Francisca Yetunde Emmanuel, a Lagosian of tremendous appeal and gravitas had been posted as the first Nigerian lady Permanent Secretary in the Federal Civil Service. I was initially star-struck, having heard so much about her from her days in the Federal Ministry of Works. She had come to take over from another juggernaut of a “Perm Sec” in Grey Eronmosele Longe of Sabongida Ora, Edo State, who was later to become the Head of Service of the Federation.
I have authored many a tribute on some distinguished, and retired Federal Permanent Secretaries like the four musketeers made up of the great Allison Ayida, Philip Asiodu, Eme Ebong and Alhaji Ahmed Joda. Not too long ago, I issued one on Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji, the current Sardauna of Sokoto who was, arguably, a one man battalion in the entire Public Service of his time, and, who could easily have become the Secretary to the Federal Government, at any point in his career, just for the asking. He was even more powerful than most Heads of Government in Nigeria, and most Nigerians knew that for a fact. In the last 20 years or more, nobody gets picked as who is who in the Federal Public Service of the Federation without some consultation with, and tacit approval of “triple A.” I know for a fact and I said so before that he played a pivotal role in selecting Chief Oluyemi Falae, the only candidate to ever come from Ondo State of all places. You can quote me on that.
I served for some four years under Alhaji Ahmed Joda in the Federal Ministry of Education, and for roughly a year and some months under Alhaji Abubakar, in the Federal Ministry of Economic Planning. I served close to four years from 1977 to 1981 under Francisca Yetunde Emmanuel, who I am inclined to describe as my own “Erelu” of the Nigerian Public Service, borrowing a leaf from King Sunny Omo Alade, who had waxed a one-in-a-life time album extolling the virtues of another powerful Lagosian named “Erelu Fernandez.” Every time I listened to that lyric which is a permanent feature in Nigerian “Owambe” parties and carnivals around the globe, I couldn’t help, but remember the only Erelu I know best, the one and only “Francisca Yetunde Emmanuel,” a paragon of beauty who could easily have been named the “Iya Oge” of Lagos, a title, Opral Benson currently holds. She was, without any doubt, a combination of brain and beauty, with a penchant for excellence in everything she does. She is now in her 70s and retired but not tired. She still has a lot going for her, even in her twilight years. I have been away from Nigeria for quite sometime, and I havn’t seen her since 1989 when I stumbled on her inside one of the elevators at the Nigerian Permanent Mission Office at the United Nations while Joe Garba was our permanent Representative. But she remains an icon in my judgment to this day. I cannot tell how much the Nigerian Government has done to appreciate this woman with a heart of gold, who, in a more grateful and thoughtful nation would have been considered a precious jewel of inestimable value not only to her husband of many years, but to the whole nation as a whole and honored as such.
Sunny had brilliantly reminded his many fans in the “Erelu” Odua album that no eagle, however vicious would ever dare to pounce on a full grown pigeon, or a daring bald eagle attempt to pounce on a baby sheep, the same way it preys on a day old chicken, and that no tree however mighty or deep-rooted would have an encounter with the thunder and still remain alive and well, after that encounter. That, in the powerful allegory crafted by Sunny Ade, clearly beautifully summarizes the virtues of Erelu Fernandez in that album in a way to make you believe the woman is really larger than life, if you think about it, like I often do. While that may be considered a hyperbolic portrayal of Erelu Fernandez, my contention in this article is that the epithet is even more appropriate and apposite to describe Francisca Yetunde Emmanuel, as a no-nonsense pioneer lady Federal Permanent Secretary who can stand her own any where in the world, because she was such a capable, brilliant, superbly resourceful and resilient, efficient, humane, and exceptionally competent and gifted administrator in her own right. She was decidedly as strong and as able, if not better, than many of her male counterparts in the Public Service of Nigeria. I can attest to that because I worked for her, and I came to know her in ways that others may not been opportune to know, and I think a whole world of her today, more than thirty years after our first meeting, and, based on my recollections of her virtues as a woman of privilege who had risen to the very top of her calling through perseverance and hard work.
With Francisca Yetunde Emmanuel, what you see is what you get, because there are to pretenses about her. She would tell it like it is, no matter whose horse is gored. She writes and speaks with conviction, and it is a special joy to work for and work with her, because she brings out the best in you as a subordinate. When she delegates to you, she backs you up with authority and does not micromanage you. She would go to great length to defend your mistake, if that mistake has arisen out of any directive she has given you. She appreciates and values your contributions, come rain or shine, and she never fails to give you affirmation which is so critical to the personal growth and development of junior colleagues in the service of our country. She will challenge you as often as needed just to get the best out of you.
She was evidently not more than we needed in a boss, but was clearly more than we a were used to in a Permanent Secretary. Why? Because she is supremely confident of her ability, and she was an expert in passing it on to any of her subordinates who follow her lead, and are determined to take something away from it with pride and gratitude. I happen to be one of such followers and believers in Francisca, and my professional life and career have never been the best for it. Years after leaving the Federal Service, I continue to find very useful, many of the attributes I have learnt from her in all those years of working with her, and drinking from her limitless fountain of knowledge. She has majored in Geography, I am told in her University in Great Britain. She was truly a bundle of talents, if you ask me. I recall here some of my colleagues and seniors in the Service like Mr. Kayode Adebolu from Ado Ekiti, Mr. Ugbade and Mr. Asielue from ika Ibo, Mr. Jack from Rivers State, Prince. Oyenuga from Ijebu Ife, Dr. Bode Olajumoke from Imeri- Idoani and now the Pro Chancelor of Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba, former Deputy Governor, Ondo State, Paul Alabi, my friend and colleagues Mr. Elias Ibe and Seweje, and her Deputy, Alhaji Gambo Gubio one of the most intelligent, detribalized and hard working Northern officers you will ever know. What we had in the Ministry in those days were a bunch of dedicated officers trained by Mr. Grey Longe and later taken over by Mrs. Emmanuel who simply added the icing on the cake.
The Federal Civil Service was a far cry from what it is today. With icons like Mrs. Emmanuel and her colleagues, accountability was not just a statement of intent, like it is today, it was a creed. Why? Because Permanent Secretaries like Mrs. Emmanuel were in charge, and they led the way in public probity and integrity that the rest of us could not fail to emulate. It was not like today when clerical staff and Executive Officers in the Pensions Department of the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation openly demand bribes from retired colleagues before their benefits can be processed, talk less of paying them on time. The camaraderie and the “espirit de corps” no longer exists. There is something called “Idamewa” the 10 percent kickback that Elemure Ogunyemi has made the central theme of one of his Ekiti albums. In today’s Federal Service in Abuja, you cannot get any civil servant to do what they are hired to do, unless you grease their palms or reach an unwritten agreement with them to share a percentage of the benefits you are hoping to get in return for your service to our country.
This information is not based on hearsay. I was a personal victim, when for the first time in 2001, I had gone to Abuja from America, to begin the processing of my accumulated pensions which could not be processed at the time I voluntarily retired from the Service in 1986, because I had not reached the age of 45. I was stupefied when a clerical staff in the Office of Alhaji Yayale, the then Head of Service brazenly took me aside on the corridor, telling me I have to promise to give him 50,000.00 Naira out of my entitlement before my Pension papers could be processed through their moribund computer system. I nearly collapsed, because in the days of Mrs. Emmanuel, and the Grey Longes of this world such a scenario was simply unthinkable. That was enough to earn an officer a dismissal from the Federal Service without any question in my mind. Not any more, regardless of what the present Government may be saying to the contrary about all they are doing to fight corruption. I personally wrote a personal letter to Alhaji Yayale upon my return to the United States without as much as a simple acknowledgment. That is how far the Civil Service has gone down to the dogs in the absence of officers like Francisca Yetunde Emmanuel.
If Mrs. Emmanuel was corrupt, she could easily have become a multi millionaire during her tenure in the Federal Ministry of Works, or during her stewardship as the pleni potentiary Permanent Secretary of the Hydra-headed Federal Ministry of Establishments in the late 70s and early 80s. All Federal Training Centers in Nigeria, at the time, were under the Staff Development Division which was first headed by one Mr. Ojinni, and a few years later by one Mr. Asielue from whom I took over as Secretary, Staff Development, in 1978, because Mrs. Emmanuel had given me the opportunity, free of all encumbrances. Under her, as Permanent Secretary, within two years of her arrival in Establishments, the Federal Training Centers in Enugu, Ilorin, Maiduguri and Calabar were opened, given more opportunities for more Secretaries to be trained for all Federal agencies and parastatals across the country, and offering limitless employment opportunities to so many Nigerians.
Under her the National Secretarial Examination Board was reorganized and empowered to initiate a blue print for Secretarial Education in Nigeria. Her tenure was the best of time for Secretarial Education in Nigeria, and she did it without receiving one Naira of a kickback from any of the contractors handling the project. If she did, I would have been one of the first persons to know and that information should have been the subject of this article without fail, even if, I couldn’t say a word about it when it first occurred. Mrs. Emmanuel was a special breed in my eyes, and she remains my mentor till tomorrow, and for as long as I live.
Many had thought, at the time, that I was a special favorite of her, and that there was something going on between us, because in my youth I was an unrepentant womanizer, and would have gone after anybody in skirts, if I took a fancy to her like some of us did in those days. But Mrs. Emmanuel was my boss and idol, and I admire her till tomorrow even though she is now in her 70s. I say that with some trepidation because who knows if Papa Muyiwa, the great Dr. Emmanuel or somebody close to him ever comes across this write-up. I respect and admire Erelu Emmanuel for her integrity and hard work and more so for her patriotism and sense of fairness to all and loyalty to our country. Like the true Lagosian that she was, she couldn’t be bothered where you come from. If you have it in you, and you are willing to learn, the sky is your limit with Mrs. Emmanuel. She would fight for you and champion your cause the same way she would fight for her only son and child, little Muyiwa who was only a toddler at the time. She was an excellent woman of virtue, and easily one of Nigeria’s best, in my own opinion and judgment. I call her the “Erelu” of Nigerian womanhood, and without any doubt, a star and a shinning example to all women in our Public Service at large. Those who think Mrs. Okonjo Iweala, our current Minister of Finance is an icon, and a first among equals, have probably never heard anything about Francisca Yetunde Emmanuel. The Kuforiji Olubis of this world, the Oprah Bensons of this world are all a class by themselves but I tell you Francisca is a breed apart.
I cannot afford to end this article without telling a story I would never forget about Francisca Yetunde Emmanuel till I die. In 1978, following my deployment by her good self to the position of Secretary, Staff Development in succession to Mr. Asielue, I was immediately named in my official capacity as Secretary, and Head of the Staff Development Division, as the Director representing the Federal Government of Nigeria on the Governing Board of Directors of an OAU affiliate organization called CAFRAD in French, meaning African Training and Research Center in Administration for Development based in Tangiers in Morocco. It was my first opportunity in my career to serve as a kind of surrogate ambassador to my country in an International body of some consequence, and I was determined to make a difference there by just taking a cue from my boss and Permanent Secretary who has impressed on me that one the greatest disservice you can do to your self esteem, is to let others define you.
Mrs. Emmanuel believes that you can make a difference at any place you serve, if you think you can, and if you assiduously work towards it without looking back. I went to my first meeting at CAFRAD with that prism ingrained into my psyche. Grey Eronmosele Longe another favorite of mine, had then become the Head of Service and Francisca Yetunde Emmanuel was the super Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Establishments. Knowing that I enjoyed the full confidence of these two powerful brokers, and the respect of Mrs. Emmanuel’s Deputy, Gambo Gubio, I went to that international forum, determined to do my best for my country and to leave CAFRAD a much better Research Center than it was when I first got there representing Nigeria, the doyen of African countries before South Africa came on board with Madiba Nelson Mandela leading the way from Soweto to Johannesburg.
For more than 50 years the Organization founded on the same principle and tradition with the parent body, the OAU, had been sited in Tangiers, Morocco, just like the OAU has had her traditional Base in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, but has always rotated her meetings and chairmanship between member countries, so that some innovations and dynamism can come into her operations and benefit as a continental Institution for all member countries across the board instead of focusing all the attention on Morocco. I went into the Board of Directors with a determination and commitment to have CAFRAD rotate its meetings and its chairmanship, and I set for my self a time frame of three years to accomplish the feat. Before setting out for Morocco, I submitted a blue print to Mrs. Emmanuel through Alhaji Gambo Gubio, her Deputy, stating my goals and how I planed to achieve them during my tenure in CAFRAD. It was a very ambitious blue print, given the fact that Morocco, a Muslim country with some religious loyalties to the core North that have always ruled Nigeria, would not like to tinker with, talk less of letting the issue come up for debate at the plenary meetings of CAFRAD.
I went there determined to rock the boat, if necessary and to nudge the other member nations see the import of what the Nigerian delegation was determined to do. I spent much of my first year on the Board laying the ground work, and by my second year, I had formally opened up the debate and forced the issue to come up for discussion with all members voting up or down at the end of the debate. The Morocco delegation led by its Moroccan Chairman and supported by the Arab countries in the organization aided and abetted by the late Zairian dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Waza Banga had vowed, the rotation of meetings and chairmanship of CAFRAD would only come to pass on their dead body.
I have sampled the opinion of other delegates and I have thoroughly done my homework, and I was convinced Nigeria had all the clout and the leverage to lead the rebellion. It was at a time Nigeria had so much money to throw around, and could afford to lead the reformation in my judgment. I implied that much in my submission to Gambo Gubio and Mrs. Yetunde Emmanuel wondering if they would have the spine to back me up, and give me all the support I needed to get the job done The miracle of it all was that Alhaji Gambo Gubio a Muslim by faith, not only supported my submission with enthusiasm, he had given the submission, a new impetus of its own, by recommending support for my position to Mrs. Emmanuel in unmistakable terms.
I also got all the logistical support I needed from our then Ambassador to Morocco, Alhaji Sanusi , the junior brother of the current Emir of Kano. The great Ambassador was able to read between lines, and he agreed that the issue at stake was much more important than towing the line of another Islamic country. It was my finest hour when the reply came from the lady Permanent Secretary in her bold hand writing, endorsing the entire plan in its entirety, and praising my courage and daredevil submission. That was Francisca Yetunde Emmanuel at her best, It was not clear to me if my submission went above them to Grey Longe, the Head of Service, and I could care less if it did, once my “Perm Sec” and her Deputy had given me their word, and that was all that mattered to me at the time, because I knew Francisca would do whatever it took to defend me, if the powers that had risen up in arms against a plan designed to bolster the stature of Nigeria as the leader in Africa, south of the Sahara.
I went on to Morrocco and to cut a long story short, I accomplished my goal in two years, and Nigeria became the first country outside Morocco to first host CAFRAD in Lagos and to have Nigeria produce the first non Moroccan Chairman of CAFRAD with acclamation, at the Plenary meeting of the Board held in the Auditorium of the World Cultural Arts Theater in 1981, and the parting reception for delegates held at the Federal Palace, Lagos with pomp and pageantry.. It was the finest moment of my 23 years in the Federal Service, and Mrs. Emmanuel had made it so, through the force of her personality, courage and selfless service to our nation. By the time the meeting of CAFRAD and its chairmanship were rotated to Nigeria, The Staff Development Division of Establishments had become a full fledged Department with its own first Permanent Secretary being, Oluyemi Falae who was later to be recalled from the Nigerian Merchant Bank to become the Secretary to the Federal Government of the Federation, several years later.
My point is that it was Mrs. Francisca Yetunde Emmanuel supported by Gambo Gubio, and rubber-stamped by Grey Longe that had made the move possible. Under Nigeria’s leadership as Chairman of CAFRAD, Nigeria had made it possible for Professor Thomas Kanza of Harvard and Oxford, the first graduate Minister under Patrice Lumumba , in the Republic of the Congo, to succeed Dr. Kariuki of Kenya as the second Black Director-General of CAFRAD despite stiff opposition from late King Hassan Mohammed, and his Government and Citoyen Citoyen Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Waza Banga, the late President of the Republic of Zaire. Allahu aqbar! Allah is truly great was all I could say. But if the truth must be told the credit must go to Francisca Yetunde Emmanuel whose name was hardly ever mentioned. at the celebration marking Nigeria’s ascendancy to the chairmanship of CAFRAD when Nigeria became the first country, ever, to host the meeting outside Morocco.
If Nigeria is a grateful nation, Mrs. Francisca Yetunde Emmanuel deserves all the highest honors our nation can bestow on any citizen. She was easily the best in her time, and we have cause to thank God for her life and her contributions to our nation. Long live Nigeria’s first woman Permanent Secretary in the Federal Public Service.
I rest my case.
Join the discussion