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Francesca Emanuel: A woman of many parts

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• First Female Federal Permanent Secretary

We mourn the demise of a multi-talented, highly achieving lady of very radiant personality, a great Nigerian and a great African who attained high distinction in many theatres of national life, Mrs. Francesca Yetunde Emanuel, Commander of the Order of the Niger. She was born on September 19, 1933 and died on April 8, 2020 at the age of 86.

Mrs. Francesca Emanuel, neé Pereira, is best known as an outstanding civil servant. She joined the Federal Nigerian Civil Service in 1959 as the first female Administrative Officer after graduating from University College London with an honours degree in Geography. She had started her university course at University College Ibadan, then a College of London University.

She was brilliant and diligent and rapidly rose through the ranks in a merit-driven Civil Service and was appointed the first female Federal Permanent Secretary in July 1975. She served as Permanent Secretary with great distinction first at the Cabinet Office and subsequently in several ministries including Establishments, Health, Science and Technology, and Social Development, Youth and Sports.

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As Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Establishments, she is gratefully remembered for getting the Government to adopt the policy of giving independent individual recognition to married women and granting to them the same perquisites and privileges as accorded to the men, for instance, in the allocation of government quarters.

While in the same ministry she played a great role and worked hard in the establishment of the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria at Badagry- ASCON. She also worked very hard in the establishment of the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies at Kuru- NIPSS.

The military coup that ended the Gowon regime occurred soon after Mrs. Emanuel became Permanent Secretary. The Murtala Mohammed Administration, which replaced Gen. Gowon’s regime, removed the Civilian Commissioners (Ministers) who from May 1967 onwards were the political heads of ministries and were members of the Federal Executive Council.

They were replaced by military officers many of whom had never before in the course of their duties interacted with civil servants. The new administration also retired several senior Federal Permanent Secretaries and embarked on a massive and traumatic purge of the Civil Service and Parastatal Agencies, resulting in the retirement or dismissal of several thousand officials without due process.

Those were very challenging circumstances in which Mrs. Emanuel and her colleagues had to ensure orderly administration, discipline, and observance of Civil Service Regulations and Financial Instructions; as well as introduce the new Ministers to the established administrative procedures in the management of Ministries. In 1984 to 1985 she attended the Senior Executive Course at NIPSS, Kuru.

At the end of the course she was posted to the Ministry of Social Development, Youth and Sports. She retired from the Civil Service in May 1988, but still served out her term as a Member of the United Nations International Civil Service Commission, 1987 – 1992.

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In the many positions she held during her three decades in the Civil Service, Mrs. Emanuel acquitted herself with great distinction and success. She adhered closely to the ethos and core principles of the merit- driven, non-partisan Civil Service inherited from the British Colonial Administration – diligence, patriotism, honesty, transparency, objectivity, integrity, and frugality in the expenditure of public funds.

After retirement from the Civil Service Mrs. Emanuel served as a member of several Commissions set up to advise on how to re-invigorate and improve the Civil Service so badly degraded in quality, effectiveness, and prestige following the 1975 purge, the 1988 and other attempted “reforms”. She was a founding Council Member and Vice Chairman of the Council of Retired Federal Permanent Secretaries – CORFEPS and was serving as Chairman at the time of her death.

She richly merited the award to her by the Federal Government of the national honour, Commander of the Order of the Niger- CON.We are very happy that despite her very busy schedule in the Public Service, Mrs Francesca Emanuel found the time and energy to be very active in many other sectors of national life, particularly musical and theatrical performances, as well as in numerous alumni, professional and other cultural associations.

Endowed with a beautiful voice Mrs. Emanuel started participating in musical performances very early in life. As a student at Holy Child College, Lagos, she won the First Soprano Solo Prize at the first Nigerian Festival of the Arts in 1950. She continued participating in concerts to great acclaim until late age. In 1989 she participated in the establishment of the Musical Society of Nigeria – MUSON led by Chief Ayo Rosiji and Mr Akintola Williams. She was a founding Member of the Board of Governors and was at the time of her death a Trustee and Patron. She also performed in many MUSON concerts.

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Our departed heroine was also a gifted actress. She acted in several of Wole Soyinka’s plays. She will also be remembered by numerous actors and actresses whom she mentored and encouraged. A few years ago Mrs Emanuel, Vice Chairman of the MacMillan Board of Directors, initiated the MacMillan Literary Night Series.

In her opening address on one occasion when the theme was “Blazing Hope,” she said, “one of the key objectives of the project was to highlight the role of writers in changing society for the common good.” The Chairman of the Board, Mr. Bode Emanuel, also “reiterated his team’s desire to use literature and theatre to combat the vices of society.”

The MacMillan Theatre Night Series feature artistes of diverse categories in dances, drama pieces, musical performances, and poetry recitations and have become immensely popular. She found time to write some good poetry herself. She received due recognition being elected Trustee of the National Association of Theatre Arts Practitioners, Grand Patron of the Association of Nigerian Authors (Lagos Chapter), and Patron Guild of Dancers.

In addition to the wide range of activities which I have already described, Mrs Francesca Yetunde Emanuel was also a very committed nature conservationist. She was a founding member of The Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) and a very active member of the Executive Council from the beginning of the Foundation in 1982.

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She served for many years as the Chairman of the Council’s Establishment and Finance Committee and was a Trustee of the Foundation at the time of her death. She was very diligent in attending all the activities of NCF in Lagos and various parts of Nigeria, as well as the activities abroad of the World Wide Fund For Nature to which NCF is affiliated. She was also a very keen horticulturist and personally planted and maintained a delightful garden at her home in Victoria Island, Lagos.

Now the whole world is fully aware of the enormous challenges of Climate Change. Nigerians are gradually awakening to the threatening challenge with the commitment of the Federal Government to the re-afforestation of 25 per cent of Nigeria’s land surface including our portion of “The Green Wall Against Sahara”, and the need to preserve endangered species and their habitats, and to utilise the resources of nature in a renewable process for the benefit of future generations. She will, therefore, be gratefully remembered for her pioneering efforts to promote the Cause of Conservation in Nigeria.

I cannot end this tribute without recalling Mrs. Francesca Emanuel’s devotion to and bonding with her family, immediate and extended. She was my wife’s eldest sister. I cherish and recall with nostalgia the many happy moments we spent together in Nigeria and abroad on occasions of weddings, admission of children and grandchildren to sacraments, birthdays and other anniversaries, as well as during regular visits to family members, and she was always joyful.

Although she lived to a great age, her demise was a great saddening shock to all of us. We bid farewell to a star, to a great Nigerian and African heroine whose legacies will long endure. Adieu Francesca Yetunde Emanuel.

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Francesca Yetunde Emanuel
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