Pius Nwabufo Okigbo
Pius Okigbo

2001 Toward Freedom/ William B. Lloyd Lecture and Keynote Address

By Arthur C. I. Mbanefo, FCA, MFR (Northwest University, June 08, 2001)


I take this opportunity to thank Henry S. Bienen, Esq., the president of Northwestern University for his invitation to me to participate in this conference dedicated to an illustrious alumnus of the university and a great son of Africa, indeed of the world. I also wish to put on record my appreciation to all those who conceived the idea of dedicating this year’s “Toward Freedom/William B. Lloyd” lecture to Dr. Pius Nwabufo Charles Okigbo, in particular Professor Jane Guyer, head of the Program of African Studies, Northwestern University, and her collaborators.

The conference that is scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday, June 9, 2001 has the general theme “Vision and Policy in Nigerian Economics: The Legacy of Pius Okigbo.” It will discuss Okigbo’s contributions to the evolution of the Nigerian State; economic policy and public finance in Nigeria and the African continent; and intellectuals, public leadership and civil society. For my address today, therefore, I have chosen to talk about the man, Pius Okigbo, in the hope that people who may not have known him in life would have an insight of who he was and perhaps why he is being so lavishly honored by the Program of African Studies.


Dr. Pius Nwabufo Charles Okigbo, B.A. (Hons.), B. Sc. Boon, LLB, D.Sc. Econ. (London), M.A. and Ph. D. (Northwestern), Commander of the Distinguished Order of the Niger (CON), Nigeria National Merit Award (NNMA), Nwanne Bu Ugwu, Eze Onu Nekwuluora, and Ebekuodike I of Ojoto, Anambra State of Nigeria, was born on February 6, 1924 to the family of a pioneer Catholic schoolmaster, Chief James Okoye Okigbo. His ancestor, Chief Eze Okigbo, was famous for bringing education to the town of Ojoto. Pius was the second child of his mother. They were five children altogether. Today, there are only two survivors from that marriage, the only girls among the siblings.


Pius had laid a very good foundation for his higher education at Christ the King College, Onitsha where he had a most brilliant academic career. In 1940, he passed the Cambridge School Certificate examination in Grade I with exemption from London matriculation. The following year, he enrolled in the Higher College, Yaba, Lagos, for a diploma course in arts.
This was the highest institution of learning then in Nigeria and only the best managed to get in. There he read Latin, Greek, history, and English language and literature.

Subsequently, he completed his diploma in 1943 at Achimota College, in the Gold Coast (now Ghana), because the Yaba Higher College campus in Lagos had been converted to a military base for the Royal West African Frontier Force as World War II raged. Pius returned to Onitsha in 1943 and started teaching at the Africa College. By sheer dedication and self￾discipline, he started working for the intermediate examinations of B.A., B.Sc. and L.L.B. degrees of London University as an external student, learning through correspondence courses. He successfully completed the courses between 1944 and 1947. In 1946 he graduated B.A. Honors (history) with second class upper division. While working as an African development officer, he graduated, again by correspondence courses, B.Sc. Economics (1949) and LLB (1952) both of London University. These rare achievements most probably qualified him as the first Nigerian to earn three degrees from London University by correspondence as an external student.

Pius’s greatest chance for the advancement of his quest for education and self￾development came, when in 1952, he was awarded the fellowship of the Institute of International Education tenable at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. During the five years he spent at Northwestern, he completed course requirements for two postgraduate degrees, M.A. in 1954 and Ph.D. in 1956. Propelling his unquenchable thirst for education and academic excellence were various scholarships and studentships, including the Schaefer fellowship in economics at Northwestern University (1953), a Carnegie fellowship in economics (1953-1954), a studentship at Nuffield College, Oxford,

England (1954-1955) and (1957-1958), and the American Philosophical Society postdoctoral fellowship also in Oxford (1957-1958). But his crowning moment came in 1982 when, at the age of 58, he obtained the D. Sc. (Economics) degree of London University by examination. This singular achievement put him in the list of the chosen few of six academic giants that have earned this degree by examination in the many years of existence of that university.


In 1948, Dr. Pius Okigbo started his short but most eventful bureaucratic career in Aba, Eastern Nigeria as an African development officer, a senior service post until then reserved for white colonial officers. He subsequently left in 1952 on obtaining a scholarship award that brought him to Northwestern University in the same year. In his five years in the United States of America, he was able to bring himself to a level, that as an African, he could be appointed lecturer in top grade universities in North America and the United Kingdom during the pre-independence period. From 1955 to 1957, he worked as a lecturer at

Northwestern University, as a research associate in the University of Chicago, and in the summer of 1957, ended up as research associate at the University of Wyoming. In 1957-1958, he served as a lecturer in Oxford University during his postdoctoral fellowship there.

On his return to Nigeria in 1958, Pius was employed in the Eastern Nigeria civil service as permanent secretary (planning) and economic adviser of the premier. While in Oxford, Pius had, as a postdoctoral fellow, using mathematical models, created unavailable economic data for Nigeria. In recognition of this achievement, he was offered these high posts in the

Eastern Nigeria government Toward the end, in 1959, he was appointed economic adviser to the Prime Minister of the Federal Government of Nigeria, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. It was said that in economic matters, the prime minister was often ready to side with Dr.

Okigbo against his cabinet. Needless to add, that the inroad of Pius into economic advisory work and planning meant the end of dependence of African countries on western foreign economists for advice. Subsequently, Dr. Okigbo was appointed Nigeria’s ambassador to the European Economic

Community in Brussels in 1963, a post he held until the civil war started in 1967. Pius followed his fellow Igbos to the Republic of Biafra where he was promptly appointed economic adviser to the new government. The high points of his brief career in the civil service of various governments of Nigeria included the following:
During his service in the Eastern Nigeria civil service, he joined Professor Wolfgang Stopler to prepare the first national development plan for Nigeria. Their singular effort was acclaimed as laying the foundation of Nigeria’s post-independence prosperity. The plan was so well calculated and prepared that its targets were not only met but also in some cases exceeded. Whereas the planners had projected an average national growth rate of 5.1 percent per annum during the plan period, by 1965 a growth rate of 6.7 percent had been attained. In the same period capital formation rose from 12.2 percent in 1962 to 15 percent in 1965 and the ratio of investment to GDP went up from 9.8 percent to 12.1 percent. It is also acknowledged that the economy of the former Eastern Region was the fastest growing in the federal republic and, indeed, in the world as at 1966 when the democratic government was dismantled by a military coup &eta.

2. As Nigeria’s ambassador to the European Economic Community, Pius’s economic prowess earned him respect from his associates and negotiating partners. He combined his clear understanding of the political economy and diplomacy to build a model of association between the EEC and Nigeria. He succeeded in negotiating favorable trading terms with his European hosts. Nigerian commodities were thus given special entry rights into Europe without compromising Nigeria’s freedom in world trade. He also succeeded in obtaining exemptions from European customs and fiscal charges without Europe insisting on reciprocity.

3. In the short-lived Republic of Biafra., he succeeded in helping with the establishment of the Central Bank of Biafra and produced the republic’s currency. Before that, Nigeria’s currency was used in Biafra, but he convinced the government that a truly independent nation must have its own currency.

4. On the international plane, he served as a member of the committee for technical cooperation for Africa South of the Sahara (CCTA) from 1960 to 1965. In 1961 he was chairman of the United Nations panel of experts that planned the setting up of an African Development Bank, which still operates in the Ivory Coast where it is located.

He was chairman of the Council of African Advisers of the African Development Bank from 1993 until his death. In 1962, he was appointed a member of the Kenya Fiscal

Commission. In the same year he was also a member of the United Nations Panel of Experts on the Institute of Economic Development for Africa. In addition, he served on other international bodies: as a member of the External Advisory Board of the

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OCED) Development Center in Paris (1963-1966) and as chairman, Committee on Commodities, United Nations Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Geneva (1964-1966).


At the end of the Nigerian Civil War and the collapse of the Republic of Biafra in 1970, Pius was arrested and incarcerated for eighteen months in Enugu Prison for his role in Biafra.

On his release from prison, he decided that his services were no longer welcome by the government of Nigeria. In 1971, he established a multisectoral consultancy company known as SKOUP and Company Limited, which he served as managing director and chief executive officer until his death. SKOUP was a pioneer consultancy firm of local experts involved in planning and project development; research that provided or generated data for planning and project development: the review, monitoring, and assessing of programming impacts; and the provision of advisory services in diverse sectoral development programs in agriculture, forestry, natural resources, conservation management, industry, engineering, research and development, education, transportation, etc. The staff included economists, accountants, engineers, agriculturists, chemists, sociologists, information management experts and others. This was a very successful firm whose services were sought after by the federal and state governments of Nigeria, international agencies, and private sector organizations.

Working out of government no doubt gave Dr. Okigbo the freedom he needed to engage in his hobby and life: economics. He was not a university don required to produce scholarly publications to rise to the top. Nevertheless, he wrote easily and extensively to put on record his views on diverse issues. In this regard there was no doubt that his major business interests might have suffered neglect. He was chairman of Bouygues, an international construction company, the Nigerian Tobacco Company, Torch Publishing Company, Magnum Trust Bank as well as a member of a host of companies, foundations, and other institutions.

Despite his direct management and control of these various enterprises, Pius found the time. to serve on international and national commissions as chairman or as an invaluable member. Thus in 1976, he was the chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee and the chairman of the subcommittee that worked on economics, finance and division of power. He also served as a member of the Constituent Assembly (1978) that approved the 1979 constitution and as chairman of the Presidential Commission on Revenue Allocation

An innovation he introduced to this very sensitive and delicate policy issue in Nigeria, which was to create the formula for the redistribution of Nigeria’s income to the component governments (federal, state and local government), was to use primary school enrollment as a criterion for revenue allocation. During the Sani Abacha regime, he was chairman of the Panel of Inquiry into the Gulf War Oil Windfall, otherwise known as the Okigbo Inquiry into the Central Bank of Nigeria. Pius demonstrated tremendous courage and integrity when in his committee’s report he categorically indicted the military government of the day for displaying a penchant for wasteful spending on projects that had little or no economic value. In 1996, he was the chairman of the committee that laid down the national policy on solid minerals development. Lastly, with the resumption of civilian democratic’ government in 1999 under President Olusegun Obasanjo, he was appointed as a special adviser on economic matters to the president, a position he held until his death. At the international level, Dr. Pius Okigbo took active part in policy discussions for South￾South development and cooperation. He was well known for his membership in the South

From 1995 to the day he died, he served on the board of governors of the South Centre. He also served as a member of the United Nations Panel of Experts on the Reform of the Tax System in the Third World in 1989. He served in so many other capacities that I need not list all of them here.


Being independent of government service helped Pius to do what he loved doing best: finding the right path for Nigerian development. His concern centered on the phasing of public initiatives and the structuring of individual policies and programs. Naturally, it was only being free of government requirements and entanglements that he could make a global search for development options, comparing plans in different parts of the globe like India, the Soviet Union, Mexico and Malaysia, to mention only a few.

A strong belief in the development of human capital guided Pius’s economic thinking. He committed himself to working for the benefit of his fellow man and women. He subscribed to the school of thought that “knowledge that is not at the service of society is a waste.”

According to his way of thinking, the core essence of economics is about ordinary people and so he embraced what we may call here the humanistic brand of economics. Opining that the difference between industrialized nations and developing ones is the difference in the quality of their human resources, he asserted that the most important agent of development is man not mineral deposits, for man assigns value to mineral resources.

Without man, therefore, no mineral has any value. Moreover, when resources are spent on education, this creates a tremendous asset for humanity, and thus he strongly advocated that the profits of Nigeria’s considerable national resources be expended on the education and welfare of its people. So it is not surprising that the report of the South Commission, of which he was an invaluable member, stressed that “man is both the means and the end of development.”

Dr. Okigbo’s theory differed from the economics of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Economic Commission for Africa, and even the Federal Government of Nigeria on what it meant to be poor and how to end poverty. He agreed that food production could well be the leading sector to take Nigeria out of her troubles, He wondered why Operation Feed the Nation, the Green Revolution, and the River Basin Development

Authorities did not change the lot of our people. He concluded that they failed because they did not simultaneously pursue a manufacturing program for agricultural equipment and inputs. Consequently, foreign exchange availability became a key factor against the success of these policies. Also, the budgetary allocation to carry out these schemes never trickled down to the peasant communities upon whom the heavy burden of producing food for the nation rested. In addition, the absence of social policy to liberate the energies and the marginalization of rural communities frustrated the success of the programs.

Another example of Dr. Okigbo’s vision and contribution to Nigeria economic thought concerned privatization. In principle, Pius agreed with the idea of privatization but disagreed with the policy if it resulted in the freeing of the economy from government intervention or conceding ownership to powerful multinational investors. He thought that such a situation would exacerbate already existing global inequalities. If it meant the transfer of ownership and management from public to private managers, the question then arose: where would the expert private managers come from’? For privatization to be effective, he concluded, it must be accompanied by widening and deepening the production base and by planned expansion of managerial skills. Thus, privatization must involve the whole economy and should not be limited to specific enterprises. The whole program must be monitored and supervised to ensure that vulnerable groups were not deprived of opportunities for their own self-improvement.

Pius found the development taking place among the Asian Tigers exciting, particularly when compared with the sad records of perspectives in sub-Saharan Africa. Deeply interested in mathematical modeling and fascinated by the idea of catastrophe theories as a possible explanatory hypothesis of economic and political failures in Africa, Pius was a prodigious writer. He published seven books, about eighty scholarly articles, and other collaborative publications. In addition, he participated in the drafting of reports of the many panels, committees and commissions on which he had served. He was a man imbued with genuine concern for the common man; his forte was economic planning for the eradication of poverty and inequity, especially in the third world. In several of his writings and public lectures, he unambiguously identified corruption and mismanagement of state resources as major factors hindering the growth of third world economies. Economics was his life.

His pursuit for academic excellence was insatiable. He was fully committed to the pursuit of ideas and he wrote until his last days; he was never satisfied until he had attained the perfection for which he aimed; he brought to his writings all the knowledge he had derived from history, philosophy, politics, law, mathematics, and many other disciplines. He had computed and refined the tables used in his work on the Nigerian debt problem, a subject that engaged him extensively throughout his life. This was his last work, which he had hoped to publish in mid-September.


Pius delighted Nigerian intellectuals and others by his fearlessness in speaking his mind on government policy and all manner of economic, political, social, and cultural issues. He was not a sycophant and did not pander to any government or group. In his paper aptly titled, “The Grammar of the Future,” Pius predicted that science is the language of the future and technology its grammar. He attempted to persuade Nigerians to appreciate the role of science and technology in future development. In a 1993 keynote address at a conference on energy and development, he carefully and systematically debunked all the self-serving arguments used to explain the unsatisfactory state of the Nigerian energy sector. His assertions in that paper remain valid today as the Nigerian energy sector lays prostrate and comatose. On the occasion of receiving an honorary degree from the University of Lagos, he gave a lecture, titled “Crises in the Temple,” in which he admonished the university for the decline in our educational institutions. Condemning the nefarious influence of money on academics, he remarked that about eighty percent of the honorary doctorate degrees awarded by Nigerian universities went to people with little or no education but who were ready to “settle” the university authorities with their wealth. To show the range of Pius’s views on issues that have engaged Nigerians in continuous debate for the latter half of the twentieth century, I quote from his writing on three subjects: religion, ethnicity, and public leadership. On religion, he contended that: The existence of multiple religions does not by itself create a special problem; it does so only where it is used as basis for a contest for the control of the state or when it is used to deal with other peoples classified as enemies. The state must provide security for its citizens to worship whatever god they please in whatever form they choose so long as they do not trample on the rights of other citizens. This was long before the attempts to introduce the Sharia Law in parts of Nigeria and the bitter consequences of its application in many parts of the country. How right he was in his assertion!

On ethnicity, he wrote: The mere existence of the nation does not guarantee unity; unity can only be created and made by its members. Any unity achieved without the willing assent of the nationalities in the system cannot persist… Any unity that is contrived or imposed becomes in the words of Harold Laski’s quaint phrase, ‘unity of the cannibal and his victim’ to weld together the strands of the society from communal to, ethnic, requires co-operation of all units that is federal and not imperial in character. And on the importance of committed public leadership, he contended that: The leader must not merely administer the creed of his time, he must be an age or two ahead of his time; must think not only of the day but of the morrow otherwise even if he is a first rate man he would be propagating the creed of a second rate man. He must be able to express in grand and articulate manner the yearnings and aspirations of his people and give them a vision and a passion that will suffuse everyone and everything around him: that Nigeria’s First Magistrate (that is the President) has therefore two courses of action to choose from either to subscribe to the belief that progress is inevitable and so follow either the example of an Irish Bishop reputed to have said to his congregation: “Brethren, here indeed is a great difficulty. Let us look it firmly in the face and then pass on.” Or accept the challenge facing his leadership and decide to be more aggressive by adopting the route defined by Confucius when he said “Taking the bull by the horns always yields results even if it is the bull that gets the results.” However, the President having chosen the option prescribed by Confucius, it is up to us Nigerians to ensure that it is not the bull that gets the results and that the President he heartened and encouraged by modification and adaptation of the famous statement by the Russian philosopher Ostrogovsky to wit: “God himself takes care of infants and lunatic.”


The man Pius Nwabufo Charles Okigbo cannot be understood nor fully appreciated if we concentrated only on his life as an economist and an intellectual. He fits squarely the legend of the African Elephant about which it is said contains the meat of all the other animals in the world. Consequently, one was supposed to find in the elephant any kind of meat that one desired. We can only properly visualize the man from all the diverse viewpoints of his incredibly full life as a professional, an academic, a development economist, a business tycoon, a political analyst, a philanthropist, a sage, a wit, a socioculturist at local, national, and international levels — and above all, a family man.

A very humble, personable and affectionate man, Pius was highly regarded and respected by all. As the saying goes, Pius took his work very seriously, but like many a genius of his class he never took himself seriously. Thus, he was able to adjust to any situation in which he found himself without fuss. He was very witty and entertaining and had the knack for keeping his friends fully engaged humorously with the many funny stories he skillfully chose to fit every occasion.

Pius was unaffected in behavior or personality by success or fame. Trying to describe his maturity and relaxed confidence brings to mind a description of the great jazz musician Dizzy Gillespie that I once read: “He never took advantage of who he was, and he never acted like a star. I don’t know how stars get from here to there, but Dizzy walked down the street.” Pius surely did walk down the street! Indeed, throughout his years of success and public acclaim he managed to remain his good self, unpretentious, humorous, kindly, and down-to-earth. He was much more concerned with the achievement of results than with getting credit for the results. The struggles of the young and the disadvantaged in society moved him more than by the caprice and favors of the great and famous. He never forgot his origins and where he came from. He was overwhelmed with unresolved human problems of his world and the world around him

Dr. Okigbo was said to write economics with the same ease with which he played the piano, with flourishes of graceful notes and wayward harmonies. On a humorous side, he never stopped admiring a fellow student at Northwestern University who started a doctoral dissertation on packaging with what was really a joke — a discussion of mummification in ancient Egypt. He was an unusual man. Glowing tributes have been paid to his sparkling humor and his great intellect. In his lifetime he was known to be very charitable, as manifested by the number of underprivileged persons he had helped through school, loaned money, bailed out of financial and other difficulties, and assisted with gaining employment, without making an issue about it He often donated freely to charitable causes and development projects. Pius was never known to be a card-carrying political party member, but it was generally acknowledged that he wielded considerable influence in the Nigerian political arena.

Described by many as a detribalized patriot, he was motivated in his political leanings by the need for justice, fair play, and equity. During the Abacha transition period and after, he became a very prominent member of Ohaneze Ndigbo, a pan-Igbo organization that is committed to ensuring that the rights of the Igbos in Nigeria were fully recognized and met. He also believed and advocated the right of the Igbos to play a role that would ensure their relevance in the political equation of Nigeria.

Not only was Pius respected and revered in urban Nigeria, Africa, and the world, he was loved, respected, and deeply appreciated by the people of his hometown, Ojoto. This was because despite his acquired education and complementary success or despite his cosmopolitan outlook, he remained very closely linked with his roots. All and sundry accepted him as a patriotic son of Ojoto. In his village Ire, Ojoto he created the Ire Higher Education Foundation for the award of scholarships to sons of Ire village who gained admission to universities, but were adjudged unable to pay the fees.

Significantly, in a country where all types of chieftaincy titles were often awarded to non￾indigenes of towns, Pius only held titles bestowed on him in his hometown, Ojoto. Although he was not engaged in local town politics, he always succeeded in playing roles that ensured that peace and tranquility reigned all the time in Ojoto. For all these and more, he was honored with the title of Ebukuedike I of Ojoto. Pius participated actively in many professional societies and associations. These included the Royal Economic Society of the United Kingdom, the American Economic Society, the International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, the International Institute of Public Finance, the American National Register of Mathematical Sciences, the Nigerian Economic Society (of which he was a former president and the first fellow), the International

Association for Mathematical Modeling, the Association for Comparative Economic Studies, and the Nigerian Institute of Management. In acknowledgement of the achievements of this great man the following honors and honorary degrees were bestowed on him: Commander of the Distinguished Order of the Niger (CON) (1977); National Order of Merit (NOM) (1983); International Order of Merit (IOM) (1992); Zik’s Prize for Leadership in Africa (1996); Honorary L.L.D., University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Honorary D. Litt., Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; Honorary D. Litt, Federal University of Technology, Owerri; Honorary D.Sc. University of Lagos, Lagos; and Honorary D. Litt, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka.

In his leisure hours, Pius was a gifted chess player who always kept his strategies close to his heart. Opponents who mistook his caution for cowardice often did so at their peril. He was the national chess champion for many years.

Last, but not least, Pius was a happily married man. His love and affection for his wife and children lasted until his last day. He often shared his humorous jokes with his grown-up children.


In bringing this address to a close, let me once again thank this university and the Program of African Studies in particular for the honor they have done my country man, an alumnus and former faculty member. This singular gesture on your part would tend to disprove Shakespeare’s assertion that “the good is often interred with the bones.” In the life of Pius, merit and hard work are today rewarded. It is obvious that his efforts and, particularly, his pioneering role in promoting developmental economic thought and philosophy in Nigeria and Africa, nay in all developing countries and beyond, cannot be forgotten in a hurry. Indeed like John Brown’s body, he lives on and so does his great unassailable vision and policy in Nigerian economics.

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