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Friday, September 17, 2021

Jerome Udoji: Hero of Nigerian Civil Servants

Without doubt, the name of the late Jerome Udoji  will continue to ring a bell in Nigeria and beyond, especially among Nigerian workers.

His impact propelled transformation in the wellbeing of workers in Civil/Public  Service when he headed a commission that brought succour to Nigerian workers, dead, retired and serving.

Udoji was born in 1912 to the Ezemba-Dogbu Udoji family in Ozubulu, Ekusigo LGA of Anambra State, holding the Igwe title in Ozubulu. He was a man of great learning and vast experience.

He had his formal education at St. Michael’s Catholic School, Ozubulu (1920–26), went to St. Charles Training College, Onitsha (1929–31) before heading to Kings College, Cambridge University, England (1945–48). Udoji was being called to the Bar, Gray’s Inn, London in 1948.

Besides, he was also at the World Bank, Washington between 1955 and 1956. He received a graduate and post graduate degree from Cambridge University.

Prior to attending King’s College in Cambridge, he worked as a teacher in schools in the Eastern and Western region, including Ibadan Grammar School and Abeokuta Grammar School.

He also served as secretary in charge of the Western Nigerian provinces.

On his return from England, Udoji joined the Colonial Administrative Service and was made an assistant District Officer (DO) in Ado Ekiti before he was posted as DO for Egbado.

As Colonial Administrative Officer, he had a distinguished service in Ondo and Abeokuta provinces of the country. In 1954, he was transferred to the Eastern region and made the permanent secretary in the ministries of Health, Commerce, Finance and Establishments.

In 1959, Udoji’s exemplary dedication to duty, his remarkable intellectual capacity and integrity made him rose to the level of Head of the Region’s civil service, Chief Secretary to the Premier of the Eastern Region, Dr Michael Okpara, as well as Secretary to the Executive Council.

He remained in that position until the 1966 Nigerian coup d’état. Following the coup, he went into private legal practice (1966–68) and served as a Ford Foundation Consultant in Administration and Management between 1968 and 1972.

In 1972, during Nigeria’s oil boom period, he was assigned by the Yakubu Gowon’s administration to head a Review Commission of the Civil Service standards and Compensation in the country.

The Commission headed by late Jerome Udoji made recommendations such as increase in the salaries of public servants, civil servants training, a unified and integrated administrative structure, elimination of waste and removal of inefficient departments and introduction of an efficient civil service on the basis of management by objective.

The commission also recommended the establishment of an ombudsman in the country. Its report was portrayed in subsequent years as a salary review commission, though the original intent was to study and make sweeping recommendations on the public service, including the recommendation of an objective or goal oriented management style.

The efforts then led to salary review, known today as the “Udoji Award”.

Late Udoji,who was widely travelled, apart from serving his father’s land (Nigeria), was Chairman of the Africanisation Commission of the East African Community, covering Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania (1963).

He also served as a consultant to the United Nations Conference on the Management of Public Enterprises held in Yugoslavia in 1969 and served in Swaziland in 1970 as sole commissioner for the country’s Localisation Commission, he functioned as secretary-general of the African Association for Public Administration and Management between 1972 and 1975.

Udoji was at a time appointed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to review and reorganised the Uganda’s Public Service in 1991.

He was part of the Constituent Assembly of 1977-78 that worked on the 1979 Constitution of Nigeria and was also President of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) from 1981 to 1986 as well as President of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) from 1982 to 1987.

During the Nigerian first republic, Udoji represented the regional governments in some of the latter’s financial concerns such as Hotel Presidential, Enugu and Port Harcourt and Independence Breweries, Umuahia.

However, following disagreements between him and the new military authorities in 1966, he left the Regional Civil Service to practise law briefly before joining Ford foundation.

Udoji served on numerous boards as Chairman, including the Board of Directors of R.T. Briscoe, Motor Tyre Service Company, Wiggins Teape, and the Nigerian Tobacco Company.

Before the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission, Nigerian wage earners were eagerly awaiting their government’s verdict on proposals that may bring pay increases and the establishment of a minimum wage.

The Udoji Public Service Review Commission, under the leadership of Chief Jerome Udoji, had made recommendations on civil service training, personnel policies and pay that have been studied by the nation’s two top ruling bodies, the Supreme Military Council and the Federal Executive Council.

While the recommendations dealt specificially with the civil service, it is generally felt here that the government would not grant civil servants raises without recommending similar increases for those who are privately employed.

At that time, there was no recent official figures made public, but the annual rate of Nigerian inflation was thought to be from 12 to 15 per cent. This and steadily rising prices, have convinced many Nigerians that “Udoji”—as they refer to the commission and its work, in something of a rallying cry, will steady the economy.

Some even envisioned new cars, motorcycles or business investments.

Although the building of ports, roads and public facilities and a free public education system were already helping Nigerians, the then proposed Udoji awards were expected to put actual cash into the hands of almost all salaried workers.

While the Udoji proposals are seen by the consumers as a source of finances to meet higher prices, some Nigerian economists fear that without some kind of governmental price controls, the increased salaries might lead to even greater inflation.

Some foods, such as sugar, canned milk and imported rice, disappeared from market stalls. Customers insisted that traders were hoarding items until after the Udoji awards was announced, when the missing goods would be brought out again at higher prices.

Traders denied the charges, but admitted that “Prices must rise after Udoji in fairness to all concerned.
At a symposium on inflation sponsored by the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research (NISER) at the University of Ibadan, world inflation and Nigerian Government spending were held responsible for higher prices.

Udoji was meant to reward workers for their support and dedication during the War.

The former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon had defended his administration’s decision to increase civil servants salaries in 1974 at an event that came to be known as Udoji award in September 1974.

He accepted the report of the panel but when the report became operational in January 1975, only the salary component of the report was implemented.

Gowon at a Memorial Symposium in honour of Prof Adebayo Adedeji, a former Executive Secretary of the United Nations body, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), held in Lagos, said that contrary to the belief that the late Adedeji was against the Udoji award, every member of the executive council at that time, including Adedeji, supported it. Adedeji was the Federal Commissioner for Economic Development and Reconstruction under the Gowon-led government.

According to Gowon, everybody, including the civil servants were very excited about the post civil war award. He recalled that during his administration, there were no industrial (strike) action by the organised labour for his nine years in power.

His words then “We decided within ourselves that it was important to reward the workers for their support and dedication during the difficult period of the war,”

Jerome Udoji, died on April 2, 2010, at the age of 98. His son Chief Oscar Udoji confirmed this in a statement. Peter Obi who was the Governor of Anambra State at the time, described Udoji’s death as a great loss to the nation.

According to him, “Udoji was an exemplary man. He did the nation proud in every area of his life”

Family friend, Cardinal Francis Arinze, in his sermon during the funeral service, said the life and times of Udoji reflected how men who found themselves in authority should conduct themselves in public.

Cardinal Arinze described Udoji as a man who used his experience, wealth and position to cater for many Nigerians by recommending a salary package for workers, while protecting the interest of the poor.

His words, “Udoji was a man of integrity, selfless and humane, who lived a good life. Everyone present at his funeral today must have benefited from his Udoji Award, stating, “all of you must emulate his legacies”.

The memoirs of Chief Jerome Udoji, ‘Under Three Masters: Memoirs of an African Administrator’ – the most authentic story of his life and times, written by Chief Jerome Oputa Udoji himself and published by Spectrum Books Ltd. Ibadan in 1995 revealed that Chief Jerome Udoji married Marcelina Uzoamaka Udoji néé Onuchukwu, daughter of Pa William Onuchukwu, a renowned educationist in Onitsha. She died in October, 1992.

Jerome Udoji had three children – a daughter, Scholastica and two sons – Osita Paul (aka Oscar) and Peter Ebelechukwu (aka Sunday) Udoji. Mrs. Scholastica Lola Onwubuya is a retired educationist, civil servant and guidance counsellor.

Chief Osita Oscar Paul Udoji is the Founder/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Superior Motors Ltd. and Executive Car Rentals Ltd.

For his greatness, he was honoured by Newswatch Magazine in their “Emergent Titans” Category along with Tony Elumelu, Isyaku Rabiu, Folu Ayeni and Leo Stan Ekeh for their accomplishments in business.

Jerome Udoji also served as Chairman for two organisations that has Oscar Udoji as Founder and CEO, namely, Solgas Petroleum and Udoji United Football Club. Oscar Udoji also served as the national Chairman for the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) a political party which finished as runners up in the 2011 Presidential Elections that has Gen. Muhammadu Buhari as Presidential Candidate.

His second son, Peter Ebelechukwu Udoji is the founder and CEO of BELSUN Holdings Ltd. – a growing concern and chairman of the Nigeria China Electrical Development Company Limited (Nigerchin).

Chief Udoji was blessed with 11 grandchildren.

Ends.


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