Professor HMA Onitiri: Strides of a socioeconomic titan

Death is one more ceremonial transition. It constitutes a passing in some ways no more fundamental, and certainly no less fundamental, than the transition from pre-adulthood to the full status of the adult. Death is not an interruption but a continuation; i.e., death at the ripe full age.

To the well- organized mind therefore, death is but the next great adventure. It is also a well accepted fact that great men in the mould of late Professor Herbert Maurice Adebola Onitiri, who has inspired humanity with a string of impeccable records of achievements, having done, all, usually does have an inkling of the time of their departure and gladly embraces it.

It came as no surprise therefore, when in July 21, 2014 at 85, Professor Onitiri decided to go public with his autobiography “It’s Fun to Remember”. The records had to be put straight for all time.

The foreword of the book “Onitiri’s Distinguished Service to his Country, the Commonwealth and the United Nations” written by former Secretary –General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku buttressed the scholar’s contributions to research and idea papers on the formation and operation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), as Adviser to the Economic Community of Africa (ECA) and the transformation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to the African Union (AU).

Professor Onitiri passed on peacefully at the well attended age of 88 on the 16th of December 2016. The spontaneity of tributes that continue to attend the demise of the prolific academic and erudite scholar aptly captures William Shakespeare’s words at the demise of the great Julius Caesar that, “When beggars die there are no comets seen; the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.”

In many ways, Professor Onitiri stood taller than any prince. Indeed, the paths charted by the notable professor of Economics in the course of his life constitute an interesting lesson in motivation; defiant at the plethora of challenges but strewn with trail blazing accounts that stood him out as a social and an economic colossus.

A complete scholar whose landmarks stretched beyond national boundaries to regional and international organizations, Professor Onitiri significantly contributed to discourse on strategies for equitable trade and economic relations between the developed countries of the north and the developing countries of the south as adviser to the United Nations Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), UN, and the Commonwealth of Nations.

Prior to his homecoming on that glorious December morning, Professor Onitiri was the pioneer Executive Director of the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research (NISER).

Born in 1928 to a Muslim mother and a Christian father, the young Onitiri lost his father when he was almost through with secondary school in 1946 and went on to achieve greatness through hard work, focus and an unwavering determination, taking advantage of fate.

Professor Onitiri made vast contributions to the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), a Pan-African research organization headquartered in Dakar, Senegal, which NISER is a member of;  an organization dedicated to basic research, with the production of  cutting edge knowledge on Africa in the world, its fundamental contribution. The General Assembly of the Council is an event with usually the largest assemblage of African scholars in the social sciences and humanities on the African continent who share ideas and collectively reflect on issues vital for the development of the continent.

Professor Onitiri it was, that prepared the economic blueprint for the transition of Zimbabwe from an Apartheid regime to an independent and viable nation, becoming the first United Nations Representative of the novel nation.

It is true that we learn of great men from history books, memorials, museums, arts, literature etc, which immortalize their achievements, sacrifices and challenges and help illustrate their contributions towards humanity. Books and journals there are and will continually emerge about the gone great man who once threaded the sands of the earth, for generations yet unborn to learn and draw inspiration from.

Indeed, Professor Onitiri has bequeathed a remarkable legacy for not just the academia but also for civil society groups, development experts as well as governments the world over by his seminal research works and contributions to global trade and economy. His patriotic works and counsel to past governments in the country will always reserve a place of honor for him.

The rank of honor will remain an eternal cloak upon the departed icon as history with its flickering lamp will surely stumble along the trail of the icon’s past and try to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days when the legacies of the titan will be solicited in dire times to shed light on the path to social truths, to economic freedom.

I have been blissfully married for 28 years running to my wife, Oyinkan,who is Professor Onitiri’s first child. I dare say that the late professor was a consummate professional, an embodiment of humility, integrity and honesty. His leadership qualities were of the highest standards and he never compromised his religious beliefs.


Mr Osa Sonny Adun, President/CEO, Degue Broadcasting Network, (DBN)