I was bewildered, lily livered, groaned and shocked to the marrow, on learning of the demise of Princess Tejumade Alakija, the first Nigerian woman to become a Head of Service, a “Nigerian Civil Service personified” and a pious aristocrat, great disciplinarian, a no-nonsense woman and always honestly blunt in her dispositions. Her death cannot be said to be a “sunset”, but a “sunrise”, nor a sinking giant, but an eternal one. Her life and age is short compared to the remarkable memories of life legendarily spent. It can also be said of her “flowers die, songs fade, indeed all things will come to an end, but fond memories will remain ever-green” (Shepopotamus).
The first time I met her very closely was when she became the Head of Service of Old Oyo State in 1979, the same time I was appointed the Chairman of the State Civil Service Commission under late Uncle Bola Ige governorship regime (1979-83). In that sense, we had to work together closely and amicably to, at least, keep and sustain the “pace-setting” status of the defunct Western Region and Western State of Nigeria, I believe we succeeded in achieving this laudable objective by the time I, along with my four commissioners (all now of blessed memory) vacated the commission late in December 1983.
The four-year period together, to the best of my knowledge, witnessed the very unprecedented “leap-frogged” promotions in the history of Old Oyo State.
Simply put, I found her most intelligent, sober minded, very progressive and creative. She easily recognized potentials of the civil servants working under her, and was able to turn “the bad and the ugly to good” by confronting squarely the existing paralyzing challenges then facing the service.
She literarily put an end to chronology of historical and institutional errors, tardiness and sloppiness as if an “Attatakur” (of Turkey) has come to judgment. She is most uncompromising on principles.
She easily accepted superior arguments, and in doing so, I easily recognized her as the incredible “woman of the moment”. She was a woman of valour,” “sagacity” and indeed a majesty of credibility, determination and transparency.
Her survival and supremacy in the then Nigerian “Men’s world” can be likened to a smart rodent with fine qualities that are not easily found-combined in the world of rodents, in a house of crumbles of rodent poisons. She was an epitome of seriousness, commitment, hard-work and, surprisingly, of great humour.
Her background as a most distinguished “Princess of Oduduwa” was never allowed to get into her head.
Rather, she ever remained herself, simple, accessible, considerate and marrowly domestic. Her “sine qua non” is focus, hardwork, equanimity and integrity. I was privileged to know that she was a fulcrum and rallying centre-piece of “Oduduwa Dynasty”. She had been a monumental and colossal figure, not only of Yoruba race, but of the entire nation and abroad. She has been a “man” in a “woman’s clothing”.
I will ever remember the most beautiful, cordial and memorable working relations we had together, including her great humour at all convivial times. Our relationship can best be described as one of symbiotism, synergy, openness, mutual respect and understanding.
Some write history, some read history, but late Princess Tejumade Alakija made history for herself.
All Nigerians, irrespective of sex, race and religion should join in expressing deep and heart-felt condolence to the “Oduduwa Dynasty” represented by His Royal Majesty, “Arole Oodua”, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade, the entire Yoruba race and Nigeria at large and of course the entire Civil Service of Nigeria.
We will sorely and sadly miss her, and may God Almighty give us all the heart, the gut and the fortitude to bear this irreparable loss. May her “princely” soul rest in perfect and eternal peace and may light perpetually shine upon her. She was born on May 17, 1925. Adieu! Princess (Lady) Tejumade Alakija.
•Dr. Atanda, former Chairman, Old Oyo (Now Oyo and Osun) State Civil Service Commission (1979-83), delivered this tribute on “Day of Tribute” for the late Alakija.