Nigerian scholar-diplomat Ejeviome Eloho Otobo died recently in New York at the age of 70. He had retired in 2013 as deputy director of the UN Peacebuilding Support Office after a distinguished career in public service.
Before joining the UN he had worked in the Nigerian foreign service. Eloho obtained his master’s degree in public administration at Harvard’s John F Kennedy School of Government in Massachusetts, having earlier obtained his bachelor’s degree in sociology at the University of Lagos.
He wrote three books: Consolidating Peace: The Role of the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission (2015); Africa in Transition: A New Way of Looking at Progress in the Region (2017); and the co-edited African Development in the 21st Century: Adebayo Adedeji’s Theories and Contributions (2015).
Otobo summarised his thoughts on the UN Peacebuilding Commission in a rich 2018 chapter. Setting out the great expectations that followed the establishment of the body he served as deputy head, he noted that the commission had not lived up to the initial aspirations of the international community due largely to a lack of resources and sustained support from the great powers.
He assessed the body’s performance in the six African cases with which it had engaged: Burundi, Central African Republic, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Otobo praised the dynamic role played by the chairs of the commission’s country configurations from small but well-endowed European donor countries — Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Switzerland — which mobilised resources and effectively engaged international financial institutions.
He further stressed the need for peacebuilders to prioritise advocacy, resource mobilisation and complementing other actors, rather than trying to replicate traditional development efforts. He urged the commission to focus on “soft” issues such as transitional justice, inclusive political dialogue and greater civil society participation in peacebuilding activities. Otobo admirably detached himself from a body he had helped pioneer to offer constructive advice to policymakers.
He also wrote on African security and governance issues. His book Africa in Transition examined multiple transitions: from autocratic regimes to multiparty democracies; from civil wars to sustainable peace; from state-led economies to market-driven economies; from high carbon to low carbon economies; and from rural communities to urban settlements.
Amid Africa’s growing economic indebtedness and infrastructural deficits, Otobo consistently advocated effective security, rule of law, popular participation and independent state institutions. He remained a perennial optimist about the continent’s development prospects, pushing African leaders consistently to prioritise good education, sound institutions and the effective use of technology.
Born in the oil-rich Delta region, Eloho was a “detribalised” Nigerian. A patriot to the core, he spent much of his retirement years providing policy recommendations in the Nigerian media to cure his country’s ills. The articles offered policy advice to enable Nigeria to play a leadership role on the continent, which Otobo felt was increasingly imperilled by widespread poverty, crippling indebtedness and growing insecurity across the country.
He persistently stressed that providing security to citizens was the main responsibility of the Nigerian government. The environmental degradation by foreign oil companies of his beloved Niger Delta was another issue on which Eloho wrote passionately. He never gave up on the idea of a united, stable and prosperous Nigeria, often expressing hope in the creative ingenuity of his compatriots.
Otobo was a director of the editorial board of Prime Business Africa and a non-resident senior fellow at the Global Governance Institute in Brussels. He consulted for the AU, the African Development Bank and the UN in retirement. Self-effacing and studiously polite, Eloho persistently offered evidence-based policy advice for transforming Nigeria, Africa and the UN.
He fervently believed in a sustained battle of ideas in which reason and logic triumphed over ignorance and superstition. In that sense he was the ultimate renaissance man.
Professor Adekeye Adebajo is professor and senior research fellow at the University of Pretoria’s Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship.