The death on Wednesday last week, September 25, 2019,of former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Obong Joseph Ufot Ekaete, robbed this country of one of its eminent sons and one of its dedicated civil servants of the old school.
He was 80.
Chief Ekaette was born in 1939 in Ikot Edor, Onna LGA of Akwa Ibom State. He attended King’s College, Lagos, graduating in 1960, and University College, Ibadan, where he earned a B. Sc in Economics in 1964. He then joined the Federal Civil Service on 28 July 1964 and rose become Principal Secretary to the then Head of State General Yakubu Gowon (1968–1975).
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Ekaette later served in the Federal Ministries of Industries in 1975, Information from 1977–1979, Education in 1979 and National Planning (1979–1983). He was Secretary, Public Service Department in the office of the Head of Service in 1984. He was the Director, External Finance at the Federal Ministry of Finance (1985–86).
Ekaette was appointed Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Industries in January 1986, then Federal Ministry of Works and Housing in 1988 and was Director-General, Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure [DFRRI] in June 1988 – March 1989. He was also Director-General, Federal Ministry of Social Development, Youth and Sports (1989) and Director-General in various ministries and departments.
In 1990, he was appointed Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State under Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga and in 1996 he became a non-executive director of First Bank of Nigeria, a post he held until May 1999 when he was appointed Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) by President Olusegun Obasanjo, holding office until the end of Obasanjo’s second term in May 2007.
In 2008 he was sworn in as Minister for Niger Delta Affairs and among Ekaette’s contributions as pioneer Minister of the Ministry of Niger Delta, under the administration of President Musa Yar’Adua in 2009, he helped to lay the foundation for this strategic Ministry that is at the forefront of transforming the Niger Delta region.
President Muhammadu Buhari has expressed shock and grief over the death, describing Ekaette as “a consummate administrator and bridge-builder” and noted that the deceased whom he described as “a gentleman who had given his best in the service of his country, dedicated himself to duty in the course of his distinguished public service,” adding that his demise comes at a time when voices like his own are needed to move Nigeria forward in the face of daunting challenges.
The former SGF was a statesman, a thoroughbred public servant who was transparent, honest and a stickler for excellence and a thoroughbred bureaucrat, qualities he brought to bear in the execution of the key offices of public trust he held in the course of his illustrious career.
Chief Ekaette’s meritorious service to Nigeria cannot be over-valued. His experience in the civil service assisted him a lot in the transformation recorded in the public service during his administration between 1999-2007. He served Nigeria in several capacities, was industrious, hardworking and a special breed of civil servant. He was an advocate of human capital development and demonstrated it through his interest in improving the welfare and quality of life of everyone around him.
Ekaette had great commitment to the progress of Nigeria, and had abiding faith in national unity. He would be missed not only by his immediate family and the people of Akwa Ibom state, but the entire country. We comfort and condole with the Ekaette family, the government and people of Akwa Ibom state over this tragic loss, and assure them that the deceased would always be remembered for his remarkable public service record and pray that God would grant the soul of the departed eternal rest.