Obadiah Mailafia

Majjidadin Ninzam Garkuwan Randa Dr. Obadiah Mailafia (born 24 December 1956) is a Nigerian development economist, international civil servant, central banker and statesman with over three decades of professional experience in academia, finance and international development. He is a former official of the African Development Bank Group and one-time Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)[1]. He was also the Chief of Staff of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP)[2], the 79-nation multilateral development institution based in Brussels, Belgium. Obadiah Mailafia is a polymath with interests in macroeconomics, development policy, military science, cosmology, political theory and the philosophy of mind; a public intellectual widely regarded as one of the thought-leaders of the New Africa.

Early Life and Education

Obadiah Mailafia was born among the Aninzo (Ninzam)[3] people at precisely 12.00 noon on 24 December 1956, in the hilly missionary village of Randa in Sanga[4] Local Government Area of Kaduna State. His father Baba Mailafia Gambo Galadima was an evangelist with the Evangelical Reformed Church of Central Nigeria (ERCC)[5], formerly known as the Sudan United Mission (S.U.M.). The S.U.M. was founded at the beginning of the last century by the German protestant missionary and pastor Dr. Karl Kumm[6], in collaboration with the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa[7].

A sickly child, his father was adopted and trained by the Dutch South African missionaries who came to Randa as early as 1916. Obadiah Mailafia was raised as a missionary child in a multiracial environment. His parents later transferred to Murya, Lafia, in Nasarawa State, where he grew up. His paternal grandfather Mallam Gambo Galadima was a British colonial police officer. His maternal grandfather Mallam Anche Ogah Mukama was a self-taught influential community leader. Obadiah Mailafia hails from a long line of chiefs on his paternal side.


He had his elementary education at Musha Sudan United Mission School from 1964-1969. He skipped the last year of school and was admitted into Mada Hills Secondary School[8], Akwanga, a private missionary boarding institution, from 1970 to 1974. He was a keen sportsman, debater and scholar; winning the Commissioner of Education’s Award as the most outstanding pupil of the graduating class of 1974. For his A ‘Levels, he attended the School of Basic Studies (SBS) at Ahmadu Bello University[9], Zaria, (1974-1975), an institution created to prepare the most gifted pupils of Northern Nigeria for university studies.

Mailafia graduated top of his class at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in 1978 with a B.Sc. Honours Social Sciences degree (Politics, Economics and Sociology). He also has a M.Sc. from the same institution. He subsequently won a French Government Scholarship to France, where he earned a Certificate in French Language and Civilisation from the University of Clermont-Ferrand in 1985.[10] In 1986 he also earned the Diplôme (equivalent to MPhil) in International Economics from the Institut International d’Administration Public (IIAP)[11], the international wing and sister institution of the prestigious École National d’Administration (ENA)[12] of France. The two institutions have since been merged and re-located from Paris to Strasbourg. The ENA has been the pre-eminent institution for the training of France’s post-war leaders in government, industry and international affairs[13]. Mailafia was thus influenced by the rigorous French tradition of public administration as well as its critical philosophical mindset.

Obadiah Mailafia later proceeded to the United Kingdom as a Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Scholar at Oriel College, earning a DPhil from the University of Oxford in 1995. At Oxford he came under the influence of economists Sir James Mirrlees[14], Amartya Sen[15], Robert Harvey Cassen[16], Frances Stewart[17] and Paul Collier[18]. He was also influenced by thinkers such as Sir Isaiah Berlin[19], Leszek Kolakowski[20], Lord Dahrendorf[21], Sir Adam Roberts[22], Gerald Alan Cohen[23] and Gavin P. Williams[24].

Obadiah Mailafia — What I Believe
  • I believe that this universe did not emerge as an accident but by design
  • I believe that human beings were created by a Creator who is a personal God
  • I believe in the brotherhood of Man
  • I believe in human solidarity and I am opposed to all forms of discrimination either on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation
  • I believe in internationalism
  • I believe in the great destiny of the African continent as the birthplace of humanity and the conscience of mankind
  • Career

    Obadiah Mailafia began his career teaching Government and Economics at Akoko Anglican Grammar School, Arigidi-Ikare in Ondo State, Nigeria, during 1978-1979. It was part of his primary assignment during his obligatory national service year. He also provided extension services to rural farmers and helped in construction of a local community town hall. After national service he returned to his old alma mater, Ahmadu Bello University, as a Graduate Assistant in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences from 1980 to 1982. During this period he lectured undergraduates and was also Research Assistant to Professor Ibrahim Gambari, who later became Foreign Minister and subsequently United Nations Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs. He also worked on a survey of Technical Manpower Needs in Northern Nigeria, a project funded by the Federal Government of Nigeria and the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

    During the years 1982-1989 Obadiah Mailafia was a Fellow and sometime Acting Research Director of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS)[25]. The National Institute was at the time the most influential policy think tank in the country; an institution committed to leadership and executive development and for high-level reflections on public policy. Obadiah Mailafia led several projects on behalf of government at both federal and state levels. In his early twenties he initiated and received substantial funding for a project to develop entrepreneurship among young unemployed projects. The success of the project brought him national acclaim.

    In addition, he coordinated an evaluation survey of the World Bank financed Agricultural Development Programmes and advised Plateau State Government on privatisation of government-owned agricultural enterprises. He was on the team that prepared a special report on Local Government Reforms during 1982-1983. He also co-authored a report on the Maitatsine[26] Religious Riots that formed the bedrock of the government’s response to the crisis (1984). In collaboration with Professors Adedotun Phillips and Eghosa Osagie, he prepared several technical papers advising the Nigerian government on economic policy and macroeconomic reforms. He served on a committee that advised the Federal Military Government on a peaceful approach to the Nigeria-Cameroon Bakassi Peninsula Dispute[27]. It helped in avoiding a catastrophic war between the two neighbouring countries. At the National Institute he came under the mentorship of illustrious Nigerians who have spurred his interests in public service: Chief Simeon Adebo[28], Pius Okigbo[29], Eme Awa, Olikoye Ransome-Kuti[30], Gidado Idris[31], Akinola Aguda[32], Moshood Kashimawo Abiola[33] and Claude Ake[34].

    During 1990-1995 Obadiah Mailafia was Resident Tutor and Lecturer in the Economics and Politics of Developing Areas at Plater College[35], at the time an associate college of the University of Oxford.

    During 1995-1996 he was an Assistant Professor at New England College, Arundel[36], the foreign academic programme of New England College, Henniker, New Hampshire[37], USA. He was subsequently a Lecturer in International Finance at Richmond Business School, the American International University in London[38] (1997-1998). He was then headhunted as the pioneer Head of the International Business Department of Regents Business School London[39] (1998-2000).

    From 2001 to 2005 he Chief Economist in the Strategic Planning and Budgeting Department of the African Development Bank Group[40]. He served both in Abidjan and in Tunis when the bank was temporarily relocated to Tunisia. In this capacity he was on several missions throughout Africa to supervise projects in power and infrastructures, agriculture industry. He was also the task manager for coordinating grants to research institutions throughout Africa, including such institutions as the Council for Social Science Research (CODESRIA)[41], African Economic Research Consortium (AERC)[42] and the African Capacity Development Foundation (ACBF)[43]. Obadiah Mailafia drafted the Concept Note that was later adopted by the Board of the AfDB, leading to the establishment of New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)[44]. He was also a Member of the AfDB and the United Nations Economic Commission of Africa (UNECA) Joint Committee that provided technical support to the Steering Committee of the Heads of State and Government on the establishment of NEPAD and its Secretariat.

    In addition to the above, Mailafia was Secretary to the Senior Management Committee and Special Negotiating Team for the Ninth Replenishment of the African Development Fund. He was also a member of the Task Force for the joint management of the HIPC Trust Fund, in coordination with the World Bank and the IMF. Obadiah Mailafia was the principal draftsman of the 2003–2007 Strategic Plan, the first strategic plan ever prepared to guide the activities and operations of the African Development Bank Group. He and his term were the recipients of the President Mamoun Beheiry Award for Excellence, in recognition of contributions to the strategic repositioning of the African Development Bank. During those years he was also Managing Editor of the African Development Review – arguably the best-known academic journal on development economics in Africa.

    In addition, he was responsible for coordinating the Annual African Development Reports, and, with the late Sudanese economist, Mohammed Hussein, pioneered African Economic Outlook,[45] which has become one of the flagship publications of the Bank Group, in collaboration with the Paris-based OECD. That publication has become the premier macroeconomic forecasting platform for the African continent.

    During 2005 – 2007, Obadiah Mailafia was recalled home from the African Development Bank to serve as Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)[46]. In this capacity he served a member of the Board of Directors of the Bank and was principally responsible for managing monetary policy, economic policy, research and statistics and liaison with regional and international bodies, including the IMF and the World Bank. He was a principal actor in the banking consolidation exercise of 2005-2006 that led to the reform of the Nigerian banking sector. He oversaw the reduction of the number of commercial banks, through mergers and acquisitions, from 89 to 25 consolidated banks; an exercise that was widely regarded as one of the most successful such efforts anywhere in the developing world in recent times. He was also an active participant in the negotiations that led to Nigeria negotiating its way out of the Paris Club group of indebted nations.

    In this capacity he was also a member of the Economic Management Team, in which capacity he liaised with the Federal Ministry of Finance in coordinating monetary and fiscal policies of the government. He was a member of the CBN Investment Committee responsible for managing external reserves; prevailing on Government to engage in more prudent spending, thereby building the reserves to an unprecedented US$ 60 billion. He also spearheaded creation of the new Monetary Policy Department and restructured the framework of monetary policy that led to the stabilisation of the Naira stabilise while significantly bringing down interest rates. He personally chaired the newly established Monetary Policy Implementation Committee that used to meet on a daily basis.

    Obadiah Mailafia is widely respected as a reformer who exercised effective leadership in driving the institutional reengineering of the CBN. His strategic reforms in personnel, financial management control systems and IT within the institution resulted in substantial cost savings and efficiency gains, repositioning the Bank as a knowledge-based monetary authority. He was also Chair of the Committee that gave birth to the New National Microfinance Policy and overseeing the implementation of the new policy and streamlining the regulatory and institutional environment to enhance effectiveness of microfinance as vehicle for poverty reduction. He also steered the new CBN Communications Committee that developed a new communications framework for the Bank, enhancing the quality of public communications and improving external media relations to ensure better understanding by the public and various stakeholders of CBN’s activities and operations. He was also briefly the Chair of the Committee that prepared the framework for the establishment of the African Finance Corporation (AFC)[47], a multilateral investment vehicle to promote infrastructure development in Africa. For these achievements the Princeton University programme on Innovations for Successful Societies identified him as one of the great leaders of the emerging Africa.[48]

    During 2010-2015, Obadiah Mailafia was the Chief of Staff (Chef de Cabinet) to the 79-member nation African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States based in Brussels, Belgium. In this capacity he was the most senior adviser to the Secretary-general, overseeing the strategic management function; liaising with external partners such as the EU Commission and Parliament, European Investment Bank (EIB)[49], UN agencies and the IMF and World Bank. He was involved in managing a portfolio of €22 billion of EU funding for ACP countries under the 10th European Development Fund (EDF)[50] and €31.5 billion for the 11th EDF covering the years 2015-2020. His work took him all over Africa, the Caribbean and the far-flung islands of the Pacific, where he canvassed for South-South cooperation, preaching the ideals of multilateralism, peace and international cooperation as the best hope for mankind.

    Obadiah Mailafia was also the principal Liaison with the European Investment Bank (EIB) on the management of €5 billion Intra-ACP Resources Fund being managed by the EIB, comprising the Africa Infrastructure Fund and the ACP-EIB Investment Facility. He was also the Chair of the ACP Strategic Management Group and the draftsman for the Secretariat’s Strategic Plan, Renewal and Transformation 2011—2014.

    1995 DPhil Politics and Economics of International Development, University of Oxford, UK
    2014 Certificate in Microfinance Banking, ILO Institute, Turin, Italy
    1986 Diplôme in International Economics, IIAP-École National d’Administration, France
    1984 Certificate in French Language & Civilisation, University of Clermont-Ferrand, France
    1983 M.Sc. Political Science, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria
    1978 B.Sc. Social Sciences, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria
    Honours and Special Assignments
    • Member, Advisory Board of Economists, Office of the Vice-President, Abuja
    • Associate Fellow, UN University Regional Studies Centre, Bruges, Belgium
    • Visiting Professor, The Free University of Brussels
    • Board Member, National Council on Competitiveness (NCCN), Lagos
    • Non-Executive Director, NBL Plc, Lagos
    • Board Member, International Energy- IEI Anchor Pensions Capital Ltd
    • Chairman, Juvicle Energy Resources Ltd, Lagos
    • Member, Oxford Rhodes Trust Selection Committee for West Africa
    • Nordic Institute Visiting Fellowship to the Nordic African Institute, with multiple accreditation to Norway, Finland and Denmark), 1990
    • President Mamoun Beheiry Award for Professional Excellence, African Development Bank, Tunis, 2003
    • CBN Staff Award for Excellence in Leadership, 2005
    • Expert to the Netherlands Commission for International Relations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Hague, Netherlands, 2013
    • MacArthur Foundation Research Award 2008
    • Foreign & Commonwealth Office Scholar, Oriel College, University of Oxford
    • Webb Medley Research Grant, Faculty of Social Studies, University of Oxford
    • Distinguished Lecturer, Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) Annual Distinguished Lecture Series, 2016
    • Special Speaker, National Merit Annual Conference, National Merit Commission, Abuja, November 2016
    • Special Award for Excellence, West African Students’ Parliament, 2016
    • Award for Distinguished Service, National Economics Students Association (NESA), University of Port Harcourt, 2017
    • Grand Patron (Garkuwan Matasan Arewa), Northern Youths Consultative Assembly, February 2017
    • National Patron, Nigerian Youths Parliament, Abuja, 2017
    • Patron of the Boys Brigade, Nasarawa State, Nigeria
    Membership of Professional Bodies
    • Royal Economic Society (UK)
    • Nigerian Economic Society (Nigeria)
    • American Economic Society (USA)
    • The Oxford Society, England (UK)
    • Chartered Institute of Development Administration (Nigeria)
    • Global Association of Risk Professionals (USA)
    • Strategic Planning Society (UK)
    • International Studies Association (USA)
    • Development Studies Association (UK)
    • The Aristotelian Society (UK)
    • Forum d’Échanges et des Rencontres Administratifs Mondiaux (FERAM), Paris, France
    Private Interests and Hobbies

    Obadiah Mailafia has interests as wide apart as the spirituality of the Apostolic Church Fathers[51]; classical European and Islamic political thought; philosophy of science; investments and probability theory; Hindu religious philosophy; civilisation of ancient Egypt; and medieval Chinese, Korean and Japanese cosmologies. He has worked in charities as a student volunteer for Oxfam and as Founder/Chairman, Ninzam Educational and Development Trust, providing scholarships to indigent university students. He has been a versatile newspaper columnist and media commentator on the economy, finance, banking, public policy and international affairs. He was also the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Award[52]. He has been a columnist with leading newspapers such as Tribune, BusinessDay and The Vanguard.

    A voracious reader, Obadiah Mailafia is reputed to own one of the largest private book collections in Nigeria. In his spare time he enjoys classical music, African wild life conservation and taking long walks in the primeval savannah of his birth. He speaks fluent French and has basic knowledge of German, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic, in addition to his native Ninzam (also spelt as Ninzo) and over a dozen African languages.

    Political Career

    Obadiah Mailafia is currently running for the presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the 2019 presidential elections under the platform of the African Democratic Congress (ADC)[53], the third most popular political party in Nigeria. Mailafia was persuaded to join politics after the famous historic “handshake” by the coalition of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF)[54] and the South (Afenifere[55] of Yoruba land, Ohanaeze Ndigbo[56] and PANDEF[57] of Niger Delta). During a rigorous screening of a dozen prominent potential presidential hopefuls, he emerged as the candidate with the best national leadership potential. He is recognised as a renowned economic expert and technocrat who can be depended upon to drive the next generation of economic reforms that will reposition Nigeria as a prosperous democracy and a progressive country in the twenty-first century. Obadiah Mailafia defines himself ideologically as a “social democrat”. And he is a humanist-internationalist by instinct, a pan-Africanist by persuasion and a heterodox pragmatist with regards to economic policy management. He is a corresponding member of Socialist International.

    Ideas and Philosophical Influences

    In terms of economic philosophy, he is a heterodox pragmatist. He believes that markets must form the foundation of economic prosperity and that they also provide the guarantee of economic freedom. But he is persuaded that institutions matter, in addition to property rights, respect for the social contract, and economic fairness. Among the great economists, his greatest influences have been the British economist John Maynard Keynes[58], the social market economist Ludwig Erhard[59], the Swedish Nobel laureate Gunnar Myrdal[60], West Indian Nobel laureate William Arthur Lewis[61] and the American laureates Joseph Stiglitz[62] and Paul Krugman[63]. His ideas of social justice have very much been influenced by the Harvard philosopher John Rawls[64] and Barrack Obama’s[65] former Harvard Law professor, Brazilian philosopher and jurist Roberto Mangabeira Unger[66].

    Obadiah Mailafia has also come under the influence of the philosophical movement known as personalism associated with thinkers such as catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain[67] and the French philosopher Emmanuel Mounier[68]. He shares with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair a fascination with the thought of the British philosopher John Macmurray[69] who was an apostle of the dignity of the human person. Mailafia believes that development in Africa must accord a central role for the human person and that people and community must be placed at the very heart of the development process and that expanding the possibility frontiers of liberty and collective welfare is the prime duty of the statesman and woman in twenty-first century Africa. Other influences include the Russian émigré sociologist Pitrim Alexandrovich Sorokin[70], American sociologist Amitai Etzioni[71] and Israeli policy scientist Yehezkel Dror[72].

    Above all, he considers the four most important African influences in his political thought to be: Kwame Nkrumah[73] of Ghana; Obafemi Awolowo[74], the renowned Nigerian statesman, economist and lawyer; Nelson Mandela[75]; and Julius Nyerere[76] of Tanzania. Much as he would not subscribe to some of his domestic policies and least of all the heresy of his divinity, Obadiah Mailafia reveres the memory of Negus Tsion Girmawi Janhoy Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia [77] as a champion of African unity and a crusader for the honour and dignity of Africans throughout the world.

    Obadiah Mailafia was nicknamed “the Philosopher” during his secondary school days. This was because his mates noted that he was always reading one philosophical book or the other as a schoolboy. His teenage idol was not Michael Jackson or John Lennon but the old British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell[78]. He wrestled with Russell’s and Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica whilst an A’ Level student in Zaria. He even fancied himself an atheist at some stage, but was soon cured of the disease. He dabbled temporarily with Marxism but gave it up after reading the novels of Russian émigré Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn[79].

    At university in Zaria, he was drawn increasingly towards pan-Africanism after studying the life and thought of Marcus Garvey[80] and the Senegalese polymath Cheikh Anta Diop[81]. During a long summer from college, he buried himself in the American consulate library in Kaduna where he read nearly all that was available on Martin Luther King Jr[82], Malcolm X[83], W. E. B. Du Bois[84], the Soledad Brothers and George Jackson[85], and the entire civil rights movement in America. He is an active believer in nonviolent social change, thanks to being steeped in the thought of Mahatma Gandhi[86] and Martin Luther King Jr.

    Obadiah Mailafia has keen interests in Islamic metaphysics and classical Islamic political philosophy (Ibn Khaldun[87], Ibn Sina (Avicenna)[88], Al-Farabi[89], Jallaludin Rumi[90] and Al-Ghazali). He has been deeply influenced by modern Islamic philosophers such as Mohammed Iqbal[91] and Ali Shariati[92]. As a child, his grandfather sent him to Quranic school where he learned the basics of Islamic prayers and memorised large chunks of the Holy Qur’an which he still remembers by heart to this day.

    He has also drunk deep from the springs of Jewish spirituality, among them Elie Wiesel[93], Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz[94], the Baal Shem Tov Israel ben Eliezer[95], Moses Maimonides[96], Gerschon Scholem[97] and Emmanuel Levinas[98]. Mailafia believes that there is a spiritual kinship between Africans and Jews that few have really bothered to delve into. He subscribes to the Jewish ideal of Vivek Olam – the ideal that Humanity must partner with Creator to perfect this world. He is venerates Jewish teachers such as Martin Buber[99], Lubavichter Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson[100] and the Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri[101]. He envisions a world in which Jews will bring their saviour-faire and chutzpah to bear on African development while partnering together for mutual prosperity and progress.

    Obadiah Mailafia is a strong believer in the dialogue of civilisations. He believes that Jews, Muslims and Christians are all children of Abraham and can work together in building a new global Enlightenment. Even though he is a committed evangelical Christian, Obadiah Mailafia has actively supported Muslim causes. He once delivered a lecture on Islamic Banking to an all-Muslim audience in the Central Mosque of Nigeria’s federal capital of Abuja. While a lecturer in International Finance at Richmond Business School London, he developed a programme on Islamic Banking and supervised the first ever thesis on non-interest bearing finance. Whilst an official of the African Development Bank he also served as liaison officer between the AfDB and the Islamic Development Bank based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Some of his ideas and concepts were deployed in the creation of the pioneer Jaiz Bank[102], which is one of the leading non-interest banking institutions in Africa today.

    In recent years, Mailafia has been active in the Middle Belt Forum (MBF), a cultural organisation that aims to promote unity among the multifarious ethnic communities in the Old Northern Nigeria. He has written in newspapers and spoken in radio and TV condemning the killings of innocent women and children in the Middle Belt and the tacit connivance of government agents in what is increasingly looking like an organised genocide against and unarmed and defenceless people.

    Obadiah Mailafia is a Bible-believing Christian who has been deeply influenced by the late American evangelist Billy Graham[103], the philosopher Francis Schaeffer[104], Emmanuel Mounier[105] and German theologian and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer[106]. He has also come under the influence of one of Richard Swinburne, who was Nolloth Professor of the Philosophy of Religion at his alma mater Oriel College[107] Oxford. Mailafia believes in ecumenism – in the unity of the body of Christ – in interreligious dialogue as a vehicle for promoting international understanding. Although born into the evangelical tradition, he has been deeply influenced by the early Pentecostalism associated with the African-American holy man William Seymour[108] and the Azusa Street Revival[109] that spread like a wildfire from the American West Coast to the whole world.

    He is also increasingly drawn towards Eastern Orthodoxy and its ideals of theosis; St. Seraphim of Sarov[110], Elder Paisios[111] and the contemporary monks of Mt. Athos[112]. Obadiah Mailafia believes that marriage is one of the holy sacraments of the Church of Jesus Christ; a sacred and indissoluble union between a man and a woman joined together in holy matrimony.

    Private Life

    Obadiah Mailafia is married to Margaret Vou Mailafia (née Fom), a systems analyst, entrepreneur and evangelist. They are blessed with adult sons.