The Arts

April 13, 2020

Francesca Emanuel: Tribute to epitome of womanhood

Francesca Emanuel: Tribute to epitome of womanhood

By Prisca Sam-Duru

Since the news of the passing away of Nigeria’s first female federal permanent secretary, poet, singer, and art supporter, Mrs. Francesca Yetunde Emanuel, was broken, the arts community has been thrown into mourning.

Mrs Emanuel who died on Tuesday night of natural causes was aged 86. She is survived by husband, Chief Bode Emanuel, and son, Muyiwa Emanuel.

Born Francesca Yetunde Pereira in Lagos on September 19, 1933, Francesca Emanuel was an accomplished public civil servant, administrator, singer, poet, actress as well as a distinguished woman of the arts.

Tributes have continued to pour for the woman whom many have described as efficiency personified.

Mama took a personal, altruistic interest in the lives of others – Ben Tomoloju

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Playwright, producer, director and music composer, Ben Tomoloju said, “The death of Mama Francesca Emanuel would definitely be a personal blow to many that had a one-on-one interaction with her in her lifetime.

So, if I say it is a personal loss to me – as it really is – I would only be stating the position of many. She took personal, altruistic interest in the lives of others and always sought to make a positive impact therein.

Mama was a great counsellor and philanthropist. I don’t have to go into the details right now. But one major achievement of hers, which partly contributed to her being awarded the National Honour of Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) was that she was among those who laid the foundation of a formidable federal civil service for Nigeria.

Though she was not the very first female Permanent Secretary in the country, it is on record that Mama Francesca Emanuel was the first female federal Permanent Secretary. Definitely, Nigeria has lost a gem, a beautiful soul, an outstanding artiste, poet, distinguished actress and one of the greatest sopranos this country has ever produced.”

Francesca Emanuel was the personification of efficiency – Betty Abah

Betty Abah,women and children’s rights activist stated that, “Many of us grew up hearing about Francesca Emmanuel and what a quintessential woman and Nigerian she epitomised as the first woman Permanent Secretary in the country.

And from afar you could feel her aura, her beauty, fashion sense and sheer magnetising persona.

I think that without even speaking that she inspired millions upon millions of Nigerian women of the younger generation to aspire, to excel and to break every seen and unseen glass ceiling in every of life’s endeavours, their gender notwithstanding especially in a clime pervaded by patriarchy at every turn.

Again, without even coming close, you could see that she was the personification of efficiency no wonder she made those strides that effectively immortalised her name.

I believe that that is the way to live– living an exemplary life of impact, of inspiration and even after you are gone, your legacy remains.

She has only ceased to exist in this realm, in the body, but essentially, she lives on in the ideals she lived and worked for and in the lives she built with her life of exemplary excellence.

May the Good Lord comfort her loved ones and may His perpetual light shine on her great soul.

Amen.”

Francesca has left a void in Nigerian social, cultural and admin landscape – Israel  Eboh

NANTAP President, Israel Eboh said, “The passing of Mrs Francesca Emanuel has left a void in the Nigerian social, cultural and administrative landscape that may be difficult to fill.

She was one of the few Nigerians who ventured into many fields, and not only excelled but was a master of them all.

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The creative community has lost a great artiste (singer and actor), while the nation has lost one of its finest administrators.

We at NANTAP have lost a rare gem who gave us a creative and administrative balance.”

She was very creative, talented, thorough and meticulous  – Mufu Onifade

On his part, Artists and Arts Writer, Mufu Onifade explained that, “Until her transition, Francesca Emanuel remained, without doubts, a revered matriarchal icon of Nigerian arts; very creative, talented, thorough and meticulous.

Amongst her many exploits in the arts, she was one of the founding members of the Players of the Dawn, an amateur theatre group (with bias for English language medium) founded in 1959.

Others on the founding list are Segun Olusola (late), Segun Sofowote, etc. While many of them were based in Ibadan, they performed regularly in Lagos, particularly at the Museum Kitchen. Such exploits required absolute commitment to the profession, huge energies and uncompromising zeal.

More importantly, when Wole Soyinka decided to found his professional theatre company in 1960 called the 1960 Masks, he recruited virtually all members of The Players of the Dawn for the purpose.

Francesca Emanuel was not left out. It was that group that performed Wole Soyinka’s first major play, The Dance and the Forest, which was intellectually employed to critique the whole essence of Nigeria’s independence in 1960.

Francesca Emanuel, apart from being the first female Permanent Secretary in Nigeria, will also be remembered for sacrificing all she had for the development of Nigerian arts and culture.”

Mrs Francesca Emanuel was admitted to the University College, Ibadan (now University of Ibadan) where she studied Geography.

In 1955, she obtained the Inter-B.A. after which she transferred to the University College, London for her main degree and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A): Honours degree in Geography in 1959.

Mrs. Emanuel had her professional career largely in the Federal Civil Service where she went through an array of the various arms of the Federal Civil Service, and retired in 1988. In all the positions held, she served with distinction.

A gifted and award-winning singer, her talent in this field was nurtured right from childhood. She was also a remarkable actress as well as a member of the pioneer group known as the Steve Rhodes Voices, which featured in some of Wole Soyinka’s earliest plays in the 1960s.

She was also a well-known fashion icon who, with the famous designer Sade Thomas, first drew attention to Nigerian fashion and its suitability even for modern wear-whether Western or traditional.

Francesca Emmanuel was a founding member as well as member of the Board of Trustees of the Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON). She also served as Trust to various organizations including; Women Law and Development Centre; National Association of Theatre Arts Practitioners; She has been Grand Patron of the Association of Nigerian Authors, Lagos Chapter (Since 1995), Patron of Nigeria Guild of Dancers since 2001, etc.

In addition, Francesca Emmanuel was at different times the Director of the Board of some corporate organizations -Macmillan Nigeria Publishers Ltd. and Eco Bank Nigeria Plc., among others.

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