Mrs Francesca Emanuel was born on September 19, 1933, in Lagos to Francis Eugenio Aderinkoye Pereira, who was Chief Clerk in the Governor’s office, and Honoria Folashade Pereira (nee Caulcrick), a seamstress. She attended kindergarten classes at the Methodist Girls’ School, from 1938 to 1940; and primary school at Princess School, Lagos, from 1941 to 1945.
Thereafter, she gained admission to Holy Child College, Lagos in 1946. In 1952, after obtaining her Cambridge School Certificate in top grade, she 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 Emmanuel had her professional career largely in the civil service. She went through the whole gamut of the various arms of the Federal Civil Service. She started as Assistant Secretary, Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, 1959-1960, becoming, by this appointment, the first indigenous female Administrative Officer in the Federal Civil Service.
Between 1960 and 1961, she was at the Federal Ministry of Establishment from where she was transferred to the Police Affairs Division in the Cabinet Office from 1961 to 1964. In recognition of her outstanding performance, she was appointed Senior Assistant Secretary, Secretariat of the Morgan Commission of Nigerian Workers, in 1964; Under-Secretary, Federal Ministry of Commerce and Industry, 1964 to 1969; Deputy-Secretary, Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, 1969-1973; she also served as Principal Secretary, Cabinet Office, 1973 to 1974; and Secretary, Federal Public Service Commission, January to June, 1975.
In July, 1975 she was appointed a Permanent Secretary in the Public Service Department of the Cabinet Office, thus becoming the first female Federal Permanent Secretary in Nigeria. She served for over thirteen years as Permanent Secretary, which took her to a range of strategic and sensitive ministries, departments and agencies. In all these positions, she served with distinction.
Administration, however, was not the only area in which she excelled as she performed equally brilliantly in other areas. A gifted singer, her talent in this field was nurtured right from childhood. She started off from the Sunday School and later enlisted with the Little Star Band of Hope Meeting of the Methodist Church, Olowogbowo. This explains her active participation in the music industry in Nigeria. It is worth noting that while still in secondary school, she won first prize as soloist in many concerts, most notable among which were as Soprano Solo at the first Nigerian Festival of the Arts in Lagos in 1950. 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 Sovinka’s earliest plays in the 1960s.
Later, she went on to win more prizes in music. 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 has also served on various panels owing to her vast and rich experience in diverse fields. She once served as a Commissioner of the United Nations International Civil Service Commission, from 1987 to 1992, and has also been a member of several bodies among which are: Governing Council, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi, 1989-1993; National Salaries and wages Commission, 1992-1994; National Merit Award Committee ,1989-1991; Harvard Business School Award Committe,1988-1997; Governing Board of the Federal Society for the Blind, 1992 to date; Governing Board of Holy Child College, 1989 to date; Board of the Special Olympic Nigeria, 1989 to date; Fund Raising Committee of the Nigerian Sickle CeII Foundation, 1977 to date; Governing Council of the Nigerian Conservation foundation, 1990 to date. She has also served as Trust to various organizations amongst which are: Women Law and Development Centre; National Association of Theatre Arts Practitioners: and Nigeria Environment Study/Action Team. She has been Grand Patron of the Association of Nigerian Authors, Lagos Chapter (Since 1995), Patron of Nigeria Guild of Dancers since 2001, and was chair, National Film Festival, 2002 to 2003. 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 Pic, to name just two of them.
In recognition of these remarkable achievements, she has been honoured with several prestigious awards, among which are: Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) (2000); the Retirement Award for Brilliant Performances and Outstanding Achievement by the Federal Directors-General (Permanent Secretaries), 1988; Fellow of the Nigeria Institute of Management (1991); Most Distinguished University of Ibadan Alumni Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity (2000); induction into the Hall of Fame, National Centre for Women Development (2004); and the Glover Memorial Centennial Award for Services to Arts and Culture in Lagos State (2000).
Francesca Emmanuel was involved in the activities of several NGOs and Associations like the Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON), the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) , Holy Child College Old Girls’ Association (HCCOGA), etc. Hers has surely been a most productive and fulfilled life of service to nation and humanity.