Monday, 11 July 2016

Maduekwe: The last bicycle ride – By Louis Odion, FNGE


By on 11:11
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Late Ojo Madueke
 If the ongoing dirge for Ojo Maduekwe sounds more audible outside his ethnic origin it is partly because his politics transcended the common-place. An intellectual he undoubtedly was. But his resolve to intellectualize politics, viewing things through the pragmatist lens, often pitted him not just at odds with the rabble in his native land but those who had accepted the customs that every thing must be conducted in a certain way.
 At a time it was politically correct at home to demand "Igbo presidency or nothing" fifteen or so years ago, Abia-born Maduekwe, who preferred being addressed simply as Ojo, stoutly dismissed such as "idiotic". As a minister in the Obasanjo administration in its first term, he certainly could see what many of his kinsmen could not. With OBJ's eyes already fixed on second term, he simply could not understand why some people chose to daydream.
 Typically, Ojo started by taking the term "Igbo president" itself apart grammatically. There could only be a president of Igbo extraction, he corrected. Rather than adopt incendiary language in their agitation, he urged his kinsmen to engage more persuasively.


Louis Odion

 The furore that triggered was equalled perhaps only by his espousal later as Transport minister that urban-dwellers should bike more than riding automobiles. As usual, the uproar that generated hardly left him any space in the airwaves to expatiate that the option was not only eco-friendly but conducive to healthy lifestyle.
 Too bad, on a ride to work one of those hostile days, his bicycle slipped and Ojo came crashing down on the busy Abuja highway. That singular incident provided more ammunition for critics who had long dismissed his quixotic proposal as nothing more than a suicide mission.
 Undaunted, he continued his biking to the weekly federal executive council meeting. A practice he continued for the rest of his tenure.
 Later as Foreign minister he propagated the idea of citizen diplomacy. Such was the courage of conviction and resourcefulness Ojo brought to any thing or cause he believed in.
 No less intense was his sense of loyalty and consistency at a time political promiscuity became glamorized.  At least, he remained faithful to his party, PDP, from the beginning to his last breath. Even when it meant enduring public ridicule. A good example was sometime in 2004 or so in faraway Ghana. A young man was ingenious enough to announce he was launching a book on OBJ and calculating enough to send invitations to the high and mighty in Nigeria.
 On the presentation day, Accra literally shook with the galaxy of Nigerian VIPs who flew in. Madueke was listed as the book reviewer. This writer happened to be present at the event in his capacity as a journalist. It was vintage Ojo on parade once ushered to the lectern. But our shock was when copies of the said book were finally made available. Its garish cover and miserable contents were simply disproportionate to the scholarly arsenal deployed mightily for the one hour Maduekwe pontificated on OBJ's "muscular diplomacy" and all that.
 When finally this writer met him and expressed shock at the great length he went to dignify with big grammar what could at best be described as a piece of graffiti, Maduekwe was a bit apologetic. He himself was seemingly scammed. Apparently, all he was fed was a synopsis of the book. Being an OBJ insider, he told this writer that he felt it was safe enough to speak to the topic, without necessarily poring through it. Such was Maduekwe's loyalty to his party and then leader.
 An intellectual romantic, Maduekwe cherished the company of writers and ideas people to spar on any issue under the sun. His humility and simplicity were numbing. On a personal note, he had taken interest in my writings and as a minister would, from time to time, call to join issues. Even when you attacked him in any article, he never showed or nursed any malice. We could argue for hours on phone. Be sure the conversation would continue when next I was in Abuja.


Osita Chidoka

 In case he came to Lagos first, he would invite you to his suite to resume the session. At this writing, I am still haunted by the picture of the quintessential Ojo in action: eyes squinting behinds his rimmed lens in sheer pedagogical ecstasy, his pudgy fingers, their nails cut to the flesh, slashing the air as he pontificated magisterially.
 We were engaged in one such "fellowships" at the Sheraton Hotel in 2001 when then Acting Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (Engineer Akagwu) was ushered in by one of Ojo's security details. After the courtesy handshake, Ojo typically turned the humour tap. Facing me, he teased: "Louis, I'm sure you'll feel completely lost when Akagwu and I soon start discussing our own business. All you know is writing, not hustling for contracts. If you were a contractor, by now I'm sure you would have started salivating seeing this man live with me."
 Turning to Akagwu, he pulled his leg too: "As for you, all you know are contractors. I'm sure you don't know that sitting and looking so harmless in your company this evening is the same guy who give those of us in public office hell with his sharp pen. One of those I'm ever proud to describe as my true younger brothers in the media who always tell me the truth no matter how bitter."
 Modest in taste, Ojo had disdain for material things and absolute contempt for those obsessed with its pursuit. The apocryphal story is, for instance, told of how early in his political career a benefactor who bought him a car also arranged for same to be stolen! Always quick to remind you he was a clergy's son, Ojo wore his Presbyterian value as a badge, borrowing from Albert Einstein's saying that things that matter don't count and things that count don't matter. You could not remain his friend for long if cash was your sole motive. Gifts he often gave were of the imperishable kind: books or souvenirs bought during his regular foreign trips.
 One of such I received is entitled "Raising The Bar" (a 469-page collection of his speeches and writings) edited by C. Uche Ugboajah which he personally autographed as follows: "To my brother Louis Odion for his friendship, intensity and steadfastness of vision for Nigeria."


Bode George

 The story of Akagwu's rise as acting MD of the "juicy" NPA was quite instructive. When the seat became vacant, intense lobbying followed. Some ethnic irredentists thought Ojo would favour someone from his area. But the minister simply studied the brief submitted to him and based on his evaluation named Akagwu (who hails from Kogi, I think) as the successor.
 Until the cowboys barged in and took over at the NPA, Ojo had unfold a new code of conduct with "zero tolerance for corruption" with a Transparency Monitoring Unit reporting directly to him. But soon, OBJ's do-or-die bid for second term became too corrosive and sole determinant of state policies and programmes. The 2003 general polls were now months away. The likes of Bode George needed a cash cow to dole out political patronage in order to "capture" the South-west for OBJ.
 So, all the theoretical roadblocks Ojo had painstakingly erected to "reform" the NPA were gradually dismantled as George and co overran the place and planted their cronies. The rest is now history.
 For the clearest manifestation of Ojo's doctrine, we only need to look at Osita Chidoka, one of his mentees, who later had an impressive reign as the Corps Marshall of the Federal Road Safety Corps. His other intellectual disciple is Okey Ikechukwu.
 With Ojo's death, we have lost a truly detribalized politician of ideas.

Gbenga Dan Asabe

Africa's Number One Celebrity Encounter Blog

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