Ojo Maduekwe: The liberal optimist
At Nigeriaís formal independence, no rational patriot would imagine that some years later the country could be filled with the type of drama, suspense, tragedy, triumph and unexpected turns of fate as that played out on Nigeriaís national stage.
There have been stars among the various actors who have either tried to project and compound the trajectory of the unwritten complexities of the Nigerian society or propel the inherent checks and balances to ensure that the polity is preserved for the future.
Ojo Maduekwe (lawyer, legislator, administrator and patriot) was, for more than two decades, among the star performers. His interrogation of the Nigerian condition and his redeeming measures and modes of intervention were from the liberal perspective of an incurable optimist.
In Nigeria, socio-political and economic liberalism have come in different forms and dimensions. It is beyond my conjecture to determine whether it was Ojoís liberal disposition that propelled him into the Liberal Convention, a neo-liberal political association, formed to compete for recognition and power during the Political Transition period of the General Ibrahim Babangida era. Before and after that experience, in and out of political office, up to the time he passed on at the end of June 2016, Ojo Maduekweís liberalism was marked by consistency—although it is a philosophy whose aim of individual liberty or freedom has been changing conceptually over time in different historical periods.
In words and action, Ojo Maduekweís messages were fixed and clear: There is essential goodness in man and there is an inherent potential for rationality in every individual. Since man functions primarily according to his rational intellect, he has the ability to recognize problems and solve them both at the micro and macro levels. In this regard, both the young and the old, male or female, should be identified and challenged with responsibilities for self-actualization. It is through this we could develop human capacity for national development and attain systematic improvement in the human condition.
When found in the midst of, or in collaboration with conservative politicians, one might doubt Ojoís liberal credentials of someone opposed to the maintenance of the status quo. Without being doctrinaire, he continually sought progress, improvement of the human condition through a change of the existing order. Neither individualism nor the belief that freedom is a primary political good would pass as immutable laws of history but they have over the years assumed great importance as social factors, blended by such liberal optimists as Maduekwe, into a political creed. John Locke, the English philosopher of the 17th century and founder of British empiricism, would have been amazed if he ever encountered Maduekwe modifying his doctrine of individual freedom to suit its application to the Nigerian condition especially with regard to constitutional limitations on government and the need to free the individual from external restraints.
Against the background of Nigeriaís historical realities and the vexatious atmosphere of military rule in a multi-ethnic post-colonial state, Ojo became famous on the political battlefield, using the legal profession as a natural entrÈe to local politics before climbing to national stature as a political General from the legislature to the executive arm of government, from one taxing responsibility to a more demanding or challenging one. Seen by many as a reward for past services or exertions and by some people as a product of deft politicking, he consistently served with captivating dignity, enormous prestige and presented his stewardship to the Nigerian public as diktat with eloquence.
Less of a towering figure in physique, the calm nobility of his face, the power of his penetrating oratory and his intellectual depth easily won compatriots over to his perspective. He, of course, never acted until he had weighed relevant factors in every circumstance to ensure that his integrity and inflexible sense of fairness and justice would not be compromised.
An all-round engaging personality that Ojo was, so much could be said about his political adroitness, an incredible capacity to contain behind-the-scenes manoeuvres and an impressive ability to win support for government policies of the various administrations in which he served.
In spite of all these, including being frank, open, candid and courageous, he still earned the distinction of being viewed by many as intriguing and polemical! But it would be difficult to argue that he ever departed, essentially, from the liberal tradition.
For decades, Ojo preoccupied himself with wanting to make a humane and great society out of Nigeria. For him, the individual Nigerian had no reason to be negative while the government in power must see to it that the conditions of life were tolerable. This, to him, might involve innovation, thinking the unthinkable and considerable government intervention to prevent or remedy physical and social evils like injustice in all spheres and at all levels, human exploitation and poverty.
He was aware, of course, that such a safeguarding function was entirely different from government trying to make life excellent, to make society moral or civilized. Intellectual or moral excellence was, however, not the priority of most Nigerian politicians who rose to power largely by speaking banalities.
For Ojo, the brutalizing savagery of inequity had to be constantly illuminated and socio-economic and political grievances redressed. He spent quality time harmonizing conflicting interests among government functionaries and within his political party and the larger society while exploring new frontiers of intellectual dialogue with a crusading temperament.
His enormous energy enabled him to work harder than most of his colleagues while his interventions were unmistakable and inspiring especially at meetings of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Peopleís Democratic Party (PDP). He lent vigour to democratic consolidation through involvement in various reform agendas, skilfully marshalling words to deepen belief in his views from any side of a debate.
Towards the end, instead of allowing his spirit to be seared by disillusionment caused by some of his feuding colleagues, he was on multiple interparty peace missions. He was all along reflecting rational and sometimes rosy optimism with which he sought to bath the political leadership. The tireless politician, irrepressible thinker and indefatigable debater has now taken his skills to another level. A man of legendary humility with a most enviable record of exemplary public service, the suddenness with which he exited the human space understandably prompted a standstill in some parts of Nigeria.
And so, Ojo departed without a warning. A Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria abandoned the field without sufficient signal or instructions! But blame him not for he knew not when the whistle would be blown. As has been repeated quite often, we are indeed players in the pitch of life and none of us knows the precise time, the exact minute the game would end. We all, of course, know the game would end whenever the Almighty one holding the whistle decides to blow it.
Considering the shock of Ojoís precipitate departure, it is appropriate to encourage all of us with an analogy that went viral after his death but was actually inspired by the 2016 European cup final which rounded up during the second week of July.
When the time is up, by His own timing, he will blow the whistle and the game will be over and then winners and losers will emerge and rewards will be given to deserving players. It is only after the refereeís whistle that I notice people weep or jubilate. They cry and gnash their teeth because itís all over! They weep because they see missed opportunities, missed scoring chances, but the game is over.
And those who celebrate do so because they won the match. They were adjudged winners and deserving of the much-contested trophy. Let me encourage you today, dear friends, that your wristwatch is not the time. Oh no, itís not! The time is with the one who created time and only He determines when the time starts and stops for each of us. With this in mind, letís strive for mastery and reach for the goal as we play on the pitch of life Ö. The play is still on.
I guess we have long returned from our half-time break. I sense that we may perhaps be in our extra time, just in case we will capitalize on the extra time to hit the goal correctlyÖ Tick-tack-tick-tack- time is going… it is not our wristwatch thatís reading, its Gods time ticking away. Play your game well. Play it with utmost concentration. Shut out the spectators who are either cheering or jeering. Keep your eyes on the goal post. Play hard!!!
And that was precisely what Ojo Madukwe (CFR) did to win the laurels which accompanied the many goals he scored that we are celebrating rather than mourning the departure of a prodigy and statesman.
Ride on, Ojo
Son of the rising sun!
Fly out of the benign body.
Your soul and spirit like eagles soar
far from the festivals of Ohafia
Where you are heard without speaking!
You sprang and bewildered
mavericks and mean men.
You demolished structures of ignorance
and built bridges of hope along shadowy and broken highways across the Niger, beyond the Sahara.
Ride on, Ojo
away from a people in denial
clusters of clattering counterweights
of malevolent cults and cunny principalities.
Ride on to the glorious chamber
for champions, the Victor Ludorum
Tunde Adeniran, a Professor of Political Science, former Minister of Education and Nigeriaís Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany, was Chief Ojo Maduekweís friend of many years and a close political colleague and intellectual collaborator.