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

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.

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