10 years on: Remembering Stanley Macebuh (1942-2010)
On 7th March 2010, death in a rather speedy riddance took Dr. Stanley Nkwachukwu Macebuh to his final home. A painful final exit that prized open the memory of his years at The Guardian. Again, a painful final exit that flung open the intellectual door to his inimitable liberal pieces which gave The Guardian the oomph and killing punch among other newspapers during his magisterial and magical years as the revered shaman of its editorial realm. His ineluctable words pounded like distance drums in the mind as you read those hot flushes of his wisdom clothed in pretty intellectual fineries of the most delicate kind.
Allow me to make a confession of youthful obsession. During Macebuh’s pen crafting years, I was an avid reader of The Guardian and its contributors. A disciple of its New Journalism genre which then brought together under Rutam House the greatest collection of liberals who churned out rigorous, velvety prose of robust intellection and libertarian nirvana.
When you take out the New York’s Op-Ed pieces, the next best journalism writings was found in Macebuh’s old The Guardian. The Guardian’s Op-Ed pages was truly the market place of contemporary ideas where intellectuals like Edwin Madunagu, Patrick Dele-Cole, Adebayo Williams, Odia Ofeimun, Pat Utomi, Biodun Jeyifo, Femi Osofisan, Mokwugo Okoye, Andy Akporugo, Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe, Ashikiwe Adione-Egom, Olatunji Dare, G.G Dara, Niyi Osundare (my teacher), Prof. Onwuchekwa Jemie and Yemi Ogunbiyi showcased the profundity of their closet intellection.
Then again, we had a wonderful constellation of writing’s brightest jewels like Lade Bonuola, Kingsley Osadolor, Ted Iwere, Chuks Iloegbulam, Femi Kusa, Eddie Iroh, Ben Tomoloju, Toyin Akinoso, Pini Jason, Sully Abu, Amma Ogan, Fred Ohwahwa, Greg Obong-Osotse and few others who were nothing but prose provocateurs. Stanley Macebuh stood out like an ace because the bloke tapped relentlessly and effortlessly on his creative repertoire to avoid ‘junkola journalism’ that was crawling like poison ivy onto most newspapers and ravaging and sending into extinction any sentimental pretension to scholarly and public intellection.
He was a one-man study in intellectual integrity, pleasing balance, thought dynamism, wordsmithery, libertarian sentiments and excellent journalism. For the first time in the history of Nigerian journalism, Macebuh changed our old sated and dated appetite to offer an alternative diet of colliding and competing paradigms between the forces of liberalism and its arch enemy, illiberal tradition. He energized and enriched the character of public/social discourse and his masterpiece of masterpieces, “The Liberal Tradition and its Enemies” became the defining paradigm of the inherent contradictions and deadpan unintended ironies of midwifing an important newspaper like The Guardian at the crossroad of our political history. Shehu Shagari electoral victory of 1983 was a febrile and dirty political lie that heralded negative new behaviours that would lay the foundation for the utter destruction of Nigeria’s voting etiquette that still persists till date. The illiberal liberalism of The Guardian’s long silence at the onset of Shagari’s political robbery brought a whole universe of devastating polemical discourse. Liberalism, Macebuh’s ideological battle cry was caught in a web. Professor Adebayo Williams was the then standard bearer for intellectual reproach who questioned The Guardian’s liberal somersault. The rest is now history.
The deep ideological hiccup did not prevent me from lighting on any printed word of Stanley Macebuh with a glad cry. The man wrote like an angel, no a devil, like one whose connection between thought and wordplay was absolute. He was a pundit, provocateur, penman and a prosodist with a sustaining power to weave discursive parable that could anger, amuse, enlighten, challenge and entertain. He was the enemy of ‘junkola’ journalism and mocked its clumsiness, graceless wordplay, sloppy prose, intellectual timidity, clodden metaphors, lifeless wonkery that are the bane of today’s newspaper journalism.
Yes, Stanley Macebuh may have projected his liberal fantasies in most of his journalism, but there was no obfuscatory logorrhea and gobbedy-gook weasel verbiage that may dethrone reason. He was the apostle of lucidity and a purifier of public intellection. Indeed, Macebuh was both the English Language and New Journalism moralist who bequeathed new parameters to the practice of public and intellectual discourse. Stanley Macebuh’s tongue was the pen of a born writer. To what depth can we plumb our memory and remember the footprint of this apostle of polished writing, an art that is becoming gradually extinct in a nation where scholarship, brilliance, originality, fecundity, perfection and fine writing are being corrupted by the rising gravitational pull of survival. Not for Stanley Macebuh.
His quickening passion for hardwork, distinction and excellence first gained him a first in English at the University of Ibadan. The stricture of profundity in intellectual pursuit enabled him to gain a doctorate at 26 from the University of Sussex. By 1968, Stanley was Dr. Stanley and a member of the prestigious Faculty of English Department at the University of California, Berkeley. Stanley, as an academic, had the brain, call it the software, to make imprint on the faculty canvas of the best seat of learning from Ox-Bridge to the renowned Ivy League of America. Seeing his untapped, soaring intellect, Dr Patrick Dele Cole persuaded Macebuh to return home. He took a gamble and returned to Nigeria leaving behind a brilliant teaching career in Berkeley.
The Guardian newspaper was to be the launching pad for the limitless breadth of his awesome intellect. There, his genius flowered. He used journalism as a crusading tools to discover the truth about power, politics and politicians. He shattered the canons of imperious arrogance among the Nigerian elites. He reduced the high and mighty to plain Mr in his experiment to deflate the colossal ego of our super rich. That aside, his intelligent, patrician eyes were on the ineffable purity of a new journalism discourse, even though he knew that he lived in a heady, adversarial atmosphere.
He guarded the grove of public communication, or if you like English language, with such professorial exertion that Rutam House became a fertile soil for journalism high fliers. Today, I am writing to the hearts and minds of those who enjoyed the gem of invention and illumination Stanley Macebuh brought to the darkest alley of journalism. As one of the connoisseurs of his rich and varied journalistic heritage, I hereby, and with lamentable sorrow, celebrate his contributions to the art of elevated writing. As a product of his journalistic constituency, I am forever plagued by conscience that not much had been done to honour Stanley in death.
The life of people like Stanley Macebuh radically challenges our concept of national heroes and heroines. He was not given any national award. He did not amass wealth. At the end, his life was a story of uncompromising principle that was very much a product of rigid integrity. A man with such faithful confidence in character over wealth is disdainful to politicians who love parasites, sycophants and flatterers. Let us celebrate his life together and pay our respect to a man who brought delight to the life of the mind in his intellectual pursuit. There must be a way to construct an identity of honour, respect and gratitude to a public communicator like Stanley Macebuh who lived to educate, entertain and encourage us with his own ideas and interpretation of our muddled up society.
Towards the end of his inspiring life (he died aged 68) Macebuh built around himself, fundamentally unsound and illusory standard through his abhorrent of material accumulation which translated into bizarre delusion. In Nigeria, intellectual gifting without material accumulation is always an irritating madness that leads to penury. That, rather tragically or charmingly exemplified the uncompromising power of Macebuh’s intellectual integrity. Thank you Dede Stanley. Ten years on, the fond memory of your journalistic oeuvre still delight. Continue to rest in perfect peace.
Tijani wrote from London.