Ojo Maduekwe: Vision, opportunities and legacy – Part 1
My cherished relationship with the late Ambassador Ojo Maduekwe (Former Foreign and Transport Minister) who later fondly became me “Papa Ojo” began on March 17, 2015. As a Junior Fellow at Massey College , University of Toronto. I convened the Massey International Development Symposium themed:“Governance, Human Development and Rebellion in Africa: How Does Canada Matter?”Alongside two former Canadian Senators (Hon. Hugh Segal and Hon. Peter Stollery), Ambassador Maduekwe was the third panellist who was to provide the African perspective on the effectiveness of International Aid in Africa and what Nigeria is specifically doing to increase the participation of youth in governance.
Like many Nigerians last year, I was utterly frustrated by the performance of successive PDP governments and my patience for Goodluck Jonathan’s government had run out. I was sick and tired of what came across as a very corrupt, disconnected and insensitive administration. As a result, the least I wanted to do was to meet or have anything to do with any PDP politician. Neither did I want to plan an event that will provide a platform for the Nigerian government to rationalise or downplay the situation in the country. So, when it became clear that the African speaker on our panel would have to be a Nigerian diplomat, I was reluctant. Nevertheless, I immediately thought of inviting a senior civil servant that I had met at the Nigerian embassy in Ottawa in the previous year and was quite impressed by his passion and shared frustration for issues in Nigeria and Africa. I sent the invitation to him but he refused and insisted that I route the invitation directly to the High Commissioner – I did. Four weeks later, we received a confirmation that the High Commissioner will attend the event. We were relieved, sent our posters to the press and started publicising.
However, six days to the event (March 11, 2015), I received an email from the High Commissioner saying that he had been trying to reach me via phone and that I should contact him as soon as possible on his Nigerian number. My heart skipped when I saw this email – I was prepared for the worst; he was going to pull a PDP government stunt on us – cancel his attendance! When we spoke, he said he had to come back to Nigeria for an emergency election meeting with the president and one of the meetings fell on the day of our event! He asked me to advise and help him make a decision: cancel his meeting with the president and come back to Canada for our event or stay back in Nigeria to attend to the president and send a representative? What a request! Anyway, I expressed understanding for the dilemma that he was in, explained the objectives/goals of our event and gave him the option of inviting another official.
To my surprise, over the phone, he decided to re-arrange his schedule in Nigeria and attend our event. He said he was going to explain the importance of our event to the president and excuse himself from the rest of the meetings so that he could fly back to Canada in time for our event on the March 17, 2015. To say the least, I was pleasantly stunned but, hey, this is a PDP politician, so I tamed my excitement and was still mentally prepared for things not to go as planned. March 17, 2015 came and the High Commissioner showed up as planned with his wife and senior staff members. At the event; I didn’t mince my words about the ugly state of affairs in the country and how so little was being done to reverse the social situation by at the very least, investing in education and getting more youth involved in governance.
Audience members also asked honest questions about the inequalities in Nigeria as a contributing factor to the Boko Haram insurgency and the role of the ruling elite like the High Commissioner in sustaining Nigeria’s rot. We were all surprised and amazed by the High Commissioner’s robust answers for every single question that he was asked, his intellectual honesty, quality of analysis and sustained passion/energy throughout the event. At the core of his arguments were two points: Nigeria is yet to form a meta-narrative about itself that synthesised the diverse cultures/histories/ aspirations of the over 250 ethnic nations that make up the country. As a result, Nigeria wasn’t a nation so to speak like say Canada, where there is a strong philosophical sense of identity/ belonging, strong attachment to the nation state and a clear and functional state to citizen relationship. Hence, he agreed that direct aid to the Nigerian state is problematic and in fact, Nigeria didn’t need aid.
On the other hand, he argued that the extent to which the Nigerian State develops and transforms would be dependent on the quality of people that go into politics and public service. Currently, Nigeria’s political problem, he argued is that: Nigerian politics doesn’t attract our best and brightest. That is the central problem. The best and brightest are outside politics. He spoke fondly about Dr. Stella Ameyo Adadevoh’s life sacrifice for Nigeria. Nigeria’s ability to defeat Ebola was because she stood her ground against the wish of Patrick Sawyer to leave the hospital. Her eventual death was as a result of this heroic act that subverted a looming public health crisis.
To this, he said: “We need young people who can stand their ground and say, we will only support what is right.” While praising the creativity and dynamism of Nigerian youth, he argued that the youth felt that they were too good for politics and seem to expect a miracle to happen without their direct involvement.
• To be continued
• Chizoba Imoka, a doctoral student at University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, is the Founder/CEO of Unveiling Africa and a Member of the Global Agenda Council on Civic Participation, World Economic Forum.