Ojo @ 60: Dancing to the Rhythm of His Soul


Osita Chidoka





November 2, 2000, the report of the panel to investigate allegations of corruption at the National Maritime Authority has just been submitted with recommendations to sack the Chief Executive and a host of other senior officers of the agency. Interestingly among those recommended for dismissal was a good friend of the Maduekwes. She was a classmate of his wife and had remained a close family friend in need and deed. After Chief Maduekwe’s appointment as transport Minister she has remained a regular visitor to their house and spends the night with them whenever she was in Abuja, she was in every sense a close friend. As the details of the report emerged and her name was amongs those to be sacked gloom descended on Maduekwe’s house, the wife was uncontrollable in her grief and Ojo was devastated at the thought of dismissing such a close family friend. After the initial shock and lethargy he wrote his report to the President aligning with the recommendations of the panel and asking the President for approval to implement same.


Efforts were made by some well wishers and mutual friends to dissuade Chief Maduekwe from sending the report to the President or at least asking the People implicated to resign. He resisted those pressures and submitted the report. After the submission we left the same day for New York to represent the President at the 70th birthday celebrations of Professor Chinua Achebe. During the two hours drive from JFK Airport to Bard College I had a very deep and soul searching discussion with Chief Maduekwe. He told me the story of their closeness to the aforementioned family friend and why he had to move against her. It was a heartrending experience but for Nigeria to develop, he averred, we must move to a rule governed system where society is not governed by the whims of the leader. He believed that the dilemma of dismissing such a close friend was the first spiritual test of his commitment to the fight against corruption, a tenet of faith for him.


This story became one of the many instances where Chief Maduekwe, had to be confronted with the dilemma of reforming institutions in Africa; a perpetual conflict between familism and rule of law. The conflict was to plague his path in the fight to create a level playing field, a necessary condition in the fight against corruption. In each instance he chooses to err on the side of the rule of law ethic; at great political and personal cost. This point was poignantly made in December 2001 when the number of Christmas presents he received plummeted dramatically and by his birthday in 2003, he received only one beautiful birthday card, from his wife. The loneliness of the path he chose became obvious by mid 2001 and intensified to this day.


As his aide in the Ministry of Transport many observed the relaxed and buddy relationship I enjoyed with him. To some it was an indication that I was his man Friday, who probably did the dirty job he would not do. To others it meant I was an untouchable in his crusade against corruption and indiscipline, since in the thinking of one dismissed Chief Executive “Osita knows all his secrets”. The reason for these feelings were not far fetched many do not believe that it is possible for a Transport Minister to serve without “eating”. Yet little did they know that I have variously been at the receiving end of the same treatment. Due to the crazy hours I worked, including weekends, I thought it was only fair that I took Wednesday Mornings, when the Federal Executive Council meeting took place to catch some extra rest and spend time with the young lady that later became my wife, a fact Chief Maduekwe will be reading for the first time. Upon discovery that I did not report to the office on Wednesday mornings, he directed that the unilateral holiday I took should be stopped. I obeyed the order in the breach since he was in Council at that time anyway. In 2001 November 11, precisely, Chief Maduekwe came back to the office earlier than usual from Council and sent for me; I was not in the office. The secretary called me on Cell Phone and I rushed back to the office. As I entered his office all hell broke loose and he sent me on a month suspension to the shock of other aides who thought I was above the Law. Despite entreaties from family and friends he insisted that I must pay the price for disobedience. I did, for one month.


To deconstruct Ojo maduekwe will require a more lengthy and rigorous analysis than this tribute will permit, however I will give some snippets to the moral and ethical cosmology that defined his values and world view. In the course of numerous long drives from Enugu Airport to Ohafia in the same car with Chief Maduekwe, I came to understand his person, essence and worldview. Chief Maduekwe grew up on a diet of fundamental Presbyterianism, dished from a Pastor Father and nurtured by a closed community of warriors in Asaga, ohafia. His early fascination and reading of Ralph Waldo Emerson and the solitude of a voracious appetite for books created the individualism that defined and characterized his life in politics. Inevitably while the young Ojo Maduekwe grew up in the cultural milieu of strong communitarian Igbo values his early impressionable reading of Emerson impacted a strong protestant and individualistic ethic in the Weberian tradition.


This clash of cultures between the strong conservative and communal cohesion of Igbo society and the western individualism and liberal tradition continually reared its head in Chief Maduekwe’s trajectory. It manifested in his joining the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) at a time the Igbo mainstream, in solidarity with the great Zik, were in Nigeria People’s Party (NPP) which was the ruling party in his State and constituency. Yet he Joined NPN and won the election to the Federal house of Representatives in 1983. His romance with the unregistered Liberal Convention; his subsequent move to the Social Democratic Party; dalliance with the Abacha regime and support for Obasanjo in 1999 confirmed his instinctive quest for order, a cosmopolitan ethos and an individualistic groping for a Pan Nigerian platform. He is an intellectual of the right. If he was an American he would have been a moderate conservative in the Republican Party; if British he would have been in the conservative Party and if Japanese he would have been in the Liberal party.


As a Public Servant, first as Tourism Minister and later as Minister of Transport, Chief Maduekwe displayed a fanatical faith in the system; hope in Nigeria and belief in the state building project. He was methodical in his approach to governance. A true Renaissance man, He brought his awesome intellect and discipline to bear on his job as Minister. He provided a rare kind of leadership to the civil servants that saw the Ministry bubbling with ideas and excitement. In the quest for a new Nigeria where tribe and tongue would not be the basis for engagement, Chief Maduekwe created an ethnic neutral paradigm in the Ministry. His relationship with the Minister of State, Alhaji Isa Yuguda, the first permanent Secretary, Mr. John Hirse and later Professor Barkindo remains a testimonial to the possibilities of the Nigerian State. This relationship can best be understood in the light of the turbulent relationship between Ministers and Ministers of State on one hand and Ministers and Permanent Secretary on the other even in Transport Ministry before the advent of Chief Maduekwe and Alhaji Yuguda. The policies and ideas that emanated from Chief Maduekwe are too many for mention in this paper but I will dwell a bit on the bicycle campaign which many still remember him for.


In a speech delivered by Chief Maduekwe at the International Transport symposium held in Washington on October 9 - 11 - 2000. He elaborated on his transport policy initiative called Organic transportation. The concept of Organic Transportation, he said, "is not a rejection to the modern. Rather, it draws from every other concept that attempts to present humanity, at its best. It is a harmonious marriage of the traditional and the modern. It takes Africa from where it is, and integrates us where it ought to be, chastened by the continent's past failures, and inspired by its proverbial resilience. In Nigeria, the concept of organic transportation was inspired not only a return to inter modalism as generally understood but also a willingness to return to the past in order to move to the future. A moribund bicycle culture is now being revived, while we focused on the construction of a modern railway system." This idea was presented in October 2000 three months after he assumed office in the Ministry of Transport.


With that clear policy thrust we began our dissection of the Nigerian transport situation with a view to expanding the options through non motorized transport and making our roads safe for pedestrians and cyclists. Our effort was basically a groping in the dark as there was no data to guide our decision making process; no master plan in the Ministry and of course no monetary provisions for any long term project. Chief Maduekwe responded by calling on Julius Berger to assist us with data which they were good at gathering and keeping. Through that effort Julius Berger and Albert Speer Consultants from Germany in conjunction with Nigeria Institute of Transport Technology Zaria later produced the first Master Plan for integrated Transportation (MITI) which provided a coherent and data based multi-modal plan for the transport sector. Back to the bicycle, our preliminary studies revealed a global trend towards non motorized transport and increased used of mass transit systems.


The impact of motorization in developing countries is quite high more so with the age of these vehicles tending towards 10years and above. Our initial study showed that Lagos was one of the cities were travel times to and from work average more than 75minutes and this ranks with cities like Jakarta and Bucharest. We also looked at the safety dimension of road transportation existing data from WHO showed that between 1968 and 1985, traffic fatalities rose 300% in Africa and almost 200% in Asia. Moreover, in these developing countries, 56%-74% of traffic fatalities are pedestrians and cyclists killed by car and truck drivers.


Air pollution in developing countries remains a challenge to transport planners. The level of exposure to carbon monoxide, lead and particulates to people walking and standing as street vendors on busy streets in Manila and Mexico City were found to be higher than acceptable WHO levels. We also analyzed our urban zoning system and developments like Lekki corridor, Lagos Island and the Badagry Mile 2 corridor. We took the position that only a train system or Bus rapid transit system can alleviate the problem. We preferred the BRT due to its relative lower cost to rail but the question remained how do People get to the Bus or rail station without using their cars? The answer was bicycle and or arterial bus systems.


How do people use their Bicycles in the unsafe motorized environment like Lagos and other cities? Build Bicycle lanes. How do we Build or get the relevant agencies to build the lanes? Get the Government to make it mandatory on all major intra city roads. Hence the bicycle campaign; Chief Maduekwe put together a group of University dons under the Chairmanship of the Deputy Director Land transport in the Ministry of transport to produce a Council memo that will lead to an executive bill for Bicycles lanes as part of our transport system. Before the Memo went to Council we decided to launch a high wire media campaign as a prelude to the Memo. Despite all the effort the council in its wisdom had a good laugh at the memo and deferred it for discussion to this day.


Current knowledge in the transport sector validates Chief Maduekwe’s campaign as timely, radical and a credible public policy intervention. Today the world celebrates Curtiba, Brazil, Chile and Bogotá, Colombia as success stories on reducing motorization and encouraging non-motorized transport. In Bogotá after the first four years, the percentage of trips made by private cars and taxis dropped from 19.7 percent to 17.5 percent, and bike trips increased from 0.5 percent to 4 percent of all trips; in the United States spending of Federal Transportation funds on bicycle and walking rose from 6 million dollars in 1990 to 297 million dollars in 2000. It is sad that four years after Chief Maduekwe started his campaign Nigeria is yet to produce a coherent urban transport system model that seeks to promote healthy living; reduce congestion and pollution and yet be affordable.


In his incarnation as a Minister, Chief Maduekwe unfurled the banner of service with pride and flew the flag of rectitude, transparency and innovative policy interventions. He represents one of the finest examples of the Nigerian possibility; intelligent, ethnic neutral, an ethical core and a proud purveyor of the Zikist vision of a renascent Africa. He is one of the few politicians in Nigeria that combines the pragmatism of a political career with the idealism of a transformer. As the originator of the slogan and philosophical concept of MEKARIA, an Igbo word for continuous excellence, he constructed a melodious symphony of the local and the international; of the mundane and the ethereal; and provided a scaffold for an African response to the ever widening chasms of global capital.


One of the most important lessons I learnt from Chief Maduekwe was during his epic battles with Governor Orji kalu. I have been friends to both of them before they assumed office as Governor and Minister respectively. As the tension between the two of them increased over the local congresses in Abia State and Governor Kalu became more virulent in his attack on the Obasanjo administration, Chief Maduekwe invited me to his study and explained that he is about to go on a roll with the Governor. I listened carefully as he explained that as his aide I am under no obligation to join him in the fight and have no need to sever my relationship to Governor Kalu but he wanted me to know that the fight is on and may get dirty. That for me was a defining moment in our relationship. It was the most important lesson I learnt in leadership. A lesson on ethical and responsible leadership, this kind of behavior was consistent throughout my time with him as an Assistant.


However, Chief Maduekwe is human, sometimes all too human. He exhibits a quarrelsome streak and a disdain for the communitarian worldview of his People that seeks to break his will. While he has not shown weakness for the debauchery that pervades the Nigerian political landscape and distinguishes the world’s most consumptive elite; he is impervious to the logic of culture as a strong variable in human affairs. His eclectic readings and strong liberal leaning projects him, sometimes, above space and time and prevailing realities. This creates an inability to adapt his philosophy and precepts to the dance steps prevailing in his own times, to use the words of Chinua Achebe. His absolutist approach to the fight against corruption was noble and praiseworthy but it denies the social conditions that created the perverse values in the absence of a system wide mechanism for economic equality and moral reforms. His instinctive quest for order and almost quixotic rush to the barricades as a defender of the grundnorm lies at a paradoxical tangent with his liberal worldview and quest for social justice. As a reformer of the right He wants to rebuild the system not to destroy it, which makes it difficult for him to ask the necessary fundamental questions that will unravel the weak foundations of the house he is seeking to rebuild.


Nigeria deserves ideologically coherent, morally attuned, socially conscious and intellectually global elite to move us to a new paradigm of leadership.  If Nigeria’s conservative class, assuming they are a cohesive group, wants to remain, in a post Obasanjo Nigeria, a credible platform for consensual politics they need the Maduekwe’s of the world as the new face of a dying breed who has one more chance to atone for their abortion of the Nigerian dream.



Osita Chidoka

School of Public Policy, George Mason University, VA, USA