Sunday, 17 July 2016

Ojo Maduekwe: Recruiter and Mentor of Future Public Servants - Pt 1

My cherished relationship with the late Ambassador Ojo Maduekwe (Former Foreign and Transport Minister) who later fondly became my “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 & 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.

L-R:Senator Peter Stollery, Late Chief Ojo Maduekwe, Hon Hugh Segal, Chizoba Imoka

Like many Nigerians last year, I was utterly frustrated by the performance of successive PDP (former Nigerian ruling party) 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 rationalize 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 invite 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 publicizing.

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! Anyways, 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 17th of March 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. 

Massey International Development Symposium 2015

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 synthesized 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 (for many Canadians but not all), 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 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.

While acknowledging that Nigerian politics has rightfully been seen as unethical and many politicians bandied as corrupt, he still insisted that no one will change Nigeria except the youth who constitute the majority and politics remains the most effective platform to create society wide changes. He conceded that more needs to be done to consciously recruit and involve youth in politics. The kind of recruitment Papa Ojo envisioned was to build a critical mass of engaged citizens and citizen representatives: “We need to build a critical mass of people who see politics as a vocation for doing good; for doing right. Once that critical mass starts to expand, you are going to see the true destiny of Nigeria rise to the fore. So what can we do and I am asking you all. What can we do to encourage the likes of Chizoba into politics?

The desire to get people like me who are passionate about social justice and system wide change into politics became the crux of the fond relationship I later developed with Papa Ojo. After this event, he invited me and the event co-organizers for drinks. 

Digvijay Mehra: Event co-organizer

At our meet up, I passionately quizzed him about his role in PDP and how PDP and previous ruling elites like himself ought to have setup the education pipeline through which students are trained to become excited about politics! Bluntly, I told him I wanted PDP to lose the elections, not because I was an APC (prominent Nigerian political party, current party in power) devotee but because of the erosion of ethics and common sense that GEJ’s government was facilitating.

End of Part 1 - To be continued in part 2 (next post)

1 comment:

  1. Nice one Chi... Sincerely ur kind really need to be involved in today politics... Our nation will be more profitable and productive when we considered politics as one of the greatest platform to change things in our societies ... I appreciate ur kind effort .. Weldone Dear