with Eddy Odivwri
It was the summer of 2013 that we met last. But the memories from that meeting, three years after, remain evergreen. I had taken my family on holiday to Toronto, Canada and after some ten days in that city, I was already feeling bored. Chief Ojo Maduekwe was the Nigerian High Commissioner to Canada. He was based at the seat of government in Ottawa. A colleague (at the time), Chuks Okocha, had sent me Chief Maduekwe’s telephone number before we left Nigeria. I then called him (Maduekwe), but the call was not picked. Not quite an hour, he returned the call and when he heard it was me, he sounded so excited and warm. It was not a mere diplomatic gesture. Ojo was naturally warm and receptive.
We had had several encounters in the 90’s up till early 2002. Beside the meets in the political turf, I being a political reporter, our paths had crossed many other times during those Abuja Literary Nights, which he often hosted in his Abuja home.
When he returned my call in Toronto, he connected perfectly with our past encounters, He was warm and made it look like he could not wait to receive me and my family. I felt important, perhaps unduly. We thus agreed on a day to visit him in Ottawa. We had several other telephone conversations before the visit and I recall how he was persuading us to take a train to Ottawa, promising that he would personally wait at the train station to receive us.
I checked online, the cost of the train ride for all five of us, and settled for a road trip since it was remarkably cheaper.
On the appointed day, we had set out in a chartered cab service, driving through the country side of Canada, for over five hours before arriving in Ottawa. He had sent the address of the Nigerian Mission House.
We arrived, only to be informed he had gone to his residence, since some Nigerian lawmakers were in town. Just then, he called my line and asked that we came straight to his official residence. We drove through the paved boulevard and got to the exquisite residence. About five Nigerian lawmakers were on ground in his modestly furnished lounge with a remarkably red carpet. Senator Adeyeye and four others were already seated. Warmly and cheerfully, Ambassador Ojo welcomed us, and immediately “seized” my then 2-year old daughter—Treasure, whom he dandled endlessly.
He made a formal speech, flowing with his legendary erudition, and thereafter made a presentation of a diplomatic souvenir (A Nigerian-Canadian Year Book) to us all.
A Canadian-based staff of NTA, Joy Osuagwu, was on hand to cover the event. Ojo had spoken so highly of Osuagwu whom he said he would nominate for a national award. I am not sure that pulled through.
It was soon lunch time. We all had a meal of white rice and stew, plus salad. Ojo’s wife had travelled back to Nigeria, according to him, for a funeral ceremony.
After the photo sessions, the lawmakers left for Montreal.
Ojo and I went down memory lane as we heartily discussed Nigerian politics and his posting to Canada instead of the United Nations, having been a Foreign Affairs minister. He said he did not kick because “my sister”- Professor Joy Ugwu was at the UN at the time. He was as informed as ever.
Much later, as we drove back to town, he pulled me closer on the back seat, and with a more serious tone, began to complain of one of my then reporters, Ojo Maduekwe, who bears the same name with him. He expressed deep worries that despite all his efforts (including taking up a newspaper advert disclaimer) to make the young lad change his name since he was almost always writing things that are vertically opposed to his political stance, has proved abortive. He pleaded that I persuade the reporter, who indeed is his nephew, to either change or tweak his name. He sounded unhappy.
I remember returning to Nigeria and persuading my reporter, to do something about his name since his uncle was complaining. I guess the younger Ojo Maduekwe now introduced a middle name to his by-lines.
I cannot forget his parting gift: a bottle of well-packaged perfume for my wife and an envelope of a few dollars “for Treasure”.
Ever since he returned from Canada at the end of the Jonathan administration, we had not seen, even though I had seen him taking up strategic positions to reposition his troubled party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
I was, like many Nigerians, reasonably shocked to hear that he had suddenly slumped and died at the airport whilst waiting to receive his son who was arriving from the States after his studies.
Ojo was an informed political strategist who understood perfectly how the Nigerian political space operates. It is remarkable that he was clearly not in the rougish crowd. He regretted to me how he was misled to build an outlandish country home at Ohafia. He never lost his head. In all his involvement in politics, not once was he named in the cesspool of graft and corruption, not even when he presided over the “juicy” transport ministry. It is even remarkable that rather than ride and flaunt opulence at the time, it was the time he struck his humblest chip by preaching the return to bicycle riding.
He tried to practise what he was preaching until one careless bus driver almost pushed him into a ditch as he was riding his bicycle to the Federal Executive Council meeting, in Abuja. That was the last time he rode his bicycle in Nigeria. But he gladly continued the passion in Ottawa, as he showed me his bicycle and his route, every Saturday morning. Nigeria will miss this pan-Nigerian.
May his soul rest in peace.