Despite my attacks on PDP, critique of the ruling class that I clearly established that he was a part of and the obvious age difference between both of us, the High Commissioner wasn’t defensive, patronising or condescending. While holding his ground for PDP, he treated me like an equal and held up an intellectually mature discussion backed with history, facts and anecdotes. I was impressed. He challenged me to go into politics and once again, argued that politics is the most effective platform to bring about system-wide change. He said that youth like me that complain must move beyond complaining and try to go in and shape the system.
In addition, youth should not wait for sitting politicians to hand over power to them simply because they are youth. It will never happen. He argued that youth must walk through the system and go claim power for the social change they envision. A few months later, to my surprise, the High Commissioner and his wife organized a well- attended (by much older community members and officials from the High commission) elaborate dinner at his home -the Nigerian House in Ottawa to honour and encourage me for my public service at the U of T and in Nigeria through Unveiling Africa.
My subsequent interactions with Papa Ojo revolved around him sharing his experiences, compromises and contradictions in politics. His explicit mission was to recruit me into public service and politics! However, he wanted me to ground myself in my philosophical beliefs and find a personal entry point into politics that will not involve me giving up on the ideals that sustains my passion in civil society. As a result, I shared my dreams about contributing to the decolonization of Africa’s education system and using Africa’s education (starting from Nigeria) to develop the next generation of African leaders who can help bring about a culturally relevant democracy, inclusive and self-reliant continent. He encouraged me to pursue the dream of setting up an outstanding Teachers College/K-12 School that could become a model for public policy. To assure me that all my dreams will be achieved and that my kind exists in politics, he connected me to like-minded Nigerian politicians who had developed an advocacy and citizen action profile.
As a mentor, Papa Ojo was always looking out for me and my interests. After the inauguration of a cultural centre that he attended in Anambra State, he sent an email describing the event and informing me of the potential allies I had for my projects: “What came across from this awesome family donation of a three-storey human development centre to Obosi is the possibility of an authentic Igbo Renaissance by new generation Igbos who are not apologetic of their Igbo-ness but see a Nigeria in great need of a non – chauvinistic Igbo tonic… Just to let you know you have potential allies in your bold projects for our people and for God to continue to bless you.”
Before Papa Ojo left Canada as the High Commissioner, he handed me over to members of this network as his daughter. One of the people he connected me to was his high school teacher who was in Nigeria during the Biafran war. He played a very active role in mobilizing Canadian support for Biafra. He had numerous artifacts that were of interest to me. Upon completing my PhD in 2018, I was looking forward to working with Papa Ojo to publish a book in 2020 (50th anniversary of the beginning of the war) about the Biafran war and Canada’s involvement. Amidst these big dreams for me, Papa Ojo kept me in line and insisted that the completion of my PhD remains the most important thing at the moment. In response to one of my emails expressing excitement about the cultural centre and eagerness to connect with the founder, he affirmed my excitement but said: “Don’t get distracted: get your PhD first! The world is there for you to conquer!”
My experience with Papa Ojo as an enabler, nurturer of intellectual curiosity, opportunity finder and connector, was not exclusive to me. After the symposium I organized, he posted a book to one of the audience members that came to discuss with him. Even though I live in Toronto, I had heard about how Papa Ojo organized events for Nigerian youth and the community at large in Ottawa. In a Facebook post expressing shock about Papa Ojo’s death, my baby sister from another mother (Kika Otiono) shared how Papa Ojo encouraged her love for poetry and gave her a book. My good friend, Titilope Sonuga is thankful to Papa Ojo for the opportunity she had to perform at the inauguration of President Buhari. He also attended the PhD graduation of a Nigerian student – Rita Orji at the University of Saskatchewan. Upon completing his role as High Commissioner, he joined the board of African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) with the goal of strengthening the organization’s capacity to enlist more African youth in Math and Science research.
Beyond the technical side of him, Papa Ojo was just a lovely, energetic, intelligent and tireless man. He knew something about everything. I developed the kind of relationship I wish I had the chance to develop with my grandfathers. He was an enabler, encourager and just a good friend. If I were to count Nigeria’s gains from Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, Ojo Maduekwe is one of them. He was not only an outstanding representative of Nigeria in Canada but he brought the community together, nurtured the next generation in our different works of lives while inducting us with his passion and exemplary service into the world of public service and politics.
Given that Nigeria’s education system continues to fail in critically educating and preparing the next generation for transformative citizen participation across all works of life, the pricelessness of Papa Ojo’s steadfast commitment to enthusiastically bringing his experiences/victories/ failures in politics and public service to the doorstep of youth comes to bare. For me, Papa Ojo was my political and history education pipeline. Through our discussions about the difficult/controversial political choices he had to make, I started to reflect more on the intersection between the immediate social needs of citizens, political philosophy, human ideals, social constraints and personal convictions. Such conscious intersectional approach that is grounded in a clear people-centred philosophy to public service/governance is what is missing in Nigerian politics and is what Papa Ojo’s political experiences and reflections affirmed in me as obtainable in the polity.
However, like Papa Ojo noted at the symposium, the extent to which Nigeria can move to a more ideologically nuanced approach to politics and public service is dependent on a critical mass of like-minded youth going into politics. The missed opportunity to develop this critical mass of like-minded politically minded youth include my greatest regrets about Papa Ojo’s untimely passing. I looked forward to him living long enough to publish his memoir and institutionalising his ideas/experiences for the next generation to learn. As he will want and expect, we like-minded youth must now find each other en masse, critically learn from his legacy as well as other politicians and most importantly, be unwavering in our commitment to using our lives, passion, skill and intelligence to serve the public good. Papa Ojo, you will forever live on in my heart.
– 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.
Source: The Guardian