THE sudden death of the former Minister of Transport, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, shortly after arriving in the country from the United States of America, shocked many Nigerians. The demise of the consummate politician, diplomat, legislator, activist, administrator and scholar at the age of 71 took the nation by surprise and the tributes trailing his passage attest to the respect he enjoyed all over Nigeria. President Muhammadu Buhari, in a moving eulogy, described Maduekwe as an ardent believer in the unity of Nigeria who gave his all to that pursuit. He recalled that the late minister was a relentless believer in citizen diplomacy whose life challenged all Nigerians to project a positive image for the country.
Chief Maduekwe was born in Ohafia in Ohafia Local Government Area of Abia State. He was educated at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka where he obtained a degree in Law in 1972 and was called to the Bar the following year.
He was in 1983 elected into the National Assembly, a short-lived parliament that was dissolved by the military coup d’etat by the then Major-General Muhammadu Buhari on December 31 of the same year. He returned to the limelight in 1988 following his election into the Constituent Assembly. Ever since, he has been in almost all Nigerian administrations and in the most important political organisations.
After his service in the Constituent Assembly in 1990, he was appointed the Adviser to the Chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), a position he held till 1992. Between 1993 and 1995, he was the Adviser to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was a member of the National Boundaries Adjustment Commission (1997-98).
In 1998, he was elected a senator in the Third Republic. In 1999, he was appointed Federal Minister of Culture and Tourism, a position he held till 2000 when he was named Federal Minister of Transport. One of his ideas to tackle the country’s transportation problems was to sell the idea of riding bicycles to work to Nigerians. He had apparently seen millions of Europeans, Chinese, Indians and other peoples trying to save both the planet and fuel by riding bicycles to their workplaces and wanted it replicated in the country.
Maduekwe was Presidential Adviser on Legal and Constitutional Affairs between 2003 and 2005. He was the National Secretary of the PDP from 2005 to 2007. From there, he became Nigeria’s Foreign Minister, a position he held till 2010. In 2011, he was appointed the
deputy director of the Jonathan-Sambo PDP Presidential Campaign which led to the election of President Goodluck Jonathan. He was later named the Nigerian Ambassador to Canada and he served enthusiastically in this position until he returned to the country last year.
The late ex-minister had a gift of bringing people together and building consensus on thorny issues. Indeed, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which had been paralysed by crises since it lost last year’s presidential election, deeply mourned the exit of Maduekwe. He was the secretary of the PDP Board of Trustees and was widely regarded as one capable of bringing the contending factions in the party together.
Nigerians will always remember Maduekwe for his forthrightness and his nationalistic approach to politics. His unshaken commitment to the Nigerian project often got him into trouble with his Igbo kinsmen for his failure to support their agitation for an Igbo president. In him, Nigeria lost a true nationalist and patriot. May his soul rest in peace.