At a time when Maina mania has gripped the media, and the whole nation marvels at ‘government magic’ which magically turns candle to electricity and vice-versa(apologies to the late Afro-beat king, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti), I have chosen not to make the disappearance, appearance and disappearance of Mr Abdurasheed Maina, ex-boss of the Pension Reform Task Force, the subject of today’s column.
Instead, this column is dedicated to a legal colossus, a man of law for law, a voice for the voiceless, a human rights activist, fearless advocate and a cultural icon, Chief Mike Agbedo Abu Ozekhome, SAN, who goes by the onomatopoeic, poetic and alliterative jaw-breaking chieftaincy title of Akpakpavighivighi of Edo land.
At a time like this, I have decided not to write about the excruciating pain in the land; the hunger and anger. It is difficult to believe that those at the helm of affairs do not know that many Nigerians are truly going through a hell of a time. That suicide cases are on the rise. What is however needed by governments at the federal and state is the drive and know-how to turn things around for the better. Until things get better, it would be difficult to preach to Nigerians that efforts are being made to make life better for them. Results are certainly sweeter and better than efforts, no matter how laudable!
So, I have decided to leave all the wahala in our country today, to celebrate a unique Nigerian, a great Nigerian, from whatever parameter he is viewed; a man who exemplifies the Nigerian dream, rising from zero to hero; valley to the hills. Why Mike Ozekhome? There are good reasons to celebrate Ozekhome, who clocked 60 recently.
However, before then, a little thought on the Maina saga. Without mincing words, this is one serious blight on the anti-corruption credentials of the Buhari administration. It’s good that he has ordered his disengagement from service. But, that’s not enough. While the man should be immediately arrested and made to face the law like I earlier advocated when the issue first blew open, those found culpable in the drama of the absurd should face a similar fate as the man they made to ridicule his nation.
Of course, every literate Nigerian knows or should know about the Maina matter. He was asked to fish out the men who dipped their itchy fingers in the big pie of funds meant for the nation’s army of pensioners, which ran into billions of naira. Maina did initially, then something called greed happened to him, and he allegedly began to help himself to the booties, which he must have seen as his own manna from heaven. When the bubble burst, and the noose was beginning to tighten around his neck, he vanished into the thin air. Only to reappear like a spirit, about a couple of years later, stronger and more powerful; elevated and chucked into the ministry of interior as a director. The man on the wanted list of the anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, for wanton act of corruption and alleged looting of pensioners’ funds even added a tinge of sardonic humour to the farcical show, by printing posters seeking to become governor of his native Borno State in 2019!
How did he sneak into the country without being detected by security operatives who are expected to have the eyes of Eagles? Who cleared and promoted him? The truth blows in the wind, dear readers.
Now, to the subject of this piece. I have borrowed the title of this column on Ozekhome from a work on Archbishop Benson Idahosa, founding pastor of the Church of God Mission and late leader of the Pentecostal movement in Nigeria. The author, Ruthane Garlock, says Idahosa had fire in his bones; spiritual, prophetic and healing fire.
Ozekhome is no priest or prophet, but he is generally acknowledged as a man with fire in his bones. He has courage, raw courage. He is not afraid to take the less popular view or path. He stands by his convictions, even if he is standing alone. He is not afraid of being criticised, abused or persecuted. He just follows his heart with the ferocity of a bulldog.
In a country where people stand on the popular side or the take the convenient path, not this man. Deploying the instrumentality of the law, he stands for both the rich and the poor; the rich against the rich; the powerful against the powerful but never the poor against the poor! For him, the law must serve all, without prejudice to primordial interests or sentiments.
Of course, Ozekhome is no saint. He has often been criticised for offering his legal services to ‘corrupt politicians’ and ‘rich crooks’ in our country. How could he reconcile his professed human rights activism to his defence of those who, by their activities, impoverish the people and work against national interest?
Ozekhome’s standard retort is that, every man is entitled under the law to legal representation; and presumed innocent until proven guilty. Should a man not be entitled to a defence by mere fact of an allegation or accusation, he argues? I am sure he would agree that his argument is subject to further arguments and interrogations? But, typical Ozekhome he would not begrudge anyone his views or positions on an issue, even as he argues he is entitled to his convictions!
Ozekhome works hard and plays hard. I haven’t met a man who combines both with equal amount of dedication. I would stop here, so as not to let the proverbial cat out of the bag.
Born in a rustic community of Iviukwe, Etsako, Edo State, October 15, 1957, young Mike was not born with any spoon: golden, silver or wooden. But, through dint of hard work and tenacity, he became a lawyer, found his way to the famous Gani Fawehinmi chambers, and rose to the position of deputy head of chambers.
The inimitable Gani dubbed him ‘Ozeks Baba,’ as a result of his legal fecundity and dedication to his duties. It couldn’t have been otherwise. Gani was a master who drilled the staff under him almost ‘mercilessly,’ propelling them to be the best in their calling. He paid living wages, but not an extra for any form of luxury. Such Spartan discipline has produced many learned silks from his stable: Chief Oyetibo, Ayo Olanrewaju, Rotimi Jacobs, and the latest SAN from Gani’s ‘school of law’ Festus Keyamo. Of course, Ozekhome has continued to be one of the leading lights of that tendency.
When he was kidnapped sometime in 2013, I wrote a piece which I titled : Ozekhome and his kidnappers, pleading with his abductors to set him free. It remains for me, one of the fitting tributes to this man of law for law, my friend and brother as he marks his six decades on. This is wishing him more prosperity (because I know he is not a poor man) and more robust health in his service to humanity.