AT 82, legal luminary and elder statesman, Professor Ben Nwabueze (SAN) has left his footprints on the sands of time through active law teaching and practice and sociopolitical interventions in the polity.
However, the erudite constitutional lawyer, who helped a host of African countries to develop their judicial systems, says he is yet to finish his mission on earth. He is praying the God Almighty to preserve his life for five years or more, to enable him continue the fight towards transforming Nigeria into a better place for all.
Nwabueze prayed penultimate Thursday at the presentation of his two-volume autobiography titled: “Ben Nwabueze, His Life, Works, Times- An Autobiography,” in Lagos.
The chairman of The Patriots, who is partially incapacitated with age and ill-health said: “The fact that I’m incapacitated by illness, which makes me not strong to stand on my feet to address this gathering doesn’t mean that I’m ready to go. I hope to live up to 90 years.”
Explaining the importance of the event, the octogenarian said: “I’m not here mainly because of the presentation of my autobiography, but because of my joy to see and re-unite with those I have not seen for a very long time. If not for my children, this autobiography wouldn’t have been made possible.
My children kept on pressing on me to write about myself. It even came to a point that when they returned from London, they got me a big note and ball pen, saying ‘daddy, you can’t escape from writing about yourself.’ When the pressure heightened, I had to bow-in for their superior argument.”
Nigeria’s major problem
After 52 years of the country’s independence, Nwabueze attributed Nigeria’s stunted political and economic status to conflict of cultures. “What Nigeria is suffering today is what one can call conflict of cultures.
The colonial culture had over the years wanted to wipe-off our traditional culture, which it has described as unworthy. Our pre-occupation today is to see how we can solve this problem; how we can coalesce the 389 ethnic groups that we have in Nigeria.”
On 100 years of the amalgamation of northern and southern protectorates to form Nigeria, he picked holes in what he described as much noise being made by the Federal Government about the event.
Dismissing the ongoing celebration as insignificant, he said: “What is the significance of the amalgamation to us? As Nigerians, our sole duty and challenge is to chart ways on how to transform and save Nigeria. Nobody else from outside Nigeria can save it.”
Rain of tributes
Eminent persons at the event showered tributes on Nwabueze. Among the personalities were Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former secretary-general of the British Commonwealth; Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, national chairman of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and chairman of the occasion; Prof. Anya O. Anya, President of Ndigbo in Lagos; HRM Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, the Obi of Onitsha; Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu (rtd), former military governor of Lagos State; Mr. Ade Ipaye, Lagos Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, who represented Governor Babatunde Fashola; Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN) and Eze Ndi Igbo of Lagos, Eze Hyacinth Ohazulike.
There were also Brigadier General Godwin Alabi-Isama (rtd.); Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), former President of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA); and Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, who reviewed the book.
In his remarks, Onu described Nwabueze as “an erudite scholar, outstanding lawyer, prolific author, a fine administrator, a tireless philanthropist, and above all, a man of peace who fought for the unity and integration of his people.”
Lauding Nwabueze’s achievement, while serving as Federal Secretary of Education, Onu, the first civilian governor of old Abia State said Nwabueze “was the best minister of education our country has produced. If he had spent more time in that office, our educational system would have been far different from what it’s now.”
The ANPP leader, who decried the dwindling standards of the nation’s education system said the system was no longer what it used to be in the 70’s.
“It’s sad that we have not as a nation effectively used education in the very important task of nation-building. In the 70’s, our universities ranked among the best in the Commonwealth (but) this is no longer so. As a result, many of our sons and daughters now go to schools, even in our neighbouring African countries,” he said and advised the Federal Government to invest more in education.
Nwabueze single-handedly drafted Kenya constitution —Anyaoku On his part, Chief Emeka Anyaoku described Nwabueze as a great Nigerian, who had all his life fought for the emancipation of Nigeria and some African countries from corruption and poor governance.
Recalling with nostalgia, his long-standing friendship with the author, Anyaoku said that Prof. Nwabueze’s dint of hard work, commitment and professionalism got him the task of drafting a constitution for Kenya in 1992, which eventually led to Kenya’s adoption of a multiparty political system as opposed to a one-party system.
He said: “In 1992, when I was still the Commonwealth secretary-general, I advised the then Kenya president that his country should move from a one-party system to a multiparty democracy. He asked who will do the tedious job, and I suggested Prof. Ben Nwabueze to him, because I knew he possessed what it took to achieve that feat. It’s on record that Prof. Nwabueze single-handedly drafted the Kenyan constitution, which saw the country move from a one-party system to a multiparty democracy. With this book, I believe it’s Prof. Nwabueze’s continuous love and commitment to make the country a better place for all.”
Nwabueze, a mentor —Achebe
For HRM Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, he saw in Prof. Nwabueze “a mentor and a charismatic leader who showed exceptional leadership qualities, while he was the secretary-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo
We ‘re proud of Nwabueze — Fashola
On his part, Governor Fashola, who was represented by Mr. Ade Ipaye, said the state was proud and privileged to have Prof. Nwabueze as a resident. “In our constant quest for true federalism in Lagos State, we have always consulted Prof. Nwabueze’s works for citation. Because of his quest for a greater Nigeria and his consistent advocacy for a better Nigeria, we are proud to be here today to felicitate and honour him.”
“I must confess that we are privileged and proud that Prof. Nwabueze is a resident in Lagos. We pray God Almighty to continue to preserve his life for us, so that we will continue to tap from his wealth of wisdom and experience.”
Meanwhile, in his review, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu said Nwabueze’s major objective was to make his readers learn from his life, works and times. “He achieved this through the use of simple narratives,” he said.