Okey Ikechukwu: A Fool at Forty? By Valentine Obienyem

I was discussing with a senior colleague of mine this afternoon  somewhere in Lagos. Barr. Okpoko, unarguably in love with the legal profession which he willingly discusses with one at any meeting. Okpoko was reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of prominent legal practitioners in Nigeria. Practitioners like Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu, Chief Olanipekun, among others were reviewed . He told me that beyond the knowledge of law, that lawyers should strive for good delivery.  

He also emphasized the need for lawyers to dress well, submitting that the majesty of the profession is half sartorial.  At this point I referred  him to my Mentor and Boss, Dr. Okey Ikechukwu. I told him how that man would have shook the court rooms by his articulation and delivery if he belonged to our tribe.  Surprisingly, Okpoko does not know him. How do I introduce him? I went into my archives and forwarded the article I wrote during his 40th birthday in 2002. Kindly share with us.

Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the late maestro of Afro juju  music found the saying that “a fool at forty
is a fool forever” not to his taste.  Fela’s philosophy says that you ought not stand by and allow the foolishness of your brother to linger on until he is forty.  Foolishness, according to Fela, should be cured as soon as it manifests.
Fela’s philosophy, felaism, is good where it belongs: the Africa cherished value of being our brothers’  keepers.  But the saying that “  a fool at Forty is a fool forever” does not, in any way, encourage us to stand by and laugh with glee at our brother’s lingering foolishness.  The spirit behind that is the fact that we are expected to develop with the times.  A latin maxin captures it differently, Agi quod Agis, doing the right thing and at the right time.  The fellow who goes to school when his mates are going develops with the times.  

The fellow who experiences the fantasies of adolescence, but refuses to remain becalmed in that transition, develops with the times.  A construction firm that waits for the appropriate season of the year suitable to some types of work is abreast with the times.  When  the Germans talk about the Zeitgeist, they mean the spirit of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas, beliefs, thinking, etc of the time.

But we have some individuals who are behind time in their thoughts and actions.  As a child, you could take your bathe in the open without qualms.  If we encounter an adult of about twenty-one doing the same, we can as well call him a fool at forty.  That otherwise innocent act now becomes despicable.  Likewise, when a person of any age, all things being equal,  behaves in a way not expected of  him, he is, in a manner of speaking, a fool at forty.
If we may surmise, the age of forty was chosen for that maxim to convey the fact that at forty, a normal man is expected to have become a man in name and fact. 

 Today, Dr. Okey Ikechukwu, the Special Assistant to the Minister of Transport, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, is forty.  A retrospect into his life will show us whether he was, and remains a fool, at forty.
Okey, a native of Nimo,in Njikoka Local Government Area of Anambra State was born in September 30, 1962 at Umuahia, in Abia State.  Born to a printer, he had reasons to visit his father’s workshop now and then, and was pleased with the mechanisms through which books are printed.  Consequently, he fell in love with books and silently vowed to do his best in devouring them.

Okey had a normal formal education.  A precocious child, he got first positions in his classes without much efforts.  This expectedly endeared him to his teachers, who kept visiting his dad for him to take a special interest in the training of the boy.  His extant primary school pictures show him as massive headed, broad shouldered, with a well developed chest, all suggesting a strong constitution.

In Secondary School, Okey’s brilliance did not wane.  He was certainly among the best.  His outstanding intelligence was still intact.  Fascinating in argument and matchless in articulation, Okey was the school’s chief speaker whenever his school faced other schools in debating competition.  He always won his school essay competitions.  His classmates liked him because he was sociable, cheerful, kind, and usually serene.

Because of Okey’s brilliance, everybody expected him to read law or nothing.  Like most fond patents, his mother wanted law  for his child.  To her, law seemed the outstanding intellectual achievement of mankind, the moulding of man’s anarchic impulses to order and peace.  To his father, only law was congenial to Okey’s discursive and logical mind.  But Okey preferred philosophy instead.  Meanwhile the father thought of philosophy as an intellectual labyrinth leading either to religious doubt or to metaphysical nonsense.    

When Okey insisted it was philosophy or nothing, he was left alone.  After a successful JAMB, he  was admitted to  the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
Nsukka pleased him.  It is a university town, full of  floric of students, the odour of learning, the excitement of independent thoughts.  At the University of Nigeria, he absorbed learning with every breath.  He marched triumphantly through all the classical philosophers that have bits of insight in their works.  

Up till now, Okey has no single philosopher that could be said to be his idol.  He believes that the great philosophers had their own individual insights.
Nsukka was like a finishing school to the young Okey.  It sharpened his intellect to an unbelievably keen edge, as sharp as the assassain’s razor.  Because of his zest of challenging ideas, his  intimate friends called him “a scholastic lion.”  In rhetoric he simply was splitting hairs.  

Opposed to some aspects of Marxism, he always engaged them in oratorical war, but not letting diversity of ideas abate the cordiality of friendship.  He had, over his opponents (the Marxists), the advantage of his clear mind that saw the point of any matter at once.  His arguments  always a classic of compulsion and a model of order.
While happily reading philosophy, his people kept luring him into law. His in-law, late Chief Ben Nwazojie, the then Federal State Director of Public Prosecution, tried all he could.  He failed because of Okey’s refusal.  Further efforts failed, because philosophy had already claimed him as his own.

Okey’s lecturers regarded him as stubborn, not in terms of behaviour, but in terms of trying, in the course of his studies, to do what other men either had not tried or tried in vain to do.  Thus, when it was time to write his project, he chose a very dried topic which he entitled The Individual Person in Heidegger’s Philosophy of Existence.  His supervisor threatened to stop him on the account that no lecturer in the Faculty knew Heidegger  indepth, until Rev. Fr. Oyenwenyi  intervained.  “Well,” the supervisor       said,“ he  has to teach me about Heidegger.”  Given to challenges, Okey started by reading all the works of Heidegger.  Added to this, he, with the special permission of his Head of Department, did courses in German to be able to understand somes  key German words as used by Heidegger.  

He performed exceptionally and was held up as an example of what research entailed. Besides getting the full mark, he was  the best graduating student.
It was relatively easy for him to secure teaching appointment at the University of Lagos.  He impressed the panel that conducted the interview so well by his intelligence that one of the panel members, Late Professor Adigun  of the Faculty of Law exclaimed: “What a material for the legal profession.”  After the interview, the Prof, through Okey’s Head of Department, Professor Omorege asked okey to come and see him.  Having intimated okey why he was called, Okey refused to go until Professor Omorege urged him on. 

Adigun asked him to enroll for evening law programme, Okey still refused.  He has always believed that he needed no professional course in other to earn a living.  Thinking it was because of the cost, Adigun took him as his own and was ready to pay the fees.  Okey thanked him for his interest and explained, as he has always done, that he needed no professional course to earn a living or contribute to the advancement of civilization.
Unknowingly, Okey was following the part that most famous philosophers and men of independent will followed.  

Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu was sent by his father to England to read Law, he chose history.  Adolphus Hitler (was he not great?) rejected law that his father wanted and studied painting.  David Hume’s parents persuaded him to abandon Philosophy for law on the reason that he would starve.  He tried law for three painful years (1726-1729) and lost interest in it.  “The law appeared nauseous to me” he abandoned it, and returned to Philosophy.  Martin Luther’s father wanted him to read law.  He even bought him an expensive edition of the Corpus Iuris, and rejoiced when his son entered upon the study of law.  Suddenly after two months of such study, and to his father’s dismay, the youth of twenty –two decided to become a monk.  

Diderot regretted ever reading law saying: “ I went against my bent painfully to acquire an art that I could not practice dishonestly, and could hardly hope to practice otherwise.” 
Okey’s annual salary as a lecturer was not even enough to pay for his house rent.  On this he could starve, but he could show his mettle.
He was mettlesome enough, for he began at once, from his post, to declare war against most of philosophical thoughts that many considered as settled.  Recognizing and trusting in his ability, his Head of Department found him handy to teach any course at any time.  

Thus after his five years stint as lecturer with UNILAG, he had taught Jurisprudence, Ancient Chinese Philosophy, Classical German Idealism, Metaphysics, Philosophical Anthropology, Philosophy of Religion, Philosophical Psychology, Introduction to Philosophy and logic.
His students still remember him as that youthful lecturer who lectured without lecture notes and still outclassed his colleagues. Mr. Usoro Usoro, one of the editors of the The Post Express, who was Okey’s student said: “Okey is a polymath, fascinating as a lecturer and matchless in intelligence”.  Another of his student, Mr Patrick Okoye,  I “admires Doctor’s poise and dignity of bearing.” Okey speaks with intelligence, urbanity, courtesy, clarity and wit.

As a lecturer, he was maintaining weekly column in the Guardian Newspapers (Saturday).  Impressed by the quality of his articles, which a member of the Guardiangroup then referred to as “treasure of the mind that reveal to the reader new beauties at every fresh perusal”, he became a visiting member of the Paper’s Editorial Board.
In 1993 Okey left UNILAG for The Guardian as a full Editorial Board member in spite of enticing offer from a bank.  He left the academia because he felt it offered him little room for development.  He  rejected the bank offer because it would develop the pocket but not the man.  

He embraced the media because he felt it presented him a wider audience, to teach, discuss and exchange ideas with people.  The Guardian especially attracted him because, according to him, “The members of The Guardian Editorial Board at that time had impressive academic, professional and experiential pedigree.”   While in The Guardian, he was still lecturing at UNILAG on part time basis, without pay though. This is part of his love for, and desire to impact, knowledge.

Dr Reuben Abati, his colleague on the Editorial Board at that time, who now heads the Board speaks eloquently about Okey: “The central thing about Okey is his loyalty to friends.  I know a lot of people he has helped.  Even as the Special Assistant to the Minister, he does not allow his position to prevent him from remembering his friends.  To Okey, friendship is a serious business and to maintain it a sacred duty.  He relates with you at a very high level and does not expect you to behave like an animal.”  On his impression about Okey as a member of the Editorial Board, Reuben said: “The members of the Editorial Board found him very articulate and  remarkable in terms of his uncommon grasp of issues bordering on Science, nature, religion, and the metaphysical.  

Whenever Editorials bordering on these were to be written, Okey was the natural choice to give it the imprint of his incontrovertible logic.” Reuben wishes Okey more prosperous years and with the advice not to forget Scholarship and Journalism which, like most of his colleagues, are his first love
From The Guardian , Okey moved on to The Comet.  In The Comet, he hoped to build a very strong Editorial Board which will perform its function as the engine room of the place.  A member of The Comet Editorial Board, Mr. Sola Fasure, remembers Okey’s days on the Board:  “He is infinitely intelligent, his contributions to the Board were marked by the exhilarating nature, and the force of his, logic.  “On a personal note,” Sola continued, “Okey is a nice person, kind and considerate.  

When I joined the Editorial Board, other members of the Board protested on account of my age and inexperience then.  It was Dr. who  argued that I should be judge based on my contributions to the Board and not on account of my age.  When I was tested, his logic carried the day.”  Like Sola, Okey’s Secretary now, Miss Nkeiruka Anosike  said of him “My boss has that living force of soul which spurs and excites young people to please, to shine, to excel.”

Barely a year in The Comet, Okey went to The Examiner Newspaper as the General Manager.  The understanding was that he was going there for a salvage mission.  When the directors of the company, contrary to agreement, could not re-capitalize, Okey left.
He is now the Special Assistant to the Minister of Transport, Chief Ojo Maduekwe.  He is, perhaps, the most visible Special Assistant because he serves a ‘controversial’ Minister.  But to Okey, “Ojo is not controversial, people take him as controversial and seek for controversies in whatever he says.”  Does he feel unusual working with him?  He says: “Nothing unusual.  

His only ‘problem’ is that he does not know how to couch untruths in elegant language.  He has the courage of his conviction.  I do not always defend him as he is capable of defending himself.  Whenever the Minister goes to Aba and people say he is in Zaria, what I do is to say no!  The Minister is in Aba.”
We know, however, judging from Okey’s performance so far, that he is a shrewd diplomat, who could rephrase in courteous elegance the bluntness of any saying:  He is astonishingly impressive in reading situations and analyzing events.

While Okey taught and worked in the Media, he was maintaining a weekly column that went beyond politics and the frivolous to existential issues. As the Special Assistant, he still writes. Those in love with his write-ups praise the soundness of his logic and the range of his views.  Okey is never satisfied with mere expressions, he longs to give them form and beauty, even when he is sentimental in feeling, he struggles to be objective in thought.  Reading him, you will likely mistake  him for an octogenerian writing in the “mellow metaphysics” of his old age.  The same beauty and serious logic characterize his two books:  The Voice of the Oracle  and The Philosophy of Philosophy.  They remain the “treasures of the heart.”  In them, he continuously compels the reader to ponder the infinite capacity of man to be in control of words.

Like every human being, Okey has his likes and dislikes.  Cheerful things: the sight of people who behave becomingly, people who are easily amenable to discipline, proper grooming; facing challenges, wrestling with ideas.

Appealing things: things that are beautiful.  This includes beauty in character and  appreciation of nature.

  Detestable things: nagging people, inauthentic living and unserious minds.

  In his leisure time, Okey likes watching children’s catoons, reading comics and philosophy,  taking his wife and children to exotic and interesting places and karate.  His one “failing” is his “unreasonable” generosity.  Okey can gladly wear out his whole being from head to heel for the sake of his friends.
At forty, we can say of Okey that he is not a fool.  His life thus far renews our faith in the Shakespearean notion of man as the “paragon of all animals.”  The future, no doubt, has a lot in store for him.

Barr. Valentine Obienyem is the media aide to the former Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Gregory Obi