OKOYE Mokwugo

The Man and His Ideas by(Chris Uroh). The entries on Okoye in the Africa Who's Who easily betray the frustration that awaits anyone trying to navigate the rather crowded waters of his accomplishments in a single voyage. He was a politician; soldier, scholar, activist, businessman, administrator, author and the list continues. Here lies my predicament. Born on 2 March 1926, at Umunachi in Idemili Local Government Area of the present Anambra State, Okoye's life was never devoid of activities. He was an instructor at the Army School of Education inGhanaintheearly40s, a lecturer in the Institute of Social and Political Studies,a member of the Board of Governors of the then Nigerian Broad casting Corporation (NBC); and later the chairman. East Central State Broadcasting Service. Okoye was also a member of the steering committee of the All African Youth Conference, as well as secretary general of the Zikist Movement(then the Youth Wing of the National Council for Nigerian Citizens,NCNC); and founding executive member of the United Peoples Grand Alliance, UPGA. He was one man whose footprints can be found everywhere in the sands of Nigerian history. Yet, it was not a case of Jack-of-all trades... for in his own case, he was the master of all the vocations, where he made his presence felt. In the light of the foregoing, commenting on the life of Mokwugo Okoye is like watching the proverbial masquerade: to have a proper view,one needs vantage points. Okoye was different from most public commentators of his time. He acknowledged this when he wrote: "Stricken as I am with the palsy of can dourV'l have never even as a political activist,moved with the herd and so have never been in the danger of being trampled under by its frenzied feet, and it is no accident that I have spoken so frankly on the subject that I have cared for or been required to dilate upon, rather than in parables which could have disguised my moral indignation over the economic banditry, in intellectualism honesty and philistinism that I see around me . Okoye had close to forty books and several newspaper and magazine articles to his credit. The subjects covered in these write-ups are as varied as the issues that caught his attention at any particular point in time, and many did. It would, therefore, amount to trying the impossible for me to attempt to squeeze Okoye's crowded life into one single article of this nature. What I have found more convenient and therefore decided to dc here, is to watch this masquerade from just one vantage point, but the one which is likely to provide the best view of the performance. I shall, therefore, use this piece as an excursion, albeit a short one, into the innermost recesses of our man of history, - his' mind', his ideas, or better, his philosophy. I therefore invite the reader into the world of one of Africa's unsung thinkers of the last century as we explore together therichness of his mind, navigating this ocean of ideas on politics, marriage, colonization and neo-colonialization. The man and his ideas To start with, Okoye was a humanist. His humanist scholarship was summed up in the preface to his book Embattled Men: Profiles in social adjustment. Okoye believed in the establishment of the truth irrespective of the consequences. At the same time the object of his political activism was the enthronement of' social justice and moral rectitude 'in Nigeria in particular and the world in general. Let me start with Okoye's perception of Nigeria in 1974, as revealed in his lecture at the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile-Ife. According to him: "There has been too much pragmatism, too much weighing of consequences, in many quarters and far too much dissembling and opportunism in exposing mediocrity and corruption, that it is no surprise that, in the words of the old saying,Nigeria remains a place where the best is impossible though the worst never happens". Quoting from Nehru in his address:'It is more difficult', Jawaharlal Nehru observed, 'to fight one's weaknesses,than the power of an adversary. We have social evils with the authority of long tradition and habitation. We have with us elements that have gone to build fascism in other countries. We have inertia and a tame submission to fate and its decrees' Okoye like Nehru often spoke of Nigerians habitual submission to bad governance. "For long, we have trusted to laissez faire, street-beggar economics to carry us along the path of progress, and the succubus of feudalism still holds us in its thrall. But 'muddling through' in a system of atavistic hierarchies and self-regarding 'free enterprise' hardly seems to have produced the results we desire". Reading the above, one would think that it was recently authored. What with the way loot recovery has been almost substituted, for governance. Yet,that was not the first time Okoye would read the political barometer of the Nigerian nation correctly. In January 1965, shortly after the electoral charade of the preceding year, and the last minute agreement between President Nnamdi Azikiwe and the Prime Minister,Tafawa Balewa,to save the situation by forming a broad-based national coalition (Ahmadu Bello dismissed the Azikiwe-Balewa Accord as a mere gentle man's agreement that was not binding on anyone), Okoye declared in a public statement, warning of the inherent danger in resorting to ad hoc-ism as a way of resolving serious national problems. He wrote: "After all the heat we have generated over the past few months. It is a tragedy that our struggle should now end with a whimper. After deploring the betrayal of the progressives in the name of national unity,and caricaturing' the heralds of a government without any respect for basic human rights, and cannot by its very nature break the shackles of feudalism and gradualism. We have tried in this country to stave off a revolution by civil compromise,but every such compromise has only given a new lease of life to the reactionaries and postponed the evil day. I am quite sure that someday the masses will take their destinies into their own hands and try to make history,as has happened in other times and other places". This prediction came,to pass. The evil day that Nigerian leaders were trying to avoid arrived on 15January 1966. What started as a military coup was to snowball into a 30-month fratricidal civil war that cost the nation dearly inhuman and material resources. Even today, with the rising primordial consciousness, it would be hasty to assert that the nation is out of the woods. Okoye's concern, as l said earlier, transcended Nigeria. In fact, for him, as a nation, Nigeria is only "part of the main currents of history", justan element in historical dialectics. Therefore, whatever "peace or development we attain can only be a series of reconciled conflicts". It is instructive that his analysis of the African situation is as penetrating as that of the Nigerian state: "For us in Africa and much of the Third World today, gloom has succeeded the post-independence euphoria as chaos breaks over our heads every where. Today we find ourselves like men moving be tween two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born, and before our long-expected dawn breaks out fully into daylight we have been engulfed in a new darkness that may give birth to anything. For some time now, it has not been clear where we as a people are going, or whether we would ever get there; the only thing clear is that we cannot ever go back to the past, to the 'blissful ignorance' of pre-colonial times or the exploitative paternalism of the colonial period". American bureaucrat, Francis Fukuyama (among others), has noted that history, with the col lapse of the former Soviet Union, had ended, and therefore, liberal democracy, with all its tendencies to individuate the society and pluralize identities, is the government of all people and all times. Where does Africa stand today in the matrix of free market economies and the collapse of communism? Okoye could not have read the African future better than he did. Two factors, he maintained are responsible for the African crisis. These are the unfavorable international political economic climate which literally strips Africa bare' while pushing her into the cold, as well as African leaders who continue to privatize the political space for their own personal end: "There is of course, the inherent weakness of our semi-colonial economy and the sinister interference in our affairs by neo-colonialist interests which tend to prolong or exacerbate our growing pains. On the surface no immediate salvation is insight for our benighted continent weighed down by the yoke of international political-economic sabotage and inept and corrupt native bureaucracy". Yet, politics was not the only turf Okoye tread.His concern about social harmony, for instance, also made him a theorist of stable matrimony and gender equality.Okoye, in an article aptly titled 'Beyond Feminism' started by putting forward a cluster of questions,which he went ahead to answer: "What is it that the modern woman wants? Why is it that she has suddenly discovered that her male partner is in incorrigible,to put it in another way, why is man's or woman's interest in sex tainted with libido and sadness when, ideally, it should yield a harvest of joy and ecstasy in mutual sharing? Okoye mused that 'marriage' has remained more or less like a 'beleaguered city': "those inside want to get out and those outside want to get in, and that is the irony of it; that it is the nature of man to hanker after women even when he knows that she is a compound of trouble and fulfillment. From giving us life and making it worth living, we are greatly indebted to woman for many things good and beautiful, even when, perhaps half of our woes stem from them". Sounding like the antecedents to Chinweizu's 'Anatomy of Female Power', Okoye explains that what this means in essence is that there is: "therefore this consolation for the frustrated feminist, that men hold the shadow of power while the women hold its substance. It is a division of labour and honours which has its compensations for either party and one which any sensible man or woman might accept in order to minimize the impact of the mainly fictitious battle of the sexes that, proverbially, ends in the bridal bed. In addition to the desire to clip the wings of their over- romantic males, the sophisticated women of today want to control the family's pay-packet family morality (including the time a man may spend with his friends at the club), and dress habits. Already, women are taking their positions be side the men in the offices and factories, shops, cabinet and parliament of many lands, they have forced even conservative males to accept the mini-skirt-or whatever crazy fashion that comes into their heads - as regular customs "Even in the little things, the women's advantages are predominant. A woman has the right to vote, but she is not obliged to go to war: she can sue her ex-fiance for a breach of promise, but he cannot sue heron the same grounds, and she can demand alimony but the husband cannot demand it of her . . . even if she works. Automatic cookers, washing-ma chines and vacuum-cleaners have been invented to help women but no machines have yet been invented to help the men who produce these labour-saving devices. "What's more, even though statistics show that more male children are born than female, more women survive to old age. probably because their glandular system is stronger, their blood pressure lower, and they have greater resistance to infection. These natural endowments are helped by the new domestic gadgets toenable women to preserve their energies and thus prolong their lives. So many countries today are full of widows. Some of whom are rich, having inherited their dead husband's savings, and they know how to enjoy life" He concluded by saying that it would be wrong to continue to address the woman as the "weaker sex", arguing that even "male chauvinists now concede that woman is the most powerful force in the world - far more so than money- who will often make a man do what he would never think of doing, but for her. In this tension-ridden, accident-prone age. the female of the species still lives longer than the male". Whatever the case, however. Okoye was of the opinion that "In the interest of social harmony, there is need for man to outgrow his male chauvinism which today is irksome to the modern woman. He may even need to moderate his tendency to idealize women, which for him, has often ended in disappointment and desperation as the reality not infrequently falls short of the ideal. As for the woman, there is the need for her to rise beyond mere feminism in her quest for self-fulfillment and equal civic rights. An all-out male-female war is, by the nature of things, doomed from the start as there are likely to be more 'traitors' than 'patriots' on either side". As I said at the beginning one can only say very little about Okoye in an essay like this. It suf fices toconclude however thatheremains oneofthe greatest thinkers of the last millennium, who has not, curiously enough, been given his rightful place. Inter estingly, this fact was not lost on Okoye. He once lamented: "Not unnatural, I have received little thanks for playing the role of gadfly to my society, but I know that the rejected political discussion of today usually becomes tomorrow's public dialogue and the day's policy; for it is not our reason but our self interests which today inhibits our imagination. As a political theorist - and sometimes as activist as well - I have tried to help my countrymen understand the meaning of public issues within the perspective of all time and all existence rather than from the viewpoint of adhoc solutions and quick slogan definitions". One only hopes that one day, and in the not too distant future, humanity as a whole and Nigerians in particular would accord his ideas the recognition they deserve, for the sake of the collective emancipation of our children and our children's children. References: Okoye, M. 1973. Points of Discord (London: Frederick Muller). Okoyo, M. 1978. The Growth of Nations (Enugu: Fourth Dimension Publishers). Okoye, M. 1980. Embattled Men: Profiles in Social Adjustment (Enugu: Fourth Dimension Publishers).
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