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For Dr. Stanley Macebuh: A tribute

By Paul Odili

THE  first thing that strikes you about Dr Stanley Macebuh was his affectations. His urbanity and sophistication could not be missed, and it came out of him effortlessly. I am not sure whether he cultivated it or it has always been part of his make-up. Whatever it was, the impression that he was a knowledgeable, a well-travelled and exposed man, self-assured would impress you the more when you engage him in conversation.

Even with these qualities and that unmistakable American twang when he speaks, Dr. Macebuh was not in your face person. Smooth but self-effacing, this great man could be missed in a crowd if you did not know him or look out for him.

He had a lot to be proud of, but I think being a newspaper man was perhaps his first love.

I had always admired him and working directly with him was a privilege and I was star-struck. You do not talk about journalism and those who defined it in the ’80s without talking about this remarkable man.

His elevated and penetrating style of writing had thrilled me as a university student and my admiration for him was unceasing. He was a man of style without being superficial.

So when Dr. Eddie Iroh took me to work for him when he was setting up Post Express, Dr. Macebuh, without knowing who I was took me under his wings. My first meeting with him at his then Awolowo Road office, Ikoyi, was dramatic.

Looking at me directly with a smile from behind his desk on a swivel chair: “You’re Paul?” he asked with that American twang, a strong cultivated voice, his cigarette attached to the holder. “If Eddie says you are good, then you must be good. He is a tough guy,” using a popular expletive, “to work with. If you can survive him then you can survive me”.

In that first intimate encounter, I saw a man of the world, the boss, who made no effort to be bossy, but whom you knew was the boss. Dr. Macebuh’s gift as an academic and intellectual was undeniable. If you describe an intellectual as a man of ideas, then you would certainly be talking about this man.

His conceptual ability is perhaps second to none. Restless about new ideas and always churning them out, Dr. Macebuh lived by being known as an ideas man. He took pride in being seen as a public intellectual. A man who framed issues, who understood them, interrogated them and who shared them.

He was also a man with depth who understands complex issues and can define them in terms that are accessible as well with an uncanny ability to expose cant, contradictions and sophism. In debate you just cannot fool him, but he can fool you if he chooses. Why? Because he studied Socratic logic. Because he applied rigour in his reasoning.

Beyond that, Dr. Macebuh was driven by grand vision. He wanted The Guardian to be the best newspaper in Africa, the paper you looked for or referred to if you were in Africa. He wanted The Post Express to be a single edition newspaper that circulated across Nigeria. He had contempt for the old style two edition publications. He did not think that some people in Nigeria should read stale news and others fresh, hot off the press news. He was fascinated by the International Herald Tribune which printed across continents the same edition on a single day.

This latter undertaking was challenging, frustrating and difficult because the infrastructure was simply not there. Nitel, our infernal enemy, made sure it never succeeded.   Post Express was built on simultaneous printing. In that sense, he was a pioneer of an idea in 1996 that is today common place.

He was a known liberal, but I really wanted to understand his ideological bent, so I asked him his ideological posture.  He said he was a left of centre, because he believed left of centre enables you to look out for the ordinary people, the poor and the weak.

The best part of Dr. Macebuh was his humanity. Generous and kind to a fault, he gave of himself, his resources and his time. He was a big man who overlooked slights and was quick to forgive and overlook human frailties. His ability to endure betrayals and humiliations without flinching was such that you just sometimes could not understand. I did not, but I guess that was what made him who he was.  He epitomised the English quality of grace under pressure.

His death is a terrible blow and he will be greatly missed.


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