By DR. JOSEPH O. OKPAKU, Sr.
News of the sudden demise of a dear friend often makes one feel as if left stranded with an intimate conversation that would now never get to be had, a story long crafted waiting to be told at the earliest opportunity that might never be, a message that would never be conveyed, a deep emotion placed in layaway waiting for the right time to be shared but that could now only be expressed in silent soliloquy except perhaps some day in a memoir.
This sense of unfinished business, of a pending engagement that would now never take place, is precisely the feeling I had several weeks ago the morning I returned from Maputo, Mozambique to New York to read a cryptic email from my younger brother, Bayo, that my dear friend Stanley Macebuh had just died an hour or two earlier.
The news of Stanleyâ€™s sudden death was simply not something that I had anticipated or was prepared to accept. It could not be. Not Stanley, not yet, not now when we have a major job of nation-revitalisation and building to do. I experienced a pang of emotion that was such a blend of so many feelings that it seemed to encompass all and yet not definable by any. There was pain, but I really did not feel pain as I know it; there was anger, but it was not clear as anger at whom and for what; there was a tremendous sense of emptiness. It all felt like a gash in the fabric of my equanimity, a blank in the spectrum of my wholesomeness.
In the larger dimension, there was an infinite sense of a precipitous hemorrhaging of the master plan so to speak of personal and socio-political dreams that the boys shared, the sense of a key player in the team missing not just from practice, but now, it was beginning to dawn on me, from the game all togetherâ€¦and, it seemed, forever.
The man had no right to die
As I paced back and forth from my study through the dining room and past the hallway to the living room, as if searching for where Stanley might be playing an uncharacteristic hide-and-seek, I found myself equally uncharacteristically talking to myself. â€œThe Man cannot dieâ€, I began, and as if concerned that God might take my expression of anguish for a challenge to his superior and preemptive wisdom, I made a sharp turn, and addressing my friend Stanley himself, actually more the boys, I continued. â€œStanley had no right to die, at least not now.
Not at this time when we have so much work to do.â€ A bit exhausted from the traveling and perhaps rather weary from the emotional rollercoaster that had gripped me, and with my overcoat still on from the winter outside not having even as much as gone upstairs since I arrived home from the airport, I relented. â€œStanley did not have to die,â€ I sighed, more as a conclusion in resting my case than as acquiescence or resignation. I slumped into the nearest sofa, weak, empty and unconsolable.
The devastation of the sad news was such that I wished there was a telephone in Heaven. I needed to talk with Stanley. I needed to call him and try to persuade him to tarry a little bit longer. I needed perhaps to scold him for not having accepted my emphatic invitation in 2006 to come out to New Rochelle and take a respite from the political jungle warfare that was raging at the Presidency at that time and that was causing him so much palpable pain. â€œListen, My Friend,â€ I had told Stanley, using his favourite expression when he sought to persuade with a sense of urgency, â€œyou are simply not cut out for this game. You are a scholar, intellectual and media man, not a politician. It is time for a breather to rethink and reformulate.â€
A fine man
Stanley was a fine man, a first class intellectual, and a class act. Like the rest of â€œthe boysâ€ (which included some very smart and special girls), he could hold his own opposite any scholar or intellectual in the world, both in his field of specialization and in the open arena of public discourse, and over a wide range of subjects, from public affairs, politics and international relations to education, literature, strategic development and even (perhaps especially) affairs of the heart. Stanley was a tremendous asset to his family, friends and country, and quickly demonstrated this last bit when Dele Cole recruited him from New York to join him as the first Chairman of the Editorial Board at the Daily Times.
Dele worked so hard to get practically all his friends from around the world to become â€œadjunct membersâ€ of the presidency he served, pro bono if necessary, as was most often the case. And he succeeded quite a bit. We all contributed our ideas, knowledge and expertise, deployed our hard-earned access and prestige in aid of building Nigeria, and put our highest contacts on track for Nigeriaâ€™s good.
A simple man
Who was Stanley Macebuh? So many voices, each and all most eloquent, have risen in praise of unique mind, mournful over the tragedy of his death. They have spoken well and handsomely, and their testimony will stand our common friend in good stead for history and for posterity.
These testaments are the greatest gift the people can give to his surviving family and to those who never knew him. But in attempting with these few words to describe, not define Stanley, I merely seek to reflect on the person, times and circumstances that formed the context of his life and legacy. There are many Stanley Macebuhâ€™s in our society, many brilliant Nigerians who are gems to any nation, and who, by reason of the inadequacies of our socio-political system, have fallen and continue to fall between the cracks, unrecognized and unsung.
A fortnight ago, in a conversation with Alfreda Lewis, my secretary at the time, reminiscing about Stanley and the good old days at 444 Central Park West, she said that â€œthe beauty and joy of 444 was the simplicity of life as we all made it.â€ We were smart, perhaps to some extent rather arrogantly but delectably so, we were incredibly self-confident, unquestionably eloquent, each in his or her own way and style, quite accomplished, learned, charming and joyous. Above all, we were so confident in the security of our own wellbeing and future that we hardly ever focused on ourselves or our needs. Instead we concentrated exclusively on the wellbeing of others and of mankind and society at large.
In such a group, Stanley Macebuh was first and foremost, a simple man. He was a man so comfortable in who he was that he did not desire to be anything else. Having returned home at the time when people were beginning to amass wealth virtually from any position they held, Stanley had no interest in doing likewise. Stanley also had no interest in accruing power, not to wield it over others. Stanley, as he emphasized to his lovely Puerto Rican American wife Maggie shortly after she came to Nigeria to join him, had â€œno interest in being a big shotâ€. Stanley was simply happy being happy, making people happy, thinking aloud and writing about his thoughts, sharpening his mind, grooming other minds, and pursuing excellence for the public good and for the sake of excellence itself. That smart women often clung to his every word was a bonus.
Intellectuals as strategic national assets
But here was the catch: In those heady days of Nigeria when the gold rush was in full speed, there was no place for anyone who did not desire enormous wealth. No place for anyone, at least so it often seemed, who did not desire power and the ability to lord it over others. In other words, for a man like Stanley who desired neither, there was, sadly, no place in the status quo. And so, inevitably and irrevocably, Stanley Macebuh, as with others of like disposition, seemed destined to drop through the crack, because his ambitions were outside the purview of the prevailing game in town.
For all such people, people who are most valuable to society because their knowledge and intellect constitute precious strategic national assets, we must find a mechanism for recognising and appreciating them, and for providing the necessary safety net so that when they run afoul of the powerful, for whatever reason—strategic, tactical or by mere impulsiveness— they can be protected from being badly hurt or even destroyed.
If we come away from Stanleyâ€™s possibly needless death with anything, it must be the resolve to seek a comprehensive social security framework for all Nigerians. Specifically, for our scholars and intellectuals, we should seriously consider creating a think tank or series of think tanks to accommodate and host the precious intellectual assets and excellence of Nigerians like Stanley so that society at large, all of us, can protect them and promote their wellbeing in order for we ourselves to be the beneficiaries of their skills, knowledge and wisdom.
A life well lived: Reminisces on the lighter side
Stanleyâ€™s was hardly a somber, dull and unhappy life, our prevalent anguish notwithstanding. On the contrary, it was energetic and full of pleasure, sometimes unmitigated though always harmless, and quite fun-loving. His young wife, Pauline, in mourning her loss, has been quoted as having described him as being â€œsometimes mischievousâ€. Bullâ€™s eye, intellectually and otherwise. As time passes and we become more able to accept the inevitable, we will reflect on the bright nature of the experience of Stanley, which, in fact, better describes the man and his life, and the vastly mostly happy times we all shared.Â A few small vignettes from the happy days remain stuck in my mind.
The first was the day of Stanleyâ€™s wedding to Maggie. The boys were gathering together in Manhattan for the occasion, from New York and beyond. One of them, Ndoro Vera, a Zimbabwean political scientist, was driving in from Washington DC when he saw a stunning Black woman fly past him on US Highway 95, the North-South expressway from Florida to New England, in a Mercedes Benz sports car convertible. He pursued her and waved her off the highway. â€œYou are coming to Stanleyâ€™s wedding with me,â€ he told the perfect stranger. â€œWho is Stanley?â€ she asked. â€œStanley is my friend,â€ Ndoro answered. â€œAnd, by the way, who are you?â€ â€œI am Ndoro Vera.â€ We were quite an audacious bunch. Her ladyship arrived at the chapel at Columbia University that afternoon just in time for the ceremonies to begin.
But perhaps the most telling of Stanleyâ€™s simple lifestyle at that time in New York was when one afternoon I got a call from him. â€œListen, My Friend, I am in jail and youâ€™ve got to get me out of here.â€ Totally astounded, I burst into laughter, â€œWhat the he– are you doing in jail?â€ â€œThese people (he clearly could not quite use his preferred choice of words in the circumstances) are holding me for impersonation.â€ Who could Stanley possibly be impersonating? Stanley dressed quite casually in those days, and drove a slightly beat up American car. The cops had stopped him for an alledged minor traffic violation. They asked him where he was employed. When Stanley told them, the precinct captain laughed loud and shouted out to his partner, â€œCome and hear this guy. He says he is a Professor at Columbia University. Book him for impersonation!â€
The fact was that Stanley was indeed a Professor at Columbia University and a brilliant one at that! In their warped mind, a young man casually dressed as Stanley was and driving an old car could not possibly be a Professor, certainly not at the famous ivory tower Columbia University, especially when he was young, Black and an African to boot. Stanley and I spent that evening debating what a Columbia University Professor was supposed to look like! It was not really funny, but Stanleyâ€™s self-assurance made the episode not so much embarrassing as plain annoying.
A week ago last Saturday, Stanleyâ€™s family and friends finally laid him to rest. The elegance of the funeral, the welcoming graciousness of the family and the village who allowed us share their private last moments with him, the untold generosity and support of loyal friends and some officials, including a number of State Governors who contributed to the expense and the security of those in attendance all speak to the respect and appreciation that Stanley had earned in his memorable life.
There were two very special moments at the funeral. One was how immediately Stanley and Maggieâ€™s two children, Marissa (almost thirty) and Ikenna, 23, who had flown in from New York with their mother, took to their little sister, Paulineâ€™s and Stanleyâ€™s 10-year old daughter Kelechi who had flown in from Abuja late Friday evening after just picking up a trophy for her victory in a poetry contest. The other joy amidst the mourning was the sight of Pauline taking over responsibility for consoling Maggie at both the wake keeping and the funeral while she herself sought her own peace, and how Maggie for her part, embraced Pauline. Once again, Stanley had turned up on the lucky side of life. Those he was leaving behind were already working out their own peace and accommodation.
Bidding farewell to Stanley has been one of the most difficult challenges for all of us who shared the same dreams and lives with him. When we lose grand parents, we shed tears of deep sorrow and pain. We wonder how we can do without them. But we manage. When we lose parents, we weep in profound distress. We become aware that we have drawn closer to the frontline, and wonder who would now shield us from uncertain tomorrows.
*Dr. Joseph O. Okpaku, Sr. President and Publisher of the New York book publishing Company, The Third Press and President and Chief Executive of Telecom Africa International Corporation of New Rochelle, N.Y. , a renowned scholar, intellectual and corporate executive.