His laurels were astounding, almost superhuman: Nigeria’s first academic Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), honoured alongside such titans as Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief Remi Fani-Kayode and Mr Kehinde Sofola; constitutional authority frequently cited around the world and in Nigeria’s courts, including the apex court; author of over 30 seminal books, each running into hundreds of pages; co-founder of the apex Igbo sociocultural group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo; member of the Senate of several universities around Africa; a global scholar of the best tradition and fame aptly named Professor of Professors by his admirers; a teacher of teachers, consummate administrator and moulder and mentor of generations of Law students; former Minister of Education and Youth Development and elder statesman. Ben Nwabueze (SAN, NNOM, CON), pioneer Secretary-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the Oduah Afo-na-isagba of Atani, Anambra State, joined his ancestors on Sunday, October 29, 2023, marking a watershed in Nigeria’s history. Alas, a lion is now history.
The tributes have not ceased: as noted by Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the organisation he served with such elan, “Throughout his invaluable services, he displayed an amazing intellect, courage, ingenuity, tenacity, hard work and patriotism; a man who spoke truth to power with lucid erudition and inspiring conviction. His roles in Ohanaeze depict him as an exemplary scholar who had not allowed his exploits in academia to alienate him from his cultural roots.” Describing his transition as a profound loss, President Bola Tinubu said his knowledge of the law was outstanding. His words: “Prof. B.O. Nwabueze’s contribution to the precedents and principles of the nation’s constitution is notable. His involvement in the drafting of the 1979 constitution is a legacy that stands him out as well as his outstanding contributions to the legal profession at large.” Anambra State governor, Professor Charles Soludo, spoke of his “phenomenal contributions” to the state and beyond, saying “he lived all his life inspiring generations of legal minds and citizens alike to strive for a more just and equitable society.”
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar aptly described him as “a fine scholar who carried himself with excellence and had an avuncular mien” and “served as the Chairman of the Igbo Leaders of Thought, a role that further underscored his dedication and commitment to his people and the nation at large,” while ex-Senate President Bukola Saraki, in another moving tribute, celebrated him as a lifelong champion of justice and democracy, a fearless advocate for the rule of law and a staunch critic of corruption whose writings had a profound impact on the development of the Nigerian constitutional law. Not left out, Aka Ikenga, the Igbo think tank, is “pained at the denial of this pearl of knowledge to Nigeria, and indeed Africa at this point of our current history,when his light of legal prowess remains inestimable asset for guidance and recovery, but is nevertheless “consoled that Prof Nwabueze, an accomplished nonengarian, died rich in values as Nigeria’s most celebrated templar of law, as precept and basic norm,” and saying that “his indelible signatures in all spheres of his human engagements as a lawyer, teacher and Minister, remarked him as a rare mentor and path breaker extraordinaire.” And the erudite lawyer, Professor Mike Ozekhome, SAN, wrote: “As professor, his first love was the classroom and he bestrode it like the colossus he was. He was thus justifiably called the Professor of Professors. He remained a teacher and mentor of many generations of legal academics both in Nigeria and beyond till his last breath.”
The tributes aren’t just words: they are an accurate portrait of a patriot of unblemished repute. Truth be told, Nwabueze’s imprints, spread across a broad spectrum of the Nigerian landscape, are impossible to erase; his legacies too large to forget or fade; his integrity, a lesson for future generations. Even in his old age, Nwabueze never shirked the core responsibility of steering Nigeria towards the path of profitability through a fundamental restructuring of its affairs and its workings, and his warm, passionate embrace of presidential candidates canvassing the restructuring ethos will be remembered for a long time to come. At great personal cost, Nwabueze laboured hard for a better Nigeria, even if on account of “the cottonhead of age” he would be long gone when the lofty goals he canvassed would materialise. Frequently and cheerfully, he joined compatriots around the country to address the Nigerian dilemma and show what solutions are feasible, and what paths are profitable. When death came, there was nothing he could have wished for that he had not achieved; except, sadly, a restructured, radically more fit-for-purpose Nigeria.
As a scholar, writer and administrator, Nwabueze tasked his faculties to no end, and the repertoire of recognitions across the seas pay more than eloquent tribute to his genius. He worked extremely hard at proffering solutions to Nigeria and indeed Africa’s existential challenges, and rallied governments towards the duty of care for the long-suffering citizenry, demonstrating the essential ingredients of a colossus, a social engineer, a culturally situated individual who embodied the best values of his Igbo roots. The gown will never forget him, but neither will the town, where he towered above his peers, clearing paths towards better existence, a champion of uncommon courage.
We join the rest of the world in mourning, but yet celebrating, the transition of this eminent statesman who came, saw and conquered, leaving behind landmarks that are simply the stuff of legend. Rest on, Nwabueze, Professor of Professors.
Credit: Nigerian Tribune