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Bayo Ojo as Mayor of Casterbridge

Posted by This Day Online on 2005/08/17 | Views: 837 |

Bayo Ojo as Mayor of Casterbridge

The controversy trailing the appointment of Chief Bayo Ojo, SAN as Justice Minister may take some time to ebb. Emeka Maduewesi calls for his support in the face of continued criticisms

The controversy trailing the appointment of Chief Bayo Ojo, SAN as Justice Minister may take some time to ebb. Emeka Maduewesi calls for his support in the face of continued criticisms

My father, Akunwata CJC Maduewesi was, and notwithstanding his failing sight, still is a voracious reader. Growing up, our moonlight stories were books he read, from African Classics like Things Fall Apart, to their British counterparts like the Mayor of Casterbridge. I enjoyed listening to these stories, especially the moral lessons imbedded in them. My father, who was a primary school Headmaster and retired as a Chief Inspector of School, delivered these stories so masterfully and effectively used them as substitutes for his spankings. When finally I was able to read, I attacked my father’s library with the ferociousness of a famished jackal, but the taste was very different. It seems to me that as we get older, our taste buds for moral lessons become deadened by our hunger for self-fulfillment. That brings me to the story of Chief Bayo Ojo, SAN, Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Federal Republic of Nigeria. But first, the Major of Casterbrigde.
Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge, was originally entitled The Life and Death of the Mayor of Casterbridge: A Story of a Man of Character. It is the story, set in 19th Century England, of Michael Henchard, a skilled farm laborer who, in a drunken rage, sells his young wife Susan, along with their infant child Elizabeth-Jane, to a passing sailor. After committing the abominable deed, Mr. Henchard wakes from his drunken stupor and wonders, first and foremost, if he told any of the fair-goers his name.
Eighteen years pass between that scene on the heath of Weydon-Priors and Mr. Henchard’s reunion with Susan in Casterbridge, but we immediately realize the value that Mr. Henchard places on a good name and reputation. Not only has he climbed from hay-trusser to mayor of a small agricultural town, but he labors to protect the esteem this higher position affords him.
After the sailor is reported lost at sea, the cast-off wife and now-grown daughter set out to find Mr. Henchard, who has become an affluent businessman and the mayor of Casterbridge. When Susan and Elizabeth-Jane come upon the mayor hosting a banquet for the town’s most prominent citizens, they witness a man struggling to convince the masses that, despite a mismanaged harvest, he is an honest person with a worthy name.
Mr. Henchard’s success is temporary, though, as circumstances and his own weaknesses of character combine to bring about his downfall in spite of his attempts to right the wrong he committed years before.
Guilt acts like a fuel that keeps Mr. Henchard moving toward his own demise. Unable to forget the events that took place in the furmity-woman’s tent, he sets out to punish himself again and again. Although Mr. Henchard loses even the ability to explain himself, he never relinquishes his talent of endurance. Whatever the pain, Henchard bears it. It is this resilience that elevates him to the level of a hero whose name deserves to be remembered. Despite the high premium Mr. Henchard placed over a good name, at his death, he had only one wish in his will; that his name should never be remembered!
To tell you the truth, that was not exactly how I remember my father
version of this story. My father’s story was about a man who sold his wife and child in a drunken stupor. He later became rich and the mayor of Casterbridge. He was even a judge and one day he sentenced a woman to prison for being drunk and unruly. The woman, who owned the bar in another city where the Mr. Henchard sold his wife and child about 18 years ago, challenged the mayor’s moral authority to punish anyone for being drunk.
According to my father, the mayor was devastated by this information. He had reformed and swore never to drink in his life. He had moved into a new city and started a new life, but his past caught up with him. My father climaxed the story by telling us never to put ourselves in a situation where anyone will question our moral authority. Though I have read the book several times, my father’s short version left an indelible mark on my young psyche, which overshadows the actual text of what I read!
Going back to Chief Bayo Ojo’s moral quagmire on his appointment as the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, one will see the halo of moral question on the learned Chief’s professional wig. As the Chief Law officer of Nigeria, he should be, not just an excellent lawyer, but the symbol of moral and ethical correctness. I agree with the group that says the NBA Constitution is subordinate to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I also agree that any call to serve the nation trumps any prior call to serve an association. Those who said that the NBA Constitution is a restrictive agreement are not far from the truth. But our life is full of choices and restrictive agreement. Monogamous marriage, for example, is a restrictive agreement, but we all stay married to one person, having agreed before God and humans to do so. We do not desert our spouses simply because we sighted a “juicier” candidate! Every desertion has a comeuppance.
In a 1973 case - I think, ADESANYA v BOARD OF CUSTOMS AND EXCISE - where a Magistrate struck out a case after being served with an order to stay proceeding by the Federal Revenue Court, as it then was - the Supreme Court held that the action of the magistrate, though despicable, is not contemptuous. This tenuous language, to me, summarizes Chief Bayo Ojo’s conduct. Like the story of the Mayor of Casterbridge, as told by my father, it is not about legality but morality. The learned Chief’s decision to ditch the Bar Association for a political appointment, though legally defensible, is grossly indecent and morally reprehensible. Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) one of the foremost Black leaders of the abolitionist movement in the United States once said that “the life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous.” If this is true for this generation, and having acted immorally when his own interests were at stake, the question should be, “Is our nation safe and secure in the hands of Chief Ojo, SAN, as the leader of the official Bar?
Finally, Chief Ojo certainly needs our support to carry out his duties as the AGF. In addition to the myriad of legal problems facing Nigeria today as a nation, I believe members of the Nigeria Bar would also like to have the Bar Council inaugurated, the Evidence Act modernized and the Legal Practitioners Act revised. Chief Bayo Ojo, SAN, is now the man to do the job. I join those who call for his support, not because I endorse his action, but because Nigeria is bigger than any individual or association.
My call for support is mutually exclusive from any action the Bar may deem fit to take against him in the circumstance. He needs our prayers especially for forthrightness and moral courage. With this moral blight surrounding his appointment and acceptance, my further prayer for the learned SAN is that he will not be Nigeria’s 21st Century “Mayor of Casterbrdge”.

• Mr. Maduewesi, Esq. is admitted to practice law in Nigeria and the State of California. He is the Publisher of and works full time with the litigation department of Townsend and Townsend and Crew, an Intellectual Property, Anti-trust and Commercial Litigation law firm in San Francisco, California.

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Comments (3)

Abieyuwa(Edo, Nigeria)says...

Otasowie means evening life is better than morning life. There is an error in your “evening life is better than evening life”?

Naija g(Houston, Minnesota, US)says...

Sokari doesn’t mean joy. Joy is Biobela. Go to the village and ask the meaning of the name.

Fay(Katy, Texas, US)says...

Actually translates to bravehearted.