PROF BENJAMIN NWABUEZE: I'M IMPATIENT WITH IGNORANT PEOPLE
Let me congratulate you on your 80th birthday.
How has it been, being 80; how does it make you feel?
Being 80, it makes me feel fulfilled. And over these years, one has been able to accomplish, should I say, so much. Now, I thank God. I have some feeling of joy, some feeling of satisfaction. And if God would spare me a few more years, one could still do more as one has done so far. And I'm praying to God that I have a few more years.
And if God helps, one can still contribute to the development of this country, providing solutions to the many ills confronting Nigeria. So, looking back, for me, it's significant. When I was 70, people said oh, we would celebrate it. I said no. 75, they came, I said no. Now 80, they came, I said yes. We will celebrate it with gratitude.
Why 80 and not 70? People celebrate 70 years as though that is the last year of their life and here you are saying no. So why is that, why have you opted for 80?
I thought 80 was more significant.
More significant, how?
In the sense that you will have given yourself sufficient time to accomplish something. In this country, I think we have become too fund of celebration. Fifty, they celebrate, 60, they celebrate, 65, they celebrate; even when there is nothing to celebrate. I've often said to myself that the right time to celebrate is 80. If at 80 you've not achieved enough to merit celebration, then, forget it.
So, even at 70, you are still pursuing lofty dreams. Is that what you are saying?
At 70, yes. Many of my books were written after I was 70. Constitutional Democracy in Africa, in five volumes, was written after I was 75 and I'm still writing. Yes, a few hours from now, we're going to launch or present one of the books - Current Issues and Problems in Constitution and Democracy (as one of the highlights of his 80th birthday celebration).
Now, sir, 80 years on earth, what has life taught you?
It has taught me so many things. It has enabled me to form and consolidate my ideas about life. Life is not just about going about enjoying, chasing women, chasing money and all that. It has taught me to try to develop my own values, my own ethics about life and I've come to believe that what constitutes life, to an individual and for a country, is truth. Commit yourself to truth. It's one of the principles that should govern your life and it should govern the life of a nation.
Keep your hands straight; justice. Do to everybody, what you would like done to yourself. And these are the things that we lack so terribly in this country. Truth has been killed, completely. Nobody believes in truth anymore. Justice has been destroyed. It's part of the problem of this country - justice.
You said one of the things life has taught you is, to consolidate on your values. Tell me, sir, what are your personal values?
That's what I'm talking about. My personal values are truth, justice, hard work, and piety. There should be piety. I try to practise these things. I don't go to church. I'm a Christian, all right but, I don't go to church. I don't believe in this whole thing of every day, people trooping to church when they do not, in fact, accept and practice the principles of Christianity. Christianity has many, many noble principles. But people who go to church, either they do not understand these things or they do not want to practise them - probably, just probably because of the take-over of our lives by money.
When you say you don't go to church, yet you're a Christian, how then do you get your spiritual nourishment?
From inside. I stay in my house, I try to commune with God in my own way. I try to consolidate, to deepen my understanding of the principles of Christianity.
How do you do that in despise of other worshipers, because there's always this thing you get from congregating with other people - as the Good Book says, 'iron sharpens iron'?
I don't believe in that.
Oh, you don't believe in that?
Yes. It's all here (thumbs his chest) - in the mind and in the heart.
You're 80, from the late 1980s till now, things have changed in this country. Morality has been warped, standards compromised, people can't be trusted anymore - things have gone upside down in this country. I look at people like you, those who saw the best of the country, and now, you're seeing the worst of it; and you're 80, still alive, what is keeping you?
What is keeping me is my own innate believes, my own innate convictions and my effort to try to put these things in practice in my own personal life and, at least, in every way that I can to impart these ideal to others. Some people say ah, Prof., you're basically a teacher, you keep on teaching. I said yes. If I come in contact with people, I try to tell them all these things that I've been telling you- the values, the need for morality.
When the name, Prof. Ben Nwabueze is mentioned, people can only easily identify with the public personality. Your views are well known, mostly political and possibly legal issues. But little, if anything at all, is known about your private concerns. Let's talk about them - your wife, your children and all such filial connections.
I have ten children.
Ten, from one wife?
Ten, but not from one wife; from three (wives). Two of them are lawyers, two are medical doctors. One of them arrived from the US yesterday. Another one is arriving today. One of the things that characterise my life is the love for children, not only my own children, but children as a whole. Right from the time I was a kid, I developed this. And my mother was the one who appreciated this the most. She would gather children around me. And my own children, I'm so much committed to them. Thank God I brought them up nicely and He blessed me with that. Two lawyers, two medical doctors, petroleum engineer, an economist, a pharmacist, all that. A fine artist.
A full complement, you'd say.
O, yes, it's a full complement. And I've devoted much time to bringing up my children. And they love me as I love them. So, they're part of what has made my life what it is today.
When you say you have 10 children from three wives, these wives, are all of them living with you at the same time under the same roof?
So, how is it? How did it happen?
It happened the way things happen. From time to time, you have one wife, you separate. You get another one. But my policy is never to have more than one wife under the same roof.
One, two, three wives. Does that suggest that you can't manage a woman?
We all differ in our attitudes to marital relationships. One of the difficult things about life is living together under one roof with one woman as husband and wife. People don't appreciate this. And I've been chairman at many, many weddings. And this is the message that I try to pass on.
And I say to young couples, it's one thing talking about love during the period of courtship. You're meeting from time to time and you have ideas about love as at that time. The reality comes, the test comes, when you have to live together and confront each on a daily basis, probably, on a hourly basis and you then discover what makes marriage successful.
Love is all right. The things that you appreciate about a woman during the period of courtship may become irritations; sources of irritation. And I don't believe in people trying to kill themselves to live together. When it becomes impossible, face the reality that this thing does not work. Pull apart; pull apart. That's the only way you can preserve your own life and that of your partner.
It is said that it takes two to tango.
Now, tell me, what did these women have against you?
Temper. I have the fault of temper. I don't have patience, especially with ignorant people; people who cannot come to my intellectual level. I'm very, very impatient. I want to get on. And keeping a woman in the house who doesn't come up to my intellectual level doesn't work with me. And I don't accept that idea that you find among many people that 'Oh! what will society say if you separate from a woman?' No, no, if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. Stay apart and I stay apart. That's my idea.
Number one didn't measure up, so was number two and even the number three. But the experience of the first should have instructed you.
You don't discover what's in it until you've come together. That's the point that I made earlier. You're courting, Oh! it's charming, it's this, it's that and you contract a relationship, and you bring her into the house to live together. It's then that you discover the truth. And if you say that it doesn't work, pull apart. That's my policy.
But, you're still in touch with them?
Now, you have children from these three different women, how were you able to pull them together in a way that none feels that, well, I belong to this woman or that I belong to this other woman? In other words, how were you able to train the children to live together as brothers and sisters, without inhibition whatsoever?
By example. What they learnt from me. I don't discriminate against these women. When we pull apart, I still try to help them in every way I can; provide accommodation and provide financial support within my means. Fortunately, almost, not almost, all of my children took after me. They try to live the kind of life that I have lived. And they're very, very attached to me, to my principles and imbibe the tenets of my principles.
What will the children say of you?
I don't know what they will say (laughs).
Given what you know about them - they've written you letters, they phone and discuss with you. From what you know about them and the way they relate with you, what do you think they can possibly say about you?
Well, they say to me, judging from their letters, utterances, they say they love me, 'Daddy, you're the best daddy in the world.' I have 23 grandchildren, I just got cards, all say, 'Dad, you're the best dad in the world, the best grand daddy in the world.' What else?
Your health, how is it?
I have an illness; I won't hide it. I have prostate cancer. It is a killer. My friends have died of prostate cancer. But, I've had it for seven years and I'm still charging on with it. I go to London over the years for medical attention.
Sorry to hear that. You said you've been living with it for seven years now. When you discovered this, how did you feel?
You know, I was in the US, staying with one of my sons; he's a medical doctor. But I went there for my eyes. My son organised for me to have surgery in the eyes, to remove cataract. It was a simple procedure. It didn't take time and the thing was over. And my son said to me, 'Daddy, you have to have a test on your prostate.' He said, 'Oh! you must be testing your prostate from time to time.' I said ok. So the result came out and it didn't show anything. He was not satisfied.
He said we must repeat it. So, we went to a teaching hospital in the US and they did this; they did the biopsy; several spots taken in the biopsy. And one of them indicated prostate cancer. He repeated it, one of them, out of so many biopsies, only one showed.
So, he and his elder brother, who is also a medical doctor, who arrived yesterday, were telephoning. My wives also shared the same panic. And I said to them, what is it that you all are talking? Eventually, they summoned courage and said, 'Daddy, the tests revealed prostate cancer.' And I said it's nothing.
It's nothing, this was seven years ago. Then, I was to go from US to Geneva as a member of the Committee of Experts of the ILO (International Labour Organisation). They said, 'Daddy, you must stay and have the surgery.' I said, 'No, I must go to Geneva first. When I finish my assignment there, I will return home to Nigeria, put a few things in order, before I come back again for the treatment.'
I went to Geneva from there. I think I spent three weeks in Geneva as a member of ILO Committee of Experts. So when I finished, I returned home, put my house in order, made a Will, and then, proceeded back to the US. And then, there was the argument whether the treatment would be by way of surgery or by way of radiotherapy. My two sons disagreed. One said surgery, you cut it off, the other one, that's the elder one who's here now, said, 'Daddy, no, I don't agree with surgery. The after-effect, the post-surgery effect is terrible.' So, I said, 'Ok, the third opinion.' So, we went to a surgeon in a teaching hospital who supported the surgery.
But watching him, it was clear to me he was more interested in his fees as a surgeon. So when he finished, I said to my two sons, 'I'm not going for surgery. I'll have radiotherapy. This man is more interested in the money that he would get than in my own welfare.' So, we prepared for the radiotherapy. The room where this is done is radioactive. You're not allowed in and the nurses came in all dressed up. So, nine weeks, every day, excepting weekends, you go in there and they do it. After that, they said it was successful and everything is ok. But you know cancer; any type of cancer is very stubborn. After some time, it came back again.
So, I have a doctor in London. I go to see her. She's an oncologist. I go to see her twice every year.
Yes. I'll be going again in August (this month). And she puts me under an injection.
You said when it was discovered, you told your children that you still have to do your work; you still went to Geneva and came to Nigeria and in your words, to put your 'house in order.' What do you mean by that - put your house in order?
I've explained. I prepared my Will.
What were you expecting? The worst?
Yes, the worst can come. It can be the worst; it can be anything.
So until then, you hadn't prepared your Will?
Why? because you lawyers say, once you start having responsibilities, you start preparing your Will. One would have expected you would have done that before then. Why did you not do it?
It took you above 70 years to do that. Were you too sure of your life and so you didn't bother about it? Why did you have to wait for that long?
You know, as a lawyer, I've acted for clients who died leaving behind a Will. In every case, the Will is contested by the children. And I came to the conclusion that, that is not an answer to what happens after you're gone. My late friend, and everybody knows that we're that close; the late Chief Rotimi Williams, we sat down and analysed this and agreed that making a Will, in many cases, probably creates more problem than it solves. The kind of contest it creates after you've gone often destroys a family, the unity of the family.
And we decided, and some other matters we found …and as a result of the resolve of the discussions that we took, he revoked all the Wills that he made. And I decided also not to make one (a Will) but to leave directions as to how my estate should go.
Leave your directions, to whom?
In writing. It's not a Will. The efficacies of this are on how trustworthy your first son is and I happen to have a first son who's absolutely reliable - the one who arrived yesterday.
Now, ideally, you now went back on your words and made one; you came back, put your house in order and made one…
No. I didn't
You said you came back, and put your house in order, and wrote your Will…
Not a Will. A Declaration.
Like every other layman out there, what's the difference between a Declaration and a Will?
A Declaration has no binding force. And that's why I said it all depends.
It's like an instruction?
Yes. You said this; you're giving the declarations to your first son. And if he's responsible enough, he carries it out, if he's not, well, that is it.
To be continued next week.