RALPH OPARA (1933 TO 2002) - 'A TRIBUTE'
at the Maiden Ralph Opara Memorial Lecture, Imo Concorde Hotel, Owerri, Imo State - Tuesday 7th, September 2004. The Chairman,
The Special Guest of Honour
My Lords, Spiritual and Temporal
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen
It is my distinct honour and pleasure to welcome you to the inaugural lecture of the Ralph Opara Memorial Lecture Series. The reason that you are all here is because you all fondly remember the man, Ralph Chukwuemeka Opara. The brochure that you have very graphically provides information of his antecedents and achievements in his lifetime. One of his most enduring contributions to the development of this country was his participation, in 1952, in the formation of the organisation, the Pyrates Confraternity. With six other young men at the time including Professor Wole Soyinka, they formed the organisation whose key objective was to champion the drive, in the tertiary institution, University College, Ibadan, in the creation of a just and egalitarian society in a period when the kind of societal decadence about which we now complain was becoming quite rife. Their vision, at the time, was to influence the immediate society by giving the highest regards to diligence; honesty and respect in all their endeavours. They led by their actions and although they were only very small in number, their reputation and integrity grew so much that they became a societal barometer against which good virtues were measured. From 1952, this organisation grew in huge proportions. It was exported to other tertiary institutions such that by 1973, it had become a truly national organisation and held its first National Converge in Ibadan. In 1980, we became a registered organisation within the laws of the land as the National Association of Seadogs (NAS). The size of the organisation is such that we now have 32 branches spread across Nigeria, Southern Africa, Japan, Holland, United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. Our work in the society has proceeded apace. We have received considerable recognition and praise for our work within and outside Nigeria. As a peripheral illustration of the far reaching nature of our work, the US Congress, on 14th February 2004, issued a certificate of special recognition to our North Californian Chapter and declared February 14th the National Association of Seadogs Day in the City of Oakland, California. NAS has become a watchdog in the Nigerian and international communities, committed to the fighting of social ills and conformist degradation. We have been irrevocably committed to the emancipation of the downtrodden people of Nigeria and humanity in general. Our philosophy, encapsulated in what we describe as our four compass points, is predicated on resistance and opposition to moribund convention and tribalism. We encourage and support every concept that emphasises humanistic ideals and propagate views and practises that are designed to enhance comradeship and chivalry. It was these various aspirations that Ralph Opara and the six other gentlemen who formed this organisation, committed to in 1952. Ralph Opara, an “Original 7”, as we fondly refer to them, remained committed to this organisation until his death in 2002. His loss created a huge void in our organisation, a circumstance we have now come to accept with the humility and equanimity that death usually brings about.
In order to keep his faith alive and to continue to provide a medium to give vent to the views for which he stood steadfastly, throughout his life, we have developed these lecture series. This lecture is the inaugural one and we hope that you will find in the message that you hear today, enough to assist us to continue to encourage it for the years to come.
The subject of this lecture – Re-engineering the Nigerian Democratic Experiment for Stability and Development – is one of engaging and far- reaching interest. The most recent democratic experiment from 1999 has provided the country with an opportunity to build a society in which justice is guaranteed; human dignity sustained and civil liberties are available to all Nigerians. The course of nation building and democratic conciliation ought to have ensured that significant gains are made in the areas of economic, political and social development. We are sure that the lecturer will attempt to analyse the historical and present developments in relation to the democratic experience. We are sure that in the process, he will explain to you where the experiment has succeeded and where it has failed. What is commonly accepted is that Nigerians have demonstrated a significant amount of goodwill and patience towards their government. Nigerians are conscious of the fact that change will not come about overnight and that social change is a complicated process that requires time. Having said that, the fundamental issues that affect Nigerians such as poverty alleviation; resource distribution; development of infrastructure and security remain the subject of considerable anxiety amongst us all.
There were hopes and high expectations for the populace in the new democratic dispensation in 1999. The Nigerian draws a very strong linkage between better living standards and democratic rule. The view about the improvement of these circumstances will be the most direct and truthful assessment of the success of the democratic experiment. It is commonly agreed that since the inception of democracy, progress has been made in the area of personal freedom or freedom of expression. What has come about is a new and more open society where people no longer live in fear of the military and feel able to express themselves freely on the various issues regarding their governance. There have been qualified gains elsewhere particularly in the areas of telecommunication. However, the area of societal life where democratic governance ought to have a direct and significant impact on the populace still leaves a huge feeling of under achievement. Public Institutions have been seriously undermined; Infrastructures are preformed very badly and the economy is in dire straits. Unemployment appears to be growing; insecurity and poverty continues to escalate and the tertiary institutions, the source of our future, still remain very poorly under funded and supported. The failure to tackle these present problems can translate into failure by government in those areas. What Nigerians want, from the experiment, is more than a tangential commitment to improve the areas of societal life that have a more direct effect on them. In practice, what ought to happen is that significant improvements must be made from the situations of today in order to secure the happiness of Nigerians for tomorrow.
For your patience in listening: your respect for Ralph Opara; your support for his family and for this organisation by being here today, we express our immense gratitude to you. We hope that you will be enriched in the sacrifice that you have made to spend this part of the day with us.
ANDREW OBINNA ONYEARU
National Association of Seadogs (NAS)