Chief John Ochoga is 70 years old today. He reminds one of Lawyer Omakwu, Morgan Ogbole and Justice Anyebe, all of whom are late now but who are unforgettable, partly because they were artists in addition to being really, really erudite lawyers. Above all, they were pioneers in that field from Idomaland. Of course, only the ‘CNN generation’ in Idomaland would not have heard of Lawyer Omakwu’s memorable ‘Ochenche’ musical number that sent young boys and girls into dreamland of the love that is too ideal to be found.
John Ochoga is not in that generation, many years younger than that set. But he too has come of age. If he were of Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba or Igbo, he would be among the shakers and movers of Nigeria in whatever sense of it. Of course, membership of the majority tribe is an advantage anywhere in the world, even in the 21st century, a point the socialists understand and manage better than all else. But that is also the paradox about Ochoga too: that he is a mover and shaker in his own right in spite of his ethnic minority identity. In other words, John Ochoga speaks to excellence and unaided rise. He has a history of that in him.
While his peers went to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in those days because it was more manageable in terms of the hassles of university life, he opted for the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. Ife in today’s Osun State might not be that far from Benue State of today but, in cultural and spatial terms, it is part of the distance the Idoma people call Ida-logo (out of this world) especially in those days when elders told frightening stories of ‘gbomo-gbomo’ with deep sacks that cart away unaccompanied lads.
The outcome or one of the outcomes is that he fits into “the Great Ife” imagination in the community of practice of the legal profession. That is one way of suggesting a Middle Belter and Northerner who can also tap from the hegemony of the Yoruba ethnic identity in that community of practice. He is just one example but that criss-crossing-ness across Nigeria is part of the reasons why Nigeria cannot break.
Secondly, John Ochoga never gets tired. He has never travelled away or left politics. From being a commissioner at a very young age to date when he is now at the apogee of his chosen profession, he has remained the permanent star. In the process, he has gobbled so much: bureaucracy, traditional politics, community development, ‘business’, legal practice, educational development and what have you!
This is therefore a 70th anniversary with a difference and worth reflecting upon. It is not about whether one likes the traditional title holder or not. It is about the significance of the one who broke into and has remained in the system for the length of time he has: ever since he obtained a law degree at the age of 24 in 1977. He must, indeed, be ‘Akpa-Olofu’