Adinoyi-Ojo: Harvest of tributes, elegies for the pen master, acolyte of the muse
He bestrode the worlds of journalism and theatre arts like a colossus. On the canvas of both professions, Adinoyi-Ojo Onukaba’s signature was bold. Since last Sunday, March 5, 2017 when he transited, abruptly and brutally, four days before his 57th birthday anniversary, torrential has been the outpouring of tributes and elegies. The circumstances surrounding his death on that fateful night around Igbara-Oke junction on Ilesa-Akure Road, while returning from the 80th birthday celebration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo is also a testimony of his large-heartedness and forgiving spirit.
Remember! Onukaba was the first victim of ‘demobilization’ war against former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar in the early years of the second term of Obasanjo’s presidency. He was then serving the former VP as Senior Special Assistant on Public Communication. Although, as a journalist with unique qualities, Onukaba had known and related closely with both Atiku and Obasanjo since 1984, the power play between his principal and President Obasanjo became intense so much that key associates of Atiku then were caught in the cross fire. Thus, in April 2005, Onukaba ‘lost’ his job. But he still went ahead to reconcile with Obasanjo thereafter, as he authored, in 2007, Olusegun Obasanjo in the eyes of time: A Biography. Some years later, he did for Atiku too entitled: Atiku – The Story of Atiku Abubakar to balance the equation.
Till his passage last Sunday, Onukaba distinguished himself as a seasoned journalist, playwright and publisher of high repute, having to his credit, Born to Run – a biography of late Dele Giwa, co-authored by him and Dele Olojede. This is in addition to other two biographies earlier mentioned.
Some of his plays include, Her Majesty’s Visit, A Resting Place, Tower of Burden, The Virginity Flee, The Lone Ranger, Bargain Hunting, and Soommalliyya. His play, “The Killing Swamp” was one of the three finalists for the 2010 NLNG Literature Award. In April, 2014, the riveting historical play, that spotlights the struggle in the Niger Delta, thrilled audiences in Abuja for two consecutive nights at the French Institute of Nigeria. Williams Obasi directed it.
Incidentally, Onukaba’s flourishing career, as journalist, began at The Guardian in 1983. Having graduated from the University of Ibadan in 1982 at the Department of Theatre Arts and completed his National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) programme at Radio Nigeria, Ikoyi, Lagos, in 1983, he joined the Rutam House as one of its pioneer reporters. He would later rise to the position of News Editor before travelling out in 1989 for graduate studies.
Reminiscing on Onukaba’s exploits as aviation reporter, an ex-The Guardian staff, Isiaka Aliagan, said, “I got into The Guardian late 1989, and by then Onukaba had left. I was lucky to step into a legacy he pioneered as the third Aviation Reporter of The Flagship, first under the tutelage of my Oga, Emmanuel Ukpong, himself having learnt the rubrics of aviation reporting under Onukaba.
“From our ace News Editor then… Ebube Wadibia, to Ogbuagu Anikwe and then Bayo Oguntimehin, reference was always made of Onukaba Adinoyi Ojo. To be a successful reporter then at The Guardian, you must strive to beat Onukaba’s record or at least be like him. He was a successful journalist and an accomplished writer who will be sorely missed by all who knew him closely and those who heard or read about him.”
In the words of Aliagan, those armed robbers who invaded Igbara-Oke junction of Ilesa-Akure Road on the night Onukaba was passing were “dark minds that populate our sick nation.” Report had it that he was crushed by another car while running away from those robbers.
Recounting this sad episode, Amma Ogan, a former editor of The Guardian on Sunday decried “the way and manner” in which many Nigerians die nowadays. According to her, “it is simply an indictment of the country’s leadership.”
She spoke further, “Onukaba’s passing at 56 (he was born March 9, 1960) is the second this week of someone I know well who can be said to have died from the Nigerian condition, a syndrome that can affect the poor and the not poor, the gifted and struggling, equally. Yes we can list the different circumstances under which preventable deaths occur in Nigeria, but one phrase can explain it all: abysmal governance.”
Another former Editor of The Guardian on Sunday who rose to become Deputy Editor-in-Chief/ Deputy MD of the newspaper company, Mr. Kingsley Osadolor went poetic while paying respects to the fallen journalist. “We were mates and contemporaries. His voice was soft, and his lips broke into ready smiles. He possessed a penetrating intellect that he brought to bear on his beat as Aviation Reporter, and later News Editor of The Guardian on Sunday. His approach was an unmistakable part of the new journalism fostered and nurtured by The Guardian. Onukaba was at first Shuaibu (or Shaibu) Adinoyi-Ojo, before he effected a name-change that did not alter the sheer brilliance, readability, and impact of his reports. He did innumerable front-pagers and features. He was still a cub reporter when his stories on the Nigeria Airways plane crash at Emene-Enugu in 1983 signposted the depth of The Guardian. Check out the backfiles of The Guardian, and witness in retrospect his solid reports on the 53 suitcases saga following a currency change in 1984, when Buhari was military Head of State. ‘The Kingsley!’ was his salutation whenever we met, his right arm descending from above his head, to give me a handshake. I called him, “Onu-kay!” Now, he’s no more, like Krees Imodibie and Godwin Agbroko, colleagues at The Guardian who exited too early and violently. I am diminished, but I pray for the repose of their souls, the freshest being Onukaba.”
To Ogbuagwu Anikwe, the late journalist “was among a quartet that revolutionised beat reporting in Nigeria from The Guardian newsroom – the others being Goddy Nnadi (Education), Bayo Oguntimehin (Alausa), and Juliet Ukabiala (Defence).
“There were many outstanding others but this quartet shared the top four positions among themselves, week after week. Dr. Ojo met and made life-changing acquaintances with both President Obasanjo and Vice President Atiku on his aviation beat. Obasanjo was so impressed with his powerful ability to recall and faithful rendition of interviews he conducted without tape recorder – and crafted in his inimitable simple but profound prose – that he decided to adopt him. He subsequently sponsored his masters and PhD studies abroad. We all had one thing going for us – turning our backs on all brown envelope opportunities lifted The Guardian integrity quotient.”
Onukaba’s soul-mate, businesswise, Taiwo Obe described his late partner as “a quintessential reporter” who shunned “unethical practices like a plague.”
Provoking is Obe’s response to the news of Onukaba’s death. “This morning (last Monday, the one we called CBN (real name: Chido Nwakanma) called me to find out if I had heard about Onukaba. When a message goes like that, be sure, it is some awful thing that has happened. What happened to Onukaba? He told me someone wrote that he’s dead…. No. I called Onukaba’s number and it was a brother of his who picked it and confirmed that indeed, my friend and brother, had died. He was talking about what happened, but I barely heard the details…
“I cried like I didn’t even when the death of my own older brother was broken to me.
I cried….I who have always counselled people to remember the good times they shared with their loved ones who passed away. What is there to cry for now? OnuK is gone. To meet His creator. I am sure his soul will find peace, because he was a genuinely good man.”
Chukwudi Abiandu said, “news of Onukaba’s death is still shocking. But if God allowed it, who are we mortals! Although, he came to meet me in The Guardian, he was an editors delight. May his soul rest in peace.”
Journalist turned lawyer, Gbolahan Gbadamosi did not meet Onukaba at The Guardian, “but his legacy speaks for him. I had opportunity to meet him when I was part of team that prosecuted the petition of Atiku against Yar’Adua in 2007.”
So far, it has been a deluge of tributes. Last Friday, the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Lagos chapter held a Tribute Nite for him together with other two journalists – Kayode Atofolaki, former Assistant Secretary of Lagos NUJ who died on Friday, February 25; and Segun Agbolade, Secretary, Federated Maritime Media chapel of Lagos NUJ who died on March 1.
Also, Remembering the good times with Onukaba took place yesterday at the JournalismClinic in Surulere, Lagos. A fidau prayer will also be held today at his residence at Amina’s Court, Gudu District, Abuja.
BORN on March 9, 1960 to the family of Mallam Shuaibu Onukaba and Hajia Aisha Onukaba who hailed from Oboroke-Ihima, Okehi local council Kogi State, he did a Masters in Journalism and a Ph.D in Performance Studies at New York University, New York, USA. He worked as a Research Officer at the African Leadership Forum, New York and also served as the Information officer, Division of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM) between 1994 and 1995. He became Adjunct Professor of Mass Communication at the School of New Resources, College of New Rochelle, New York in 1997. Between 1997 and 1998, he worked as Press Officer, Department of Public Information, United Nations (New York). In June 1998, Onukaba was sent to Iraq as an Information Officer, United Nations Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator. Upon his return to Nigeria in 1999 to participate in the present democratic dispensation, his sterling qualities and ability to succeed caught the attention of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who appointed him as Special Assistant on Media Relations. But he didn’t stay long as he was appointed Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the then ailing Daily Times of Nigeria PLC in August 1999.
He worked tirelessly to reposition the Daily Times. His efforts at Daily Times made the newspaper firm attractive to investors before it was privatized in 2004. Onukaba returned to the presidency as Senior Special Assistant to the former Vice president Atiku Abubakar on Public Communications between July 2003 and April 2005. Beyond Onukaba’s humble exterior lies impenetrable armour of principle and dedication to duty. In December 2005, the Okun Youth Solidarity Forum (OYSF) led by Hon. Adeniyi Sunday Bello, honoured him with the “Pillar of Youth Award” in recognition of his services to the State. Earlier in 2001, the then Governor Abubakar Audu of Kogi State honoured him as one of the distinguished citizens of the state.