Onukaba… Wasted By A Sick Nation, By Dele Agekameh
News of the sudden death of the irrepressible journalist, Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo, hit me like a bolt out of the blues on Monday last week. I cannot now remember who actually broke the news to me. But what I can remember is that the news drove cold shivers through my spine and left me wondering how life can be so cruel.
The Sunday Onukaba met his death at the hands of rampaging armed robbers who had laid siege to the notorious Ilesa-Akure highway, vivacious Eric Osagie, the Managing Director of The Sun newspapers and I had discussed him briefly in our chat. It was at about 4:30pm on that fateful day when I put a call through to Eric on my way from Ikoyi to Ikeja. He asked if I could still lay my hands on Born to Run, a book co-authored by Onukaba and Dele Olojede in 1987 in commemoration of the one year anniversary of the brutal murder, through the instrumentality of a parcel bomb, of the founding Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch magazine, Dele Giwa. I told Eric that I gave my copy out to someone who never returned it. He said he had also contacted Onukaba who said he had none left in his library. Then we briefly discussed Dele Giwa and agreed to meet within the week.
You can imagine waking up the following day to be confronted with the sad news that Onukaba had passed on in such gruesome manner. That is to say that by the time we were discussing him the previous day, it might have just been some few, fleeting minutes to his death. Like a cosmic joke played on us that Sunday, our friend came to mind so easily after many months and we discussed him fondly, oblivious of the events that would unfold. More bizarre is the remembrance of Dele Giwa that the book naturally occasioned. Who would have thought that Onukaba was soon to join the illustrious late Dele Giwa in the great beyond? Was it a sign that we missed? All of this played through my mind within seconds of hearing the news, even as I tried to recover from the shock that it brought.
Onukaba and I met in 1985 and since then we had bonded. The last time I saw him physically was recently when I ran into him at the Abuja airport on my way to Lagos. He had accompanied one of his friends to check in on a Lagos-bound flight when we met, hugged and exchanged banter. I spent a few minutes with them at the ticketing area before I disappeared into the departure lounge. It is sad that our next meeting can only be in the bosom of the Lord.
Hearing of the death of a dear friend or relative brings grief. Death gives one that momentary pause to reflect on the fickleness and ephemerality of life. The sad and unexpected news of death always carries with it a reminder of our mortality as men and the inevitability of an end to our dance with death. It is a pity that the end of Onukaba’s dance was at the hands of criminal elements that have lost their humanity in the quest for quick riches. As the story goes, he had been accosted by vicious robbers and had somehow managed to escape on foot when he was crushed by a luxury bus that came under attack and skidded off the expressway into the bush where he was hiding. It is not the way such an amiable fellow should have met his end, but death, they say, knows no one. It is no respecter of person and I doubt that Onukaba had any inkling that he was on his final journey as he left Abeokuta earlier that fateful day.
It is my hope that his memory will be honoured with a rejuvenated security drive in the cities and along the expressways. A war on robbers and other related vagrants in the wake of his demise will be befitting.
The agony of Onukaba’s demise, for me, is made even more painful by the realisation that the men responsible for his untimely death may still be out there, free as birds, perhaps, planning their next evil activity against unsuspecting members of the public innocently going about their daily life. They may have relegated the memory of that incident to the back of their minds and moved on already. That is the tragedy of our sick nation. They have tainted our memory of Onukaba’s life with a bitter end, but he was a giant of a man, in character and manner and all the good things he has done will overshadow the truth of how he went away in years to come.
For those who were close to him, he had grace and the milk of human kindness in him. In his book, Grace Is Not A Blue-Eyed Blonde, R. Lofton Hudson said: “It would seem…that grace is what happens between two persons. It is one giving himself to the other. It is responsibility to another. It is a distinctive kind of relation. In the world of men turning their backs on one another, exploiting one another, trying to possess one another, and controlling one another, Grace is one person accepting and confronting another in freedom and responsibility”. Onukaba had the grace of being genuinely friendly, open and free with whoever he came across. He was nice to a fault. If there is one final thing that we can do for our beloved Onukaba, it is to remember him fondly, celebrate his life as best as we can and believe that he is in a better place. We can shed tears because he is gone, but we can also smile because he lived and lived well.
One can lament all the factors that led to the death of our dear friend; the lack of security to protect the lives of Nigerians, economic hardship that has turned otherwise moderate people into lowlife criminals and the disregard for life that accompanies penury and desperation. All of these are responsible for Onukaba’s death and the painful part is that every time news of this nature is reported in the media, one will always remember the loss of a great friend. To borrow the words of the famous Roman hero, Cicero, “the life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living”. Onukaba is alive in our memories now and his memory shall be cherished.
There were years when robberies were so rampant that every trip out of one’s abode was into dangerous territory, and many times the safety of home was an empty phrase. May we never return to those years and may we not lose any more good people to the activities of wicked desperados looking for quick bucks. This time the devilish robbers have caused the death of someone dear to the nation as a whole; a rare gem, seasoned journalist and complete gentleman. It is my hope that his memory will be honoured with a rejuvenated security drive in the cities and along the expressways. A war on robbers and other related vagrants in the wake of his demise will be befitting. It will not bring back our dear friend or the many others that have met their end from wicked criminals, but it may somehow bring succour to families and friends left behind.
I have read all the tributes by some other people who were close to him. From Taiwo Obe (TO), Rueben Abati, Solana Olumhense to Atiku Abubakar, his former boss, and others. One common thread in their narrative is the fact that he lived an exemplary life worthy of emulation. Onukaba was such an easygoing man who lived above board. He was more concerned with his integrity and not how to make money by all means as is common among many of his peers today.
Damon Runyon, the famous writer once said: “You can keep the things of bronze and stone and give me one man to remember me once a year”. Adieu Onukaba, your memorable footprints shall remain indelible in our hearts. Good Night!
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