In the run up to the 2011 presidential election, I was Special Adviser Media and Strategy to Hon. Ibrahim Isah Bio, in a PDP government, but I remained a diehard Buharist. Most of my colleagues at my immediate past place of employment then, NEXT newspaper, led by my mentor Uncle Dapo Olorunyomi, were the brain box of Team Ribadu, a team that aimed to re-enact the Obama feat in Nigeria. Each time I visited the Team Ribadu office with my friend, Asabe Waziri at Wuse, I would taunt Uncle Dapsy and others that they were embarking on a tortoise’s journey that will come to naught. I urged them to tell their candidate to step down for Buhari.
General Buhari’s personal discipline and stance against corruption endeared him to me. I voted for him in 2003, 2007, 2011 and last month, so my joy knew no bounds when Buhari was declared the president-elect of Nigeria. But I could not celebrate the victory because, as a full time staff of the APC, I hardly have time for myself, family, friends, and even social media where I was hitherto active. I looked forward to arriving Lagos after the gubernatorial election to celebrate. Then on Thursday, the unthinkable happened. Oronto Douglas, a friend of humanity lost about a decade-long battle with cancer.
My path and that of the great environmentalist and human rights activist first crossed in 1999. Play The Game, a global organisation committed to fighting corruption in sports and enthroning good governance, had asked the Environmental Rights Action (ERA) to send a young reporter with good anti-corruption credentials to Copenhagen, Denmark for its bi-annual conference.
ERA nominated me to attend as delegate and at subsequent editions, I was invited as a Speaker. The ERA team of Oronto, Bode Olorunfemi and Doifie Ola were impressed that I made them proud. Each time I meet Oronto, he always hailed me “the serial award winning journalist.”
He never failed to remind me that his doors were open any time I needed his assistance. I never bothered because there was no compulsive need. The necessity came in May 2010. Then Goodluck Jonathan had become president. When I met Oronto and his amiable wife, he was still his usual self, and being one of the most powerful guys around the president had not gotten into his head. He asked what I wanted and I told him, ‘my Oga, Hon. Bio has started the sports reforms with football and he intends to go all the way, but the sports cabal are using politicians close to GEJ to frustrate us.’He promised to look into it, and there were subsequent meetings in Lagos and elsewhere, with Innocent Egbunike and other stakeholders in sports in attendance. These culminated in my writing a Sports Policy for the government.
We got a window to implement the policy when he facilitated my appointment as Special Adviser Technical to a Sports Minister. A few minutes after meeting the Minister, he fell in love with me and asked me to start work immediately. Three hours after I resumed, the sports cabal that I had fought for years informed the Minister that he just hired the ‘devil incarnate’; that I am a friend Sowore, the owner of Sahara Reporters, and that every meeting we do will be on Sahara Reporters and Premium Times before the end of the meeting; that the Minister of Sports I worked with, Hon Bio, who is still like a father to me till today, regretted hiring me.
The Minister subsequently withdrew the appointment. Oronto was hugely disappointed. He could have forced me on the Minister, but chose not to because the people against me were capable of more evil. After the unfortunate incident, we still stayed in touch, but the moment the campaign began, it was APC and nothing else for me.
I was looking forward to celebrating with friends in Lagos after the gubernatorial and states assemblies elections, then the sad news of Oronto’s death came. Diagnosed with cancer since 2008, an otherwise strong and healthy Oronto would have made Jonathan a better President due to his aversion for the hawks and vampires around GEJ, and by attracting a lot of positive people to the presidency.
Adieu Oronto, the man who lived for humanity.
Olukayode Thomas, a two time CNN African Journalist of the Year Award Winner, is a Lagos based reporter.