Adinoyi-Ojo Onukaba, An Unassuming Intellectual, By Paul Ibe
He was a role model to anyone with a passion for knowledge and a desire to excel. Few people achieved intellectual distinction without ultimately losing their heads to snobbery. Dr. Onukaba’s unassuming nature made him different, a virtue that earned him the respect and admiration of those who knew him.
The death of Dr. Onukaba Ojo on Sunday March 5, 2017 in tragic circumstances while trying to avoid an armed robbery attack on the Illesa–Akure road on his way back from Abeokuta to Abuja, after attending the 80th birthday celebration of the former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, is the saddest news that hit the Atiku Media Office. Dr. Onukaba, who was former Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s senior special assistant on Public Communication, had distinguished himself as one of Nigeria’s finest journalists, intellectuals, authors and playwrights. He was, in fact, an encyclopedic repository of knowledge, whose vast understanding of local and international politics added immeasurable value to the quality of work of the Atiku Media Office. His spellbinding contributions to our debate and discussions on issues were so outstanding that he would continue to be respected by every member of the team.
In fact, his magnetic humility was one of his greatest virtues – qualities that endeared him to his colleagues and other people. He was so unassuming that you won’t even notice he was a PhD holder. His humility would automatically inspire you to work for him. He respected people’s abilities, which would galvanise you to give your best to the team. Above all, the late Dr. Onukaba was able to get along with everyone around him.
He sacrificed his lucrative job at the United Nations to work for Nigeria in 1999. Apart from his intellectual and professional qualities, Dr. Onukaba was never used to the dirty politics of betraying others. When he was appointed as senior special assistant to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Dr. Onukaba did the job with sincerity and professional integrity. Former President Obasanjo probably thought that Ojo would work as a snake under Atiku’s bed. He didn’t play that role, and the former president removed him unceremoniously without even seeking the consent of the then vice president, Atiku Abubakar.
Rather than complain, Dr. Onukaba took his sudden dismissal then philosophically as if nothing had happened, because he was doing his job with a mind of innocence that kept mischief at bay. He was averse to the politics of mischief, intrigues and betrayal. He was proud that he lost his job not because of incompetence, but because of his principle not to bring down anybody that trusted him. These are rare virtues among Nigerians.
Dr. Onukaba will be missed for many years to come. We will miss his robust intellectual contributions; we would miss his vast experience and wisdom, all of which added immeasurable value to our work.
Another amazing quality of the late playwright was his ability to put every incident behind him and move on with his life. Despite what may seem like a humiliation from Obasanjo, the late literary giant didn’t stop working for Atiku. The book, Atiku: The Story of Atiku Abubakar was the first comprehensive account ever written about the humble beginnings and the rise to the pinnacle of success by the former vice president.
In that 338–page book, the late Dr. Onukaba gave Nigerians an insight into the life of Atiku Abubakar, a story that is refreshingly different from the tales and gossips told and fed by his political opponents. It is also a book that affords Nigerians the opportunity to know and understand Atiku beyond the tales told about him by others, especially by opponents determined to tear apart every quality of Atiku.
As Atiku himself acknowledged in his tribute to the deceased, Dr. Onukaba wasn’t writing for material gain, but due to intellectual passion. Whenever he set his mind and heart to any project, Ojo would do it so well at it that even the most hardened of skeptics and cynics would find themselves reeling with amazement.
As a former managing director of Daily Times newspapers and a senior reporter with The Guardian, Dr. Onukaba had distinguished himself in every task and responsibility he was saddled with. He had no stomach for mediocrity, a reason why he was determined to do everything so well as to protect his reputation. To say Ojo was hard working and dedicated is an understatement. He was a role model to anyone with a passion for knowledge and a desire to excel. Few people achieved intellectual distinction without ultimately losing their heads to snobbery. Dr. Onukaba’s unassuming nature made him different, a virtue that earned him the respect and admiration of those who knew him.
Indeed, no words can do justice to the late Dr. Onukaba’s qualities. For us, at the Atiku Media Office, Dr. Onukaba will be missed for many years to come. We will miss his robust intellectual contributions; we would miss his vast experience and wisdom, all of which added immeasurable value to our work. May his gentle soul rest in peace! May God continue to comfort his children and other members of his family at this difficult hour of grief. Amen!
Paul Ibe is coordinator of Atiku Media Office and media adviser to His Excellency Atiku Abubakar, Turakin Adamawa, and former Nigerian vice president.