Oronto Douglas, the late environmental rights activist, leader and lawyer, may have passed away in 2015, felled by stomach cancer, but his legacy of contribution to humanity lives on. “Men like Oronto don’t die”, a friend and colleague, Nnimo Bassey wrote when he passed. Punch recently interviews the children, his two sons, he left behind at the age of 49. Below are excepts of the revealing interview.
Ogieltaziba: I am the first child of my parents. I am 13 years old and currently attend a school in Abuja. I started primary education in Abuja and completed junior secondary education at a college in Lagos.
I emerged one of the best pupils in the college’s entrance examination in 2014 and the school offered me a scholarship. I was a boarder at the college until 2017 when my mother brought me back to Abuja and enrolled me for senior secondary education. I am now in SSS1. I play football a lot and I am a member of the school football team. At the moment, I am one of the photographers of my school. I am in science class and I like to become a footballer.
Daniel: I am nine years old. I started school at a young age at a school in Abuja. I left the school in 2016 and enrolled at a model school also in Abuja. This was after my father passed on. I am in primary five now. I play football at school and I have many friends. I like travelling to explore places I have not been to like South Africa and Egypt. My wish is to become a lawyer when I grow up so that I can help people and oppressed communities.
How do you feel being the child of Oronto Douglas?
Ogieltaziba: I am a normal child. I don’t feel any different. I am not treated differently. There is no special treatment given to me.
Daniel: I feel normal like every other child because every father is important to his children. I also feel happy that I had him as my father. I never chose my parents and my parents too never chose me. I just realised that I am a son to my mother and father and I thank God for it. I love my parents and they love me too. They take care of me. They bought toys for me and my friends and I am very proud of them. They let me visit my friends and my friends also come to our house to play with me.
Where were you when you heard of your father’s death?
Ogieltaziba: I was at a friend’s house that day and when we woke up, his mother said, “Today, no devices, only play station or the arcade.” I was wondering why but I agreed.
She then told my brother and me that my mother wanted to see us and we would come back after. When I got to the estate’s gate, I was confused as I saw many cars and people everywhere. When we entered, we sensed a feeling of sadness. Then, I went to the guest room to see my mother and I met her in tears and then she broke the news to me and my brother.
Daniel: I was not at home then. I was at my friend’s house (Wole) when he died. I was brought home and they told me that my father died. I started crying and I became very sad.
What childhood memories did you share with your father?
Ogieltaziba: I remember travelling with my father to the US every summer and Christmas holidays. I had fun with him at Disneyland. I remember following my father for lunch after church in Protea Hotel. I went to the Hilton with him on weekend whenever he was not very busy. In Lagos, I used to leave the hostel to spend time with him whenever he was around.
He told us stories and read to me and my brother some nights before we retired to bed. I recall the nights we did riddles and jokes together and he would allow himself to deliberately fail to allow me to win. I was only 10 when he died but I still feel the emptiness of his departure. He was a very good father and I really miss him.
Daniel: Some childhood memories I remember were when we went to church together and my father took us out for breakfast and dinner at the Hilton and Protea Hotel. He used to hold me by my hands and play with me. He would tell me to take little food. My father used to read to me anytime he was around. Sometimes, I travelled with him to the United Kingdom and the US. We visited Disneyland and rode together in the amusement park. In Washington DC, my father took us to the museum where I saw many beautiful things. My father used to carry me on his shoulder and he called me Danielistico.
How did he discipline you after you acted up?
Ogieltaziba: My father never laid his hands on me when I did anything wrong. However, he used less physical means of punishing us. For instance, he would stop us from watching television and seize my play devices. He usually sat me down to talk to me. All his actions always had a valid reason.
Daniel: If I did something wrong, he would sit me down and talk to me about it and warn me not to repeat it. But there was a day he flogged me because I refused to do my work. He was angry with me and I felt bad. I didn’t like to do anything that would make my father angry because he would not buy my favourite toys for me. He would also stop me from watching TV if I do not behave well.
Share other funny memorable moments you had with him.
Ogieltaziba: I remember having debates with my father. We also used to read together.
Daniel: My father used to assist me in my homework.
How did he spend time with you despite his tight schedules?
Ogieltaziba: My father was a very busy man; so, sometimes we followed him to his office. If he was travelling when we were on holidays, he usually took us along to spend time with him.
Daniel: Anytime I had homework, I would tell him and he would create time for me.
Were you pampered since you are from a rich background?
Ogieltaziba: I wouldn’t say that I came from a rich background. I would rather say that I came from a manageable background with conservative parents. To answer your question directly, I was not pampered and I am not being pampered. My father used to help people a lot and many persons thought that he was rich. But he was not; he only managed his resources to the best of his ability and his generosity was taken for richness or wealth.
Daniel: My daddy was not a rich man and I was not pampered.
What did your father tell you about life?
Ogieltaziba: He told me not to discriminate against anybody. He said that there are good people in all the tribes just as there are bad people as well. He taught us that our friends can hold different opinions from ours and yet we will still be good friends. He taught me to work hard as it is the only good way to success. I recall my father telling me to take my education seriously and to do things orderly and properly and this became a slogan in our house. He also taught me to be honest in all my dealings and to respect elderly people.
Daniel: My father told me that I should do things orderly and properly.
What did your father want to be remembered for?
Ogieltaziba: Looking at his lifestyle, my father would want to be remembered for hard work, dedication to duty, loyalty, integrity, honesty, reaching out to the needy in the society and his love for community development and education as shown in the kindergarten school he built in our village and his library projects. He also loved children very much.
If your father was not an environmental activist, what would he have become or what discipline did he tell you he would have chosen?
Ogieltaziba: I do not know because he never told me but with his kind of lifestyle and activities, I believe that he would have become a charity worker. This is because my father was a selfless giver and he hated seeing people suffer. He liked to help the needy in society.
Daniel: I don’t know.
What kind of man was he at home while you were growing up?
Ogieltaziba: He was a disciplinarian to an extent. Not too hard and not too soft. He was a loving and caring father. He made sure that he provided for us.
Daniel: My father was a good man. He played with me.
What were his worst and best moments?
Ogieltaziba: I do not know.
Daniel: I was a little boy when he died. I was seven years old then. I don’t know a lot of things about him.
What was his favourite food and drink?
Ogieltaziba: His favourite food was amala (yam flour) and ewedu (Jew’s mallow). My father drank mostly water.
What was his favourite music?
Ogieltaziba: His favourite music was classical music.
Daniel: My father loved the music of Beethoven
How did he exercise?
Ogieltaziba: He walked around the house a lot and also jogged around the community.
Daniel: He loved walking.
What were his likes and dislikes?
Ogieltaziba: He liked hard work, people with integrity and orderliness. He also liked it when people took reading seriously and did it often. My father had a very strong dislike for laziness and dishonest people.
Daniel: My father like reading. He did not like it when I played too much.
Does your father’s name open doors for you?
Ogieltaziba: There was a time in school that my friend’s father asked if I were his son and I said yes. He ended up giving me a full box of pizza. That was the only time someone did me a favour because of the name. Whenever I meet people and they get to know I am his son, they always told me he was a very good man. I believed that his good name would open doors for me in future because he helped a lot of people while he was alive.
Daniel: I have not gotten this experience, but people always tell me that my father was a good man.
What are the things people don’t know about your father?
Ogieltaziba: In my opinion, I don’t think my father ever hid anything. I think he was a very open person and had nothing to keep private.
Daniel: I don’t know.
Can you share any of your father’s most challenging periods while rising up the career ladder?
Ogieltaziba: I don’t think I was old enough to remember when he was rising up the ladder of his career. He never told me that. However, you can ask my mother if you wish.
What role did he play in your career choice?
Ogieltaziba: We never discussed career choice, but when he was in government, at a point, I wanted to become a politician. Now, I am more science-inclined.
Daniel: I want to be a lawyer like my father.
How did your father relax?
Ogieltaziba: My father hardly relaxed. His relaxation was, maybe, resting or sleeping. Occasionally, he relaxed with good movies or listening to classical music. My father relaxed better when he was outside Nigeria where he worked less. He didn’t relax often; I mostly saw him working.
Daniel: By sleeping.
Who are those your father considered his role models?
Ogieltaziba: I really don’t know who his role models were but I know that he had a high regard for the principal of his secondary school.
Daniel: My mummy will know. He did not tell me.
Who were your father’s best friends?
Ogieltaziba: Growing up, I thought everyone who came to the house regularly was his best friends but later, I realised that most of them were just colleagues and staff. I honestly don’t know who his best friends were. I only know he had a lot of friends. He maintained and cherished his friends way back from his primary school days.
Daniel: He had many people as friends, but I don’t know his best friends.
What are his secrets of keeping healthy?
Ogieltaziba: He enjoyed walking and drinking a lot of water.
Daniel: He used to drink water every time.
What lessons did you have learn from your father?
Ogieltaziba: I learnt not to discriminate against anyone based on colour, tribe or religion, and to accept everyone the way they are. I also learnt not to judge people on appearance until I actually get to know the person. I have learnt to do things orderly and properly. I have learnt to be committed and dedicated to everything I do. I learnt to put my heart and mind in all my work and, above all, to dream big. I have also learnt to be humble and respectful.
Did he guide you on your the choice of friends?
Ogieltaziba: He told me to choose friends that are hard-working, honest and loyal. He told me that I should choose friends that would last for life.
Daniel: Yes. He would tell me to have friends who read their books and do their homework and obey their parents.
Does being a child to a popular father put you under pressure?
Ogieltaziba: I think it does because I am expected to do a lot of things to surpass my father’s achievements. A lot of people pressurise me and push me a lot. It doesn’t help that I am also the firstborn.
Daniel: Yes. I want to become great like my daddy and help other people.
Does he have a nickname?
Ogieltaziba: The only nickname I remember he had was OND which were his initials.
Daniel: His nickname was OND.
What would you wish to change about your father if you had the opportunity?
Ogieltaziba: I don’t know what I would change about him except that I would have wanted him to have spent more time with us. In all, I don’t think I would change anything, to be honest.
Daniel: I don’t know.
What did you miss most about him?
Ogieltaziba: I miss him being there for me. I miss his presence, guidance and love.
Daniel: I missed his company and the toys he used to buy for me.
Do you think the government has done enough to honour your father?
Ogieltaziba: I don’t know. Ask my mother.
Ogieltaziba and Daniel are the children of the late environmental activist, Dr. Oronto Douglas, who was also a former Special Adviser (Research, documentation, and strategy) to former President Goodluck Jonathan. They talk about their father with Toluwani Eniola.