by Prince Chima Williams
My personal experience with Senior Oronto Douglas – a brother, comrade, friend and colleague aptly qualifies him for me as a man with the heart of gold!
My first contact with this enigma of a person dates back to 1993/94 when as a student leader in the University of Benin, I had running battles with the University authorities especially during the build up to the Students Union general elections, where I was running for the office of the Secretary General.
As a result of the antics of the University of Benin authorities geared towards cowing or intimidating myself and other comrades out of the contest, Oronto Douglas had to write a protest letter to the authorities on behalf of the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO) accusing them of trying to suppress me because of my human rights postures and principled stand on issues that relate to the welfare and well being of students on campus. (At this point, I was the coordinator of Civil Liberties Organization, Amnesty International and Committee for the Defence of Human Rights in UNIBEN).
That letter was one of the tonics that propelled me to the level I attained and continued to maintain in the struggle for the rights of Nigerian Students then and the Nigerian people and global community today.
From that period, an unending relationship was cultivated leading to the motivation OND gave me in the establishment of the first ever Students oriented Environment focused group (Students Environmental Assembly Nigeria) in 1998 in University of Benin. This group was inspired by my relationship with the Nigerian Environmental Greats – Nnimmo Bassey, Oronto Douglas and Godwin Ojo. However, to show the level of push OND gave me, he actually proposed both the draft constitution and names for the group! I only amended both to suit what I thought will serve the need of Nigerian Students having then been fresh from prison custody and elected the Senate Clerk of the National Association of Nigerian Students.
That push from Senior Oronto Douglas was the igniting fire I needed to discover my focus in life as an Environmental/Human Rights Advocate. As a law student and now a lawyer, I did not have a formal environmental training in the University!
Oronto Douglas – a generous, appreciative and a true comrade!
OND’s generousity knew no bounds. He was classless when it came to putting smiles on the faces of people – those who have had personal encounters with him will attest to this. In those trying times as a law school student, Oronto Douglas was the only living human being both friends and relations that realized that a student needs support even when he did not ask for it! He alone sent me money unsolicited for! How can such a man die in my life?
What many didn’t know is that Senior Oronto Douglas was the reason I started my law practice in Port Harcourt! He was the one that asked me to come to Port Harcourt and directed me to join Onyeagucha, Chinda & Associates! When I arrived Port Harcourt as a new wig, he offered me accommodation in his house (though I did not take the offer as my younger brother was residing in Port Harcourt).
Another thing many may not know is that the Community Defence Law Foundation which OND founded was supposed to be a mega Law Firm which Senior Oronto wanted me to be a Junior Partner!
How can he die?
The Senior Oronto I knew was a highly appreciative person. Appreciating every little good gesture shown him! I couldn’t believe my ears when few weeks after his wedding to his amiable wife – Sis. Tarinabo, in appreciation of the little role we played, the new spouse offered and actually took me and my then fiancée and now spouse Nkechinyere out! This event is an unforgettable one in my life considering the fact that I did not make any monetary contribution to his wedding. Thus, for him and his wife to leave everything they were doing to take me and my fiancée out was something to be read in books! So how can you tell me that Oronto is dead?
The highest level of expression of true friendship and comradeship by Senior OND towards the little me (for as they say: A friend in need is a friend indeed!) was the sudden appearance of Oronto Natei Douglas, his amiable wife – Tari and my Comrade and brother – Asume Osuoka (Sankara) at my traditional marriage in far away Anara, Isiala Mbano, Imo State without a hint that they were going to honour me with their gracious presence! You can imagine how elated I was to have such an uncommon personality grace my traditional marriage!
I can go on and on as we had many discussions on several issues – environmental, legal, political, movement building including how to build movements that would link all the activists from the various ethnic groupings in Nigeria starting from those of the South South and the South East.
Senior Oronto, all the passion, all the commitment, all the hope and all the struggle for a better Nigerian society and environment! All that you stood for and all the impact that you made on people like me simply means that you are not dead! You have just translated to a place of peace where all the human injustices that you fought against do not exist! Your heart of gold continues to live on as you will always be remembered for your positive contributions for the good of humanity all across the world.
We will take solace in the fact that it does not matter how many years a man lives but what was done with those years spent!
Prince Chima Williams is the President, Green Alliance Nigeria.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.