A friend of about 28 years, Oronto Douglas breathed the last in the early hours of Thursday, April 9, 2015 after about seven years courageous battle with cancer. That it took one of the worst forms of cancer to take him out of this world is a statement on the inner strength of the mighty man in the small frame that was left of his chubby old self in the cancerous years .
He was terminally ill and we knew he was going to drop at some point but as humans we continued to pray for some divine intervention so that April 9 would not come.
Anytime I saw him in the last three years of his life, I was worried by his frame but reassured by his voice and the depth of his knowledge which cancer could not eat up.
It was Pastor Tunde Bakare who said a few hours after his death: “Oronto wore knowledge like a wrist watch” and I couldn’t agree less.
In spite of the physical toll the disease had taken on him, Oronto’s mind remained very sharp and was more committed to his duties than many people who suffered no physical ailment. I have never seen a man more dedicated to his duty than OND in all my years on earth.
We spoke almost on a daily basis over the last two years until our last meeting in his home on the 6th of February when I saw that he was withering and under much more intense physical discomfort.
He had told me a week earlier in Lagos as we shared lunch that he was finding it difficult to talk and that he would prefer text massages, the mode I switched to and we had the last exchange on Easter Day.
On April 1, he sent me the last but one text which read “You are a dependable ally my brother. May God bless our friendship as we look into the future”.
As at the time he wrote this ,he was living on the 21 days his doctors in America told him was left. Yet he lived on with courage and hope.
Yes he knew his physical was about to end but he was already having a peep into the spirit realm where true friendship has no terminal date.
Hours after his death, a top official I broke the news of his death to forwarded to me the text he got from him the previous evening when death was less than 12 hours away which read in part “…there is a post election Nigeria event hosted by Oxford on the 14th. Oby Ezekwesili is speaking. It might be good for……….. to send a rep to ensure the president’s legacy and narrative is not distorted”.
That was Oronto in the line of duty even in his dying hours. In the season when most elements were jumping ship, he was still there protecting the interest of his principal.
President Goodluck Jonathan could not boast of many Orontos around him .
He would sorely miss the man he was referred to as a resource person while doing his Doctorate. Oronto had by then asserted himself as an authority in environmental activism .They were to meet again in the Bayelsa State executive council in 1999 with Dr. Jonathan as Deputy Governor and Oronto as Information Commissioner.
By 2007, Oronto became his Special Adviser on Research, Documentation and Strategy, the position he served him till he succumbed in the battle with cancer on April 9.
His friends of decades are by now preparing to recall all the good things he did while he was in physical form, when his funeral arrangements are unveiled. My full tributes will sure come at the moment.
Suffice to say here that while he was here, he was always concerned when a soul departed. Dr. Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu told me the day he died that he came ahead of the president when Chief Oluwole Awolowo died. When Anyim Osagie died, I recall him telling me on phone that he was right at the residence of the deceased to commiserate with them.
His excitement knew no bound after he networked to purchase a parcel of land last year to build a centre for Chima Ubani and Bamidele Aturu. He laid the plan to me in his hotel room saying “apart from memorializing the two departed Comrades, the centre will generate funds through rents to pay staff salaries and support their families. They have struggled for us… to be abandoned”.
There is no way the wife and two lovely young children Oronto has left behind would ever suffer or be exposed to shame as their father had sown many seeds of goodness.
He told me how he raised money to build public libraries in Bayelsa and Ekiti states for other people’s children to journey into the forest of knowledge .His major concern all the time was how to better the conditions of the people. This he displayed as a student activist, environmental campaigner,a critical voice for the Niger Delta at the 2005 Political reforms conference.
At the appropriate time, the full story of the behind-the-scene moves that Oronto contributed to the conception and successful convocation of the 2014 National Conference would be told for Nigerians to know the deep concerns of Oronto for the well being of this country.
We shall bury what is mortal of Oronto but his memory lives with us forever.
Adieu my friend and brother,one of the best of my generation!
Yinka Odumakin is a political activist and National Publicity Secretary of Pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afrenifere.
Opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.