One of the most painful experiences in someone’s life is to helplessly watch your loved one die. It is a traumatic pain and sorrow that only God Almighty can alleviate. I have in the past four years struggled with this psychological trauma, but it just won’t go away. Two weeks ago, the involuntary thoughts and depression came knocking again. A rewind and a replay of how I stood by the bedside of Oronto Douglas watching helplessly until he took his last breath kept playing in my memory.
The ninth of April 2020 makes it 5 years when Oronto passed on, to eternal glory. As I continue in my struggle to eliminate the replay of Oronto’s death in my memory, I purposed in my heart this time around to channel my thoughts and consolation to his great legacies.
Oronto Natei Douglas (1966-2015) was a man who walked his talk during his sojourn on earth. To walk-the-talk means to do what one said one would do, not just making empty promises. I am certain that Oronto won the respect of so many globally, not only because of his intellectual or oratory prowess, but largely because he walked his talk. He was a very dependable person. Oronto would not say a thing and turn around to do a different thing. Throughout his life, he gave his energy and resources in pursuit of the things he had spoken about. It is with all confidence that I say this because of my personal experience, having worked with him for two decades.
I chose to pen this special attribute of Oronto because we now lived in a world of deceit. People say whatever they like to deceive others and turn around to do things other than what they have said. Some gave this bad attitude a name called politics or smartness. Oronto did not belong to this class of personalities.
The world is in dire need of the Orontos. Men and women of courage who would do what they say and promise. Men and women who would speak truth to power irrespective of who is involved. Men and women who will sacrifice their personal comfort to fight the rights of the downtrodden. Men and women who would deploy their resources for the common good of humanity. Men and women who will do all it takes to honour their words. No wonder former President Goodluck Jonathan lamented during the funeral of Oronto that he had lost a trusted, dedicated and dependable aide.
Oronto Douglas was a man with many good attributes. Just to mention a few, he was an environmental/human rights activist. He was a crusader of peace and good governance. He was a lover of justice and equity. He was a promoter of education and a tower of support to communities and institutions. In all these areas mentioned above and in other areas for which space would not permit me to enumerate, Oronto walked his talk.
In his selfless service as an activist, he assisted communities to fight against the environmental degradation occasioned by multinational corporations such as Shell, ExxonMobil, Agip and Chevron bringing the companies to a standstill at no cost to the communities. Unlike many who would want to benefit from the efforts of such struggles, Oronto never did such. He worked for the Ogonis and the entire Niger Delta. A case of reference is my own community Epebu, where Oronto helped us in our fight against the Nigerian Agip Oil Company and brought the Company to its knees. Oronto told me that his chamber will not charge any community for services rendered and he kept to this promise until he departed planet earth.
I also witnessed Oronto take a very strong decision in defence of what he has evangelized concerning his concept about scholarships. Oronto has said severally that scholarship is meant for the poor, the children of the poor and the less privileged in the society, not for the opulent and wealthy. But what do we see today? The reverse is the case. Do you still wonder about the source of the great insecurity confronting our country?
In walking his talk regarding the issue of scholarship, Oronto kicked against his brilliant younger brother Gift Douglas, from picking up a shell scholarship offer. That opportunity was given to another less privileged person. In this belief, Oronto trained all his younger ones and family relatives from his personal resources, even though he had every opportunity to secure them government scholarship.
In his work to encourage education and intellectual growth in the larger society, Oronto built and equipped a Nursery School called E.K.Clarke Preparatory School in his native home of Okoroba. The school was managed by a British Consultant and it was free of charge. Uniforms, books, and other study materials were provided at no cost to parents. His idea was to raise a generation of well-educated young men to compete effectively with their peers from any part of the world. Oronto took this step because he had always emphasized that the only way to empower people was through quality education.
Oronto in his efforts to contribute to the common good, converted his only building in Yenagoa to a public library and named it after Prof E.J. Alagoa, the renowned Nigerian historian. He did not stop there, he proceeded further to build many other libraries in different locations. He built the Chief Melford Okilo library in Ogbia Town; Goodluck Jonathan Library in Okoroba; Bruce Powell Library in Otuoke; Obigbo Mikimiki in Opume; Prof C. T. I Odu Library in Brass; Obafemi Awolowo Library in Irele-Ikole Ekiti; Tuodolo Library in Bomadi Delta State. He also built a yet to be named library in Umuobuna-Ohaozara Ebonyi state and at the United Comprehensive High School Wasimi, Abeokuta Ogun State, where he had his secondary education, he also built and furnish a library for the school. He was about starting another library in Ikot Nseyen in Ikono LGA in Akwa Ibom State before he passed on. Suffice it to say that the only library at the Federal University Otuoke was the one built by Oronto Douglas.
Oronto also gave scholarships to many poor people. He equally supported several groups and institutions. The creative industry, the Arts, Nigerians in the Diaspora Group, NGOs and many CBOs all benefited from Oronto’s benevolence. Oronto also set up many youth and a community-based organizations, including the Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, and the Ogbia Study Group.
As I continue in reminiscent over the great legacies of Oronto Douglas in this 5th year of his memorial, I am reminded of the great words of Joseph Campbell who said, “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself”. I salute Oronto the hero, for his courage and doggedness to walk his talk.
My family and I surely do miss him greatly. Rest on my mentor, even as Nigeria needs more people that can walk their talk.
Okumo Ipigansi worked with Oronto Douglas for 17 years. He was his personal assistant until his death.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.