Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo, thespian, journalist, playwright, administrator, politician and our friend and colleague died on Sunday, March 5, 2017 on one of Nigeria’s impossibly treacherous roads, fleeing from armed robbers. If armed robbers knew who he was, maybe they would have spared him.
He was a true man of talent, a gifted professional and a man who will always be remembered for the quality of his art and person.
He was not your ordinary journalist. He was an intellectual. He had gravitas and he deployed his polyvalent understanding with ease without going out of his way to intimidate less gifted persons.
There is so much can’t in this country and so much emptiness. But I never caught Onukaba flogging people with his brilliance. He was a very friendly, accommodating and understanding fellow who made many friends because he easily masked his superiority. This was the secret of his success as Managing Director of the Daily Times.
In better-organized countries, a man like him will still be alive and not be chased to death by armed robbers. But here we are: another sad story. Nigeria easily kills off its best.
Onukaba is probably the best airport correspondent Nigeria ever produced. He made his mark at the airport, hunting for stories, interviewing the prominent and the influential, and it was at the airport that he met General Olusegun Obasanjo who changed his life for good.
When I arrived at the University of Ibadan for graduate studies in Theatre Arts, I found myself in a class that had been carefully selected including smart persons from virtually every part of the country: UNN, ABU, Jos, Calabar, Ibadan, Ilorin, Benin, Port Harcourt.
Shuaibu Ojo, as he then was, was one of the three persons from the home department, Ibadan. We all knew each other more or less, because theatre students in Nigeria usually meet at an annual festival called NUTAF. The Ibadan students wouldn’t allow me rest: they told me they had Shuaibu in my class and he would show me that Ibadan’s Second Class Upper was superior to my Calabar First Class.
I had my head in the clouds in those days. I told them I was waiting for their Shuaibu and that I would not only beat him, but I would also make history in the entire university.
Shuaibu didn’t take up the Ibadan offer. He later went to the United States, where he did a Masters in Journalism and a Ph.D in Performance Studies. I admired him. He is the only Nigerian I knew for a long time with a Ph.D in Performance Studies, the conjunction point of theatre studies, and under Richard Schechner, the scholar who developed that field into a defining medley of theatre, art and politics.
Onukaba and I shared many paths over the years- through UI, The Guardian, Africa Leadership Forum, OBJ, Baba or Obas as we call him, journalism, spokesmanship, writing… His death diminishes us. The flag should fly at half-mast at all Departments of Theatre, Dramatic, Media and Creative Arts in Nigeria because he was one of the best advertisements of the multi-disciplinary quality of their curriculum.
Choo-bo-i, my brother!
Dr. Reuben Abati was spokesperson and special adviser, media and publicity to President Goodluck Jonathan (2011 – 2015). He tweets from @abati1990.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer.