By Abubakar Jimoh
I read a tribute by the publisher of Ovation Magazine, Dele Momodu, which struck a chord in the triangular destinies of the late Dr. Adinoyi Ojo Onukaba and some of us during our academic and career sojourn. Keller Brown was the adopted school boy (alias or guy name) of the brilliant and swash buckling Adinoyi Shuaibu Ojo as he was then known at Ebira Anglican College, Okene (now Lennon Memorial College). He made a distinction in the West African School Certificate Examination (WASCE) in 1977, the very year I entered the same school. I never met him in school but his legendry academic prowess and mercurial leadership as the college head boy was a reference point for those of us who saw in Onukaba a shining star and role model.
In 1984, when I gained admission to study political science at the University of Ibadan, the name Onukaba resonated again and the reverberation of his intellectual exploits found expression and anchorage at the Guardian Newspapers as one of its most prolific journalists. I did not meet him again at the premier university but his academic footprint became my prismatic compass as a teenage undergraduate in search of a role model.
Our path crossed again after my National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) in 1988 when I needed a job badly because my parents had advised me to abandon my M.Sc degree admission to Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, in order to join hands with them in training my siblings in the universities.
In my agonizing moment, I remembered Onukaba, the avant-garde journalist and headed for Lagos. I went to the Guardian Newspaper to see Onukaba who was at the apogee of his journalism career. It was a busy period for him on that day, so we had a hurried discussion and he advised me to come on board as a freelance journalist for a start. It was a good counsel but not an economic option because my parents were waiting for me to supplement the family budget. Onukaba’s wise counsel however buoyed the confidence in my choice to make a career in journalism and I immediately left Lagos to Kano to meet one of my aunties who helped me secure a reportorial job with Triumph Newspapers under the tutelage of the brilliant and young Editor, Malam Garba Shehu (Now Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media & Publicity).
I cut my journalism teeth at Triumph Newspapers and in less than a year I was deployed to Ilorin as Kwara State Editor and, before I could barely settle down, I was again moved in 1991 to Lagos as Regional Correspondent with the primary responsibility of covering aviation sector. This was the same aviation beat where Onukaba loomed larger than life because of his reverential exploits as a ruthless, investigative journalist and combatant. Again I never met him on the beat because he had left few years back to pursue his Ph.D and subsequently a career as United Nations Information Officer but he remained a mirror image and edifying reflection of my struggle for excellence and dedicated service as a journalist.
It was only four years ago that I became close to Onukaba when we met severally at the annual dinner of the University of Ibadan Alumni Association. He later read in details the serialized newspapers interviewing celebrating my 50th birthday on how our academic and career paths crossed some years ago. In his characteristic humility, he telephoned me to congratulate me.
Two weeks before his tragic death, some old school mates and myself put a call to Onukaba during one of our Planning Committee Meetings for the forthcoming 50th Anniversary celebration of our ALMA mater (Lennon Memorial College) initially slated for April, 2017.
He commended our efforts and gladly offered to meet with some Execute Members of the old Boys association on Monday 6th March, 2017. A day before the appointed day, tragedy struck and Onukaba was hurried out of this sinful world. His death like so many others has ignited the unresolved debate between the two schools of thoughts, the proponents of predestination and adherents of the free will.
The management of Lennon Memorial College has shifted its 50th anniversary celebration from this April to July as a mark of respect for its illustrious alumnus, who is resting in perfect peace with God.
It is with heavy heart that we mourn a rare gem, an accomplished scholar, consummate journalist and shinning role model.
- Jimoh is Director, Special Duties at NAFDAC, Abuja.