" ITREALMS: For Onukaba by Taiwo Obe

Monday, March 06, 2017

For Onukaba by Taiwo Obe

The book, Atiku - The Story of Atiku Abubakar, has the author’s name as Ojo Adinoyi. Unless, of course, you were familiar with the author or, and, knew that he was a special aide to the former Nigerian vice-president, you would have thought that it is not the same person as Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo. But then, when he joined The Guardian as a reporter in June 1983 immediately after his National Youth Service Corps primary assignment at Radio Nigeria, Ikoyi, his name was simply Shaibu Ojo. 

Till date, one of our colleagues at The Guardian still calls him, perhaps jokingly, Shaibu. He had written an article celebrating Nigeria’s rich culture, including taking pride in our traditional lines, signing it with: “Shaibu Adinoyi-Ojo.” A reader responded wondering why he was bearing an Arabic name, Shuaib (that’s the correct spelling and it means “stream”), advising him to live by example. Trust Shaibu, a principled person, he quickly dropped that name. His father’s name was Shaibu Onukaba. His own middle name was Adinoyi. So, he became Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo. 

He likes now to be identified as Adinoyi Onukaba Ojo. As that is mouthful, we shall agree here to call him simply Onukaba, which is what I call him. He calls me Taye, which most people who knew me from childhood still call me. Taye, of course, is the abridgment of To aye wo – (I came to) “taste” the world for my twin, Kehinde, who the Yoruba lore says, sent me - which, for convenience, has also been clipped to Taiwo. 

By the way, Onukaba means hard work and Adinoyi is “father of the multitude.” Seest thou a man who is diligent in his work, that’s Onukaba. Anyone who is familiar with this wonderful guy – and this is not patronising him -  knows that he gives his all to any project he commits to, and, yes, he’s truly someone who bears the burden of many, particularly his kin, some of whom won’t think twice before abusing the privilege.

Onukaba and I bonded almost immediately when we met. He had studied theatre arts at the University of Ibadan and had been taught playwriting by Prof Femi Osofisan, who was the one who influenced his admission to The Guardian. He was a quintessential reporter. He shunned unethical practices like a plague. A little digression, please: the other day a visitor in my office overheard a telephone conversation where I was vouching for Onukaba’s incorruptibility. 

The visitor wondered if he was a Nigerian. Yes, he is and a proud one at that.
Add to that, we lived in the same neighbourhood of Ipaja in the local government area now known as Alimoso, and the largest LGA in Nigeria’s commercial capital with 1.28m inhabitants. 

Onukaba had a Datsun 120Y Coupe jalopy, so he had no choice but to give me a ride home, most evenings.  Yes, that ubiquitous green jalopy. We rocked town together with it; bachelors who were also journalists of the Guardian; what else do you want to know?
He left The Guardian for further studies in journalism (master’s) and performance studies (doctorate) in the USA.

I inherited his Volkswagen Jetta car, yet another jalopy, but it got us from place to place. I had actually bought off him a Peugeot 504 saloon car (LA 8053 KE) the car he replaced the Jetta with. On the night that he travelled to the US, after he had unpacked his light luggage, he simply handed over the key of the Jetta to me; no ceremonies. He had felt guilty that he unknowingly sold me a lemon (the 504; which, by the way, I also sold on 30 July 1992 for a “staggering” N32,500:00), although I never made an issue of it. While in the US, we called each other and exchanged letters regularly. 

There was once I wrote him – in my beautiful handwriting– a 21-pager of sense and nonsense – no, let me quote him: ‘Your letter was as interesting as it was bloated with irrelevances. I laughed, laughed and laughed my heart out.’” I was his caretaker. If some monies needed to be distributed to his relations, I was the one who carried out the assignment. When he needed Mrs Remi Obasanjo, the first wife of President Olusegun Obasanjo, to go through the manuscript of his biography of the President, In the Eyes of Time (African Legacy Pr Inc,1997), I was the one who went and met the lady at her home in the Government Reserved Area of Ikeja, capital of Lagos State. I combed through Obasanjo’s library (the General, as Onukaba called Obasanjo has always loved libraries) at his home in Abeokuta, for pictures and more pictures for his book. 

In fact, my first meeting with the former president at his Ota farm, was because of In the Eyes of Time. It was a funny meeting. Not minding my presence, Obasanjo then doing more with his African Leadership Forum, dressed in an adire buba and sokoto, grabbed a cob of roast corn from one of his staff he met by the entrance of his office, cut it into two, and said in Yoruba, ki nse iwo nikan lo ma je – you won’t be the only one to eat it. For all he cared, I was not in that room. He munched on, without even asking me, even if as a symbolic gesture as tradition demands, to come join me o. 

I had persuaded him to allow Diamond Publications Limited to publish the book but, somehow, that couldn’t be. While I was in the US, we, of course, found time to hang out together – Onukaba and I, that is.

In one of his letters to me (10 December 1989), he concluded thus: “I love you more than a brother. It’s a confession.”

He never tired of being genuinely concerned about my welfare and that of my kith and kin. I repeat that, and even put it in bold: genuinely. In that same letter, he had written:  “Nigeria will be 30 next Oct. The govt is likely to spend huge sums on advertisement. Propose a supplement on Nigeria to Newsweek Magazine. Contact Gen Nwachukwu to help you push it. You could also begin working on Tony Momoh and everyone who will be useful.

“This is a chance to make millions. I am ready to render any assistance. There is no reason why (name withheld) should continue to eat the money alone. It will be a big breakthrough. Be serious. And keep to the two of us. I can contact Gen (Obasanjo) to help me talk to some people in govt. You just draw up the plan. Let me hear from you about this in your next letter.”

In registering a company, you are required to have at least two subscribers to the Memorandum and Articles of Association. Who else would I have chosen for a company that has to do with communication but the man called Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo?

I called him in the US and informed him; I was not seeking his approval, really. It was just a “FYI Only” matter. These are his recollections of that fateful afternoon: “Yes I was in New York as a doctoral candidate at New York University when you called to invite me to co-found the company. I was naturally very happy that you, me and other friends were thinking of creating an enterprise in which we could work for ourselves rather spend our entire lives slaving for others. I was happy that you had decided to lead the effort that would see us take control of our future. I was asked to purchase some PR and Advertising and Communication books and send home to the fledging company as part of my equity contribution. I got some of the books and that was it.” (Onukaba had noted in one of his letters which he wrote in his usual scraggy-lettering-camouflaged-as-cursive, thus: “I pray never to return to the spectre of poverty that drove me away from home. I wish you all the best for the decade there has to be some action”).

That was not it, Mr Adinoyi-Ojo: the company had to have a name.
I can imagine that some readers actually ignored the beginning parts of this book to get here quickly: to find out The Revelation. Oh well, let’s hope that this would enter The Encyclopaedia of Meanings of Company Names.

In my days as a library assistant (if you have not read Chapter II: The Discoveries, you won’t grasp this), I had too much money for a lad. It was the era when commercial jazz was the music. It was the era when cartridges and chrome dioxide cassettes were the fad. You were not trendy if you didn’t log those cassettes, BASF, SONY, etc. I collected all the works of Barry White, and I mean all the works; the music of Grover Washington, Jr, Eric Gale, Johnny Guitar Watson, Stanley Turrentine, George Benson and that Japanese alto saxophonist, Sadao Watanabe. It was a good time to be a lad, earning money that I didn’t need.

That afternoon, when I sat to christen this company that I had told Onukaba about, the uppermost thing on my mind was to come up with a name that won’t be returned by the Corporate Affairs Commission: an uncommon name; without a double.

So I juggled the two names of the two promoters, as if I was in a chemistry lab, and while doing the mixing, Sadao Watanabe kept fleeting by. And so was born TaijoWonukabe & Associates Limited. It was incorporated under the Companies and Allied Matters Decree 1990, on the 3rd day of September ...1-9-9-1 with Registration Number 166724. The authorised share capital was N1,000,000 at 1.00 per share. We increased the authorised shareholding to N20,000,000 on 17 October 2003.

We have had immeasurable fun with this name. Perhaps, right now, you are even juggling the letters like tiles in a game of Scrabble; go ahead and have your fun.

This morning, the one we called CBN (real name: Chido Nwakanma) me to find out if I had heard about Onukaba. When a message goes like that, be sure, it is some awful thing that has happened. What happened to Onukaba? He told me someone wrote that he’s dead….No. I called Onukaba’s number and it was a brother of his who picked it and confirmed that indeed, my friend and brother, had died. He was talking about what happened, but I barely heard the details. He was driving the car en route to Abuja. Bla, bla, bla.

I cried like I didn’t even when the death of my own older brother was broken to me.
I cried….I who have always counselled people to remember the good times they shared with their loved ones who passed away.

What is there to cry for now?
OnuK is gone. To meet His creator. I am sure his soul will find peace, because he was (was?) a genuinely good man. He would have been 57 on 9 March, 2017.

So, in remembering the good times we shared together, I have excerpted from a book that I have been writing almost forever. I now must finish the book. For Onukaba.

*Contributed by Taiwo Obe, CEO, TaijoWonukabe & Associates Limited.
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