Oronto Douglas, special adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on research, documentation and strategy, died in the early hours of Thursday three weeks after his doctors told him he had a few days to live.
He was diagnosed with cancer in 2008 and had been battling the disease since then with “encouraging signs” of improvement, family sources told TheCable.
At some stage, he was thought to have survived as the cancer went into remission, but he suffered a relapse in 2011. He had been visibly sick in the last one year, losing weight dramatically and sometimes needing a wheelchair to move around in the last three months. Douglas, a trusted aide of Jonathan, travelled to the US in March for his regular check-up and was told by his doctors that he could not survive further medication.
“They told him he would die in a matter of days. That was on March 18, 2015. He had to choose between dying in the US and returning to Nigeria. He decided to return home,” the source said. He was said to be in high spirits up till the moments leading to his death, which occurred at 4:58am on Thursday at the State House clinic, Abuja.
“You would not believe he was so sick if you listened to him on the phone. Only if you saw him physically would you know his state. As at Wednesday, he was still working even though he could not move around the house,” the source added. Unlike in 2011 when he went on the nationwide campaign tour of Jonathan, he was not strong enough to participate in the 2015 campaign, and could no longer go to office.
Douglas, who would have clocked 49 on August 6, cut his teeth as a young lawyer and environmental rights activist. He was the deputy director of the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, a group devoted to “protecting the environment”. He was a member of the legal team that represented Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists at their trial under Gen. Sani Abacha’s government in 1994-95.
The Ogoni Nine, as they were called, were executed in November 1995 in what was described as “judicial murder”. The Okoroba-born humanitarian had degrees in law from the University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt, and De Montfort, Leicester, England. He was commissioner for information in Bayelsa state, but resigned in 2005 when DSP Alamieyeseigha, then governor, was impeached. He left behind a wife and two young sons.