It has taken me a long time to write this because I had to process the loss slowly. Bereavement is a natural thing in our lives but it assumes a different dimension when someone you know intimately is involved. Even though I always tell people that there’s a threshold of death that we all cross whenever a close person dies, and this inevitably prepares one for dealing with subsequent deaths. But, last week, my theory failed me.
It has been difficult and tough processing the death of Oronto Natei Douglas. Even though while I knew it was coming, my subconscious mind still kept on trusting God for a miracle. I pride myself as a man of faith, and if anything was up for God to show His miraculous hands, OND’s health was it. We prayed and held out for a miracle but nothing prepared me for the news last Thursday morning. The rain was lashing my windshield furiously that early morning as I made my way to the office with the wiper operating at the highest level. At a point I contemplated stopping at a Mobil filling station because visibility was low. The rain, however, subsided a bit and I increased the volume of the car radio to listen to the 7am news. Immediately the newscaster uttered the words “The special assistant to the president on documentation and strategy…..” my head started spinning and I began to cry.
There was no need bothering to listen to the concluding part as I knew the inevitable had happened and as if on cue, the rain stopped completely and I started processing my grief in silence. My phone rang and I decided not to pick it because I knew it must be about OND. On getting to the office, I called our mutual friend, Akinbode Oluwafemi, through whom I met Oronto in 1997. “Yes, he is gone Wale, he said calmly. I called another friend, Kayode Ogunbunmi, he was pretty sore like me that he just choked up speaking. On deeper reflection, I remember Bode saw Oronto on Monday, March 30 in Abuja and getting back to Lagos he asked me to intensify prayers for our friend.
The last time I was in touch with OND was on April 1 when I congratulated him on President Goodluck Jonathan’s call to General Muhammadu Buhari, the president-elect. His response was short and precise: “Thank you.” Two days earlier, March 30, we exchanged texts in the early hours. Interestingly it was at the same moment my wife asked after him that his text came in, “Good morning my brother. How is the family especially my sister? How are we doing electorally?” There we were glued to the television set in our living room watching the presidential election coverage with different kind of permutations playing in our minds. Told of the coincidence, he said, “That’s great spiritual connection,” and thereafter our exchange continued. Prior to that I saw him at Eko Hotel on January 7 when he invited me for a chat. We spoke and I told him the areas I felt President Jonathan’s campaign needed to do more as APC was clearly on the ascendancy.
There were many people waiting to meet with him and he kept saying, “The great Fatade, you must wait o, after all you’re my friend. Don’t be in a hurry, my sister would not mind tonight whenever you get home.” A month before that time, I had breakfast with him and seeing each other after a long time forced me to exclaim, “OND, you have lost so much weight.” In his Socratic way, he replied, ‘I’m much better now, trust me Fatade.” Not one to forget his sense of humour, he added, “At least I can wear your shirt size in solidarity now.” I was not amused. Other friends that day confirmed his assertion and that got me worried the more. He had a meeting with some bloggers and citizen journalists which when I told him I would soon take my leave he insisted I stay to observe and give feedback at the end. “You should have brought my sister so that you will stay longer, the great Fatade.”
We discussed sundry matters that day having not seen for a long time, which prompted the accusation that I deliberately kept away from him. I told him how I couldn’t stand his new crowd and he retorted, “That’s why you’re not a politician.” He invited me to stay with him at his bedside and we reminisced on how we met and what we have both been up to since when he forced me to eat roasted plantain, yam, fish and oil at Mbiama junction on the East-West road in 1997. Due to the political atmosphere then, subsequent interaction was put on hold until 1999 when the atmosphere was more conducive.
Now I remember our friendship especially the mutual affinity for books, which he always buy for me in his peripatetic nature of activism. Anytime I look at my bookshelves, I see quite a lot of titles that came in through him. The last time he gave me books was January 2014 and the two titles suddenly now became more important. A lot has been said of Oronto’s networking ability and incredible capacity to make friends and forge long lasting ties. This was demonstrated at a conference in 2006 in Abuja where I saw him conversing with the late Senator Sule Yari Gandi from Sokoto State intimately. He always had time to make little talks with everybody and making you feel as the most important person in the world whenever he talked with you. To him, his friends’ wives were important also and he would always ask after their welfare. This, he said, was a way of maintaining ties with his friends as the wives usually determine how long such friendship will last.
Oronto was witty and he deployed this to great advantage helping him in no small measure in activism and politics. An incident particularly stands out till date when he said someone ‘ went nicodemously’ to do something after the biblical character that went to Jesus Christ in the night. He had an enormous love for his community and this was reflected in his efforts at ensuring a better life for them through groups like Environmental Rights Action (ERA) that he co-founded, Chikoko Movement, Community Defence Law Foundation (CDLF) among others.
He packed so much into his 48 years that we cannot forget him in a hurry. My heart goes out to his wife and the children. Sleep on OND.