7th November, 2013
By E. C. Ejiogu
If Baba Omojola were a commercial product, the most appropriate pitch-line in the marketing campaign to bring him to consumers could possibly be, ‘A Unique Brand’. But fortunately, thank goodness, he is a human being, quite a rare version! In fact, Baba was one of the finest human beings that anyone could come by in this life. I have written just only one and a half eulogies in my entire life—the one I wrote and delivered in my language, Igbo on the occasion of my dear father’s interment in August 2011, and the one that I co-wrote to Thomas Sankara in 1988 with my pal, Olu Oguibe. If you insist on knowing why: I find it a bit more bearable to mourn the passing of people who are dear to me, in quiet ways.
Baba and I met for the first time in Maryland, US during those heady days in the campaign—which by the way never transcended to become a struggle—to actualize the June 12 mandate that almost everyone agrees, the late Chief MKO Abiola received in that year’s election, and it was snatched from him by conscience-challenged characters in the Nigeria project. We readily took to each other given the circumstances, and became very good friends. Little did it occur to me that Baba’s desires for the friendship that we struck during that campaign would last over the years and remain special. It was not until the day he called me aside in Alexandria, Virginia after one of those countless meetings that took place in Chief Anthony Enahoro’s apartment with the other June 12 campaigners that I became aware of that desire.
There and then, he disclosed to me the existence of a piece of undeveloped real estate, which he owns somewhere on Lagos Island and his intention to sell some of it to only people in his circle of very close friends. That was his invitation and offer to me to be part of the ownership of the property. Some might wonder: What is the big deal about that? Well, in a rat-race drenched society, where the norm for most property owners in such a prime location in Lagos is to peddle their land to only the highest bidders who would pay premium to buy from them, it is quite a big deal that he preferred otherwise. It did no matter to Baba at all that most of us in his circle of friends would not afford to pay him the market price for a plot of his land. All that mattered to him most was to have only kindred-spirited people in his circle of friends as his neighbours on the property. Baba’s brand of selflessness is uniquely rare.
After I received news of his passing in the media these past couple of weeks, I was at a loss on how I would get hold of his wife to express my condolences. Although I often found time to stop by and visit them in their house in Surulere most of the times when I passed through Lagos on my way, it never occurred to me to also get his wife’s cell phone number. But somehow, through a mutual friend of ours who is a journalist in Lagos, I was able to get hold of his son, Akinola’s cell phone number instead. It was through him that I subsequently got his step-mother’s, Mrs. Cole-Ajibola.
During that telephone chat with both Akinola and his step-mother, I revealed to them how in July when I called Baba from the US to acknowledge receipt of the electronic invitation to his 75 birthday event which was organized by comrades and friends, Baba had casually mentioned to me that it was going to be “the last one” meaning his last birthday, they marvelled. Akinola himself shared a few other incidents that occurred between him and his father in the last few months prior to his passing that also gave him cause to suspect that Baba had a premonition of sorts that his sojourn here on earth was about to end.
Akinola, who I am yet to meet in person took time to share with me the extensive discussions he held with his father on my paradigm-changing book, The Roots of Political Instability in Nigeria: Political Evolution and Development in the Niger Basin (Ashgate, 2011) and the pertinent issues it raised on how best to resolve the age-old problem of inequity that derives from the imposed political arrangements in the Nigeria project ever it was carved into existence by British colonial fiat.
For full disclosure, Baba was one of the five individuals—whose names I’d rather hold back here—that on my recommendation, Ashgate Publishing sent complementary copies of the book after it was released. But it came to pass that only Baba and two others actually received theirs. The copies that were sent to the other two individuals on two different occasions all got lost when they got into Lagos from the UK. The quintessential progressive that he is, Baba wasted no time to read the book and commend me on the research and presentation of my findings in the book. As he put it, those research findings are right on the mark about the Nigeria project. But not for once did he tell me that he recommended the book to and also encouraged his son to read it, or that they held far reaching discussions on it.
I find it difficult to write about Baba in the past tense, even though it is true he is no longer here with us in flesh and bone. As I told Akinola—who by the way wasted no time to affirm his father’s vision of founding “a revolutionary estate” or community of progressives, which he called “new Ijaiye (Akuro Ijaiye)” on the said property—and his mother, it would not be a cliché whenever they are told that in Baba, they lived with a humble and decent man of unparalleled calibre.
I also learnt from them that “founding a school of appropriate technology in that same area” where Akuro Ijaiye is, is Baba’s desire. I was told that Baba’s other rationale for founding the revolutionary estate is “in remembrance of his origins from his grandfather (Ajala Oluwide), the chief of staff to the Yoruba field marshal, Kurunmi (from whom he took his warrior spirit)”. He is indeed, a unique brand.
Life’s essence can be discerned from certain salient indicators. As I write this, there is the story of one Michael Akhigbe, who once upon a time was a man of power in the Nigeria project. The story is that he is currently dying far away from his home, in a US hospital. But do you know what? The sort of snickering commentaries that news of his ill health elicits from the online commentariate would make you shudder with revulsion. If you are conversant with the exploits of Akhigbe and his ilk in the Nigeria project, you would agree that commentaries were not exaggerated. I would not want to be associated with such a person. Would you? But I would any day, say the opposite about Baba.
On each of the countless times that I called and talked with Baba on the phone, he would often sign off at the end with a crisp “cheers”. It is now my turn to say to you, Baba, “cheers”. There is nothing to regret about the life you lived amongst us here.
•Ejiogu, PhD, author of The Roots of Political Instability in Nigeria: Political Evolution and Development in the Niger Basin (Ashgate, 2011), wrote this article for TheNEWS magazine.