When two stars fell from the firmament

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By Pini Jason

I WAS on the phone with my wife as I was flipping through the pages of a newspaper; half taking in the stories in the paper and half listening to my wife who kept saying huh, huh, huh, did you hear what I said? Then suddenly, I let off a scream! Oh no! What was that?

My wife, obviously panicked, asked from the other end. Victor is dead! Who is Victor? She asked. Victor Ogundipe! I said breathlessly. Who is that? She asked again. How do you begin to explain Victor over a telephone? He was one of our best; I shall explain him in details when I come to Lagos. I told her.

Really, when I screamed, it was not out of surprise that Victor was dead, for we shall all die, and dying in Nigeria today has become everybody’s daily portion! I screamed more out of anguish than surprise. Victor Akinloye Ogundipe’s death was announced in an obscure two by four in the newspaper!

*The late Deacon Ayo Ositelu.

*The late Deacon Ayo Ositelu.

That can really be annoying given that the media are so preoccupied with knaves and nonentities catapulted to public notoriety by politics and sustained by promiscuous thievery! We journalists have proved to be proverbial shoemakers whose wives are badly shod!

We hardly celebrate our own stars when they fall from the firmament, except when assassinated! Well, just as my wife asked who Victor was, not many journalists today would know him. Many who knew him would vaguely remember him. After all, Victor had been quiet for a long time. He made a cameo appearance in the Vanguard a while ago and quietly disappeared again. Some of us did not know he had taken ill.

Victor Ogundipe (1954-2012) was indeed one of our best! He was a pathfinder in financial journalism. As editor of Financial Punch he redefined financial reporting and analysis. Discussing business was no longer an arcane, pedantic outpouring full of technical jargons.

He brought his personal panache to the business pages of Punch. He took economic analysis out of the realm of myth. It was out of that new light shone on the business pages that existing business newspapers repositioned themselves as readable journals and exclusive business journals and magazines grew.

It was also because of Victor’s pioneering efforts that more journalists realised that business desks were not exclusively for economics and we could turn political science graduates like Aloy Nduka to one of the best business reporters of his time.

Many people knew Victor from different perspectives. Apart from being a consummate professional, Victor was many things to many people. At the service of songs in his honour at his Katampe Estate, Abuja, residence, on Thursday 10 January, I heard several things said in tributes to him.

They all reflected the complexities of the quintessential Victor Ogundipe. He was as warm as he could be hot! He may have been an eccentric to some people, but that is the nature of great minds and Victor was one! But among other things, Victor was committed to truth and could be very strong willed about his beliefs.

He was a perfectionist and could be seen as difficult. But all perfectionists I know are difficult to please, for to keep order, as we are finding out in our nation today, is difficult. He was confident and could be called arrogant or brash because of that. But is it not the lot of the mediocre to call the competent arrogant?

He was uncompromisingly honest about himself and never pretended and could be seen as naive in a world where corruption has become a national culture. Victor was an exciting personality who was comfortable with ideas and could light up a room with his presence. Did he make some mistakes? He could have. Why not? After all he was human.

A Change agent

Anything Victor did in all of his careers, he did differently. When he became Corporate Affairs Manager for banks, he altered the concept and content of the job from that of a mere press relations officer who issued rejoinders and rebuttals to that of a corporate executive who spoke banking policies and finance to the publics of the banks with authority and depth. That again opened doors to Business and Financial reporters as sought-after Corporate Affairs managers in the banking and financial sector. There are many who trod the path cut by Victor.

Victor, as a change agent carried the burden of all change agents. When Victor went to Commerce Bank, I believe he met his greatest challenges there. The intrigues, cloak-and-dagger and betrayals that saw venerable Gamaliel Onosode resign from the board in protest later consumed the bank and some of its directors.

It was during that testy period that Victor came to me at Thisweek magazine on Ogunlana Drive, looking battle weary and told me that from then on, he was not going to fight any battle that is likely to consume him. Unfortunately, there were many more battles to fight!

Nigeria has since become far worse than Victor left it to return to America! As I said in tribute to him at the service of songs, were Victor to be alive and in active journalism today, the National Assembly would be issuing a warrant of arrest for him every day! Victor was daring and pulled no punches.

Nigerians have come to accept that it is impossible to be honest, professionally competent, self-assured and committed to truth and survive in this country. These virtues seem impossible today once you lack self-confidence and self-discipline and have no role model or people around you who inspire you. Victor was lucky like many of us who grew up surrounded and inspired by the best this country could produce. And Victor was only 58 when he passed on. Nigeria lost one of its best!

Ositolu left The Arena

Incidentally, as I left Lagos for Abuja on Wednesday 9 January to attend Victor’s funeral rites, another media star left the ARENA of vintage sports journalism. The news broke that we have lost yet another of our best in sports journalism, Deacon Ayo Ositelu. Deacon Ositelu was to sports journalism what Victor Ogundipe was to financial journalism. Like Victor, he too, was of the Punch stable.

Nobody, except Chuka Momah, understood and wrote about lawn tennis as Ayo Ositelu did. To read his column, The Arena, was to watch a tennis match live! Ayo’s passion for the sport was effervescent. His commitment to good writing was unmistakable. He had style and panache. His suave and pious dignity flowed into The Arena.

Deacon Ositelu went into government as Chairman of Ejigbo Local Government Development Area and proved that journalists can deliver as well as they write. I followed his tenure as Ejigbo LGDA Chairman with keen interest. He left a shoe which another journalist, Kehinde Bamigbetan, is wearing admirably.

As a journalist and politician Ositolu led by transparent example. We should worry as the few good men among us are passing when Nigeria is poised to completely fall into the hands of the nihilistic and ferociously predatory generation. I am worried. Think of it.

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