By Ochereome Nnanna
AS we prepare for the final rites of my deceased senior friend, colleague and associate, Chief Pini Jason Onyegbadue, the Onu Na-ekwuru Oha, (the people’s spokesman), I offer my humble tribute in form of insights into the way he lived his professional life, some of which we shared together.
In the first part of this piece, I disclosed how Pini formed the cornerstone of my first advent to the stable of Vanguard Newspapers.
Yes, indeed, the story of my Vanguard venture is in two parts. The first part – 1994 to 1999, owed to Pini Jason as narrated here last Thursday. The second part – 2001 till date, was based on the success of the first. The period between 1999 and 2001 took place outside Vanguard. Pini Jason and I were in it together trying to found a newspaper.
As soon as I took my place in this newspaper in 1995, Pini called me one day to his house in Jalupon Close, Surulere, and told me I was only on “loan” to Uncle Sam, the Publisher and founder of Vanguard Media Ltd. He had been working on a newspaper that would give the Igbo nation a voice and he wanted me as part of the team. He extracted a promise from me.
By January 1999, just as the nation was preparing for the presidential election, Pini informed me he was ready. I was faced with a difficult choice. On the one hand, I had made a name in Vanguard, and the system had recognised my contributions in its own ways. But on the other, I needed new challenges, especially in the managerial aspect of newspapering, not just as a writer.
Pini offered me the post of Deputy Editor, while Frank Igwebueze, a veteran of the Concord group and former Chief Moshood Abiola’s personal acolyte, was named the Editor of The Examiner.
The venture failed not because of failure on the part of any of us. It failed mainly because the “investors”, a bunch of idealistic and naïve Igbo professionals and businessmen who promised Pini all the money he would need for the project, failed to perform after pulling all of us out of our comfort zones.
The funding style and unrealistic expectations of the typical Igbo trader style of the stakeholders had “how not to run a newspaper business” written all over it.
By March 2001, I was ready to move on. After a short stint in the defunct Post Express as their Editor-at-Large Columnist, I came back to Vanguard. Pini also resumed writing for the newspaper shortly after. The chicken came back to roost.
Pini Jason really craved an opportunity to be part of the change he preached in his writings. He was not a politician. Even when he worked as Senior Executive Assistant to Governor Ikedi Ohakim of Imo State in 2007 to 2011, he firmly kept his distance from the political side of democratic governance.
He left party politics to the politicians, opting to focus on writing speeches and lectures as well as helping the image managers of the regime to tackle the rather abrasive political atmosphere in Owerri.
Pini was an activist. His interest in Nigerian politics was centred on the search for justice and equity after a civil war that re-classified the political ranking of Nigerian citizenship. It put the Hausa/Fulani (or general Muslim North) as first class citizens, the Yoruba as second, Northern Christian groups as third, Southern Minorities as fourth and the Igbo as bottom of the class. It was an informal arrangement, but it was potent and every other Nigerian group appeared, initially, to get along with it, until the inevitable turn of the wheel of injustice started biting each and every group, including (today) the former “master” group.
Pini rejected injustice in its entirety. His concept of fairness was not what it is to many Nigerians: only where it affects them. Pini battled marginalisation against the Igbo for their role in the civil war. He fought for the restoration of the June 12 presidential election annulled by General Ibrahim Babangida and his regional power clique in the army and their civilian collaborators. He was a member of the Council for Unity and Understanding (CUU) formed by former Chief of General Staff, Okoh Ebitu Ukiwe, towards power shift.
CUU was a platform of dialogue which Ukiwe and his group (with Pini as the media mouthpiece and pen ambassador) used to initiate dialogue both within the elites of the former Eastern Region and across regions with Yoruba, Middle and progressive wing of the Northern elite. CUU was instrumental in getting Chief Moshood Abiola to return to Nigeria and fight for his mandate.
When the Afenifere led by Chief Michael Ajasin abandoned their anti-Abiola stance and joined forces with CUU, the Middle Belt Forum led by General TY Danjuma and Chief Anthony Enahoro’s Movement for National Reformation (MNR) in May 1995, the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) was born, and the fight for Abiola’s mandate was in full spate.
Pini, it will be recalled, participated in the “marches’ in Yaba, along with Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Prof. Wole Soyinka, Chief Enahoro, Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu and the others to support Abiola’s presidential mandate.
By 1998 when the General Abdulsalami Abubakar transition to civil rule programme was inaugurated, Pini was among those who formed the People’s National Forum (PNF) the Igbo leg of the national movement that eventually became the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) before it was hijacked by the military and put at the disposal of General Olusegun Obasanjo.
Once the movement was hijacked and named PDP at an Abuja convention, Pini Jason distanced himself from it and strictly minded his business as a media professional.
Even as a gubernatorial Executive Assistant, Pini Jason yearned for the end of the four-year period he promised Governor Ikedi Ohakim to enable him return to his trade. Many were the moments he crackled with regret that certain issues were at play in the media and he could not write to share his views, being shackled by his involvement in government.
In recent years, Pini’s health started failing. He had many surgeries for prostate and eye problems. But his peculiar handsomeness never deserted him. Pini has gone the way of all mortals. But he left behind enduring footprints and fingerprints on the sands of time. Centuries down the line, his ardent fans can always go to the archives and relive over thirty years of eclectic engagement with an artist who will never be forgotten.