By Dele Sobowale
“Steel and death have made terrible ravages among us; and the sad thing is we are not yet at the end of tragedy”. Frederick the Great, Emperor of Prussia, 1740-1786. (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p 32).
Why am I writing a tribute to someone who was unknown to me until May of this year? And when we first met, I discovered that he was just about old enough to be my second child? Yet, in less than six months, I had become so fond of him that when the news of his sudden death in the Associated Airline crash reached me at Ibadan, my regular refuge from the chaotic life in Lagos, tears came tumbling out of my eyes uncontrollably for hours – as if he was my son. In reality, right from our first conversation on the phone, which started with him calling, he always called me “Daddy”. Even, when I told him that “Uncle will be more appropriate”, he had replied, “Sir, you are like a Daddy to a lot of us educated young ones around Campus Square. We are proud that you are one of our own; and we read you every Sunday religiously”.
And, it was the weekly reading “religiously”, as he put it, that brought us together – until cruel death put an end to it in the worst possible way imaginable. By all rights, I shouldn’t be writing this about Tunji; anymore than I wish to write it about anybody younger than me by so many years. It just isn’t right. “But, somebody has to do it”. That was what Tunji had said to me the first time he called me. “Somebody has to do it”. “But, do what?”. That was my question to him. Then he told me his reason for calling.
According to him, “If you can recollect, Sir, you published a three part series of articles in December 2011 titled “LAGOS STATE GOVERNORSHIP 2015: CHRISTIAN AGENDA” drawing attention to the marginalization of Christians with regard to the governorship of Lagos State”. I had to admit that he was right, but I also said that, like a lot of media people, I was only attempting to set an agenda for 2015. He countered by saying that the issue had since developed into a crusade as Christians have decided to press the matter henceforth. He went further to mention that a group Christian Conscience, CC, was already working on the agenda and he had called me to invite me to their next meeting – perhaps I might have some advice to give them – as the “owner” of the idea. But, it was more than a request he made; there was an urgent plea; as if he had promised the group to produce me at their meeting. That was how I attended the first meeting; mostly because I was curious to meet this fellow whose words were so charming on the phone. I thought it would be the first and last meeting. Tunji, however, had other ideas.
After the meeting, during which I did more listening than talking, I went home satisfied that all was over. The phone rang two hours after; and it was Tunji. “Daddy, thanks for coming, but, how did you find the meeting?”
“It was ok, except that if this is going to be a successful endeavour you need to take some measures”, I replied.
“Can I see you later today to discuss those measures, Sir?”
To cut short the story, I was hooked, by Tunji and his “Daddy” and “Sir” and proceeded to attend the meetings regularly. Soon, it was decided to organize a Seminar to sensitise Christians and a Seminar Committee was established. Tunji, the engine room, was on the Committee. Inexplicably, I was made the Chairman, and later became the convener of the Seminar. It was a typical Nigerian Committee; seven were chosen, but two, Tunji and me, did most of the work – with Tunji bearing the brunt. And we had hecklers, among our members; on account of which Tunji three times threatened to resign. It was my turn to persuade the young man, quoting the Bible or taking examples from history that achievements go to the resilient. In reality, I needed him more than he realized. Later, when the seemingly impossible Seminar became actually possible, we had more “helpers” than we could use. Typical Nigerian Committee.
So, against great odds, and with the tenacity of Tunji, we had our Seminar on September 26, 2013 – attended by over 2500 Christian leaders. People coming to congratulate me, after the event, were told, “The credit belongs to Tunji Okusanya”.
When he also came to me and said, “Daddy, thank you, for making this thing possible”. I said, “Tunji, stop being modest. You made it possible”.
Then he said, “All my life, I have always wanted to do something for Christ”.
I replied, “Tunji, you have done something for Christ today and He will reward you”.
Nothing else was said because I expected he would see me at WAKA Club 1945 later. But, for once he did not come. Instead, he called to apologise because he and his staff were busy on the Agagu funeral arrangements. He would call in a few days to discuss what else is to be done.
How was I supposed to know that a conscientious fellow like that would actually follow somebody’s corpse to eternal life?
It is not fair, God; it is not fair.
P.S. As it turned out, I had wanted to tell Tunji that having finished the seminar, it was time for me to leave. I even had the words, taken from the masthead of the WEST AFRICAN PILOT, published by immortal Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, ready for the discussion. Those at death’s door, like me, would remember those words, “Show the Light and the people will find the way”. Yes, I placed the issue of Christian Governor for Lagos State in 2015 on the political agenda. But, I am not a politician; and don’t intend to be one. So, I was going to tell Tunji that they can carry on without me. I never had a chance. To, now back out will amount to a betrayal of Tunji. So, I must carry on with this campaign – wherever it may lead me. A friend said “it might be dangerous”. My reply was; “Nothing can be more dangerous than betraying the dead. For some one who did not expect to make it to 60, everyday on earth to me is an extra dividend”.
Please join me in mourning the passing away of Tunji and Tunji, Jnr, Okusanya. May the Almighty grant them the perpetual peace which eluded them on earth. God, this is unfair!!!
P.S. The articles on Nigerian Universities will continue but have been shifted to the EDUCATION pages of VANGUARD on Thursdays. Please join me there henceforth. It is in everybody’s interest. Thanks for reading our paper.