By Okoh Aihe
SENATOR Augustine Olabiyi Durojaiye went home last weekend and his family, friends, well-wishers and political associates gathered at Ijebu Igbo to prepare him for the journey and wish him a befitting farewell.
And he had lots of them: from the public sector to the private sector and politics where he had featured with his best elements of character in place; he had his crowd and they did not disappoint him as he embarked on that journey which every human must go alone.
Of the three chairmen of the Board of the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, while I was there, he was the only one I was not really close to until one day in November 2018. He was billed to speak at Africacom in Cape Town, South Africa, and I was also attending the programme along with a couple of my colleagues.
In the flight his seat was to my right, but he was by the window. I love aisle seats and they serve the purpose of convenience, especially in overnight flights when somebody would have to use the restroom a couple of times.
As final instructions were being given before takeoff, I saw him fiddle with the seat belt and I immediately got up to help him fix it. That night I told myself, my work starts here at the airport. He would not have to fret for anything as long as we are together on this trip. Do not get me wrong.
At 85 at the time, Senator Durojaiye was very strong, with an imposing height not blemished by age. He was a man of steel inside of his body, a fact, perhaps reinforced as a pro-democracy veteran, having been kept in detention in those days of the long fight against military dictatorship, causing Amnesty International to designate him a Prisoner of Conscience.
In that flight I did not see Senator Durojaiye as an NCC Chairman but as a father figure. Each time I looked at his direction I saw my father in his eyes. My father never had the benefit of formal education but he overworked himself to ensure all his children from his three wives went to school.
But just at the time that some of them were strong enough to be able to get him flight tickets, he went home, perhaps too tired, to wait for a little harvest for a life of toil. Anybody close to his age with respectable behaviour would always earn maximum respects from me.
Besides, a couple of days earlier, Senator Durojaiye had suffered a personal tragedy with the loss of his daughter. This was the reason the son travelled to South Africa ahead of him to be with him all the time. He insisted on making the trip because, according to him, he didn’t want to give the organisers the ordeal of searching for a headline speaker just a few days to the conference.
There was something about Senator Durojaiye, the enthusiasm to engage people and talk about the plans of the Buhari administration to use technology to turn the fortunes of Nigeria around.
There were about 450 speakers that year, but he particularly enjoyed significant attention not on the grounds of age but his sincerity in marketing the nation. When he spoke that morning, he placed a lot of emphasis on the Digital Bridge Institute, DBI, which, he said, was one of the cardinal platforms President Muhammadu Buhari hoped to use to affect the life of the youths by way of extending digital IT skills and education to the younger generation.
He was very interested in seeking the help and cooperation of international IT organisations. In that trip he was more of a salesman for Nigeria, talking only about the strength of the nation and the deep capacity of the youthful population to learn new IT skills and apply same in building new businesses. Listening to him one wouldn’t think there were challenges in the country and I think that he made his presence felt.
Senator Durojaiye behaved like a man possessed with the spirit of those who birthed the dream of DBI. The Digital Bridge Institute is funded by the NCC to produce manpower for the telecommunications industry.
Much latter the dream was expanded to include building capacity for academics in a train-the-trainer programme. DBI was a strategic vision for the telecommunications industry which has hardly been understood by those who would later superintend the regulatory agency.
At the tipping point in the growth of the industry in early 2000, it was discovered by the Ernest Ndukwe-led team that the country did not have enough trained professionals to pick up sensitive jobs in the industry.
The few that featured at the top were headed-hunted outside the country. At inception, some equipment manufacturers had training facilities at DBI. I still remember that the DBI training facility in Jabbi, Abuja, was commissioned by then President Olusegun Obasanjo.
In those days, everybody was happy for the telecommunications industry and was ready to share in its glory. OBJ pulled every stop to place the industry on priority list. That encouraged the expansion. NCC built DBI offices in different parts of the country, really massive facilities, like the NITEL Training School, Oshodi in Lagos, which it acquired and gave massive remake.
It was the same excitement that led to building the massive DBI building at Mbora, Abuja. DBI was not for self-aggrandisement but clearly intentioned as a transformational institution for a much younger generation of Nigerians. Unfortunately, DBI today looks misunderstood, misapplied and inexorably rudderless.
Even with all his exploits and trajectory in life which he never wore on his shoulders as chevrons, Senator Durojaiye underestimated the shenanigans of the modern day Nigerian civil servant and politician.
So, three years into his tenure as NCC Board Chairman, Senator Durojaiye was removed from office for reasons which pale into white luminance when viewed against the dark cumulous hanging all over the place. It is not always a good strategy for the fellow who lives in a glass house to use his abode as a bomb shelter.
In terms of understanding the vision of the NCC and DBI, Senator Durojaiye could share the same platform with Ahmed Joda, pioneer Board Chairman of renaissance NCC. But both of them are gone now, and they deserve their rest. There is enough time for those who find themselves in such sensitive positions to work for nation, not self or tribe.