Dr. Ojo Onukaba was born on March 9, 1960, to the family of Mallam Shuaibu Onukaba and Hajia Aisha Onukaba who hailed from Oboroke-Ihima, Okehi local council Kogi State, he did a Masters in Journalism and a Ph.D. in Performance Studies at New York University, New York, USA. He worked as a Research Officer at the African Leadership Forum, New York, and also served as the Information Officer, Division of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM) between 1994 and 1995. He became an Adjunct Professor of Mass Communication at the School of New Resources, College of New Rochelle, New York in 1997. Between 1997 and 1998, he worked as Press Officer, Department of Public Information, United Nations (New York). In June 1998, Onukaba was sent to Iraq as an Information Officer, United Nations Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator. Upon his return to Nigeria in 1999 to participate in the present democratic dispensation, his sterling qualities and ability to succeed caught the attention of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who appointed him as Special Assistant on Media Relations. But he didn’t stay long as he was appointed Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the then-ailing Daily Times of Nigeria PLC in August 1999.
He worked tirelessly to reposition the Daily Times. His efforts at Daily Times made the newspaper firm attractive to investors before it was privatized in 2004. Onukaba returned to the presidency as Senior Special Assistant to the former Vice president Atiku Abubakar on Public Communications between July 2003 and April 2005. Beyond Onukaba’s humble exterior lies impenetrable armor of principle and dedication to duty. In December 2005, the Okun Youth Solidarity Forum (OYSF) led by Hon. Adeniyi Sunday Bello, honored him with the “Pillar of Youth Award” in recognition of his services to the State. Earlier in 2001, the then Governor Abubakar Audu of Kogi State honored him as one of the distinguished citizens of the state.
Ojo-Onukaba, a governorship aspirant in the last Kogi Primary election, was reportedly killed on the Ilesha-Akure Road on his way back from the inauguration of President Olusegun Obasanjo Library. The Special Adviser on Political Matters to President Muhammadu Buhari, Sen. Babafemi Ojudu, said he was reportedly killed in an encounter with armed robbers. “Onukaba was a brilliant and incorruptible journalist. He stood out among his colleagues then as aviation correspondent for The Guardian where he met and struck a friendship with Obasanjo,” Ojudu wrote on his Facebook page, adding that he would be buried later today. Ojudu in his tribute described Onukaba, who was also a playwright, as a man of noble ideas and ideals. “Onukaba was a good man. He brimmed with a great vision for his people, which he could not bring to reality,” he added. One of his relations, Mr. Yusuf Itopa, who broke the news on Monday, said the 57-year-old died at about 6 pm on Sunday at a village near Akure, Ondo State capital. The spot is said to be about 10 minutes to Akure. He said the late veteran journalist-turned-politician was knocked down by an oncoming vehicle while running into a nearby bush to escape an armed robbery attack. Itopa said that three of them, including his driver, were traveling when they ran into a blockade mounted by armed robbers. He said Onukaba’s corpse was later deposited at a mortuary in Akure from where it will be taken for burial today in his home town, Ihima, in Okehi Local Government Area of Kogi State.
He started his journalism career in The Guardian in 1983 and made his mark covering the airport in Lagos. Onukaba struck a friendship with many Nigerian dignitaries on this beat, including the former head of state, Olusegun Obasanjo. The relationship with Obasanjo blossomed into Onukaba writing the first biography of the retired General, entitled In the Eyes of Time. He also wrote the biography of Atiku Abubakar. It was entitled, The Story of Atiku Abubakar. He was born on March 9, 1960, in Oboroke-Ihima, Okehi LGA of Kogi State to the family of Malam Shuaibu Onukaba and Hajia Aisha Onukaba. He obtained his first degree in 1982 in Theatre Arts from the University of Ibadan, and spent his National Youth Service Corps year at Radio Nigeria, Ikoyi, Lagos , from where he joined The Guardian in 1983. He rose to the position of News Editor before traveling out in 1989 for graduate studies at New York University, USA. While in New York, he worked as a Research Officer at the African Leadership Forum. He also served as the Information Officer, Division of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM) between 1994 and 1995. He obtained his Ph.D. in 1996 from New York University. Dr. Onukaba became an Adjunct Professor of Mass Communication at the School of New Resources, College of New Rochelle, New York in 1997.
Between 1997 and 1998, he worked as Press Officer, Department of Public Information, United Nations in New York. In June 1998, he was sent to Iraq as an Information Officer, United Nations Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator. Upon his return to Nigeria in 1999, he worked with former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as Special Assistant on Media Relations. He had known and related closely with both Atiku and Olusegun Obasanjo since 1984. Onukaba got to the peak of his journalistic career in August 1999 when he was appointed Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the then-ailing Daily Times of Nigeria PLC. Onukaba returned to the presidency as Senior Special Assistant to the former vice president Atiku Abubakar on Public Communications between July 2003 and April 2005. On several occasions, Onukaba had shown interest in the governorship post of his state.
But not being a wealthy man, he never made it beyond the primaries. His last attempt was in 2015 when he contested for the seat. He also lost at the primary level on the platform of the All Progressives Congress. Apart from his books on Atiku Abubakar and Olusegun Obasanjo, he also co-authored Born to Run, a biography of Late Dele Giwa, with Pulitzer winner Dele Olojede. Onukaba, despite his journalistic career, never divorced himself from his first love, Theatre Arts. Thus, he had written several plays, some of which are: Her Majesty’s Visit, A Resting Place, Tower of Burden, The Virginity Flee, The Lone Ranger, Bargain Hunting, and Soommalliyya. It was tragic enough that he died four days to his 57th birthday. The tragedy was deepened by the likelihood that he might have lived longer but for Nigeria’s lamentable security issues. A report said: “One of his relations, Mr. Yusuf Itopa, who broke the news on Monday, said the 57-year-old died at about 6 pm on Sunday at a village near Akure, Ondo State capital. The spot is said to be about 10 minutes to Akure. He said the late veteran journalist-turned-politician was knocked down by an oncoming vehicle while running into a nearby bush to escape an armed robbery attack. Itopa said that three of them, including his driver, were traveling when they ran into a blockade mounted by armed robbers.”
Dr. Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo had attended the inauguration of the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, Abeokuta, Ogun State, and was on his way back to his base when the tragedy happened on March 5. He made a name for himself as a journalist, and those who knew him in that line of work described him as “brilliant” and “incorruptible.” His journalism career started in 1983 when he joined The Guardian where he soared as an aviation correspondent. It was on this beat that he met and befriended several important figures, including the former head of state and ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo. He wrote Obasanjo’s biography, In the Eyes of Time. He also wrote a biography of former vice president Atiku Abubakar, The Story of Atiku Abubakar. Apart from these books on political players, he co-authored Born to Run, a biography of a media celebrity, the late Dele Giwa.
He became the News Editor of the newspaper before leaving the country in 1989 for graduate studies at New York University, USA. In America, he worked as a Research Officer at the African Leadership Forum; and also served as the Information Officer, Division of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM) between 1994 and 1995.
In 1996, he earned his Ph.D. from New York University and became an Adjunct Professor of Mass Communication at the School of New Resources, College of New Rochelle, New York, in 1997. Between 1997 and 1998, he worked as Press Officer, Department of Public Information, United Nations, in New York. In June 1998, he was sent to Iraq as an Information Officer, United Nations Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator. Against the backdrop of his personal and professional progress in America, it is interesting that Adinoyi-Ojo chose to return to Nigeria in 1999. He became a Special Assistant on Media Relations to Vice President Abubakar. In the same year, he attained his highest position in journalism when he was appointed Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the Daily Times of Nigeria PLC. He had another stint at the presidency as Senior Special Assistant to Abubakar on Public Communications between 2003 and 2005.
His involvement in government at the federal level inspired him to aspire to govern Kogi State. His political ambition reflected his passion for social progress, and his self-belief, particularly considering that he didn’t have the kind of wealth expected of political aspirants in Nigeria’s money-driven politics. His enduring dream of occupying his state’s governorship seat was unrealized.
His last try in 2015 on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) ended when he lost in the primary. It is a reflection of his creative dimension that he never strayed too far from Theatre Arts, which he studied at the University of Ibadan where he got a degree in 1982. His play, The Killing Swamp, was shortlisted for the prestigious NLNG Literature Prize in 2010. Perhaps the ultimate statement on his writing life is this report: “Just before his sudden transition over the weekend, Mr. Onukaba had completed manuscripts of a new book Peoples of Nigeria, detailing in short crisp language the historical outlines of the many ethnic groups our country is blessed with. He was the co-editor of the forthcoming publication.”
He bestrode the worlds of journalism and theatre arts like a colossus. On the canvas of both professions, Adinoyi-Ojo Onukaba’s signature was bold. Since last Sunday, March 5, 2017, when he transited, abruptly and brutally, four days before his 57th birthday anniversary, torrential has been the outpouring of tributes and elegies. The circumstances surrounding his death on that fateful night around Igbara-Oke junction on Ilesa-Akure Road, while returning from the 80th birthday celebration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo is also a testimony of his large-heartedness and forgiving spirit. Remember! Onukaba was the first victim of ‘demobilization’ war against former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar in the early years of the second term of Obasanjo’s presidency. He was then serving the former VP as Senior Special Assistant on Public Communication. Although, as a journalist with unique qualities, Onukaba had known and related closely with both Atiku and Obasanjo since 1984, the power play between his principal and President Obasanjo became intense so much that key associates of Atiku then were caught in the crossfire. Thus, in April 2005, Onukaba ‘lost’ his job. But he still went ahead to reconcile with Obasanjo thereafter, as he authored, in 2007, Olusegun Obasanjo in the eyes of time: A Biography. Some years later, he did for Atiku too entitled: Atiku – The Story of Atiku Abubakar to balance the equation.
Till his passage Onukaba distinguished himself as a seasoned journalist, playwright, and publisher of high repute, having to his credit, Born to Run a biography of late Dele Giwa, co-authored by him and Dele Olojede. This is in addition to the other two biographies earlier mentioned. The shock of Adinoyi-Ojo’s death is still reverberating in journalism and literary circles, which still do not comprehend how such an illustrious life could end so abruptly. The Lagos State Council of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) has scheduled special events in his honor, including A Day of Tributes, in Lagos and Abuja. Veteran journalist and popular columnist, Sonala Olumhense, has instituted the Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo Memorial Trust Fund also in his honor. He described the deceased as “an exceptional human being… you do not remember him without remembering just how genuine he was.” Condolences have come from far and near. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo expressed sadness that Nigeria has lost a gem.
Former governor of Lagos State and Leader of the APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, issued a moving statement extolling the virtues of Adinoyi-Ojo. With his passage, he averred that journalism has lost one of its best and brightest. Minister of Labour, Chief Chris Ngige, said Nigeria would miss his services as a journalist and a journalism teacher. The All Progressives Congress, his political party, paid its tribute through its National Chairman, Chief Odigie Oyegun, consoling the Kogi State Chapter of the party through its governor. Special Adviser on Political Matters to President Muhammadu Buhari, Senator Babafemi Ojudu, described Adinoyi-Ojo as “a brilliant and incorruptible journalist. He stood out among his colleagues as aviation correspondent for The Guardian where he met and struck a friendship with Obasanjo.”
Dr. Adinoyi-Ojo lived a life crowded with achievements and activities. He obtained a degree in Theatre Arts from the University of Ibadan in 1982 under the tutelage of Prof. Femi Osofisan who was said to have been instrumental to his joining The Guardian, where he quickly distinguished himself, in 1983. In three years, he had been promoted News Editor of The Guardian and in 1989, he proceeded to the United States for graduate education at New York University.
In New York, he served as Research Officer at the African Leadership Forum and also as the Information Officer, Division of Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM) between 1994 and 1995. He obtained his Ph.D. in 1996 from New York University and was subsequently appointed Adjunct Professor of Mass Communication at the School of New Resources, College of New Rochelle, New York, in 1997. He was later appointed a press officer of the United Nations Department of Public Information, which sent him to Iraq as Humanitarian Co-coordinator. It was during that posting he chanced upon the Chaldean seer and the dire prophecies about his future wife, which tragically came to pass when his wife, Rachel, died five years ago. He re-married in 2015 to Memunat, who along with his three children, are his survivors.
He was one of Nigeria’s most productive journalists and playwrights, leaving behind an awesome number of plays and books including Born to Run, a biography of Dele Giwa, the famous Nigerian editor murdered in 1987 by a parcel bomb, which he co-authored with Dele Olojede. He wrote two biographies: In the Eyes of Time, a biography of the former president, Olusegun Obasanjo; The Story of Atiku Abubakar, a biography of former vice-president, Atiku Abubakar. He wrote many plays including a literary masterpiece such as The Killing Swamp, which got listed in 2010 among the three finalists for the 2010 NLNG Literature Awards. Other Plays are Her Majesty’s Visit; A Resting Place; Tower of Burden; The Virginity Flee; The Lone Ranger; Bargain Hunting, and Soommalliyya.
Dr.Adinoyi-Ojo returned to Nigeria at the advent of democratic rule and got appointed as Special Assistant on Media to the then Vice President Atiku Abubakar. Indeed, his friendship with President Obasanjo and Vice-president Atiku Abubakar must have influenced Onukaba’s foray into politics. And, although he was yet to achieve his dream of governing his home state, Kogi, the hope was that if he had lived longer, he would have achieved his ambition as he did in everything he tried to do in life.
Some of his plays include Her Majesty’s Visit, A Resting Place, Tower of Burden, The Virginity Flee, The Lone Ranger, Bargain Hunting, and Soommalliyya. His play, “The Killing Swamp” was one of the three finalists for the 2010 NLNG Literature Award. In April 2014, the riveting historical play, that spotlights the struggle in the Niger Delta, thrilled audiences in Abuja for two consecutive nights at the French Institute of Nigeria. Williams Obasi directed it.
Incidentally, Onukaba’s flourishing career, as a journalist, began at The Guardian in 1983. Having graduated from the University of Ibadan in 1982 at the Department of Theatre Arts and completed his National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) programme at Radio Nigeria, Ikoyi, Lagos, in 1983, he joined the Rutam House as one of its pioneer reporters. He would later rise to the position of News Editor before traveling out in 1989 for graduate studies.
Reminiscing on Onukaba’s exploits as an aviation reporter, an ex-The Guardian staff, Isiaka Aliagan, said, “I got into The Guardian late 1989, and by then Onukaba had left. I was lucky to step into a legacy he pioneered as the third Aviation Reporter of The Flagship, first under the tutelage of my Oga, Emmanuel Ukpong, himself having learned the rubrics of aviation reporting under Onukaba. “From our ace News Editor then… Ebube Wadibia, to Ogbuagu Anikwe and then Bayo Oguntimehin, reference was always made of Onukaba Adinoyi Ojo. To be a successful reporter then at The Guardian, you must strive to beat Onukaba’s record or at least be like him. He was a successful journalist and an accomplished writer who will be sorely missed by all who knew him closely and those who heard or read about him.”
In the words of Aliagan, those armed robbers who invaded Igbara-Oke junction of Ilesa-Akure Road on the night Onukaba was passing were “dark minds that populate our sick nation.” Report had it that he was crushed by another car while running away from those robbers. Recounting this sad episode, Amma Ogan, a former editor of The Guardian on Sunday decried “the way and manner” in which many Nigerians die nowadays. According to her, “it is simply an indictment of the country’s leadership.” She spoke further, “Onukaba’s passing at 56 (he was born March 9, 1960) is the second this week of someone I know well who can be said to have died from the Nigerian condition, a syndrome that can affect the poor and the not poor, the gifted and struggling, equally. Yes, we can list the different circumstances under which preventable deaths occur in Nigeria, but one phrase can explain it all: abysmal governance.”
Another former Editor of The Guardian on Sunday who rose to become Deputy Editor-in-Chief/ Deputy MD of the newspaper company, Mr. Kingsley Osadolor went poetic while paying respects to the fallen journalist. “We were mates and contemporaries. His voice was soft, and his lips broke into ready smiles. He possessed a penetrating intellect that he brought to bear on his beat as Aviation Reporter, and later News Editor of The Guardian on Sunday. His approach was an unmistakable part of the new journalism fostered and nurtured by The Guardian. Onukaba was at first Shuaibu (or Shaibu) Adinoyi-Ojo, before he affected a name-change that did not alter the sheer brilliance, readability, and impact of his reports. He did innumerable front-pagers and features. He was still a cub reporter when his stories on the Nigeria Airways plane crash at Emene-Enugu in 1983 signposted the depth of The Guardian. Check out the backfiles of The Guardian, and witness in retrospect his solid reports on the 53 suitcases saga following a currency change in 1984, when Buhari was military Head of State. ‘The Kingsley!’ was his salutation whenever we met, his right arm descending from above his head, to give me a handshake. I called him, “Onu-kay!” Now, he’s no more, like Krees Imodibie and Godwin Agbroko, colleagues at The Guardian who exited too early and violently. I am diminished, but I pray for the repose of their souls, the freshest being Onukaba.”
To Ogbuagwu Anikwe, the late journalist “was among a quartet that revolutionized beat reporting in Nigeria from The Guardian newsroom – the others being Goddy Nnadi (Education), Bayo Oguntimehin (Alausa), and Juliet Ukabiala (Defence). “There were many outstanding others but this quartet shared the top four positions among themselves, week after week. Dr. Ojo met and made life-changing acquaintances with both President Obasanjo and Vice President Atiku on his aviation beat. Obasanjo was so impressed with his powerful ability to recall and faithful rendition of interviews he conducted without tape recorder – and crafted in his inimitable simple but profound prose that he decided to adopt him. He subsequently sponsored his masters and Ph.D. studies abroad. We all had one thing going for us – turning our backs on all brown envelope opportunities lifted The Guardian integrity quotient.”
Onukaba’s soul-mate, businesswise, Taiwo Obe described his late partner as “a quintessential reporter” who shunned “unethical practices like a plague.” Provoking is Obe’s response to the news of Onukaba’s death. “This morning (last Monday, the one we called CBN (real name: Chido Nwakanma) called me to find out if I had heard about Onukaba. When a message goes like that, be sure, it is some awful thing that has happened. What happened to Onukaba? He told me someone wrote that he’s dead…. No. I called Onukaba’s number and it was a brother of his who picked it and confirmed that indeed, my friend and brother, had died. He was talking about what happened, but I barely heard the details… “I cried like I didn’t even when the death of my own older brother was broken to me. I cried….I have always counseled people to remember the good times they shared with their loved ones who passed away. What is there to cry for now? OnuK is gone. To meet His creator. I am sure his soul will find peace because he was a genuinely good man.” Chukwudi Abiandu said, “news of Onukaba’s death is still shocking. But if God allowed it, who are we mortals! Although he came to meet me in The Guardian, he was an editor’s delight. May his soul rest in peace.” Journalist turned lawyer, Gbolahan Gbadamosi did not meet Onukaba at The Guardian, “but his legacy speaks for him. I had the opportunity to meet him when I was part of the team that prosecuted the petition of Atiku against Yar’Adua in 2007.” So far, it has been a deluge of tributes. The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Lagos chapter held a Tribute Nite for him together with other two journalists – Kayode Atofolaki, former Assistant Secretary of Lagos NUJ who died on Friday, February 25; and Segun Agbolade, Secretary, Federated Maritime Media chapel of Lagos NUJ who died on March 1. The circumstances of his death will remain like a fresh wound in the psyche of Nigerians who will always remember that the absence of security on Nigerian highways robbed the nation of one of its most creative, hardworking, and humane citizens. Adieu, Onukaba-Adinoyi Ojo.
The late Onukaba, who was Senior Special Assistant on media to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, had earlier lost his first wife, Rachael, about five years ago. He, however, remarried in 2015 to Memunat. Onukaba is survived by three children two girls and a boy.