Remembering Onukaba, One Year After and Reflection on Ken-Saro-Wiwa, By Kelechi Okoronkwo
Another March 5th has come. A great day in history when wars were fought and lost. That means it has been 365 days after Adinoyi Onukaba Ojo, the quintessential humanist and dramatist, fought that great battle on the Akure-Lokoja road and lost. And the Nigerian media space was set on fire with endless tributes, mourning the passage of a good man.
One of those days with him, I asked Dr. Onukaba, ‘why did you choose Ken Saro-Wiwa and did a play on him’? I was talking about ‘The Killing Swamp’. And he smiled and said that he admired Saro-Wiwa’s courage from afar. “Saro-Wiwa was a fearless writer and activist who chose to die pursuing the course he believed strongly in”, he told me. He said that he was touched by the humanist activities of the Niger Delta environmentalist. So when he died in the circumstance he did, the only way of paying a tribute to Ken was making a story about his last minutes, just before he was hanged by the military government in 1995.
He gave me a link to one of the theatre performances of the play. So, in the last 365 days, I have watched the clip more than 10 times on the YouTube.
From the first day I watched ‘The Killing Swamp’, I fell in love with Saro-Wiwa. He was courage personified. Even in the face of betrayal and death, he never regretted the course he fought. He preferred dying standing on his feet to living on bended knees. In the play, Saro-Wiwa scorns the soldier guarding him in the prison. He calls the soldier a coward for always hiding behind the hood. He says if the soldier is courageous and believes in the piety of the role he is assigned, he does not need to wear a hood while attending to a man on the death roll. Few minutes before his execution time: 0730 local time (0830 GMT), Ken Saro-Wiwa is seen, still demanding for his constitutional right.
Any time, I remember Saro-Wiwa and what he stood for, I mourn in my heart because I am not sure if Nigeria, particularly the people of the South-South region, still have a place for Saro-Wiwa in their hearts. I wish there could be a Saro-Wiwa day when Nigerians would remember him and pay tributes to him.
Onukaba and Ken Saro-Wiwa had a lot of things in common. They are both activists and humanists. Both of them are writers: creative, academic and journalistic writers. Both of them are courageous and disciplined to a fault and they pursued what they believed in until their death. May be that was the real reason Onukaba did play on Saro-Wiwa.
On this day in 2017, the only story available to me is that Onukaba attended the 80th birthday of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. And after the ceremony, on his back to Abuja, along the Akure-Lokoja road, he was attacked by armed robbers and he died while escaping the attack. This happened 365 days ago but the wound which the news of that defeat left on the slate of my mind is still fresh and breathing and aching, day and night. I have had to go ahead to take my decisions in the dark; without conferring with Onukaba for his approval or disapproval. And in some of those decisions, I have failed, while in some others, I pulled off. In each of the right decisions I have made, I mourn because I have lost a partner with whom I could share the success story. And in each of the wrong decisions I made, I mourn because I could have been guided if I had conferred with Onukaba. You can now see why Onukaba is still fresh on my mind.
The 5th of March, that 64th day into the 365 day journey is surely a day of many wars when great warriors lost. Onukaba was not the first person who lost a priceless battle on this date. You remember it was same day in 1953 that the former prime minister of Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin lost the battle to cerebral hemorrhage after being in power for 29 years. And that was the date in 2013 Hugo Chavez, the controversial president of Venezuela lost the battle to cancer. On this date in 1963, American country music stars Patsy Cline, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Cowboy Copas and their pilot Randy Hughes lost the battle to a plane crash in Camden, Tennessee.
In the history of the United States, this day in 1770 saw the Boston Massacre where five Americans, including Crispus Attucks, were fatally shot by British troops in an event that would contribute to the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War (also known as the American War of Independence) five years later. And on this day in 1824, the first Anglo-Burmese War was declared as the British officially declare war on Burma.
It is 365 days already and we, friends, family members and colleagues of Onukaba have had to move on, albeit, painfully. We cannot mourn Onukaba enough. We can only pray that his gentle soul continue to rest in peace.
Kelechi Okoronkwo, a writer and Public Relations Executive sent this piece from Abuja.