I knew Oronto Douglas first in Powell’s house, Prof. Powell that Dickson will later today commission his library. I was his apprentice, I do not call him somebody who supervised my work.
My relationship with Powell was more than a student who he was supervising his work. I also took after some of his ways of life. It was when I was doing my PHD programme. Powell then moved from the University of Port Harcourt to the University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt.
Then Oronto was a young university graduate and an activist who was into environmental activism while we were into environmental science practices studying the ecology of the Niger Delta.
That was when Oronto and his group founded the Chikoko Movement, a branch of the resource control movement. Chikoko is the mud you see in the mangrove soil with the mangrove fibrous roots.
He said that he saw that mud cutting across the whole Niger Delta and he called the group the Chikoko Movement
Oronto played a key role in the advocacy for resource control on the need for people within the Niger Delta to benefit from the oil industry.
I did not know I was going to meet him later in life.
but when I became the Deputy Governor (of Bayelsa State) Oronto played a key role in our first tenure. As young as he was we had a programme in Abuja where DSP, the governor invited Oronto to be the guest speaker and he impressed all of us.
I was not surprised that in our second tenure, DSP Alamieyeseigha appointed him the Commissioner of Information, Strategy and Tourism.
When I moved to Abuja as the Vice President, he came with me as I saw the skills in him to be with me and I appointed him to be my adviser on Research and Docummentation, an office he carried up to the time that he died.
Oronto is somebody who is so dedicated to service, totally committed. If he believes in you he will never betray you. He will stand by you until the end, even if you are dying Oronto will want to die with you.
In politics most people will be with you when things are okay but immediately when the wind turns they will disappear.
But oronto is not that kind of a character. I have worked with him as a Deputy Governor when he was a commissioner; he has been with me for eight years in Abuja; so I am one of those who can clearly attest to the qualities of Oronto.
In my own case I feel pained because Oronto was so committed by documenting all my activities. I am the most documented President for now because of Oronto. I don’t even know the number of volumes he has written. Some of them I just see the cover page and I don’t even have the time to look at the content. But he worked very hard.
For me, I will miss him greatly and for the Niger Delta youths, they will also miss him, especially his own peers. The younger ones probably didn’t know much about how he brought intellectualism into the Niger Delta struggle.
Today we are celebrating Oronto’s homeward journey. It is sad but just like the philosophers would say that the world is a stage where everybody has a role to play. Oronto played his role very well within this his very short period in life. It is not how long you live but what you leave behind; what will people remember you for?
Most of us who knew Oronto very well know that even though he left at a very relatively young age, he has impacted lives much more than those double his age.
He is leaving us at a time I would describe as when the ovation is loudest. He has left indelible memories in our brains. And he is leaving us when we are all still shouting, when we are all appreciative of his activities.
To my daughter, the wife of Douglas and my two children (ie Oronto’s children) just be happy that your father is leaving at a time that people should appreciate him. Your father is leaving without stain. Your father is leaving as a noble person.
If you appear anywhere today and tomorrow and you describe youself as a son of Oronto Douglas, people will know you.
Most of us know him across the Niger Delta and indeed the rest of the country because of his involvement in civil society activities. People are appreciative. That alone is a big gift that silver and gold cannot get for you.
As long as we are alive, we will continue to give any assistance that is required. We thank the governor for offering the scholarship to the children and to stand by the family and of cause the EK Clark Preparatory school as well.
Dickson thank you for this and I believe that many more people who Oronto had interacted with in one way of the other will want to offer assistance if there is need for it.
Once again on behalf of my family we really express our condolences to the wife and children, the immediate family and the larger family, my younger brothers whom we have been interacting with from the date of birth.
I remember when Oronto came back from the last journey to the U.S., when he was there and he was contacted, he said the doctors told him that he would die in three weeks. And that he could decide to stay in the U.S., and die and that they would parcel his body to Nigeria for burial or if he wanted to come home he needed to come back a little early so that he would be strong enough to board the flight.
He told me that he decided to come back because staying there he would incur more cost because the people would take care of you until you die and that of cause bringing the body home too would be more difficult. So he decided to come home.
He came home and I visited him one week after, that was two weeks to the time he was to die and I expected to see somebody who would be so sad, but it was not Oronto. All his discussion with me was how to document this, to document that, to immortalise this, immortalise that.
In fact he was not talking as somebody who was sick. He was very, very courageous, very strong willed. Oronto was Oronto until the last moment.
You hardly see such characters. He was selfless, in fact he was not interested in accumulating wealth.
Oronto was just a Special Adviser but see what he has done, building a nursery school for his community.
In fact the library he built in the Federal University, Otuoke, in my village he named to immortalise my supervisor, Prof. C.D. Powell.
Prof belongs to the class of academicians that don’t even marry; his books were his wife. in fact he had nothing to do with anything woman.
When he started supervising me as an undergraduate, up to my masters degree, I almost patterned my life after him. I loved him so much because if you go to Prof Powell’s house and you start touching his new books he will shout and tell you that if ‘I come to your house and start touching the heads of your children won’t you call me a mad man.’ His books were his children and his wife. that was Powell.
So I have to thank Oronto Douglas for doing that for me. He is a professor from Canada who came to Nigeria before the civil war and started his academic career in the University of Ibadan as a young lecturer.
From there he moved to the University of Benin, then to the University of Port Harcourt in 1976, when we started our university college as campus of University of Lagos and from there he moved to the Rivers State University of Science and Technology.
He is one of the experts in the ecology of the Niger Delta, in the taxonomy of the Niger Delta animals especially the aquatic animals both brackish water, the estuarine area and the inland water areas , the wetlands. He devoted all his life to these studies.
We have to thank Oronto Douglas for the library that the governor will help me to commission this afternoon.
We thank the church, Bishop Emmanuel Oko Jaja for giving this honour to our late brother. He was a good man.
We continue to pray for God to take care of his soul and for God to help the wife and the children.
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