By Yomi Badejo-Okusanya
On Tuesday August 26, 2020, I lost a brother, confidante, motivator, and professional colleague. I could no recall the exact moment I met Gbenga Ojo but he remembered and told the story so often that it virtually came back to me. Here is the story.
The year was 2000 and I was contesting for a leading office in our professional body, the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR). -Coincidentally, Gbenga was a good friend and ally of my then opponent and now brother, and he had come from his resident chapter in Osun to ‘help straighten’ the very insolent me ‘challenging the establishment’. This was because I was relatively a new-comer in chapter activism and ‘politics’. He often said his opposition to the ‘upstart’ melted when on introduction to me, he noticed my ‘charm and confidence’ (his words, not mine). Unfortunately, I did not know this at the time, but I vaguely remember this warm and friendly ‘egbon’ who immediately started calling me ‘aburo mi atata’(my beloved younger brother in whom I am well pleased).
The next I remember was the news of Gbenga being involved in a serious car crash on his way to Abeokuta, Ogun State while serving as a member of the 2002 Annual General Meeting Planning Committee. The crash badly fractured his right leg and landed him in hospital for a protracted period. As a result of it, he could hardly walk without the aid of a walking stick until he passed. I recollect his being very upset with me for not visiting him in the hospital and I was rather taken aback by this because to me we were not that close. But that afforded me my first glimpse into the person and personality of Gbenga Ojo. If the roles were reversed, he will have ‘climbed the highest mountain’ to be by my side. This he would have done not just for me, but any other he considered a friend; close or distant. That was who he was. A selfless but often misunderstood person.
Back to the story, I quickly apologized and with the help of another wonderful soul and egbon, Late Leke Adeboye, then a Council Member representing Ogun State, I promised that I will always endeavor to be there for him especially in difficulty. Hence my attending both his parents’ funerals in Ilesha, Osun State at different times. I am glad God gave me the strength to fulfil this promise to the very end even through his terminal sickness.
But I still must apologize egbon, for the number of times you called and broached the subject of what you wanted me to do when you passed and I brushed you off because I did not want to discuss your death. I recollect specifically when you said you had appointed me like an executor to your will and I objected, selfishly insisting you could not die now since I still needed your ‘protection and guidance’. You responded by challenging my Christian faith and saying you will choose to die before me since you are older. Moreover, you believed you will possibly be better equipped to protect me from yonder. I still refused to see it because I could not imagine life especially in NIPR without you.
You believed so much in me and my abilities. You were always proud to show me off to any and everyone. There was hardly anyone you knew that did not know you had an aburo in Lagos called YBO. I remember the numerous visits to Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola when he was Governor of the State of Osun and your insistence that this your aburo could solve all his communication problems. I also remember our numerous trips to NIPR conferences and functions with all the intrigues, be it in Lafia, Abuja, Kano, Akure, Owerri, Calabar, Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Ilorin etc. You became my defender and will ‘fight’ anyone who you felt treated me unjustly, whether rightly or wrongly. The quantum of love, regard and respect you had for me was unbelievable.
You often called repeatedly until you spoke with me just to ask after my well being and that of my family. Every now and then you got offended if I did not reciprocate the calls but as soon you heard my voice and reprimanded me, it ended there. I will forever cherish my numerous trips to Osun for something or the other relating to you and in turn, your uncountable ones to Lagos just to see me and other members of my staff, of which you proudly claimed you were one. What will now happen to ‘CMC Connect Osun’?
You were passionate about public relations and the institute which was often the focal point of our several discussions. We wanted a better institute and we agitated for it, which often got us in trouble, but that never stopped us. ‘Aluta continua!’.
You could be considered brash in some ways, but if one looked beyond it, was a heart of gold. This enabled you to make friends easily from across the country which you serviced through phone calls and countless goodwill messages. One of your dreams was for the NIPR Osun State Chapter to take its rightful place among the comity of chapters and I pray it does.
Yes, you had your shortcomings, another of which was being slightly cantankerous and somewhat belligerent. But ‘he or she without sin should go ahead and cast the first stone’. What most people saw as your weakness, I termed your passion to get things done in a hurry as if you knew that you did not have a lot of time left.
Consequently, you assured me you were ready to face death whenever it came because your faith in Christ Jesus was sure. At a point you asked the Lord to take you as you did not want to be a further burden to us and your family. This earned you a very sharp rebuke from me.
Baba Osun, as the whole of CMC Connect and my wife knew you; on the day you died, surprisingly the sun still shone, the moon and the stars emerged at night. Human activities did not even stop for a second to mourn you; we still laughed, loved, and lived. I waited for something extraordinary to signify your departure but alas I saw none. I only felt and still feel it, a dull but painful ache in my heart. A void which reminds me you are gone.
Adieu Gbenga Ojo mnipr. Rest in Peace
I miss my egbon!
September 9, 2020
Yomi Badejo-Okusanya (YBO) a Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, is the current President of the African Public Relations Association (APRA) while the deceased Gbenga Ojo, was a two term Chairman of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations Osun State Chapter