The late Oronto Natei Douglas certainly was not the biggest of men, but he was larger than life in the eyes of many. This has been reflected in the eulogies read in his honour since he died last month.
Douglas, until his demise was the Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on Research, Documentation and Strategy. He died after years of battle with stomach cancer.
OND, as he was fondly called was a man of many parts who trained as a lawyer, made a name as an environmental rights activist, but ended up in government,
At the even with a rich attendance of personalities, the real gist and surprise came from the tribute by the Minister for Finance, Dr. Ngpzi Okonjo-Iweala.
The woman who is one of the most influential actors in the Jonathan administration couldn’t hide her how hard she was hit by Oronto’s death. She went on to reveal that she survived cancer and she often encouraged the diseased to work towards doing same.
The stunned audience listened as Okonjo-Iweala spoke. She said: “Oronto and I had something in common. We were both sufferers of cancer. I am a cancer survivor. I went through this for three years of my life and ended my last treatment 15 years ago. I had two surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. Through cancer I learned to focus on the big things. I learned to focus on the positives and let the negative slide over. When I found out Oronto had the disease I shared my story with him and told him the way to fight the disease is to keep working, keep up with the positives and let the negatives slide. I am happy with the reports we have heard here that he worked till the end.”
Beyond the minister’s positive confession, the night was rich with the attendance of notable Nigerians in various fields and leanings. This explains why the events leading to Oronto’s burial have been well attended with different groups ensuring that they fully participated in giving the man who started from very humble beginnings in Okoroba Village in Nembe Local Government Area Bayelsa State yet became a bridge connecting people, was very much celebrated.
First was the night of tributes held at the Eko Hotel and Suites on Tuesday April 28. Anchored by Nollywood stars Kate Henshaw and Charles Novia, friends of Oronto spoke glowingly of his good works, with all saying that he lived a life worthy of emulation. Rita Dominic, Hilda Dokuboh and Monalisa Chinda performed the fertility dance in tribute to Oronto planned book on women’s rights tentatively titled The Orgasmic Rights.
The events leading to interment of the late presidential aide, who in his heydays as an activist participated in the writing of the Kaiama Declaration (Ijaw manifesto for progress) just as he was the youngest member of team that defended playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa during the Ogoni Nine trial under the Abacha regime were well attended. On Thursday 30th April, friends again gathered at the This Day Dome Abuja to celebrate him.
For the Abuja gathering, the broadcaster Moji Makanjuola and National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) chairman, Professor Chidi Odinkalu, a long time friend of the deceased were the anchors. Permanent -Secretary of the Ministry of Power, Ambassador Godknows Igali welcomed guests, even as he disclosed that it wasn’t easy organising the evening of tributes. He said Oronto’s friends from the civil society, his foreign associates and highly ranked government officials all wanted to hold events to mark his passage. But all groups agreed to come together for the night of tributes. Just as the letters written to Oronto’s family were full of commendations from the high and the low, the Abuja leg of the night of tributes had speaker after speaker commending the late activist for being a good friend.
Pastor Bakare’s attendance came as a surprise to those who didn’t know Oronto had a good relationship with the tough-talking preacher.
Former governor of Ekiti State, Dr Kayode Fayemi was also one of the big names from the opposition that came to pay his last respect to the deceased. Oronto’s younger brother, Gift gave an emotional tribute to his late sibling, saying their family was proud of him. When it was the turn of his former boss, Chief DSP Alamieyeseigha he said Oronto was a remarkable individual, adding that he stood by him through all his travails. For the former Bayelsa state governor, the ideas of the man who worked in his cabinet as the commissioner of Information will always be remembered as hero of the Niger-Delta course.