‘I have lost a great friend’

By Dr Ezekiel Izuogu

It is with great shock and immense sadness that I have learnt of the death of Dr. Olu Onagoruwa, an eminent constitutional lawyer, human rights activists, law teacher and humanist.

I had the privilege of collaborating and working closely with Dr. Onagoruwa on a good number of projects that concerned the development of our constitutional democracy, and I found him devoted and dedicated to whatever he applied his mind.

As a Lawyer, he was a shining star and as a human rights advocate, he always insisted, and publicly too, that nothing must be done to shut the door of justice against anyone –whether that man was Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa/Fulani. And his law practice and involvement in government were solidly woven around this personal credo.

As an eminent Legal Adviser of the Daily Times of Nigeria for a good number of years, Olu ensured that no one tampered with free flow of information, as long as he remained the head of its Legal Department. In challenging the excesses of a succession of Nigeria’s military regimes, Olu turned the pages of the Daily Times, and by extension the courts, into an arena for deep intellectual and constitutional engagements. His fearlessness and total dedication to popular political causes marked him out, so visibly, as a patriotic Nigerian.

As a personal friend, Olu was wonderful. If he believed in you he gave you time. I could never touch Lagos without seeing him, or touch Abuja without conversing one-on-one with him. He believed in me and quickly introduced me to his brother, then Chief of General Staff, General Oladipo Diya. The top brass General seemed to have imbibed a lot of Olu’s life line. He kept to time like Olu. He appointed my university roommate, Engr. Eke-Okoro Commissioner for Education in Abia State as I requested. The man was thrown out of Ajaokuta Steel Complex and I pitied him. There was no politics to Olu and with General Diya, there was no politics too. They lived the simple Christian lives that greatly endeared them to me.

It was this sincere patriotism of his that propelled him to accept to serve Nigeria as Attorney-General and Minister of Justice when the offer was made to him. Unfortunately, and painfully, he totally misread the prime motive of the coup that brought the late General Sani Abacha to power. But that was only human. When it became obvious that that regime was no longer available for sincere and honest advice, though Oladipo remained faithful to the core, Olu took the honourable decision to disengage; and that, painfully, cost him his son Toyin. And the result was the shock from which he never fully recovered until his death on July 20, 2017.

I mourn the death of a great friend of mine, a genuine nationalist, a dedicated, devoted and eminent constitutional lawyer, one of the pioneers of human rights activism in Nigeria who combated authoritarian regimes with others who shared his world view and insights. This dominated a greater part of his active professional and political life. I knew, and it was clearly observable, that Dr. Olu Onagoruwa hated injustice with a passion. I mourn one of our greatest legal minds and a personal friend and a fellow Port Harcourt boy. I dare struggles and evolution as a constitutional democracy without mentioning Dr. Olu Onagoruwa.

He shaped Nigerian society profoundly.

Good Night Sir, Olu.

My heart breaks…and I mourn, I mourn, I mourn.


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