Rose Oko, an Amazon’s Painful Passing

Senator Rose Oko

The late Senator Rose Oko will always be remembered for her good works while alive. Bassey Inyang writes

On March 23, 2020, in far away London, United Kingdom, the curtains fell for Senator Rose Okoji Oko, who until her last breath represented the Northern Senatorial District of Cross River State, and was Chairman, Senate Committee on Trades and Investment.

As the renowned humanitarian, Mother Theresa noted, “Death is nothing else but going home to God,” and that is the inevitable ritual, the bundle of beauty and brains, Dr. Rose Oko, observed on that fateful day. She simply and quietly returned to her maker, leaving behind the planet earth to continue its battle against the pandemic known as Covid-19 otherwise known as Coronavirus.

Though Oko had battled chronic ill health, the news of her demise was a surprise, and was received with shock, not only in Cross River State, where she hailed from, but across Nigeria and beyond.

According to the great philosopher Leo Tolstoy, “Man cannot possess anything as long he fears death, but to him who does not fear it, everything belongs.”

Tolstoy perception of death aptly captures the Spartan approach Oko, the elegant and highly cerebral woman with captivating command of English language, put to life.

Hence, when others would have given up before the feeble jabs of ordinary fever, Oko against all odds got elected into the Nigerian Senate in 2015 from her hospital bed, for an undisclosed ailment, and kept hope alive for herself, the people she served, and humanity and was elected again to the Senate in 2019, much more to the brilliant representation she offered her constituents, and Nigerians within and outside the hallow chambers of the National Assembly.

Aside from her contributions to debates, and the duties of the various committees she belonged, the constituency projects she put on ground, and her humanitarian gestures had spoken in her favour. Though Oko lived for 63 years on earth, every minute mattered to her, and should be used for productive endeavours. No wonder Oko excelled in almost everything she set out to achieve in her personal and public life.

As a politician, before Oko was elected into the Senate in 2015 on the platform of the People Democratic Party (PDP), she was a member representing Ogoja/Yala Federal Constituency, having been effortlessly elected to the lower chamber of the National Assembly in 2011 on the PDP platform.

There, she occupied the position of Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Education – an office that suited her calling as an academic. Indeed, those were landmark achievements not only for Oko but the female gender in that part of the state, where no woman had been given such opportunity in partisan politics.

Before returning to the PDP in 2011, Oko had pitched tent briefly with the National Democratic Party (NDP) in 2007 and contested that year’s general election as the party’s governorship candidate.

She lost the election to Liyel Imoke of the PDP, but one thing was clear, the activism in her, driven by her crave for the Cross River women to be heard and given the appropriate space to venture and make imprints in the polity was established.

With the campaign slogan “ROKO FOR GOVERNOR 2007”, she instantly became a rallying point for the ordinary woman in Cross River State, up until her demise.

Perhaps, this singular quality of female activism informed the powers that be in the PDP to persuade her in 2011 to return to the party, for which she was a founding member, and was compensated with a ticket to contest the House of Representatives election, which she won.

Though Oko departed quietly, when it was least expected, amidst the global attention on the Covid-19, which has killed thousands, her death could not escape the attention of many of those who ever had a chance to know her and left behind to mourn her departure.

A cousin of the deceased, Patrick Ikorgor Okoroji, in reacting to her departure said, “Heart broken to hear of the passing of my dear Cousin Senator Dr. Rose Okoji Oko after a long fought battle with physical affliction. You gave your best to your world. Now that it has pleased the Almighty God to call you home, may your soul find eternal rest in Heaven! Adieu, Distinguished Senator Dr. Rose Okoji Oko.”

Reacting to the news, former Chairman of the Coalition of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) in the state and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), said mournfully.

“Jesus wept. An Amazon has gone – a multi-talented bundle of beauty and brain – human effigy of humanity; classical personification of patriotism, Dr. Rose Okoji Oko, a forceful driver of change. We walked and fought oppression on the democratic arid streets of our state. Seeking ancestral identity to breed back communal with youthful company in tow.
“Vibrant vibrations of liberation songs to raise consciousness with pride from imposed shame saw Rose Oko in her navy blue jeans and brown T-shirt bought from Efraya market campaigning in the violence prone 2003 (2007) elections. Then to the Green chambers, the rosy Rose arose, arriving in stylish storms of intellectual urbanity.

“Getting to the Red chamber became a journey from pride to pity. This cancerous obstruction had weakened the once green rosy vibrancy to a pale withering Rose, waiting to fade. This hopeful helplessness still hurts with a treacherous sting.
“Another rose of equal sustained legacy had raced on in similar circumstances – Rose Abang-Wushishi. Arguably the First woman AIG in Nigeria, it’s only human to wish up what the Creator has decreed down. We painfully bow to the Giver, whose taking we neither can question.”

Cross River State Governor, Prof. Ben Ayade, whose constituency she represented in the Senate, described the development as “shocking” and “huge loss” to the state.

“Death has struck so grimly at the heart of Cross River State. Rose Oko was not only a senator representing Cross River Northern Senatorial District but was also a good ambassador of the state in the senate”, Ayade lamented.

“Rose was no ordinary daughter of this state. She was a dogged fighter for anything that could bring honour and dignity to our state. She was an Amazon for justice and fair play. She was a development partner. She loved Cross River.
“Right from her days as a lecturer, Commissioner, House of Reps member and finally Senator, Rose’s single creed was the development and stability of Cross River State. We have lost a rare gem. Rose is irreplaceable.

“I’m downcast. I’m crestfallen. My heart is heavy. I lack words to describe the extent of my grief,” Ayade said in a press release signed by his Chief Special Adviser on Media and Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Christian Ita.

The President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, described the death of Oko as a great loss to the nation and Cross River State.

In a brief condolence statement issued by one of his aides, Ola Awoniyi, the Senate President condoled with late Oko’s family and others that she left behind. Lawan, the statement said, also condoled with the government and people of Cross River State over her demise.

He said Oko’s death was a great loss to the Senate, and Nigerian women in politics, and will be greatly missed by her colleagues in the Ninth Assembly.

President Muhammadu Buhari has also reacted to the death of Oko. A statement by Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, quoted Buhari as saying Oko’s services will be greatly missed.

“The President believes the senator’s historic service to the nation at the National Assembly, starting out at House of Representatives and, later, at the Senate, will always be remembered, affirming that her long stay at the legislature clearly testify to her popularity and acceptance.

“As one of the women, who championed development issues at the National Assembly, especially on girl-child education and health, President Buhari notes, with sadness, that her voice, intelligence and experience will be sorely missed, and the promise of a brighter political career would not be realised.

“President Buhari commiserates with family of the deceased, her friends and political associates, praying that the almighty God will continue to comfort them, while urging them to find strength and solace in her legacies of a life of service to God, country and humanity.”

The late senator hailed from Okpoma, Yala Local Government Area of Cross River State, born on 27 September 1956 to her mother Agbo Ojeka, and father Thomas Ojeka, all froto Opkoma.

Oko, an alumnus of WTC Primary School Enugu, Federal school of Arts and Science Ogoja, and University of Calabar, University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA, and the University of Port- Harcourt, had a 2nd Class Upper in B.A (Hons) Linguistics from the University of Calabar, Cross River state.

A Graduate Course in Linguistics shortly followed at The University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA. A career Educationalist, Oko returned to the University of Calabar and graduated with M.A. Linguistics in 1984. From The University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, 1990, Oko bagged a Doctorate in Linguistics. She also added to these, in 2007, an MBA from the Management

As an academic, she had many publications to her credit, one of which is Management Institute of Canada. Oko also had many academic publications to her credit. She also belonged to many academic, political, social, cultural, and philanthropic groups.

Though Oko is no longer in the physical realm, she will always be remembered for the good works she did while on earth. For as the great religious philosopher Gautama Buddha said, “Neither fire, nor wind, birth nor death can erase our good deeds.”