By Orobosa Omo-Ojo
“You fought so well, you inspired so many, you loved so deeply, you lived so loudly, no one that ever knew you can ever forget you. Your life was far from easy and somehow you gave so much love…but you are gone too soon. Rest in Peace, my friend.”
There are friends, there is family, and then there are friends that became family. According to Eleanor Roosevelt, “…many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.”
It’s possible for our life to bear the testimony of Albert Schweitzer, that: “In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being…we should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”
As we journey along the paths – narrow and freeway, we eventually define what true friends are; someone who would always love you, (the imperfect you), the confused you, the wrong you, no matter the condition.
According to psychologists, people in the same social class typically relate better with each other. But this phraseology is wrong about Capt. Idahosa Wells Okunbo JP. He was a friend of the people from all walks of life.
In an environment where differences in political ideology usually create tension, and sharp division, Capy rejected discrimination and his house was opened to all shades of politicians. He was never worried about Nigeria’s vindictive political landscape or the disappointment that came with it.
I learnt from Capy that, relationship don’t die naturally but they are always murdered by our attitude, behaviour, ego, ignorance and hidden benefits.
The rule to true friendship is that we “…make sure nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.”(1 Thessalonians 5:15 NIV)
Capt. Okunbo was born January 7, 1958 in Benin City to the family of Reverend Robert Amos Okunbo, a clergyman, teacher and community leader. He had his primary education at Government Primary in Benin City and thereafter proceeded to Federal Government College, Warri, where he sat for West African Senior School Certificate Examination, before he enlisted at the prestigious Nigerian Civil Aviation Training Centre in Zaria and bagged his license, at a young age of 21. He climbed the aviation ladder faster in just four years and joined the elite club of Aircraft Captains.
He retired after he achieved a rare record of 7000 flight hours when he turned 30 to pursue his dream, to impact on humanity and ventured into private oil services, when he floated – Hoslyn Ventures in 1988. According to my late friend, the successes he worked so hard to achieve in his nine years flying career, could not satisfy his appetite and verve for higher challenges. After an initial obstacle, he went ahead to conquer the business world, winning numerous awards along the way, both local and international.
Capt. Idahosa Wells Okunbo JP was my accidental friend, who became a genuine friend. We took each other for what we were. We talked about anything and said things that would ordinarily offend fair-weather friends.
Our paths crossed in the line of my duty as a journalist to chart an enduring community for Edo State and Edo people. Providence brought us together about 22 years ago, in his struggle to wade off the wrong use of government apparatus when he got caught in the resentful web of rivalry that was deployed against him.
The story of how he spent almost 365 days in the dreaded late General Musa Bamaiyi National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA was told by him when he was alive. Some of us were around and we did everything to ameliorate the diabolical setback as a result of a fictional petition that was eventually thrown away by the Miscellaneous Offences Military Tribunal. Suffice to repeat that the young dashing, ambitious Captain was discharged and acquitted after several months of investigation.
Few years down the road, Capt. (who I fondly called my leader), came to my rescue when the reports of Midwest Times and later Midwest Herald (two community newspapers I founded) became irritating to a section of the political class in Edo State.
Captain Okunbo, like the avatar he was, stood for press freedom as the veritable tool for the advancement of democracy and a ‘checking function’ tool, to ensure that elected political office holders held to uphold their oaths of office and fulfil their electoral promises.
Along this line of thought, my late friend was on hand to defend me when some overtly cheerers of a then governor were negotiating with some violent elements to hunt and harm me for the views expressed in my publication, Midwest Herald.
According to Capy, it’s only a good friend that will have the courage to honestly criticise things when they are heading polar direction. From there, our relationships burgeon into that of brothers and we were always available for good times and bad times.
Our friendship developed from the accidental one to genuine friendship. We became comfortable to advice each other on very crucial issues affecting us and others. We also became support base for each other at every challenging period we faced. Capy had time for those that had the opportunity to experience his liberality.
When I was arrested on May 2, 2005 (World Press Freedom Day), by a team of police officers on the order of Stella, late wife of then President Olusegun Obasanjo, after Midwest Herald had published a cover story alleging a cover up in the valuation of 1004 flats, Capy came handy with solution.
As it is customary to the Nigerian Police, my phone was taken from me the moment I was brought before the Inspector General of Police, Sunday Ehindero by Mr. Tunde Ogunshakin, now retired AIG. There wasn’t any means to reach my family and friends until a week later when I discovered a ‘commercial call centre’ that was operated by the president of ‘cell 4’, an awaiting trial suspect.
I quickly called Osaro Obaze (Capy’s right-hand man), who in-turn informed my late friend about my incarceration. He called and we discussed briefly about what happened and in a blurred voice that betrayed his emotion, he explained that he flew into London the previous day but promised to return the next day to work for my release. He did just that and I was subsequently set free after series of political, civil and media pressure.
Sadly, Capy couldn’t replicate his business successes in the murky water of politics. His involvement each time made him to become the ‘political dumpsite’ for politicians in Edo State. He was always called upon to play the role of ‘salvation army’ at crucial period with his resources and subsequently discarded with.
During the intra-PDP fight for control in 2003, he was dragged to become a factional chairman of the Party in Oredo Local Government Area, and also helped Mr. Adams Oshiomhole to become governor. But became dejected on both occasions and his image and business suffered undeserved cost.
Agonisingly, Capy’s generosity was his albatross! Before his demise, he reconciled with friends that turned foes, at least those that I know. Like a man of goodwill he was, he was quick to forgive, and sometimes to his detriment. Like he will always preach, “that’s why we are better than them, forgive.”
In 2012, I offered to resign as special adviser to the governor to lead the campaigns for Capt. Okunbo as governor, when his interest was challenged. But we jettisoned the plan to work for the re-election of Oshiomhole, such was the nobility of my late friend.
Troubled by the misconception of his past struggles in some circles, we decided to confront the greyness in 2008. He gave me several documents that related to his ordeal with National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) under the leadership of late Major General Musa Bamaiyi. He was eager to tell his own story on what actually happened.
Armed with the judgement of the Miscellaneous Offences Tribunal, dated November 14, 1996, and the suit for his Fundamental human Rights that was filed by Idowu Sofola (SAN) and Morayo Lebi, along with photographs he took at the tribunal premises, I went to work.
After a careful study of the documents and my independent investigation, I arrived at the conclusion that my intervention was in-line with the ethics of journalism and defence of a brother who was under attack from envious friends and business competitors.
My friend, Osa Director, journalist and lawyer, then, Editor-in-Chief of INSIDER Magazine volunteered to publish Capy’s story in the magazine’s January 26, 2009, edition.
The basis for Capy’s arrest and eventual prosecution was that he was into drug trafficking and a drug baron, from where he got money to build his Ikeja home in Salvation Road, Ikeja Lagos. Based on this, a petition was sent to NDLEA in 1995.
My late friend was arrested on February 18, 1995 and detained before he was discharged and acquitted by Justice Tijanni Abdullahi Special Military Tribunal on October14, 1995. The judge then ordered that he should be discharged and acquitted under rule 6 (3) of the miscellaneous offences Tribunal Rules of Procedure on all the tree counts. The INSIDER story, to a large extent, gave him some comfort.
On politics, our relationship was never complimentary, except our jettisoned 2012 plan. At other times, we were always at pole-ends. My friend considered my political ideology as too inflexible and rigid, but we were good on majority of issues.
Before he fell ill, he confided in me how certain persons wanted him to challenge the incumbent Governor Godwin Obaseki and wanted my honest views. He gave reasons why he had chosen to withdraw support from Obaseki’s re-election. Chiefly among the reasons was the continued pressure by hordes of people that bombarded him with financial request whenever he was in Benin City. He also complained that several of his followers have been ostracised by the governor, as well as matters concerning the 14 members-elect.
We discussed all his complaints but I frankly advised him against contesting or supporting any other aspirant, because I knew the constraints he was facing. I offered to share his complaints with Governor Obaseki and I did. We departed with the assurance that he will consider my position and get back. Few weeks after, in May, my friend invited me for update and he instructed me to announce his withdrawal from the contest and also told me that he wouldn’t support our friend, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu. I informed him of a meeting at the instance of Ize-Iyamu and how I advised him not to decamp to the All Progressives Congress.
I did just what Capy requested and broke the news through Midwest Herald and some national newspapers. Pastor Osagie called to thank me when he saw the publication.
Sadly, by June, the story had changed and I was completely depressed by the turn of event. Our friendship suffered setback, but when I noticed his torrential publicity that preceded Ize-Iyamu’s campaign, I again called to express my worries about the negative insinuation that may de-market his brands due to over-exposure. I requested that he should put a stop to it, painfully; I lost the argument when he responded that I needed to declare my stand and all I could do, was watch helplessly from the sides..
Looking back now, all efforts to dissuade Capy from delving into the perfidious and treacherous politics before and during the 2020 governorship election in Edo State failed, and sadly so, with heavy irreparable consequences.
Just as Capy fought political battles, he also had sizable share of business battles that I was caught in the middle. Two of such cases are fresh in my memory; Sky Bank and Ocean Marine Solution (OMS).
The liquidation of Sky Bank was traced to in-house financial transactions by the chairman, John Olatunde Ayeni, Capy’s long time business partner and friend.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on March 6, 2019, arraigned Olatunde Ayeni, before Justice Valentine Ashi of a Federal Capital Territory, FCT High Court, Apo on a four-count charge, bordering on alleged criminal breach of trust to the tune of N4.5bn.
Capy was worried for obvious reasons. First, his investment in the banking industry had gone down with Sky Bank. Secondly, the law came so close to his other investments and most importantly, (understandably so), he was worried about the fate of his friend, Tunde. So he requested that everything should be done to minimise the collateral damage the trial may have on his friend’s image and their businesses.
I wrote several features in different national newspapers and blogs in defence of Tunde Ayeni on the order of Capy. Nonetheless, and sadly too, Tunde Ayeni emerged from the EFCC clampdown and became his foe. He turned around to drag him before the same EFCC for alleged mismanagement, stealing and diversion of funds from their company, Ocean Marine Solutions Limited. I was sad, especially as his health had deteriorated.
Retrospectively, Capy may have found comfort in Bernice Johnson Reagon’s assertion that: “Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you… rather they’re designed to help you discover who you are.” If not so, how then was he able to withstand the torrent of political and business betrayals that he encountered non-stop during his eventful life?
I really don’t know! But what I know and observed was a man that struggled to cultivate persons of good nature, men and women who could reciprocate his humane and free spirited nature. The harder he tried, the harder betrayal came his way!
On November 25, 2018, THISDAY newspaper published a report suggestive of heightened tension in the Niger Delta over the pipeline security contract that Ocean Marine Solution had signed with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC. The newspapers had as headline – “Tension Rises in Niger Delta over $18.5 million Oil Pipeline Surveillance Contract.
The reporter, Sylvester Idowu traced the tension to the decision of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to award oil infrastructure surveillance contract to Ocean Marine Solution Limited contrary to extant rules.
That publication signalled the start of another crisis which led to hydra-headed industry bottlenecks that Capy was left to deal with before his death. The news quickly spread like wild fire and affected Ocean Marine’s cash-flow. We needed to act fast to denounce the wrong impression. Along with Eric Osagie, we declared an unprecedented media war to protect the corporate interest of the company.
From December 20, 2018 to January 3, 2019, Capy and I spent more hours in his private jet and at his Banana Island home developing responses forth and back for his solicitors in the United Kingdom.
Eraskorp Nigeria Limited (ENL) joined the league of OMS transducers on January 14, 2019, via a story published in the NATION newspaper, titled “Why we exposed corruption in OML 30 pipeline.” Capy was left to wrestle space with the trio of Eraskorp, Heritage Energy and Shoreline Natural Resources. This battle went unabated for several months.
On reflection, my friend and brother spent most part of his adult life, wading of unwanted business and political battles. Just before he left Nigeria for the United Kingdom, he told me he was leaving to ‘take care of his health’. We kept close contact, at least via phone and regular WhatsApp messages until the news of his transition came in the early hours of August 8, 2021, while I was in the United State of America.
He was decorated with several honors and in particular, the Vanguard Newspaper Business man of the year.
One of the several unfulfilled visions is his proposed memoir ‘How I came This Far’. Adieu Captain Idahosa Wells Okunbo JP! You were a child prodigy, a star achiever in business and unparalleled public-spirited humanitarian!!
*Orobosa Omo-Ojo JP, Publisher, Midwest Herald Community Newspaper and former Commissioner, wrote from Edo State