EVEN with the mortality of humans being well founded, there are people you would hardly think about that way. Pini Jason Onyegbaduo who passed on yesterday belonged to that class. He brought pristine joy to others through sheer garb and grasp of the written word.
He traversed all subjects and handled them with calm efficiency. With him, you knew where he stood. He argued his points to a precision that left no doubts. It was difficult to fault his logic, which he honed to a glittering destination in a discussion.
It would seem he was comfortable taking on every issue. Sometimes you wondered who he supported. It did not appear to matter as much as the illumination he brought to matters.
Only on Tuesday, he wrote his farewell column, A letter to Yushau Shuaib, mostly advice to a young civil servant, who thought he was being persecuted because he was a writer. Pini drawing from his experience in 1976, when he worked as a Customs officer, but wrote for Lagos Weekend with his pen name, told Yushau there were service rules that had to be obeyed.
The tributes are flowing, laced with the sadness that the unexpectedness of death visits on mortals. His readers waiting for another Tuesday encounter with him, never thought of him dying, not with the youth that bubbled through his writings at 65.
I met Pini at a party he hosted for my classmate Iheanyi Agada in his Lagos residence in 1982. It was a memorable night filled with fun memories of us dancing endlessly to the tunes of those days – Rock Da Boat (Forests), the gamut of Whispers, Shalama, Delegation, and Jimmy Cliff who was migrating from reggae to funk.
The hit of the night was Eddy Grant’s Walking On The Sunshine. Eddie Iroh, Pini’s boss friend executed the dance with dexterous steps. The number was repeated to the delight of all.
“What am I hearing about Pini, ” Iroh asked when I called yesterday. “It is really sad? Was he ill? What happened?,” he asked. Pini died was all I knew.
I borne the burden of letting Agada who now lives in the United States know that Pini was gone. It was simply incredulous for him, the same reaction I had when I was told.
Pini eased from his Customs job into full time journalism, writing mostly for foreign-based publications before gaining total followership at home. He was with The Week, Nduka Obiagbena’s news magazine that debuted in 1986. Then he started his own publication The Examiner.
His weekly contributions to Vanguard would be what most would remember. He handled issues with a candour that challenged positions. He often left an impression on whoever read him.
At the height of military rule, a curious press law was in the offing which would have made a formal training in journalism mandatory for practitioners. The target was columnists like Pini.
At 45, quietly trained at the Times Journalism Institute, to beat his adversaries to whatever they were planning.
Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives Emeka Ihedioha expressed his sadness in long drawn sighs before adding, “It is a big loss. I never knew he was down.”
“Nigeria has lost one of its most focused thinkers and prodigious journalists. His death would leave a big hole that is difficult to fill in Vanguard, a newspaper that greatly benefited from his wit and skill ,” Garba Shehu, Fellow and former President, Nigeria Guild of Editor said. Charles Kalu of Radio Continental said, “We have lost yet another great mind. Another journalism Iroko has fallen. He stamped his feet on the sands of time.”
His deep mind was a recurring in the tributes.
Dr. Josef Bel-Molokwu of the School of Media and Communication, Pan-African University said of Pini, “It is always sad to learn of the demise of great minds like Jason Onyegbaduo, known more by his nom de plume Pini Jason. He was the quintessential writer, whose biggest quality to me was his unequivocal style. You always knew what position he took on any issue, never prevaricating.”
“He belonged to the dying age of fearless journalism and was one of the precious few who were resolute with the pen in shaping policy and providing direction ,” Godwin Adindu, media aide to the Abia State Governor said.
“It is sad. Just sad ,” Paul Odili, a communications aide to the Delta State Governor, who also worked for Vanguard said.
Editor of Daily Independent Ikechukwu Amaechi shared his sadness through questions. “Was he sick. Was it an accident. How come we didn’t hear anything but his death? Has it been confirmed? ”
Joe Ajaero, Deputy President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, who once worked for Vanguard, mourned Pini thus, “ What a loss at a time we are mourning Achebe. Pini was an artistic writer who devoted his prowess to fighting inverted totalitarianism. The liberal class has lost a dependable ally. This is another sun set in the East. Good night Pini.”
“His exit is bound to create an unquantifiable vacuum in the area of informed commentary in Nigerian journalism. What a great loss. What a seminal mind. We will miss his arresting humour and his roaring laughter. An engaging mind has left us ,” stated Amaze Obi, Editorial Board Chairman of The Sun, who served with Pini in the Ikedi Ohakim administration in Imo State.
Much has been made of that service. Harsh criticism followed it, but Pini defended his decisions ably during and after his involvement with government.
Pini stood for his convictions. It was easier to deal with him so long as you were ready to debate issues until their distracting debris were cleared.