Tribute to Lai Oso: The only area where My Prof. Failed

By Yusuph Olaniyonu

This is one of the most difficult write-ups I have ever worked on in my journalism career spanning over 30 years. And it should be understandable. My mind has been foggy and disturbed since that Sunday morning when Wale Olaleye sent me a Facebook post and wanted me to confirm the content. Unfortunately, I was in heavy traffic in the Ojodu area of Lagos, getting close to joining the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway on a trip to Abeokuta to pay a condolence visit to the family of another late brother, Oba Babajide Bakre, the Agura of Gbagura who died a few days earlier.

As I read that Facebook post, my heart began to beat so hard and fast that I was afraid it would force itself out of my chest. I put a call through to Simisola but she did not pick it up immediately. However, a check on the popular PENPUSHING blog confirmed the worst news I have heard this year. My mentor is gone. Prof. Olayiwola Muraina Oso will no longer attend to my constant demand for professional advice.

Lush Arena

Death, the inevitable end to all mortals had terminated the benefits hundreds of thousands of us – his present and past students, associates, friends, colleagues, and others derive from Prof. Oso daily. You will wonder why I did not mention his dear wife, Aunty, and his children – Simisola and Moyosola – as part of the beneficiaries to whom his selfless service has now stopped. It is because I know we, his professional and academic children, got a lot of his time and resources, perhaps more than the family who originally own him. And the trio have graciously conceded to allowing him to serve the rest of us without complaining.

Prof. Oso was a great person, a good human being, and an extremely kind man. I am waiting to know who he would have knowingly or consciously offended. He was an extremely good man. Being kind and nice to people came naturally to him. He was not an actor. He was a man whom God had endowed with tremendous intellectual resources greater than the wealth of Elon Musk. He had also spent this resource in such a manner that unlike Musk who would be afraid that his money, if freely dispensed to people as Prof Oso dispensed his knowledge across different platforms, would be depleted, my mentor spent his as if giving it out was the source of its massive replenishment.

Prof. Oso can be rightly referred to as the father of modern mass communication in Nigeria and this is arguable. Since the death of Prof. Alfred Opubor, the first professor of mass communication in this country, nobody had made the kind of impact Prof. Oso had made in that field and I believe I can defend this claim any day. He was one of the few teachers of that course who had attended to students at all levels – from Ordinary National Diploma to Doctorate level. He had taught in over 20 universities either as a full-time, part-time, or guest lecturer, external examiner, external assessor, doctorate students supervisor, and so on.

Prof. Oso was always on the move. He was either delivering a public lecture to an academic body, professional group, student group, or policy-making institution or he was contributing papers to an academic journal. He was the soul of many professional bodies in the area of communication studies. He consulted for many private universities that wanted to start their department of mass communication or communication studies.

He had published several books and co-authored many others. His articles were published in many academic journals. His public lectures had also been published as newspaper articles, and his views were taken seriously by journalists and members of the public.

Perhaps one of his strong points is that he started his career as a reporter after youth service and worked both in radio and the news agency. He was a state Correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) before he returned to the classroom as a Ford Foundation scholar at the University of Ife. He was a professional who later became an academic. He was abreast of developments in the journalism profession as well as public relations, advertising, marketing communications, and public communications. His research areas were very wide and he was not one given to just theorizing. His submissions were very practical and realistic, and took care of the trends in the industry.

I was admitted into the Department of Mass Communication of the Ogun State Polytechnic, Abeokuta, as a 17-year-old boy in 1983, and before then I had heard and admired two of the lecturers, Dr. Femi Sonaike and then Mr. Oso. However, the latter had left the school on leave to study for his Doctorate at Leicester University, United Kingdom. He returned in 1986 to teach communication theory and Precision Journalism or Research Methods. Thank God for his timely return. He rekindled my interest in the research methods because he made it look simple.

We became close immediately because he believed I had the potential to become a successful academic. He did everything to encourage me. My research work for my Higher National Diploma which he supervised was as intense as that of a person studying for a Master’s Degree. It was on Community Journalism and its Impact on Development. He made many others to follow up on the work. Prof. Oso was the reason I later acquired other degrees.

Yet, he failed in his efforts to make me a university teacher like him or should I just say I failed him. He was however always following up on my progress. He was always there for me. The only time I ever saw him in Agbada was when I got married in Lagos and he was there with his wife. He had been to my house in Abuja just to check on me.

When I became the Commissioner for Information and Strategy in Ogun State in 2011, Prof. Oso freely offered advice to me and even practically worked on some projects for me, at no cost. He conducted training sessions for the information officers in the Ministry at no cost.

While I considered myself a special person to Prof. Oso, I knew I did not have a monopoly on his kind gestures. He did that for everybody who came in contact with him. A classmate of mine at the Polytechnic, Mrs. Sade Fasanmade sent me a message to commiserate with me over the death of Prof Oso. She wrote: “Your father in journalism, Prof. Oso is dead. A ku oro. May God console us all. God knows the best.” She then went on to narrate how she was almost swindled in Sagamu a few years ago while seeking accommodation for her daughter who got admission into the medical school of Olabisi Onabanjo University and she remembered Prof. Oso. She put a call through to him and pronto, Prof was there to save her. He linked her with the landlord directly and she paid a lot less than was being quoted for her by the touts.

This was how Prof. Oso selflessly served his numerous students and acquaintances. He was an extremely humble person and easy to approach or get along with. In his death, many of us have suffered severe loss. Though Aunty lost a loving and devoted husband while Simi and Moyo lost a great father and

friend, many of us lost a father figure, reliable associate, wise counselor, cheerful giver, committed mentor, cerebral teacher, a source of our pride, a beacon and compass in our profession, a teacher’s teacher, first-class researcher, a genuine academic, a man of prodigious intellect and a rich library on communication studies.

Without knowing it, the Adire cloth sellers in the Itoku market, Abeokuta, have lost a customer and ambassador. Prof. Oso wore Adire with pride to any occasion and anywhere in the world. His sartorial taste represented his humility and his belief that a hood does not make a monk. All that mattered to him was decency, not flamboyance.

He was the real Professor as he nicknamed me ‘Prof’. He was a professor’s professor. In his sudden death, I still see God’s kindness to him. Prof. Oso was too busy and too intellectually active to be tied down by any ailment that usually precedes death for many. He died without being sick or immobile. He died while returning from the lecture circuit, an arena that he dominated for the last 30 years. He died while returning from a university where he had visited as an external examiner. He died close to his home. A journey from Abraka to Sagamu is 377.7 kilometres. He had covered 347.7 km and had only 30 km left before the accident occurred.

Prof. Oso was a great man. He was a man of God, well created and loved so dearly. He will be sorely missed by all and sundry. This is one death whose impact on me and my family will not wear out soon. We can only pray that his family continues to benefit from his kindness and good work. Adieu, my Prof.

Olaniyonu is a communication Strategist, Journalist, lawyer and Public Affairs Analyst, writes from Abuja.

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