Ayo Asagba: Mourning a corporate journalist

February 13, 2021
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Good people don’t last. They sure don’t last long. That itself is an irony. The bad ones live and almost become immortal before they expire. Why this is so remains a mystery. And mystery it shall remain till eternity.

I received the shocking news of the passing of a very good man on Tuesday, February 9, at about 4.30 p.m. The news shattered me completely. It was the news of the demise of my former boss, Mr Ayo Asagba. Was Oga Asagba a boss? No. He was never a boss. He was a father, a friend, a mentor and more importantly, a lesson in humility. Like another former colleague, Dare Folarin, penned on his Facebook page on Friday, Oga Asagba was the “go-to-person”. He carried everybody’s burden, while still attending to his without seeking your help.

My first encounter with Oga Asagba was in 2001 in Benin City, Edo State, where I worked as the correspondent of the Nigerian Tribune. He was the head of Public Relations in Guinness Plc then. Tribune had published some reports on the activities of the brewery and its host, Oregbeni community. Efforts to get the PR unit of the company to comment on the allegation of environmental pollution levelled against it by the host community had failed. The Benin officials at the company’s Agbor Road would not comment and neither would they volunteer the number of their PR man. We went ahead with our report and followed up with a full-page feature. Then, Oga Asagba came calling. He entered and we exchanged pleasantries. He did not complain about the report. He was rather apologetic about the way I was treated by the Benin guys. “I am here now as your friend and here is my number (phone). Can I also see Wahab Adesina (Punch correspondent)?” he asked. I called Wahab on the phone and he walked across the street to join us. Minutes later, Oga Asagba stood up to go. We saw him off to the Toyota Corolla car he drove in. He opened the booth of the car and offered us two cartons of Guinness Stout each. Wahab and I don’t drink, and we told him that. He smiled and thanked us. He was about to enter the car, when he sighted some four newspaper sales men who had come to see their Tribune colleague. He greeted those ones and asked if they wanted the drinks. They chorused yes and he dropped the four cartons; content and bottles. When he left, the sales guys asked who he was and I explained that was my first time of meeting him. From that point, we established a relationship. Each time he was in Benin, he would call at my office and the guys around were always sure of free drinks. When I had a baby, he was in Benin three days to the naming ceremony. He supplied all the drinks for the ceremony, alcohol (for the circulation guys) and Guinness Malt for those of us who were churchy and don’t touch alcohol. He was so wonderful.

Then one day he called to say that he had moved over to Globacom. That announcement ended free supply of stout for the boys. But our relationship continued. He had a way of calling me: “Aburo Oran to nfi ori adiye mu gari”-enfant terrible brother who uses chicken head to drink gari. I  would answer “I am loyal sir”! His response: “you are not a lawyer”. Oga Asagba was a good conversationalist; convivial and witty. Around October 2003, my then boss and Editor of Saturday Tribune, Mr. Bode Opeseitan, also joined Globacom. And by April, 2004, Oga Bode called to ask if I would like to join Globacom because the company needed a PR person in the Eastern part. I could not take the offer.  He called again in May to ask if I would like to go to Abuja, I told him I would get back to him. By June, Oga Asagba called. He was direct:“Aburo Oran to nfi ori adiye mu gari, Bode and I just discussed your matter. Can I have your CV by 2pm tomorrow?” I promised he would. I went to the nearest DHL office and parceled the CV to him. Some 17 minutes after 1pm the following day, Oga Asagba called to say he had taken delivery of the CV, and three days later, I received a text message from Globacom HR for a chat. Interestingly, both Oga Asagba and Oga Bode were on the panel. He played his first protective role that day. A certain man, who was also on the panel had asked the usual question on brown envelope-the usual pejorative term used by most ignorant people to describe journalists. I forgot I was in an interview session and let loose my guard. “How much do you put in an envelope to change the life of a journalist?” I asked. I went on to ask the man how much he gave to me when he came to launch Econet (now Airtel) in Benin, when my paper used the story on page three. Oga Asagba sensed the danger and he stepped in. He affirmed that he had worked with me as a correspondent without giving me a dime. Truth be told, I never asked him for money for one day. The interview was over. I go the job.

Now on the job, I cannot recall here all that he did for me. He was such a leader, who before asking you to do any assignment, he would have done 65 percent of the job. And on the remaining 35 percent, Oga Asagba would follow you through. He took bullets for me a couple of times. I recall here when I was literarily thrown under the bus,because a third party PR advocacy I did went badly wrong. The top journalist, an editor of one of the biggest papers involved was asking for my blood. I called on God and I also called Oga Asagba. He could not give me his signature tune of “Aburo Oran”, but he calmed me down and instructed I should not pick anybody’s call until he called me to tell me what to do. Some two hours later, he called back and by then, the whole matter had disappeared as if it never occurred. He did very many more for me.

On Saturday, February 6, I woke up thinking about him. I had not spoken to him since June 2020, though we exchanged text messages. So, that Saturday morning, I sent him the following message: “Good morning, sir. Just to check on you, sir. My thoughts keep drifting to you because you have indelible impacts on my career and life generally. May the good Lord sustain you and keep you and your household. I remain loyal (I know I am not a lawyer)”. There was no response from his end. Very unusual.  Three days later, his call came in. I picked it, saying, ‘e ku ojo meta sir”. But the voice at the other end, though identical, sounded strange. “I am also Ayo, Mr. Asagba’s son. I am using his phone to call you”, he said. Ok. “Are you driving sir”, I answered no. Then the bombshell: “Well my dad passed on at 1am on Sunday. He left a list of his friends that we should call and that is why I am calling you”! Bad news! Everything shattered! How? When? Why? I sent him a text message some days ago, bla bla bla. He continued: “My dad’s wish is that you spend a moment to pray for him”, Ayo added and we ended the call. Moments later, calls started coming in. Some to seek confirmation and many to say one wonderful word or the other. Oga Asagba  meant many things to so many people. He had one common denominator and that is: he was a good man.

Oga Asagba was an uncommon private individual. He did not change even in death. When I called Ayo back to ask for the funeral plan, he explained thus: “ My dad’s wish was that his funeral should be handled by his immediate family. He only asked us to call the friends on the list he made after the burial, and that is what we did. Just spare a moment to pray for him as he requested”. I responded by saying, “vintage Oga Asagba” and Ayo answered, “yeah vintage him. You actually knew my dad”. What a way to go! No drama, no razzmatazz. He lived a simple life and he departed in the most simple way one can imagine. In life, he never bothered anyone with his burdens. He ensured his death was never a burden to anyone. And yet, he carried other people’s burdens all through. What a life of service to humanity.

Rest on Oga Asagba, a boss who was never bossy, a leader and a friend, a selfless individual, the real eniyan. Fare thee well.

Suyi Ayodele is Nigerian Tribune’s South South Bureau Chief.

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