TUNJI OSENI: LIFE AND RECOMPENSE
By Uthman Shodipe
I had woken him a couple of weeks before in one of the fading days of the Ramadan when the severity of denial and the weariness of sleep still preyed upon the faithful like a consuming burden, weighing down even the fit and fiddle in exhausting paralysis. His voice came over with the hesitant, faint rumble of an half-stirred sea struggling into a wakeful but perplexed alert by the rude instigation of an inconsiderate force. Slowly, with measured consciousness and quiet, determined strength, he roused into gradual enlightenment and recognition, pulling himself into a steadiness of strength and surmountable brightness of civility, though he was tethered to the oxygen dispenser and the encumbrance of running tubes.
It was an ignorant intrusion that was clearly oblivious of the dissipation of his vigour and the withering of his vitality. And yet, despite his stricken frame, the depressive mechanical encumbrances about him, the straining of his ebbing energy, he betrayed no ravages of anguish, uncomplaining about the bitterness of fate, unexpressed about the choking discomfort of general debilitation.
Somehow, he had repressed the debilitations and the scourging of fate beneath the kinder gentleness of decency and natural affability. He was without rancour, without diminished graces. He spoke in genuineness of believable candour and the stern purity of radiated truth. He was without the storm or fury of prostrated enclosure. He was without the constraining and legitimate embitterness of restricted fortune. He spoke with graduated clarity and confidence which rose and soared far above his physical piteousness, lending him freedom and decisive outreaching liberty that a cruel fate could not detain nor hinder. In this, he was genuinely heroic without self-advertisement, without a vainglorious clamour to attract pity or the concern of the thriving, the healthy.
Tunji Oseni was a simple man with simplicity of purpose, with ordinariness of vision and uncomplicated truth. Clearly without grandeur, clearly without the inordinate complexities of most of us, evidently unknown to libertine crudity and the intrusive temper of the public light. He was self-confident without extenuating recourse to an appropriating girdle, without pride. He occupied his own firmament with pious contentment, with undramatized self-pursuit, clearly without solicitousness.
I had collided with him for the first time in 1990 during the OAU Summit in Abuja at the NICON Hotel suite of Olusegun Obasanjo when the four-star general was still defined in humane statesmanship and humble attractiveness. It was here one had witnessed the earthy familiarity of the two men; the old, effortless townsman kindred relationship between the soldier and the journalist, the long-tenured friendship expressed in glaring neighborliness and kinship affectations. Such old values and inherent intimacy were hardly kindled and expressed in the exit of the journalist from the service to the presiding power.
But even in his exit he yet resounded in typical faithfulness and serenity, stripped of bitterness and negative dwellings, unusually upbeat in his unsevered rootedness to his old boss and townsman. Out of the filigrees, out of the privileges and the transient glory of the State House, he was still possessed of that rare equanimity and selflessness which would reach out to the president himself, pointing out the error in nomenclature and therefore seniority when his successor was originally designated ‘Special Assistant on Media”. His intervention would upgrade Remi Oyo’s designation to Senior Special Assistant.
Remi Oyo’s original appointment itself had been brought about by one of those complex, unfathomable, ironic turning of fate wherein Oseni himself had played a very significant role. The testimony is ineviscerable and irrefutable that it was the kind and self-denying Oseni who in happy, genuine, free giving assistance and accommodation to a colleague’s solicitousness and appeal haunted the offices of the Chief of Staff and the President with Oyo’s credentials, albeit with a canvass for the headship of News Agency of Nigeria. And yet in a reverberative irony only reclaimable in Sophoclean truth, he who would assist selflessly and then he would be consumed ultimately by the industry of his sacrifice!
Where then is his recompense? He never assisted with an eye on accruing gain or even the beneficence of the assisted. His resolve was self-satisfaction, the contentment with the self, the fullness of personal actualization. He was truly indifferent to the transient hurrah of the fickle, inconsistent humanity. He quietly pursued his own dreams, his own truth with stoic poise and calm, unhurried possessiveness.
Oseni was a scholar in the very purity of that abused word, much elevated beyond the restricted dredging of journalistic disputations, obsessed with original knowledge and seminal, independent registrations. He edited two works, one on ‘The Media, Transition and Nigeria,’ and the other on “Hosting the 140th Anniversary of the Nigerian Press,’ both in his restlessness to refine, to deepen and to arouse a more reflective and paramount historical pivot in the engagement of contemporaneous journalistic practices. He was putting his own works together, spanning almost 40 years of brilliant journalistic exertions before fate hobbled his path. Others must now prowl through the mist of archives from his positive days at The Sketch through the maturing and crowning lustre of his engaging craft at The Daily Times. That would be one of the greatest tributes to this scholar and journalist, this thorough craftsman who was defined in unblemished sincerity and purpose, who held himself in unpretentious humility and devotion, radiant in vast integrity to man and the higher cause. In this recompense he will be with us forever like an hallowed, eternal flame.
First published Friday, 3 December, 2004.