Prince Henry Odukomaiya remains a media man of great proportion. This was evident when family, friends, colleagues and associates converged on his Ilupeju residence on Saturday to celebrate with him on his 87th birthday, DAMOLA KOLA-DARE was there.
As we were ushered into the modestly furnished living room of veteran journalist Henry Odukomaiya around 10am, his acceptability was revealed as friends and well-wishers were seen paying homage to him, while priests from the Anglican Church came to pray for him.
This was the precursor to what turned out to be a scintillating celebration for the media colossus.
Outside, on the premises, a live band entertained visitors with gospel music,while a keyboardist did same in the living room. It was an atmosphere of warmth, mirth and camaraderie.
A few days before, it rained cats and dogs in the Lagos metropolis, but the heavens honoured Odukomaiya as the sun beamed in full effulgence.
Odukomaiya, clad in ash-coloured agbada, was bubbling and full of life. He didn’t look his age, he looked elegant and radiant. With a spry gait that belied his age, the veteran journalist spoke audibly with incredible confidence.
Earlier, in an interview, the erstwhile managing director of Concord and Champion newspapers, revealed that his biggest wish was to live for another 10 years and ensure his youngest daughter completes her doctoral studies in African Literature in Illinois, USA.
“My biggest wish is to live for another 10 years. It is for God to give me the grace to live for another 10 years in good health, which is very important. One of the reasons I badly wish that is that my youngest daughter, who is married, is pursuing a PhD in African Literature.
“I would want her to finish under my sponsorship and not for the financing to be passed on to my wife or any other person. That is one of my biggest wishes. She has only about two or three more semesters,” he said.
Odukomaiya decried the waning dedication and finesse among journalists in the country despite being more educated than those of the older generation.
He said: “I’ve always answered that question by saying it is a paradox. It is hardly possible for you to find any journalist practising with less than a first degree from a university. In spite of that, paradoxically, they are doing it with a lesser degree of dedication and finesse than those of my generation, only a few of whom were graduates.
“At the time I practised journalism, I wasn’t a graduate. It was only (because of) the Daily Times, through Babatunde Jose, that I was sent to the Glasgow Royal Polytechnic to acquire a Higher National Diploma in journalism and that was years after I had started.”
In his sermon entitled: Attitude of Gratitude, Ven. Festus Olowosile of the Diocese of Lagos West, urged everyone to imbibe the culture of giving gratitude to God in all circumstances. Quoting copiously from Psalm 103 and Psalm 150, he underscored the essence of giving thanks.
He prayed for the celebrator and while quoting from Philippians Chapter 4 verse 4, admonished him to be anxious for nothing since the grace of God had kept him thus far.
“As we grow old,we should move closer to God since we are closer to our grave. The consciousness is there that we should be careful,” he noted.
One of the clergymen, Rev. Joseph Olaoluwa Ezekiel, extolled the celebrator’s legendary munificence and heart of gold.He told the audience he sponsored his education in the seminary.
“When I yielded to the call to go to the seminary, my first year was tough. However, a priest introduced me to him. I told him my story. Till I finished school, he made it a duty to pay my fees.Even when the fees increased, he continued to pay. He also gave me pocket money which I saved to buy a laptop,” he said.
Oba Towulade of Owu Kingdom in Ogun State, HRH Olufemi Adewunmi Ogunleye, himself a retired journalist, paid tribute to Odukomaiya for “bringing me from the mud”. He noted that he wanted to be a journalist and the celebrator made his dream come true.
“I had the ambition to become a journalist in my childhood days.Odukomaiya made the dream a reality. He gave me my first job at the Daily Times. He also made sure I went through trainings to make me a crack reporter.
“He was a boss of bosses, diligent and disciplined editor who didn’t discriminate.
He gave people like us courage and proper training,” he said.
Ogunleye, who got a Law Degree at 73, also admonished everyone to be determined in their drive for success, stressing that there was no end or limit to knowledge.
In his heyday as a media manager, Odukomaiya was a synonym for integrity,perfection and honesty. This was echoed by former Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian Newspapers, Mr. Lade Bonuola (LadBone) who described the celebrator as a teacher and editor of editors.
Bonuola, who gave the toast, noted that Odukomaiya placed premium on correct English usage and stuck rigidly to it.
“He engaged me in 1970 as a reporter and sub-editor. You don’t take things for granted; you have to prepare your language when meeting him. If you allow any error to pass in Daily Times,you get a query. He was my teacher,he preferred to call me ‘Oyinlade’,” he said.
Retired Archbishop of Kwara Diocese,the Most Rev. Olusegun Adeyemi, who described him as highly principled, advised Odukomaiya to be heavenly-focused. “I have known him since May 1, 1998. Incidentally, I’m a surgeon and he was my patient. I operated on him. He is a very good, dutiful, principled and meticulous man.
“He should be heavenly-focused because Jesus Christ doesn’t give a discount for not being born again,for not praying,for not studying the Bible,” he counseled.
Children of the celebrator and members of the extended family paid tribute to him for having a great impact on their lives. They also attested to his knack for correcting wrong usage of English. They also prayed for him to continue to enjoy long life in sound health.
Some staff members of Champion Newspaper who worked under Odukomaiya, were at the event to celebrate with him.
The celebration encapsulated the beauty of memories, it capacity to titillate, to inspire and put a gloss on humanity like the celebrator has done.
Hans Selye must have had the former Deputy Chief Executive of Daily Times in mind when he said: “If you want to live a long life, focus on making contributions,” thus the media and the country at large will be blessed to have a great media man like Odukomaiya for another 10 years or more just as his wish.