By Vincent Akindele
The sudden death of Professor Lai Oso on Saturday, 24th June, 2023 was shocking. It was devastating, leaving me unsure of what to do next. There was no need to confirm its truth, though I wished someone would tell me it wasn’t true. While trying to disengage from wishful thinking, I resorted to a Google search for more information on the motor accident that took his life. However, I found no relevant details. Such information wouldn’t have relieved my melancholy; instead, it might have aggravated it. So, I had to accept the reality: Prof. Lai Oso is dead! Our irreplaceable leader, mentor, and pillar of support is gone!
The instinct to write struck me with conflicting thoughts. I almost considered not writing, reasoning that I had already honoured him during his lifetime by dedicating my book, ‘People’s Governor and Other Stories,’ to him. The dedication reads: “To Prof. Lai Oso, a most admirable communicator.” I still struggled with the obligation to write, thinking that there were many Professor Oso’s products in the knowledge industry, media houses, public relations, and advertising practice who would write tributes. I seriously wondered whether my own tribute to the departed intellectual giant would make any difference. Then, an online newspaper publisher, who is also a proud product of Oso, offered me the opportunity to write a piece about him for publication.
I have known Prof. Oso for over 31 years. He taught me at both Ordinary National Diploma and Higher National levels in the Mass Communication Department at Ogun State Polytechnic (now Moshood Abiola University), Abeokuta. He was an exciting, dedicated, and diligent teacher. He was a great writer, thinker, academic, builder, and developer of human resources.
As a committed teacher, he sometimes organised Saturday lectures for us. Ordinarily, students would not be interested in such arrangements that deprived them of personal pleasures and social engagements on Saturdays. However, we always looked forward to attending his classes. His compelling teaching techniques and his lively disposition hooked us. He had a usual way of concluding these special classes: “I think at this point, we should call it a day.” Our collective response was always, “No, no, we want more!”
I had remarkable encounters with Prof. Oso during my HND programme. I couldn’t make the admission lists of the first and second batches. Luckily, I wasn’t alone in this predicament; one of the best students in our class, Kayode Adegoke, who even achieved an Upper Credit grade, was also affected. Some of our concerned colleagues, led by the amiable and courageous Sulaiman Adesina Anidugbe, protested before Prof. Oso, who served as both the Head of Department (HOD) and the admission officer. He had to create a concessional admission list of 10 candidates, with Kayode Adegoke as number 1 and myself as number 2. I expressed my gratitude for his effort in the acknowledgment section of my final year HND project, stating: “I am sincerely thankful to my HOD, Dr. Lai Oso, for removing the stumbling block on my way to the HND level.”
During my HND programme, I grew close to Prof. Oso when I became the Editor of The Poly Echo, the training newspaper of the Mass Communication department. Serving under his tutelage, I came to know him as a selfless, dependable, and responsible leader. Like a mother hen, he protected us from attacks from the school authorities, staff and students while performing our duties. There were many instances, but I will mention three cases that stand out in my memory. First, the lead story of the 1996/97 edition of The Poly Echo, which covered the finance of the polytechnic co-operative society, received condemnation and complaints from concerned staff members. Prof. Oso apologised profusely on our behalf and pleaded with them to forgive us. This act spared us from litigation. Second, in the same edition of our newspaper, the bug-a-boo segment, which was genuinely meant to correct vices in the polytechnic community, sometimes caused harm to individuals. For example, a young lady was unjustly criticised for always carrying a water bottle. One afternoon, the Deputy Editor, Adeleke Adeniyi, approached me in distress, claiming that some editorial members were being targeted for attacks. Adeniyi and I sought Prof. Oso’s intervention, and he promptly accompanied us to meet the lady in question. Prof. Oso asked, “Who is the girl?” When informed about the story, he remarked, “For goodness sake, what is wrong with this story?” He then calmly pacified the young lady, assuring her that the story wasn’t as damaging as she thought. We returned to his office, where he reviewed the article and stated, “This story is irresponsible journalism,” rebuking us.
Another incident occurred when he faced scrutiny from the school management due to my article, ‘Burdens of a Campus Editor,’ published in the 1997/98 edition of The Poly Echo. The article criticised the Rector, who considered it an affront and disrespect to his person and office. Prof. Lai Oso was summoned, questioned, and instructed to guide us properly. When we met, he said, “Vincent, I was summoned and questioned over your article, but it was a good one.”
Upon completing my HND programme, my former lecturer and editorial adviser at The Poly Echo suggested that I should meet Prof. Oso to request a recommendation letter for a job offer at The Nigerian Tribune. He declined to provide the letter but directed me to meet Mr. Akinjide Akintola and introduce myself as the former editor of The Poly Echo. Although I wasn’t satisfied with his response, I followed his instruction. I met Mr. Akintola, who spoke to the Editor of The Nigerian Tribune and returned with an offer letter. That demonstrated Prof. Oso’s trust in the value of his products. To him, skill, ability, and productivity were the main requirements in journalism practice.
In my bid to acquire higher degrees Prof. Oso was always willing to give me efficacious attestation in glowing terms such as, “he writes well”, “he writes reflectively” and “ he writes imaginatively.” In the university his name opened several doors. I was loved, respected and favoured for knowing him. He was an editorial adviser of my university’s Journal of Communication and Media Technology (JCMT). I had hoped to rely on his influence in academia. Now that he is no longer here, what will become of me? I put my trust in God!
Prof. Lai Oso was highly visionary and focused. He built his academic career with discipline, diligence, doggedness and tenacity purpose, becoming a top professor of Mass Communication in Nigeria. His activities shortly before his sudden death exemplified this achievement: In May, he served as an external examiner for a Ph.D. degree Viva at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye; on June 19, 2023, he was an external examiner at Babcock University; and in June he served as an examiner at Delta State University, Abraka. It was on his way back from Abraka that he died in the unfortunate car accident. He started his career at the polytechnic and didn’t settle for being the HOD at the age of 36. He moved on to the university system to earn his professorship. From Olabisi Onabajo University (OOU) to Lagos State University (LASU), he made significant contributions to knowledge through papers, books, book chapters, seminars, and lectures.
He embodied humility, sincerity, and integrity. Despite the educational and hierarchical gap, he humbly gave me his typescripts to edit, acknowledging that he didn’t know everything. This act showcased his sincerity in admitting his limitations. It also reflected his integrity, aligning with the journalistic principles he taught us. He instructed us to engage competent editors for our work and, when serving as editors ourselves, to use an HB pencil.
His remarkable achievements and steady career progression could have fuelled envy and jealousy. Yet, he possessed an innate ability to withstand challenges and weather storms associated with his success, fame, and recognition in Nigeria and abroad. Oso’s life demonstrated that greatness is not determined by physical stature. Despite his modest height, there was nothing ordinary about him.
However, he was not infallible. Like any mortal, he had his own shortcomings. As his former student, I observed that he was not generous in awarding marks. It was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than to score 60% in his course. I also noticed that Oso was not a populist and never pretended to be one. Furthermore, he was cautious and highly selective in choosing his friends, associates, and subordinates.
Prof. Lai Oso, I believe, departed gloriously and triumphantly. He lived a fulfilled life. So, should we weep for him over his sudden and untimely death? Or should we weep for ourselves, mourning the loss of the influence, favour, and support we enjoyed through his existence? Regardless, Prof. Oso’s passing is an immense loss to the academia, the media industry, his family, the church, and the nation.
Adieu, our mentor and leader!
Akindele, a media practitioner and journalist, lives in Ibadan (08132262807)