It is so difficult to write about good people in the past tense but it is a reality we must find the courage to accept. Good people will always die and depart this sinful world.
Yet, every death is painful but when good people die, their stories stay with us to constantly remind us of their goodness, essence and humanity. We remember the remarkable things they did as a treasure trove; things they were known for that made them significant and special.
Usually, they have strong personal brand equity that pulls people easily to them like a magnet because they lived a life of impact — touching and changing other people’s lives. It is an individual choice but it is better to stand up and be counted among those who use their time, talent and treasure to create everlasting legacies.
Some organisations are also playing their part to make the world a better place. For example, The Rotary Foundation (TRF), the nonprofit arm of Rotary International, the global humanitarian service and fellowship organisation in over 200 countries and geographical regions, was founded in 1917 with a mission to “do good in the world”. With an Endowment Fund close to $2 billion, TRF has continued to do good in the world by funding life changing and impactful projects.
Good deeds cannot be swept under the carpet because they become living testimonies and enduring legacies. As we reflect on the life and times of Dr Emmanuel Sunny Ojeagbase (SO for short), the founder and executive chairman of Complete Communications Limited, the publishing company noted for Complete Sports and Complete Football, my wife and I decided to tap into the wisdom and impacting life of the late sage, Nelson Mandela.
Mandela was a famous South African civil rights leader who spent 27 years in prison for his activism and advocacy for racial equality and democracy. He was a symbol of the apartheid struggle in South Africa and became president of the country.
Here is one his famous quotes: “There can be no greater gift than that of giving one’s time and energy to help others without expecting anything in return.”
This is another quote from him: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
These are powerful and inspirational quotes from a great world leader espousing the power of sacrifice and selfless service. What difference are we making in the lives of others? Think about it and see how you can be a change maker.
It is evident that what counts in life is not the number of cars or houses that we have or honours and awards bestowed on us. What is important is the “difference we make in the lives of others”.
SO who passed away on February 26, 2022 in faraway Atlanta, Georgia, USA, was a humanist and passionate care giver. We discussed different project ideas each time we spoke and he would tell me, “Ehi, just go for it … follow your heart.” SO was always brimming with new ideas – even at his age. At 71, he was not tired.
He did not discuss retirement plans with me on the job that gave him joy and fulfillment. SO was always driven by a higher sense of purpose in all his undertakings. When I published my book, ‘My Lockdown Diary: Reflections on Nigeria and Covid-19 Pandemic’ two years ago, he gladly accepted to write the Foreword.
Like Nelson Mandela, SO believed in the humanity that thrives so that the lives of others can be better. I can testify to his goodness because I’m a beneficiary.
As a young undergraduate, what attracted me to Dr Ojeagbase was how his journalism flourished. When I approached him in 1988 after my national youth service in Awka, Anambra state, he offered me employment even without really knowing me per se. He became my first employer in Lagos – fresh from the University of Benin where I majored in industrial mathematics.
That was how our relationship began in Okota. I told him I wanted to write like him and that he should mentor me. SO was more interested in someone’s abilities and not where the person comes from. He was gifted with a large heart and unusual broadmindedness which reinforced his humanity. Much later, I also employed his daughter, Blessing, to work in our public relations and marketing management company.
On another occasion, SO gave me an envelope containing cash to give to my son as a gift after he graduated from the university where he studied computer science. “Give this to Ose for his remarkable achievement at such a young age,” SO told me and my wife. That was four years ago.
When SO turned 70 years old on December 31, 2020, I celebrated him with an article. In his reply through a WhatsApp message, SO wrote: “Ehi, my dear beloved brother, thank you for this write-up on my 70th. I am grateful to GOD that you have ALWAYS been there for me. I pray that my GOD will bless you every day of your life in Jesus’s Mighty Name. Amen. I appreciate you always.”
Publisher, as we also called him, taught me the rudiments of journalism and I’m glad I had the presence of mind to assimilate the knowledge. I learnt how to write and produce a great newspaper under his guidance.
In 1989, SO, worried that I did not have my own accommodation in Lagos, gave me N1,000 loan. I paid N360 as rent for six months (N60/month) for a one room apartment in a bungalow on Olaide Tomori street, Ikeja.
Two years later, I got another loan from the company. This time, it was N6,000 and I was able to ‘upgrade’ and paid for a two-bedroom flat on Alade Avenue, behind Jabita Hotel, Ikeja. The flat cost N5,000 per annum but, today, flats in that neighbourhood cost over N2 million per annum. It is a measure of how our local currency has lost significant value over the years.
As a youth corps member, I earned N200/month. When SO employed me, he placed me on a stipend of N50 a week or N200/month. I was happy and accepted the offer because my needs were very few. More importantly, I had a lot to learn from him. Mind you, the job was not advertised; he asked me to start work to, once again, demonstrate his goodness and kindness for which I have remained forever grateful.
The Doyen of sports publishing in Nigeria was also a life and business coach, pointing the way forward for enthusiastic entrepreneurs to create wealth of their own and empower others, too. Pastor (Mrs) Esther Ojeagbase, SO’s dependable wife and business partner, was always by his side. I once teased them that they were a good role model for young couples because their kind of romance was not different from what we read in Mills & Boon series.
SO was a family man and he devoted every ounce of his energy and time to members of his nuclear and extended families. He related very well with his mentees, and stayed connected with them through WhatsApp messages, voice calls and emails.
He preached the gospel of Jesus Christ regularly and this should not be surprising because his worldview was rooted in the word of God. As a soldier for Jesus Christ, SO was a preacher and teacher through his podcast.
My family will miss him dearly because he was a father to us. He stayed connected to us until his death. SO was always keen to spread love, happiness, kindness and success. His library was full of books on various subjects and he never stopped buying books – including the digital versions.
As far as he was concerned, knowledge is power and access to relevant information can make the difference between success and failure. SO was courageous and never saw any mountain too high to climb. He demonstrated that the keys to success are hard work, humility, perseverance and the fear of God.
SO was an author and he loved books. Even before he passed away, I had discussed with Dr Mumini Alao, group managing director of Complete Communications Limited and SO’s confidant of over 33 years, the possibility of writing a book on SO. To honour his memory, Mumini and I will work on the book and release it as soon as we can.
The last time I saw SO was two years ago in Lagos. My wife and I visited his Okota home. His wife, Esther, was present. On February 29, 2020, SO bid me goodbye and travelled to the United States. “Greetings Ehi,” SO wrote in his message to me. “I’m off to Atlanta tonight. Flight leaves in a few minutes from now. I will revert once I’m on ground.” He told me 12 hours later that he arrived Atlanta, thanking God for safe arrival.
I was privileged that he confided in me on most of the things he did. I had looked forward to seeing SO again this summer in Atlanta, on my way to Houston, Texas for the Rotary International Convention. But that will not be.
SO’s remains will be laid to rest in Atlanta on April 1 after a service of songs the day before in Lagos. Adieu Dr Emmanuel Sunny Ojeagbase — a man of many parts. We will always have fond memories of you as a good man and great mind who worked hard to make the world a better place.
May your legacies endure forever.
Braimah is a public relations strategist and publisher/editor-in-chief of Naija Times (https://naijatimes.ng)