By ADEKUNBI ERO
He came into the public limelight during the era of Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, former military president, when he was appointed the director-general of the then newly created Centre for Democratic Studies, CDS. His assignment was to instill democratic culture in Nigerians, particularly the political class, and establish enduring democratic institutions that would stand the test of time. And to a large extent, he delivered on those tasks.
Since then, Omo Omoruyi, erudite scholar and professor of political science, had remained a visible persona on the nation’s political landscape and a credible voice amidst the Babel of voices in its confused political areana. But that voice will no longer be heard as the bearded professor and midwife of Nigeria’s democracy bowed out of life’s stage on the night of Sunday, October 13, 2013, aged 75.
Omoruyi died at the Faith-Mediplex owned by the Church of God Mission International after a protracted battle with prostate cancer. He was diagnosed with the terminal ailment in 2007. Unlike many Nigerians, Omoruyi had enough time to put his house in order. In 2008 when he went for treatment at a hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, United States, his doctors gave him five more years to live. He had quoted his doctor as saying “Omo, we have tried for you, for your kind of cancer, five years is the maximum.” Apparently sure of his prediction, the doctor had told him “if after five years you are still alive, then you are a miracle patient.” Omoruyi was not however lucky to experience that miracle.
Expectedly, there has been an outpouring of emotions and sympathy for the family of the controversial scholar and former deputy vice-chancellor of University of Benin. President Goodluck Jonathan said Nigerians would always acknowledge and honour Omoruyi’s “significant contributions towards laying an enduring foundation for the democratic dispensation in the country through the work of the Centre for Democratic Studies which he served as pioneer director-general.” In a statement signed by Reuben Abati, presidential spokesman, Jonathan commiserated with the late Omoruyi’s family, the government and people of Edo State on the loss of the very distinguished academic and illustrious citizen whose contributions to the nation’s political development would be long remembered.
Emmanuel Uduaghan, Delta State governor, described the deceased as “a patriot and nationalist,” who had a burning passion for the unity and improvement of democracy in Nigeria. In a statement by Felix Ofou, his press secretary, Uduaghan said, “The academic community, Edo State and Nigeria in general, will be affected by the painful exit of a man who at great risk to personal safety and love for the common man always wanted to speak the truth at all times. Even while he was on his sick bed, when he should be thinking only about his health, he never stopped talking. He was more concerned about deepening democracy and the distribution of the dividends to the grassroots.”
Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State said Omoruyi’s death was particularly painful, “because he was a personal friend and confidant.” The late academic was the DG of Oshiomhole’s governorship campaign in 2007. The governor said his death had robbed the state and Nigeria of “a forthright man, a great intellectual, a man who gave his all in his service to the nation,” adding that his contributions to the development of the country’s democracy remains indelible. Oshiomhole said, “we feel pained that death has robbed us of Professor Omoruyi at this point when his voice and contributions to burning national issues would have carried immense weight.” He was however consoled that with Omoruyi’s contributions to the nation, the government and people of Edo State were proud “as he was one of our greatest gifts to Nigeria.”
Oshiomhole’s Ekiti State counterpart, Kayode Fayemi described Omoruyi’s death as “a big blow to all lovers of democracy in Nigeria.” In a statement by his press secretary, Olayinka Oyebode, Fayemi noted that Omoruyi served humanity and his country to the best of his ability as a democrat, researcher, teacher and administrator and acquired international fame as a global scholar in the field of political science.
Similarly, John Odigie-Oyegun, first civilian governor of Edo State, said Omoruyi was one of those very intelligent and resourceful persons in this country and described his death as a great loss. Lucky Igbinedion, second civilian governor of the state, said Omoruyi “fought cancer gallantly but lost graciously,” describing him as “a perfect gentleman who contributed immensely to our democratic process.”
Joan Omoruyi, widow of the deceased, who hails from Guyana in South America, expressed shock at the death of her husband of over 30 years. “I was with him most of the day before he died on Sunday night. He was always doing his best as a husband and a father. I will miss everything about him. He came back three weeks ago from America but you know, while he was here, his health failed him. He was a perfect husband and father,” she said.
Younger brother of the deceased, Eghosa Omoruyi, a pastor, said his elder brother became weak about a month after he returned from the US where he had gone for medical treatment. He regretted that though he served the country very well, he was abandoned by the people he worked for at his hour of need. The deceased had constantly accused Babangida of abandoning him to his fate when he needed his moral and financial support the most.
In spite of such regrets, Omoruyi had dedicated the last few years of his life to documenting his experience as a cancer patient and launched a foundation for the treatment of cancer patients.