Tribute to Prof. Lai Oso: Ace journalist, scholar & humanist -Umaru A. Pate
By Prof. Umaru A. Pate
This is one sad and painful tribute I would have prayed never to offer a tribute in the memory of my bosom professional colleague and confidant, Professor Lai Oso, of the School of Communication at Lagos State University.
Lai was one of Nigeria’s finest and most highly respected Media Scholars. But the ways of the Almighty Allah are not dictated by the wishes of man; anytime the Almighty commands, mere mortals accept and thank Him through prayers. Never did I imagine that a fellow that chatted with me on WhatsApp on June 23, 2023, in the night will die a few hours ahead on June 24 leaving his family and close associates like me answering questions on the certainty of the news of his death and the flood of condolences that followed.
Every condolence message came with a unique story of how good Lai was and the grief, pain, and sadness on his loss. From the messages, it was evident that Lai Oso was a truly good man who meant many things to many people. Individuals that called, irrespective of religious identity, gender or geographical location, especially colleagues and former students cried openly.
In most cases, I ended up consoling and pleading with them to take heart and submit to the reality of life’s fluidity and its transient nature; we are all here today, gone tomorrow. Such is the helplessness we have to accept the painful reality of death and the overall precariousness of life.
One can only imagine the depth of my grief and the amount of my pain when Professor Rotimi Olatunji of the Faculty of Communication at the Lagos State University (LASU) called to inform me on the evening of Saturday, June 24, that Lai was involved in an accident on his way back to Shagamu from Abraka where he went to examine some PhD candidates.
At that point, we were not certain on his condition. We talked and agreed he should consult with Lai’s host in Abraka to verify the story. When he called back after reaching out to Abraka, my worst fear was confirmed. The Police had confirmed that Lai was one of the two victims that died in an earlier reported fatal auto crash along the Ore-Ijebu highway.
Exactly ten days before his death, precisely on June 14, 2023, I was with Lai in Lagos. Upon his recommendation, I was invited by the Dean of the School of Postgraduate Studies at LASU to serve as an external examiner for two Ph.D. candidates that he supervised. I have been doing that for them over the years but that was the first time he appeared to be in a hurry for me to go to Lagos for the examination in May. I had to plead with him to stretch the date because of my commitments at the University of Miami, Florida in the USA within the period.
He agreed and we fixed June 14, two days after my return. I honoured the date, and the candidates were examined after which he drove me to the Murtala Muhammed Airport for a flight to Abuja. That was to be our last meeting before his death.
My relationship with Professor Lai Oso was a long fruitful one that blossomed to that of a senior brother transcending family and professional lines. I first knew him through his school mate who was my former Head in the Department of Mass Communication at the University of Maiduguri, Professor Muhammad Danladi Musa, now of the University of Al’ain in the UAE.
Both of them obtained their PhD degrees from the University of Leicester supervised by Professors Paul Hartmann (Lai in 1987) and Peter Golding (Danladi). The two are deeply and admirably grounded in the Political Economy of Mass Communication scholarship. The evidence of their expertise in that perspective is respectably glaring in their scholarly publications and presentations.
In the late 1990s and beyond, when I was the Head of the Department of Mass Communication at UNIMAID, Lai served as the pioneer external examiner for our postgraduate program.
He served for two terms diligently. For the period, he added value and quality to the content of our curriculum and the theses of our students. It was always a delight to invite him to UNIMAID because of his depth of knowledge, fairness of mind, and exceptional empathy to staff and students. Where things appeared difficult and complicated, Lai simplified and made them easy to understand and satisfaction of all. Truly, Lai was a quintessential teacher as well as a quintessential leader who commanded high respect among his colleagues and earned the admiration of his students.
He taught and examined with empathy, deep knowledge, and cognitive affection. He gladly empowered many, in words and deeds; he salvaged those in need, particularly thousands of students across Nigeria. He was renowned for his altruism and selfless giving in his scholarship and personal resources. Thus, in Lai, we lost a very great gentleman, a gifted teacher, a great father, a great husband and companion, and a very progressive Nigerian who had unlimited concern for others. Lai Oso was more than a LASU Professor; he was a partner in progress with every Nigerian media professional; he was a great helping hand behind many scholars and students in the country.
Our relationship extended beyond UNIMAID to civil society activities, communication consultancy services, and professional engagements in the African Council for Communication Education (ACCE), Association of Communication Scholars and Professionals of Nigeria (ACSPN), the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, Advertising Practitioners Council, the Global Network for UNESCO Communication Professors (ORBICOM), the National Universities Commission and the United Nations system, among others.
Together, we traveled the length and breadth of Nigeria; explored several countries in Africa and toured many parts of Europe and beyond.
The bonding between us waxed stronger when I relocated to Bayero University, Kano, in 2014. Again, in BUK, we regularly sought for his intellectual input in most of our activities in the Faculty of Communication. Consistently, he availed us of his phenomenal versatility and ever-reliable dependability. When the Faculty, under my Deanship, together with the NUC and other stakeholders embarked on the review of the National Communication and Media Studies curriculum in 2018, he was in the forefront from the onset and offered the required leadership till the conclusion and launching of the document. Today, the success of that effort was partly his own.
Without a doubt, Lai Oso was a thoroughbred scholar who understood and promoted the quality of communication scholarship in Nigeria. His scholarship from the political economy perspective was deeply critical and meticulously reflective and connected to the socio-economic and political contexts of Nigeria and Africa. That was excellently manifested in his Inaugural Lecture on Press and Politics in Nigeria: whose side, delivered at the Lagos State University a few years ago.
The monograph is a compulsory read for any serious student of the Nigerian media. That lecture and many other scholarly contributions of Lai easily ranked him in the league of pioneering distinguished late Nigerian media scholars like Alfred Opubor, Fred Omu, Frank Ugbuajah, Femi Sonaike, Andrew Moemeka, Babatunde Folarin and Eludayo Soola, among others. He was an excellent bridge between the foundation scholars and the current generation of communication scholars.
Today, very few of their type like Professors Onuora Nwuneli, Idowu Sobowale Ralph Akinfeleye, and Chinyere Okunna are still with us. We wish them a longer life and more Grace ahead.
Prof Lai Oso’s death has robbed me of a respectable scholar and friend. It, more importantly, also robbed Nigeria and Africa of a great son, very generous with his time, his knowledge, and his resources towards all and sundry. The cavernous gap created in Nigerian Universities by his death cannot be closed easily, and everyone, at any level in media scholarship in this country, shall continue to miss him. His departure has left a void, especially in the study of the political economy of the media in Nigeria. It will take time for the gap to be filled.
Lai believed in Nigeria. He served and died in Nigeria. He had every opportunity to join foreign Universities but, on all occasions, he declined, always telling me we cannot all jet out of the country.
Little wonder that when I was invited to deliver his 60th birthday lecture in a hugely attended hall in Lagos, seven years ago, I focused on Media and National Integration as a tribute to his pan-Nigerian personality; Lai had something to do with every section of Nigeria: from Sokoto to Port Harcourt, Maiduguri to Lagos, Zaria to Warri; Ilorin, Gombe, Yola, Jos, Makurdi, Enugu, Warri, Benin, Uyo, just everywhere; without discrimination, stereotype or fear.
His confidence in the contributions of the mass media to Nigeria’s development was huge and passionate that he concluded his Inaugural Lecture by telling his audience that: “I believe we need a more socially conscious set of journalists and media workers.
The mass media have become so central to the way we understand and organize our contemporary society and the place of different social groups, and the life chances open to individuals that we can no longer see those who produce the materials that so profoundly influence us as craft men and women. Journalists and other media producers produce knowledge. We need to take another look at the way we train and educate them. We need a more comprehensive curriculum that goes beyond mere skill acquisition. Social relevance and public interest must be the main criteria in news selection and editorial judgment.”
We shall continue to remember Lai Oso. We shall continue to uphold his quality in scholarship, celebrate his purity of heart and cherish his sense of decorum in learning and character. It is very sad losing a Professor like Lai at the time he died. We can only condole with his family and relatives, and also condole with ourselves. Adieu, Lai.
Pate, is the Vice Chancellor, Federal University, Kashere, Gombe State