© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
GOODBYE: “Eager to learn, smart, shy”— friends recall moments shared with Precious Owolabi, slain Nigerian journalist
By Yusuf AKINPELU
BARELY two months to end his service to fatherland, Precious Ayoola Owolabi, 23, was slain on a ‘murder land’, in the vicious hand of a stray bullet that ruptured his stomach in a gruesome manner during a Shiites protest in Abuja.
As has become public knowledge now, he was a corps member with the Channels Television when his love for work and fatherland saw him to the land of no return.
Some have described July 22, a Monday, as a dark day in the history of journalism in Nigeria. It is more than that, especially for friends with whom Precious shared his days. It is a dark day in the history of Nigeria.
However, he had flickers of light which he had lit before he took his last breath. Hassan, a roommate of his and his best friend during his undergraduate years, is one of those flickers. Hassan could not hold back his pain to tell this to the world.
“For everything I have ever attained in life, Ayo (Precious) was there, life and direct,” Hassan wrote in a kind of dirge on his WhatsApp status. “For every dream I have ever had, Ayo was there. I couldn’t be there for my guy,” he lamented.
A similar grouse, another friend, Ekinne Olufemi, took to the doorstep of the president himself.
Olufemi’s disappointment stems from the fact that Precious, who had an immense influence on his flair for painting was no more. Being a painter, Olufemi hardly believed in the art because it is stressful and doesn’t pay well.
“He’d tell me he is interested,” he said of Precious’ comment about his paintings. “He said he is in love with the technical aspect of the theatre and he wanted to learn. Even after telling him that the pay isn’t enough, he said he doesn’t want the money; he wants to do it for the fun of it. So before the resumption of final year we painted almost 15 hostels together.”
By all accounts, that was who Precious was: always eager to learn and to help. Again, Ayodele Oyindamola, another roommate of his in his school days recalled a scene between himself, Olufemi and Precious.
“I was surprised the day I called Phemozzy (Olufemi) that I wanted to paint my room and saw Ayo (Precious) behind him. I said “baba don see sey school no go pay again him won learn work” (he wanted to learn painting because schooling doesn’t pay as much). And he smiled and said “black fool, shut up. I am learning how to paint because I want to be a good technical director for my group.”
“He would have paid people to do this for him but because this guy is too kind he stoop so low to become an apprentice under his classmate just to make his group members happy. I am sure no one was available to cover that event and he took it upon himself to go instead.”
Very shy indeed he was that a classmate of theirs had a crush on him but he couldn’t talk to her. Olufemi had to broker a middle course in the matter. Possibly as a result of his shyness, he doesn’t take pictures. The only kind of pictures he takes are his shoes, fingernails, his friend, Oyindamola, told The ICIR.
This particular trait of his, plus his insatiable thirst for learning endeared him to many. While in the University of Ilorin where he graduated from in 2018, studying Performing Arts and Media, Bature, as he was popularly known then, was described by more friends with whom The ICIR spoke with as one who was “gentle”, “kind”, “easy going”, “doesn’t behave like a regular guy”, “quick to say sorry”.
More than that, Ayodele Oyindamola, in fact, broadened the peep into Precious’ life more. Oyindamola described Precious as someone always ready to help, a cheerful giver. Although he graduated as a performing artist, Precious could not sing, act or dance well because he was shy and reserved. He makes up for this with his intelligence, equanimity, humility, and his writing dexterity.
“I have never seen Ayo talk back at anybody, nor fight. I could remember, vividly, during drama major’s visit to Lagos, Oyindamola said of him.
“He was close to me. We were dissing each and suddenly he asked me if I could help him tell the driver if he can drop and ease himself. I said no, that he should talk himself. Ayo said he does not want to disturb anybody.”
Precious was an indigene of Ibadan, Oyo State but was born and bred in Zaria, Kaduna. He spoke English fluently and understood Hausa better than he spoke it.
All these are in the past now. Precious has taken a bow into another realm beyond human comprehension. But he left us with issues we must learn to comprehend if more lives are to be saved and not lost.
One of such is what some media personnel have called protective wears for journalists covering humanitarian crisis scenes. Precious’ death has re-echoed the need to give this its needed attention.
Borne out of agitations for the release of Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, a foremost Nigerian Shiite cleric who was taken into confinement four years ago, Monday’s protest by members of Shiite Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) is one too many. Precious’ death has shown that, in the interest of the nation, no time is better to resolve the conflict than now.
Precious’ memory may lurk in our mind for long — and may not. But what will certainly not be forgotten is that he died of a preventable death. How many more people will die before the government of the day thinks of changing its tactics in dealing with this conflict? Just how many more Precious soul will die?