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Demise of lawyer, activist and public servant

Posted: Apr 10, 2015 at 12:00 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)
.Oronto Douglas

.Oronto Douglas

By Yemi Adebisi

 Acting Head, Literary/Arts


Nigerians woke up Thursday to the news that the Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on Research, Documentation and Strategy, Mr. Oronto Douglas, aged 49, finally bowed to colon cancer, seven years after he was first diagnosed with the ailment.

Douglas, a Niger-Delta environmental activist and lawyer, died at the State House Hospital where he had been receiving treatment.

He served as Commissioner for Information, Culture, Tourism and Strategy in Bayelsa State under Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.

Best known as a human/environmental rights’ lawyer, he represented the late Ogoni leader, Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was executed by the General Sani Abacha junta in November 1995.

As special assistant to the president on documentation and strategy, Douglas used the platform to advocate for the rights of Niger Delta communities suffering from environmental degradation and marginalisation. Despite his worsening health condition in the last four years, he worked tirelessly for the cause of the down-trodden.

Along with Nnimmo Bassey, former chairman of Friends of the Earth International and ERA/FoEN Executive Director, Godwin Ojo, Douglas co-founded ERA/FoEN in 1993, and has used this platform to increase environmental awareness and citizens’ response to environmental issues in Nigeria.

As a founding member of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) and member of its collegiate leadership, Douglas was central to the conceptualisation of the historic Kaiama Declaration and formation of the IYC in 1998. As an environmentalist, his efforts together with other Niger Delta activists brought the deplorable condition and degradation of the Niger Delta environment to the attention of the international community.

He was severally described as influential on President Jonathan’s government as a diplomat and image maker. He served as his aide during his Vice-Presidency and was later appointed as Special Adviser to the President when Jonathan assumed the presidency.

Douglas was a relentless and untiring defender of the oppressed and the cause of the environment, the cause for which he was molested and suffered greatly.

The President spokesman, Reuben Abati, in a statement said: “The President will always remember him for his passion for work, excellence, inspiring creativity and outstanding commitment to his duties.”

President Jonathan described the deceased public administrator as a “brilliant and resourceful advocate” who handled all assignments with “utmost loyalty and diligence.”

Born in 1966 in Okoroba, Rivers State, he received degrees in law from the University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt, Nigeria, and De Montford, Leicester, England.

His training gave him the zeal to pursue his passions without fear. Though he was arrested and tortured by successive military regimes, he never lost hope. He continued to work for and speak out on issues of social justice in a corporate- military state.

Fondly referred to as veteran activist, he served on the board of several non-profit organisations within and outside Nigeria. He represented his home state, Bayelsa, at the 2005 National Political Reform Conference organised by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration.

Douglas,  the first Niger Delta activist to be hosted at the White House by a serving American President (Bill Clinton), would be remembered in the global social and academic community as a visiting lecturer and speaker at various community-organised events, international conferences, and universities all over the world.

As an erudite scholar, his articles and speeches have been published in books, journals, and magazines in Nigeria, Europe and the United States.

Douglas, until his death, a Fellow of the George Bell Institute, England, and the International Forum on Globalisation, USA, helped to facilitate the relationship between President Goodluck Jonathan and Nollywood. He also made it possible for Nollywood to receive N3billion from Jonathan for the promotion of Nigeria’s creative industry.

With his friend, Ike Okonta, he co-authored Where Vultures Feast, the ground-breaking study on Shell and human rights violation in the Niger Delta.

Douglas was named among the 20 most influential writers, thinkers, and activists in the world.

Douglas, who has been described by many who have come across him as likeable and amiable was said to have had deteriorating health since early 2014.

According to a report, Douglas has been in and out of hospitals for months on treatment for illness that was not disclosed at the time. He was shuttling between Nigeria and the United States of America for months to find solution to his sickness.

As at that time, he was said to have looked frail and rarely seen in public functions. At the State House Clinic where he gave up, he was said to have died of complicated cancer.


In a harvest of tribute to the deceased, he was remembered as follows:


“I have never seen such a person with such a strong will.”

– President Goodluck Jonathan

“We have lost a very good friend, a brother and a patriotic Nigerian.”

– Vice President, Namadi Sambo

“A brilliant mind, articulate strategist and friend has been struck down. This has happened when the nation would have benefited from his vast knowledge and depth of wisdom.”

– Governor Emmanuel 

Uduaghan, Delta State

  “He was the voice of the voiceless and a strong defender of freedom of speech. He was an epitome of peace, justice and the rule of law. Nigeria has lost a rare gem.”

– ERA/FoEN Executive Director, Godwin Uyi Ojo.

    “He will be missed for his doggedness, eloquence and clarity of thoughts on all issues that matter for a good society.”

– Dr. Joe Okei Odumakin, Human Rights Activist