It has been a challenge for me to write this. Several times I tried to write this piece but each time my emotional strength failed me. The reality, however, is that I cannot continue to delay it even if I have to do this misty-eyed as is the case now.
But there is a background to the void this sad event has caused in my life. One evening around 2001 or thereabout, when I was features editor in Thisday, Paul Odili, currently media aide to Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State, walked into the Thisday newsroom in Apapa, Lagos and came straight to me. “Max, Pini Jason wants you to see him”, he said. Paul Odili was then assistant political editor at Vanguard, where Pini Jason was a columnist. Pini Jason wants to see me? What for? Our paths had never crossed though I had known him by reputation right from my days in secondary school. He was writing for the London-based New African magazine and being an avid reader right from my formative years, I had come to appreciate the beautiful prose of the man called Pini Jason. But I never knew he was my kinsman. The name Pini Jason sounded Jamaican to me then.
But as I finished youth service and became a journalist I encountered Pini Jason more often through his column in Vanguard but during the June 12, 1993 crisis, I disliked the position he took though I had no opportunity to let him know my feelings at the time.
“Why does Pini Jason want to see me?”, I asked and Paul said I should go and find out. I told him that I did not like the role his man played during the June 12 crisis. Paul then said I should honour the invitation and use the opportunity to let Pini Jason know my mind about the issue.
An appointment was fixed and Paul and I met Pini Jason in his house in Surulere, Lagos. Till today, I thank God for that first encounter with Dee Pini Jason. He gave me a lecture on June 12 and explained to me what informed the role he played in the struggle. I felt intellectually enriched because he brought a fresh perspective to what I knew about the June 12 issue. More importantly, I felt proud to be associated with him and felt honoured that he singled me out for a meeting in his house just by reading my write-ups in Thisday.
The reason why Pini sent Paul to fetch me was to seek media support for the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), which had just been formed. I guess he also reached out to other journalists especially those of Igbo extraction though I never asked him. He was in the team that did the intellectual work for the formation of APGA. I later learnt that he worked on the project with the iconic Professor Ben Obumselu.
Today, only very people know the role played by Pini Jason in the formation of APGA because unlike the politicians, he was given to neither noise making nor self-adulation. He told me the initial name for the party was to be United Progressives Grand Alliance (UPGA) but that INEC refused to accept that name because there was UPGA in the first republic and the electoral body didn’t want any controversy the choice of nomenclature would generate.
He gave me graphic detail of the work that had gone into the formation of the party that was meant to give voice to the Igbo man in Nigerian politics.
In the years that followed after this first meeting in his house, my relationship with Dee Pini blossomed. He became a father figure and on one occasion, I needed money to complete the purchase of a piece of land in Ogun State. I mentioned it to him and he asked me to come to his house. Dee Pini gave me the N50,000 that was left for me to complete payment for the land.
He was a complete gentleman, a detribalised Nigerian but yet someone who loved roots. In the struggle for the de-annulment of the June 12, 1993 election won by the late MKO Abiola, Dee Pini stood up to be counted. When the lid on party politics was lifted and democracy returned in 1999, the southeast wanted a platform with which to be relevant in the scheme of things in Nigeria, Dee Pini put forward his talent, time and treasure at the disposal of APGA. In all these he took no personal credit, made no political capital and reaped no political dividend.
He once told me that with the world increasingly becoming a global village, where one could operate from anywhere with the touch of a button, he might relocate to his hometown in Mbaise, Imo State and work from there. He had become disenchanted with his Surulere environment which had become noisy and chaotic and also because his children had grown up. He always talked about his family.
However, not long after this discussion, he was invited by former governor of Imo State, Ikedi Ohakim to serve in the state government. I didn’t see him much after he took up the state government though we spoke on phone a number of times. I therefore didn’t know that after Ohakim’s tenure ended, Dee Pini was staying in Abuja. When I learnt about his regular visit to or stay in Abuja, I planned to pay him a visit but before that could happen the unforeseen took place.
It was with deep sadness and for me a great personal loss when I read on Facebook one evening that Dee Pini had died earlier on that day.
Nnanyiukwu Pini Jason was a great man, a writer of no mean proportion, a brilliant essayist, who had great command of English language. He was a mentor to not a few younger journalists like me and many more drank immensely from his measureless fountain of knowledge.
Above all, he was generous man, a good man with a beautiful soul; a man who loved his family, his people and his country. He cherished family values, good name, sound character and he placed all these above wealth.
With his death, our generation has been robbed of one beacon of hope, a bright star in the firmament and one of the noblest of men the journalism profession has produced.
Adieu Dee Pini Jason. We all love you but God loves you more.