By Eric Dumo
Wednesday, January 9, 2013, began just like any other day for Deacon Ayo Ositelu and his family at their modest bungalow home on Green Street, a quiet neighbourhood around the Ejigbo area of Lagos. It was just another day. As head of the home and a seasoned sports journalist, Ositelu’s schedule is always loaded, typically. From flipping through the pages of the newspapers in the morning to following favourite sports programme on various cable stations before finally zooming out of the house to catch one appointment or the other, it was always a loaded day for the man fondly called ‘The Arena’ by his teeming admirers. But that is not to suggest that he faltered in his responsibility as a father and husband – he was always there for those who needed him most – especially his last child whom many jokingly referred to as his wife, 17-year-old Evangeline. They were very close – their relationship went beyond father and daughter. They were friends.
“Throughout December we were always going out, either me and him alone or just to drop me and my friends somewhere,” she begins. “He would wait for me and my friends to eat and sometimes he would come and pick mummy for all of us to go out.
“But most of the time we were always talking tennis, how either Roger Federer would win the Australian Open or Djokovic. We were planning his 70th birthday and I told him I was going to get him a special gift since I got something special for my mom during her last birthday.
“Daddy was happy generally. He used to sing a lot, classical music, Michael Jackson, anything. Always playing, he used to call me his lastborn and mother,” she told the reporter days after he darling father passed away in the most shocking manner. She is yet to get over that news and the emotional trauma. Recalling the last moments they shared together, the soft-spoken Eva as she is mostly called, say she is saddened that ‘daddy’ did not wait behind to fulfill the biggest promise he made to her.
“When he woke up that morning, he sat inside the compound to read newspapers,” she says. “He told me to put on the generator because he wanted to watch something on SuperSport. When my mum came back later in the day, she prepared food; we ate, watched some movies together and were all joking. He went to the toilet, took some time. It was when he came out that he started saying he was feeling dizzy.”
The minutes that followed weren’t particularly easy for the young lady and, in fact, other members of the family. Tension, apprehension and anxiety took over the atmosphere. Ceaseless telephone calls. Silent prayers. But by 8pm that night, the final whistle sounded for the veteran. It was goodnight to family and friends.
“I didn’t believe it at first, I was shocked, I was crying that I won’t see him again. I thought he would still come back that night. But he never did.
“Daddy told me he would be there for my wedding but he did not wait to fulfill that promise. That is life. I know he would have loved to but God knows best.”
Moving as it sounds, it is not only Eva that has fond memories of the late Deacon Ayo, the entire household, even siblings, still hold on to all the wonderful moments they shared together. To them, death might have done its worst; it would never be able to break their spirit, or obliterate the lovely memories of their father, husband and brother – never.
“He was very caring man who carried everybody in the family along,” Evangelist Oyepero Ositelu-Cooker, his younger sister says. “I can’t even express the quantity of his contributions to the family, his siblings, his wife and to everyone around. He was such a loving man. He was never selective or discriminative. He was not that kind of person.”
While there might have been several versions of his last moments on earth, we can now authoritatively reveal to you that the former Ejigbo Local Council Development Area boss breathed his last leaning on his wife’s shoulders. “When the doctors at the hospital were asking him questions, he was still able to answer them normally. Later, they laid him on the bed for drip to be given; they tried to trace the vein but couldn’t get any. He asked his wife to hug him and immediately she did, while the doctors were going about to get oxygen, he died. He died on his wife’s shoulders,” Ositelu-Cooker told the reporter exclusively. She went further to recall how her brother led a simple and humble life even while he was chairman of the LCDA, a position that would have made a lot of persons power-drunk and egoistic.
“There was a day I came to his house and I was told he was outside with people clearing the gutter. I met him with a shovel, clearing the gutter with the people working there. He had not eaten and had to buy bread and beans right there with the other men working. He was eating the bread and beans close to the gutter. He was that simple and committed,” she says.
A family whose foundation is fully entrenched in the Christian faith, the Ositelus are known to put God’s things and all that concerns Him above any other interest. Apart from being deeply grounded in spiritual matters, the family boasts of having men and women committed to the service of the Almighty. The Most Reverend Rufus Okikiola Ositelu, Primate of The Church Of The Lord (Aladura) Worldwide, is one classic example. Renowned and respected for his ability to spiritually foresee events, dozens of individuals and families from within and beyond the country besiege his church’s praying ground on the Lagos/Ibadan expressway on daily and weekly basis to seek the face of the Lord.
But as ‘powerful’ as the clergy is, God never opened his eyes to see the imminent death of his brother and possibly pray to avert it, at least for now considering his age, 70. “His death came as a sad news, a rude shock because it was unexpected,” the Aladura Primate says. “There was no direct divine message of that nature that is why it also came as a shock because being a spiritual church God always reveals certain things to us and we pray over them and sometimes God averts them while at other times you would pray and that thing would still happen and there is nothing you can do about it. But in his own case, there was nothing of that nature. Though, there was a message to him the day he died that he should not do some certain things sometimes as humans, when we get such things we just pray over it and believe because that is what the bible teaches us.
“He was not sick; we just heard that he was watching the match between Nigeria and Cape-Verde with his wife and daughter. Somebody who was not sick before, just to hear that he was dead was strange. All that came to my mind was how could that be? When we first heard it we taught it was some other person, it was totally unbelievable.”
Beyond the Ayo Ositelu a lot of people know, those close to him say his biggest strength and, in fact selling point lies in his simple outlook to life. Many say he was never materially minded, not even when he was Ejigbo LCDA boss, with so much influence at his fingertip. “While he was the pioneer chairman of Ejigbo LCDA, while other local government chairman where riding in Mercedes, throughout his five-year tenure, he rode a Peugeot 504. He concentrated on developing the place and not enriching himself,” the Primate reveals.
Indeed it was that modest nature that endeared the now departed sports enthusiast to his first wife and mother of three sons – Professor Adebukunola Adefule Ositelu – a one time head of the Ophthalmology Unit, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LUTH). Their romance and union blossomed for several years until one particular incidence. Even though they have lived apart for much of the last few years in their 34 years of marriage, not because they were divorced, she still carries loving memories of her late husband.
“He was a good father to his children. He loved them and he was not the type who would correct children very harshly. Everything was going on smoothly until he started working in Punch. I think that was where he met a clerk and things happened between them, not to my knowledge anyway. We had three sons together and so I couldn’t understand why.
“It was shocking because we were happy together. Everything was smooth or so I thought. It was disappointing though. I opposed polygamy because I am a reverend, he was also a reverend. There was no reason for it at all. The relationship was cordial. We didn’t have any problem. So, what pushed him into it, I don’t know. And people tried to convince him otherwise, he didn’t listen to them. And then looking at it, polygamy doesn’t end well, so much rivalry, quarreling.
“However, we didn’t divorce. Anything I wanted to do, he was always there. Even for my inaugural lecture, he was there. Everybody in my family took him as part of us. We were close. We had a very cordial relationship till his death,” the professor who herself was an athlete in her active days reveals with a tinge of nostalgia. The pains of losing her friend and husband screams on her face.
However, the family home of the Ositelus at Ejigbo has become a Mecca of sort in recent days with scores of sympathizers thronging in by the minute to pay homage and empathize with the family. As a one-time Chairman of the LCDA here, one would have expected to be ushered into a glittering mansion on first arrival here. But as you stop in front of the compound’s main entrance, you realize your expectations were on the high side. Disappointed? Well, maybe not.
Ositelu was a simple man. The house and everything you will find within and around it speaks volume of that modesty. A simple bungalow – just enough to shelter he and his immediate family – two cars, a Mercedes Benz jeep and V-boot car from the same maker, tells you even more that he was not materially-minded or driven by latest trends. Walk further into the living room, and you would be convinced even better. Nothing ostentatious to suggest otherwise – the entire house is as simple as you can imagine.
Fine collections of art works could be noticed in strategic positions within the house while the setting of the compound itself together with its ambiance, leaves you closer to nature. The tall trees and lovely flowers around, combines well to soften the harshness of the afternoon heat on your face.
While guests after guests pour in to register their condolences and pay glowing tributes to a man whom many of them say is greater even in death, a handful said he would be hugely missed.
Perhaps, there is one person who would miss him the most. The time they shared together and the little things that came with it, leaves the vacuum of his passage even wider. “I did not loose my husband, I have lost my soulmate,” Ariyike, widow of the deceased said with a tears-filled eyes. “Everyday, I look forward to receiving him when he returns from work. I am his gateman because I never sleep until he arrives. Even if it were 2am, I would wait for him to return so that I can open the gate for him. That was how we lived our lives.
“I have been so used to this system for many years and now that he has left me, it means I have to start training myself to adjust to normal routine, I mean I have to starting learning how to sleep at normal time and not staying awake waiting for him to return.”
Aged 69, the veteran journalist passed away at Topaz Hospital, Lagos, owned by his younger brother. He was few months away from his 70th birthday. Family members and close associates said he would continue to live in their hearts forever.