Chief Duro Onabule, frontline journalist, essayist and former Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to former military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, died on August 16, 2022, aged 83.
Popularly called Double Chief, a nickname that originated from his traditional chieftaincy, Jagunmolu of Ijebu, and his role as CPS, Onabule was celebrated for his strength as a writer and his power of recall. He was also known for his sense of history, amazing frankness, unimpeachable character and unassailable, stimulating and robust debates with insightful articles.
Known as a stickler to loyalty, General Babangida, his boss who turned 81 years a day after Onabule’s death, described him as a man with “remarkable and unalloyed loyalty to friends.”
In a tribute he personally signed, Babangida wrote: “I am downcast, wondering why my “triple Chief” didn’t give me a chance to say, goodbye. Nigeria has lost a colossus, a wordsmith, a walking encyclopedia, a reservoir of knowledge and a rich chronicler of history, whose world view is defined by sheer intellect, content and character.
“Nigeria has lost Chief Duro Onabule. He was an epitome of what the Yorubas would refer to as “Omoluabi”, due to his Spartan lifestyle, discipline, knack for excellence, uncommon patriotism and remarkable and unalloyed loyalty to friends, associates, colleagues and fellow professionals. He was not just my Adviser-in-Chief, he was one of our brain boxes, in and out of office.
“His communication skills were distinctive. His ability to dissect and interrogate issues was second to none. He has historical dates at the tip of his fingers. As an avid reader of his weekly column, I learnt so much about subject matters that also helped me to assail my understanding of Nigeria’s complexities. While in government, Duro was the first to reach me daily to discuss reports and happenings in the country.
“He was a Chief Press Secretary par excellence. He was exemplary. He was punctual and adopted the military way of doing things, especially time management. His rich experience during our time in government helped in no small measure in our decision-making processes. He was a nationalist par excellence. He was a dear friend.
“His death has surely left a huge vacuum to fill. A quintessential, urbane, patriotic and refined mind, whose loyalty was never in doubt. Tripe Chief would be sorely missed. In and out of government, he was part of my larger family, who understood the rationale behind most of the decisions we took in government. A diligent Nigerian with an upbringing that is worthy of emulation.”
Ogun State Governor Dapo Abiodun, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Kunle Somorin, said “Though his death is a national loss, we, in Ogun, will feel the vacuum most. No doubt, one of our illustrious sons and gift to Nigeria is gone, he shall be sorely missed.”
Born in Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, on September 27, 1939, Onabule graduated from CMS Grammar School and School of Journalism, London. His first media work was as a reporter for the Daily Express in 1961. Three years later, he joined the staff of Daily Sketch. He spent some time with Daily Sketch before going back to his previous employer, Daily Express.
In 1969, he served as the London correspondent of the Express. In the mid-1970s, he worked for the Daily Times, rising to become a deputy editor of Headlines magazine.
Onabule was the Editor of National Concord from 1984 to 1985 when he became Chief Press Secretary to Babangida until August 1993.
Leaving Babangida’s government, Onabule returned to Concord Press as visiting member of the editorial board and columnist. When Concord Press folded up, he moved to The Sun, where he maintained a column till his death. He was also at some point, Chairman, Board of Directors of Nigerian Television Authority (NTA).
No doubt, Onabule was a great and patriotic Nigerian who rose to national prominence through his journalistic work and as spokesman to ex-President Babangida. Indeed, the young generation of journalists would miss a national figure and father-mentor. He remains an example of who a good journalist looks and acts like. May his soul rest in perfect peace.