Pini Jason, who for many years was the New African correspondent based in Lagos, has died. He was 65 years old. He died suddenly in his home in Lagos on 4 May following a medical operation in a brief battle against prostate cancer. He was not known to be sick.
Pini Jason, whose real name was Jason Onyegbadue, came to be known over the years by the pen name associated with his numerous local and international writings. The name itself has a history behind it. Working first in 1976 as a customs officer, Pini Jason never allowed his passion for writing to weaken. As well as New African, he also wrote for Lagos’s Weekend newspaper belonging to the Times Group. He chose the name Pini Jason for his writings by dropping his surname and adding Pini to the middle name. Many writers before him, and after, who found themselves in a similar situation, contributing to two titles, had difficulty manoeuvring their way around this problem. Coincidentally a recent article he wrote and published on 30 April, in his regular Tuesday column in the influential Lagos-based national newspaper, the Vanguard, was a “letter to Yushau Shuaib”. The piece was mostly advice to a young civil servant who thought he was being persecuted because of his writings, with Pini drawing from his experience when he worked as a customs officer. He ended the letter by telling Yushau that there were service rules that had to be obeyed. Little did many readers of the Tuesday column know that this was to be his last article.
From serving in the Nigerian Customs Service and acting as a local correspondent to a local newspaper, Pini Jason went into full-time journalism by writing for foreignbased publications, during which time he forged his position with New African magazine. Earlier on, during military rule in Nigeria when an attempt was made to restrict writing in the media to only trained journalists, Pini Jason, at the age of 45, quietly took time off to attend the Times Journalism Institute in Lagos, while still writing. His active writing life lasted for years until he excused himself to serve in the government of his home state, Imo. In full-time journalism, Pini Jason worked on a number of local publications including the Week magazine, the African Guardian newspaper and the Examiner, a paper he founded, all of which are now defunct.
For many years Pini Jason maintained the Tuesday column in the Vanguard newspaper, which dealt with many major national issues and debates. The Vanguard’s Tuesday column made Pini Jason a nationally recognised name with many keen followers. Tributes have poured in following news of his sudden death, including those from President Jonathan, several state governors, from professional colleagues, many who followed his columns and from ordinary people saddened by the news. President Jonathan said Pini Jason’s columns were set apart by their clarity, thoughtfulness, sound knowledge and commitment to public good. This was expressed in a statement issued by the president’s special advisor on media and publicity, Dr Reuben Abati. Former Vice President Abubakar Atiku described the late Pini Jason as a columnist who distinguished himself as a fearless writer who never hesitated to be on the side of what is good and right. Pini Jason, he said, spoke truth to power. Among the state governors across Nigeria’s political divide who paid tribute were Emmanuel Uduaghan, governor of Nigeria’s oil-rich Delta State, Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, the former national labour union president turned governor, Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State, Dr Fayemi of Ekiti State in Nigeria’s south-west, as well as former governors Orji Uzor Kalu of the eastern state of Abia and Ikedi Ohakim of Pini Jason’s home state of Imo, who appointed him to serve as his special advisor in charge of special duties between 2007-2011. Pini Jason said he felt compelled to serve in government having convinced Ohakim to be tolerant of criticism of the government. Delta State’s governor Udaughan had described Pini Jason as a consummate writer whose passion for journalism was unmistakable and a source of pride to those who read his Tuesday column every week. Tributes also came from the country’s legislators, both in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Senator Ayogu Eze, himself a former journalist who had worked in the past with him, said Pini Jason was one of journalism’s finest. The editor of the Vanguard said he was one of the very best in Nigerian journalism.
Many fellow journalists with close personal knowledge of Pini Jason and who worked with him described him as a “detribalised” Nigerian whose hard work, robust energy and humour was a driving force in the newsroom. This was backed by his humility and accommodation of others.
That for years he reported for New African, writing impartially from the minefields of Nigerian politics, is a further demonstration of his unique qualities. He will be missed by many.