Justin Erukaa

TRIBUTE | Justin Sekav Erukaa – A Sad and Painful Loss to Humanity – By Demola Olarewaju

I switched on my phone on Monday morning to find that I had missed a call from Senator Musiliu Obanikoro and I called him back immediately but he didn’t answer the call. A short while later, he called back and for the second time in a matter of weeks he delivered the shocking news of another death.

Only some weeks before, Obanikoro had called me around 6 in the morning to say “Iya Lati ti ku o” – in reference to his 95 year old mother whom we fondly called Iya Lati. If her burial was a celebration of a life well-lived and prayers for the repose of her soul, for Justin Erukaa, it is a season of mourning for us.

Erukaa as we fondly called him was one of a core of brilliant young people who work with Senator Obanikoro. From his time as Deputy State Chairman of NRC in the early 90s till his last appointment as Minister at the Federal level, Obanikoro has always surrounded himself with young straight-shooting people to plan, strategise and implement various ideas along with core political associates. In death, we cannot but admit that Erukaa was one of the very best and he could be more direct with Obanikoro than the rest of us.

Trained as a lawyer, Erukaa was an excellent administrator and organiser who worked closely with Senator Obanikoro for a long time from 2003 when he first joined as a legislative aide.  The team back then was of 4 young men and 1 lady – Henry Agbebire from Delta, Bailey from Osun, Niyi from Lagos and Mary from Kogi State. There was also another lady from Kaduna who joined them briefly. Erukaa joined through Henry and prepared most of the bills that made Senator Obanikoro one of the most successful first-time legislators of that Senate.

I did not meet him early enough but I heard about him often in the Koro camp. When I finally did, he had also heard about me and we hit it off immediately. If there was one area where Erukaa and Obanikoro could absolutely keep you shut though, it was in their knowledge of lawn tennis. I would sit in silence for almost hours on end as they would discuss the game with so much passion, talking about players from yesteryears, many of whom I knew, but not enough about them to be able to contribute to an Erukaa and Obanikoro conversation.

It was during the detention of Obanikoro by the EFCC that Erukaa and I had a very minor disagreement on principle and approach which was quickly resolved with Erukaa’s wisdom and which eventually brought us closer. Erukaa was a part of the team of lawyers and he was able to see Senator everyday unlike the rest of us and keep us updated. I asked for and got daily updates from Erukaa on how Koro was doing in detention but when rumours started to surface in the media, I began to pressure Erukaa to allow me to go public with some of the information which I knew to be true and which was against what was being reported in the media.

Almost every single day during that period, Obanikoro’s name was in the headline of the news – first was that he had admitted guilt in a so-called embezzlement of arms purchase funds even when it was clearly seen that the money in question emanated from the imprest account of the NSA which were discretionary spending of the President otherwise known as security votes which every other head of executive in Nigeria has.

Erukaa insisted we play it cool with the EFCC. Of course he was a lawyer and he understood the points of law in this matter but he explained to me that we needed to understand the kind of reign President Buhari was imposing on the country. He reminded me that we had envisaged this situation prior to the period and had concluded that APC would not rest until Obanikoro and some other names that they love to slander, are somehow roped into one controversy or the other.

When the press reported that Obanikoro would be a state witness against Ekiti State Governor Ayo Fayose and Senator Iyiola Omisore though, I lost it. I pointed out to Erukaa that while law was his forte, political strategy was mine and this particular falsehood would hurt Koro’s political career, not with APC minions but with people within our own camp. Erukaa countered that it was more important to let EFCC have a field day with grabbing the headlines than aggravating the matter by fighting back in the media. He insisted that our priority at that point was to see that Koro was released. I was not satisfied, especially as I had to keep on explaining to people that these things in the media were at best exaggerations and in many cases, entirely false.

So I put a phone call through to Obanikoro’s Chief of Staff and trusted childhood friend Uncle Kayode Bawa-Allah with whom he had attended university in America in the 80s. Uncle Kay unfortunately (as I saw it) sided with Erukaa’s position that we were to maintain absolute silence on the issue and not respond to the media rumours in anyway.

Later that evening, Erukaa, knowing I was unhappy, called back to give me an inside gist from the EFCC detention. He said Reuben Abati had been brought into the facility that evening and he engaged me with camaraderie for few minutes to make sure we were cool and I became one of the first to put out the information via social media – such was Erukaa’s acute emotional intelligence.

Last Sunday, he was driving in Abuja when his vehicle ran into a stationary vehicle. The streetlights which had worked for many years have not worked for a long time now – the minister of the FCT must be busy with many other things.

Erukaa had poise, professionalism, determination, commitment, integrity, loyalty and was extremely humble. On his loyalty, Koro once remarked that it was extraordinary and that it was not taught to him or acquired but innate.

Erukaa was human though but those of us who knew him would remember him fondly.

As we bury him this weekend in Zaki-Biam in Benue State, our memories of him would always be his calm disposition and total solidarity and loyalty. Our hearts also go out to his wife and children as we pray that his soul finds rest and peace.

 

Demola Olarewaju writes from Lagos, tweets @DemolaRewaju and is a close associate of Senator Musiliu Obanikoro

 

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