By Ken Okaoha
…My dearest friend and colleague, my man Dr (Barr) Sunday Oghayei took off to the great beyond on Sunday 1st November 2020 after a very brief illness. It is still shocking.
Here is a man who challenged so many of us. He rose up in a self-made capacity to read law even as a civil servant and scaled through. We met first in Accra when he was sent to Ghana to represent Nigeria on a preparatory meeting on the ECOWAS-European Union Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations; and as a Desk Officer, he confessed to me he knew next to nothing being discussed.
Seeing I was helping ECOWAS as a Trade Law Consultant, and that I was the only Nigerian on the ECOWAS Team, he left his hotel location and joined. We came back and he informed me he will “secretly join NANTS to run errands” so as to learn more about the technical issues relating to trade. I informed him of my plans to pursue my Doctorate Degree and would therefore have little or no time to put him through with the immeasurable zeal he was coming with.
Oghayei jumped and said he would then go for Masters to meet up. I introduced him to NANTS Staff, and suddenly, he became friends with every Staff of NANTS and warmed up with Leonard Ugbajah and Edwin Ikhuoria who became the Heads of NANTS Legal and Advocacy Departments respectively. They had a swell of good time and he pursued a Masters Programme while learning everyday on analytical issues on trade. As I was announcing my finishing line, Sunday Oghayei took off on his Doctorate like a joke. He later identified Mr Adegbenro of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and the 3 of us became so close and bonded and decided to release monthly analytical briefs on the EPA which continued to rattle and redirect ECOWAS-EU-EPA approach.
When negotiations became tough and President Obasanjo later created a Technical Committee for Nigeria on the EPA to be chaired by the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment (FMITI), Oghayei and his wonderful Team from FMITI took a patriotic decision of making NANTS – a private sector Organization, the Secretariat with no element of disapproval from any of the Ministries, Departments and Agencies of Government. The then Director of Trade gave them free hand to pursue the EPA matter to ensure that Nigeria was not left behind but take the lead. I will not forget how people like the current Director of Trade – Abubarkar, A.K Mohammed, Chief Kalu, and then junior Officers like Jude Ntong, Akambi, Simeon, Nda Ali, Demitta, Mayowa, etc rallied round Oghayei as a formidable team of Secretariat with few hands from NANTS that held Nigeria’s hand up on the EPA; and we became respected the more. This was after a grave power of morale and technical support from the likes of Alhaji Bawa, Labaran, Briggs Inye who gave their all to the negotiations while also working to stabilize the WTO end.
From then, Oghayei and I became “5 and 6”, like inseparable twin brothers on trade, reading and researching on every available subject to a point some even felt we were taking it too far.
He could sacrifice anything to ensure that the work is going on well, and sometimes he would go home and sleep only to wake up with new and radical ideas that will scuttle and sometimes suffocate all we have done, and we would start afresh with Adegbenro always consoling me. Oghayei’s zeal to bulldoze and place Nigeria’s trade interest on the table at a point overwhelmed me.
He was working like a private sector personnel. During the thick of EPA negotiations, we were four selected by Government to represent Nigeria in line with ECOWAS Roadmap, and out of the 4, Oghayei, Adegbenro and I would end up sleeping on one room, debating and arguing on figures and strategies sometimes throughout the night so as to place Nigeria’s agenda on the ECOWAS table. Mr Tor (from Ministry of Finance, who was sometimes interchanged by Ms Lairaba of CBN due to exigency of work and technical needs) would provide all the tariff bullets with support from Comptroller Taju Olanrewaju. Oghayei managed the team work effectively so much so that he succeeded in molding our character to see ourselves as a united entity working for one, and only one country.
While he retired and went to Guyana as a Regional Trade Advisor, from there, he sent me a very beautiful and unforgettable ‘love letter’ which he sarcastically titled “Certificate of Recognition.” The content of the letter was only to thank me for putting him through on the path of trade. I was deeply touched, and I wept; but, he never knew the quantum of contribution from him which helped me all these while to plunge into vast subjects of trade I would never had imagined, coupled with the fact that he pushed me to study econometrics thematic side of trade.
Oghayei would always communicate with me almost every other day on possible technical hiccups he meets, or new issues arising from trade and we would start another chain of debate that may lead in either a soft quarrel or acceptance of defeat where he promises me a bottle of wine that I end up most times not getting because he does not drink. Oghayei was so kind to a fault; and despite he was older than I in age, he was so humble, understanding, teachable and appreciative. I had no choice than to draw from his virtue keg of meekness…
Just last two weeks ago or so, he called me that he was weak and that I should help him out with some analysis on RoO and NTBs. I started and shared with him, called him and no response and I was annoyed. He rather sent I should see him. I never took further step to find out, until I got a call from his wife that Oghayei is GONE…
I am pained. I have lost a personal and family friend. But, Sunny, may your soul rest with the LORD!
Ukaoha is the President of National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS)