Nigeria: Waiting For Dapo Olorunyomi's Voice

Dapo Olorunyomi, publisher of Premium Times in Nigeria
9 November 2019

Ota — All that mankind has done, thought, gained or been: it is lying as in magic preservation in the pages of books
– Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) Scottish historian and writer.

So, all that Dapo Olorunyomi – journalist, writer, historian, publisher and rights activist – has "done, thought, gained or been" in his 62 years on planet earth is lodged "in the pages" of the book with the title, Testimony To Courage: Essays In Honour  Of Dapo Olorunyomi.

Edited by Chido Onumah and Frederick Adetiba, the 404-page volume attempts to capture Olorunyomi from the cradle through the present to the remote future. The book has looked everywhere, ambushing everyone connected to the man —wife, children, siblings, friends, professional colleagues, comrades in the trenches, politicians etc. to stage the drama.

The only place these compilers haven't been to is necropolis, the land of the dead, to hear from some of Dapo's forebears who have long passed on. Not being necromancers like King Saul of ancient Israel, Adetiba and Onumah have wisely confined themselves to the land of the living to catch the essence of the man for presentation to the public.

Dapo Olurunyomi, who turned 62 yesterday November 8, must write his own book. He is a silent onlooker in the work edited by Chido Onumah and Frederick Onumah. He must come alive in his own book.

The editors of Testimony To Courage have spared no one. They diligently and faithfully hunted Dapo's relations and associates across land and sea in Nigeria and worldwide to get them to talk about their friend from different angles. It was the same smart professional principles Dapo has applied all his years as a journalist. These virtues have stood Olorunyomi out from the crowd, according to the observations in the nearly 100 essays between the covers of the book. They are attributes those he mentored as he led them into his profession have celebrated in this collection.

Naturally, such a delivery breaks itself into organic sections, as it were. In this case, there are three distinct entrails: Part One explores "Journalistic Exploits", leading to Part Two which takes on Olorunyomi's "Activism and Democratic Struggle" and finally, Part Three, that treats "The Legacy: Investing in the Future".

Thus we behold Onumah and Adetiba honouring the precepts or traditions of biographical narratives. You start up from Day One of your subject. Then your reader tags in tow as your subject grows with each page in the structure if the book. Your reader isn't left behind in the adult stage of your personality. In his or her active years, spanning mid-career and early old age, you are still recording them. Finally, as you assess him or her, you look at what they are leaving behind as a result of what they have achieved over the preceding two phases. That's the conventional style. Quite tidy and clean. But some biographers are adventurous. They open in the middle of the life of their subject.

The option adopted by Adetiba and Onumah is ideal, starting with what led to it all. So, the first contribution in the pack is, roundly appropriate in my view, Ropo Sekoni's fathering a new development journalism template, wherein he argues that "In metaphoric terms, Dapsy's (Olorunyomi) frontier man's ruggedness as he explores and reshapes whatever new political and social reality in which he finds himself had been evident in his impact on the country's journalism landscape. One such evidence is his role in the design and practice of guerrilla journalism in response to the oppressive and repressive policies of military dictators in the country, particularly in the Abacha years."

Conviction scholar, essayist and poet, Odia Ofeimun, agrees in his Foreword, "The journalist as a guerilla and activist", that indeed Dapo "is one …who (has) changed the story of radical and popular social discourse across Nigeria's media history." In other words, you can't discuss Dapo and his journalism without stopping by to take a close look at how he has elected to use his profession to address social ills.

This puts Olorunyomi on the same page as Georgi Plekhanov, the Russian Marxist theoretician of the 18th Century, who argued that, "The function of art (or any calling) is to…improve the social system…All human activities must serve mankind if they are not to remain useless and idle occupation. Wealth exists in order that man may benefit by it; science exists in to be man's guide; art (or journalism or any other vocation) too must serve some useful purpose and not fruitless pleasure."

Every page in the book breathes with testimonies of the courage, selflessness and passion of a journalist who has sought to battle a system that has prevented the hoi polloi from being freed from their yoke. There are stories of Dapo's close shave with death as he took on Nigeria's dictators. He has been beaten, bruised, battered and driven into exile with his family. Of course, as Semiu Okanlawon reveals in a contribution, several others in the guerrilla band, suffered similar travails as they plied their trade.

Dapo's restless spirit, like that of the late poet, Christopher Okigbo, would always seek some new adventure on behalf of the people and his profession. His current preoccupation is his position as publisher, Premium Times. Its activities have exposed dirty deals in society, notably in government. The outfit's outstanding professionalism along with its impact has been recognised globally following its publication of the ground-breaking Nigeria in the Panama and Paradise Papers: Investigation, Reporting and Reflections. Premium Times shot Nigeria into international focus when in April 2017, it was awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize as a partner with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, ICICJ, for the seminal publication.

A community bereft of adversarial journalism has signed an irrevocable pact with death. It will stagnate and trudge and wobble till it withers into extinction. That's the texture of failed and failing states. When politicians complain about the excesses of newsmen or resist the expansion of the frontiers of press freedom, we should discern their mission: to create space for more heist of the national till by a few.

Thomas Jefferson, a founding father of the United States and one of its early presidents presented the ultimate in the debate over press freedom. Speaking on the importance of a free media to check government, he said: "…were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

Back to Testimony To Courage: Essays In Honour  Of Dapo Olorunyomi. Does the book cover all the grounds that the newsman has covered in his lifetime? The reach to Dapo's past as represented by photographs of pre-school days, depositions of childhood friends, classmates, colleagues etc. reflect an iron determination by the editors to hit the peak in biographical literature. But, alas, this effort is inadequate, admirable as the project is.

Dapo Olurunyomi, who turned 62 yesterday November 8, must write his own book. He is a silent onlooker in the work edited by Chido Onumah and Frederick Onumah. He must come alive in his own book.

Banji Ojewale writes from Ota, Ogun State.

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