By Chido Onumah
Dapo, ‘Daps,’ ‘Dapsy’ Olorunyomi who turns 60 on Wednesday, November 8, 2017, is your quintessential humanist. It is impossible to spend an hour with Dapo without being smitten by his humility, compassion, sense of humour and deep appreciation and concern for his environment, including its human challenges and foibles.
Since Dapo is not one to talk about himself, much less celebrate a milestone, it is only fitting to do this tribute—for the sake of the younger generation of Nigerian journalists—in a country where true heroes and heroines are in short supply and charlatans and scoundrels, whether as lawmakers or chief executives, have taken over our political and social spheres.
I met Dapo about a quarter of a century ago through another revolutionary humanist, journalist, and mathematician, Edwin Madunagu. Dapo had just left the African Guardian magazine and he and his friends had set up the The News magazine, an experiment that would define the future of journalism in Nigeria. Our paths would cross many times after that.
It was Dapo who “forced” me to return to Nigeria in September 2006 to join the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as head of the civil society crime prevention unit tagged Fix Nigeria Initiative (FNI).
As Policy Director and Chief of Staff to then Executive Chairman of the Commission, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, Dapo brought order and clarity to the work we did during those turbulent days at the Commission. But he did more than that. He provided a philosophical élan that refined the work of fighting corruption, part of which was to engage Nigerians, to reduce the dependence on traditional anti-corruption agencies, and create a public ownership of the fight through the engagement of trade and labour unions, media, civil society, women groups, youth, students, faith-based organizations, professional associations like the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN), Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), Nollywood, Kannywood, Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN), etc.
Dapo also made it possible to strengthen relationship with international anti-corruption agencies and development partners, providing guidance on global best practices, strategies and policy issues regarding anti-corruption. Of course, much credit would go to Mallam Ribadu who not only gave Dapo the opportunity but also the freedom to experiment with these ideas and to engage passionate and committed individuals dedicated to developing a professionally run anti-corruption agency.
Dapo’s idea was to enlist public participation and support in a way that would ensure not just a coherent philosophy and strategy but a community ownership of the anti-corruption war. This belief in community power—every group bringing its ideas and strength—is what our country so desperately needs to get it out of the doldrums. It is this obvious lack of belief and ownership of what some people call the Nigerian Project that explains the mindless pillage of public resources orchestrated by our rulers. For no sane person will steal from him or herself the way public officers do in Nigeria.
Unfortunately, that experiment didn’t last long. Dapo was sent on indefinite leave after Ribadu was suddenly removed—in a move inspired by reactionary politicians and enablers of corruption many of whom are still around—and Farida Waziri took over as chairman of the EFCC. Dapo resigned and would later come back to his first love, journalism, at 234Next.com, a journalistic experiment, though short-lived, that would define another phase of journalism in Nigeria. As Enterprise Editor, he set up and headed the Investigative Reporting Team of the newspaper.
Educated at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) where he earned a B.A in English and M.A in Literature, Dapo has attended several courses around the world and received many awards, including the Freedom to Write Award, Hellman Hemmett Grant, Press Freedom Award, and International Editor of the Year Award.
Your archetypal restless soul, Dapo is constantly innovating and experimenting with new areas of interest, from photography to human rights to management of natural resources. Even in the midst of his hectic schedule leading or managing different concerns, he has found time to receive a Certificate in Human Rights Law from the Washington College of Law of the American University in Washington, DC, a Certificate in Natural Resource Management from the University of Oxford, and is currently completing an MBA from the Business School, Netherlands and is also registered for the graduate program in Futures Studies at the University of Stellenbosch Business School in South Africa.
Dapo is currently the Chief Judge for the Zimeo Award of the African Media Initiative (AMI), and a board member of the Norbert Zongo Cell for Investigative Journalism, an initiative of the UNODC to promote investigative journalism in West Africa.
A journalist and administrator per excellence, Dapo has been involved in setting up and managing several successful projects. He is part of the founding team of The News magazine that was launched in 1993. He served as deputy editor-in-chief of the magazine and groomed a generation of Nigerian journalists many of whom have made giant strides in journalism, academia and other areas.
Dapo was the heartbeat of the magazine and one of chief instigators of the samizdat press, or “guerilla journalism” in Nigerian media parlance, that defined that era of our political history. It was when the murderous dictator, Sani Abacha, held sway and closure of media houses, arrest, detention and disappearance of journalists was the directive principle of state policy. Dapo was caught in the web of violent persecution of perceived enemies perpetrated by the psychopathic Abacha and his goons and was forced into exile in 1995.
While in the US, Dapo would continue his passion for investigative journalism and deep concern for ethics and professionalism in the media. That passion found expression when he joined Panos Institute, Washington, DC, USA, as Director of Africa Programs in 1996, helping journalists in Nigeria and across West Africa deal with ethical and diversity issues. I was honoured when Dapo recommended that I replace him in 2002. He had moved to a bigger assignment with the Open Society Initiative (OSI) in Budapest, Hungary. Dapo and his family—Ladi, his wife, also a journalist, and children, Ifekitan, Aramide and Segun—opened their home to me and gave me all the support I needed.
Dapo returned to Nigeria in 2004 to work as Project Director of Freedom House, an independent organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world. In 2005, he founded the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ). Named after Africa’s first Noble laureate in literature, Professor Wole Soyinka, WSCIJ’s objective is “to mainstream the practice of investigative journalism as mechanism for exposing corruption, regulatory failures and human rights abuses in the Nigerian media as well as provide training, developing resources, and forming partnerships that encourage journalists to build a transparent and accountable Nigerian community via investigative reporting.”
When Nuhu Ribadu ran for president in 2011, Dapo was the lead strategist for the campaign. Though Ribadu lost the presidential election, thanks to Dapo’s creative ideas and supervision, the campaign built an unprecedented national youth volunteer initiative, Team Ribadu, that brought a refreshing perspective to volunteerism and youth involvement in politics in Nigeria.
After the campaign, Dapo, always in tune with the evolution of the press, founded Premium Times, undoubtedly Nigeria’s leading online investigative news platform. Shortly after, he would go on to launch another initiative, the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), “to promote a truly independent media landscape that advances fundamental human rights, good governance and accountability in West Africa through investigative journalism, open data and civic technology.”
Dapo’s simplicity is infectious. He is kind and generous to a fault and many who have experienced his kindness and generosity know what I am talking about.
I salute this media icon, benefactor, selfless patriot, and exemplary humanist.
Onumah is Coordinator of the African Centre for Media & Information Literacy, Abuja.