A free press is the surest assurance of the sanctity of the social contract entered into between government (state) and the governed (citizens). Press freedom as a critical ingredient in the condiment of liberal democracy is a condition preceding robust and positive socio-economic dividends of democratic good governance, in line with the principles of the morality of the rule of law. An atmosphere of free press progressively reduces the barrier of open conversations around the ethos of good governance by holding to account those entrusted with leadership in all arms and tiers of government on the need to meet up with their obligations to the people with whom they entered a social contract.
As the world commemorates Press Freedom Day, it is imperative to highlight one of Nigeria’s leading lights in the struggle to enthrone, deepen and broaden the frontiers of a free press for the purpose of accountability and good governance.
As a fitting tribute to Dapo Olorunyomi’s uncommon courage to soldier on on the unrewarding path of truth, family, friends and associates converged on Abuja’s Yar’Adua Centre on May 27, 2019, to honour a titan of journalism in Nigeria with the public presentation of a book, “Testimony to Courage.”
A compendium of tributes by some of the leading lights in journalism and public interest advocacy in Nigeria, “Testimony to Courage” was put together by the duo of Chido Onuma and Fredrick Adetiba, while the foreword was written by poet and erudite scholar-patriot, Odia Ofeimun.
Oyedapo Oyekunle Olorunyomi, variously known as Dapo, Daps or Dapsy, was born in British Nigeria, in November 1957, in the ancient northern city of Kano to an army officer and later public administrator father. That Dapo was born in Kano, several hundreds of miles away from his original roots in Okunland, in present-day Kogi State, in north-central Nigeria, distinguished him as a first generation pre-Independence Nigerian whose citizenship allowed him a space everywhere and anywhere in Nigeria. With his educational career seeing him traverse the length and breadth of Nigeria from Kano through Zaria to Ilorin and eventually to the University of Ife, where earned a degree in English studies, capped with a master’s in literature in 1985, Dapo’s view of Nigeria was broadened beyond the narrow confines of ethno-geographic and religious sentiments.
Born in a country that would continuously grapple with the self-inflicted challenge of good governance, Dapo, equipped with unimpeachable pan-Nigerian nationalist credentials, was as a matter of necessity thrown up as a soldier of truth whose life-long career as a journalist has been dedicated to deepening the roots of press freedom, which is an enabler of unearthing the hard, cold and bitter truth about and around everything concerning government’s fidelity to the social contract with the governed.
Dapo is a chieftain of Nigeria’s small but mightier-than-the-sword clan of pen warriors who, like other prominent members, has struggled to break barriers and shatter ceilings in journalism through bold, courageous and ingenious ways against forces militating against free press, in order to supress the truth about the entrenched culture of misrule by the leadership class.
As victims of state-sponsored harassment, intimidation, imprisonment, shutdowns of media houses, assassinations and hounding into exile during the dark days of Nigeria’s brutal military dictatorship, Dapo and his fellow pen warriors must have heaved a sigh of relief in 1999, when Nigeria transited to civil democratic rule after 16 years of their relentless struggle. However, transition to civil democratic rule neither brought relief nor succour to the Nigerian people, and Dapo had to continue as nothing had changed. The new set of elected leadership at all levels quickly reduced Nigeria’s electoral democracy to a big heist of criminal franchise for power purchase for self-service. As the much anticipated dividends of democracy remain ever elusive due the entrenched culture of corruption-induced misrule, Dapo would step in from the sidelines, when he became the chief of staff to the pioneer head of Nigeria’s anti-graft agency, Nuhu Ribadu. At the EFCC, Dapo deployed his famous creative ingenuity to the fullest when he helped weave the war on corruption around the common interest of Nigerians thereby making them take full ownership. His efforts at bringing to bear the negative consequences of economic and financial crimes resulting from corrupt practices to the consciousness of Nigerians, through an organic public advocacy mechanism, were successful to such an extent that the issue of corruption perception has continued to be a deciding factor in electing Nigeria’s top leaders since 2007.
In what might be described as the golden era of Nigeria’s anti-corruption effort, Dapo, alongside his boss, were unceremoniously eased out of the agency by agents of entrenched corrupt interests, to the perpetual detriment of the war on corruption.
Away from the practical application of his patriotic zeal to help heal a nation in perpetual financial haemorrhage, Dapo emerged as the living patron saint of investigative journalism. His flagship publication, Premium Times, is undoubtedly Nigeria’s leading investigative media with national impact and global reach. Dapo’s Premium Times has not only crumbled the barriers to free press but has faithfully upheld the ethics of responsible journalism underlined by the principle of holding the government accountable to the governed on its core responsibility of citizen welfare and security guided by the morality of the rule of law. By beaming the searchlight on public officials, Dapo’s brand of investigative journalism has made transparent the otherwise opaque business of government in a “fantastically corrupt” country like Nigeria.
Dapo Olorunyomi, whose undiminishing courage is firmly hinged on his patriotism and love for his country Nigeria, has resisted the temptation to sell his conscience for bread and butter in an era of financially-induced absence of truth in the public space. His uncommon consistency in the unravelling of the truth behind the facts by investigative journalism has continued to comfort the people by discomforting purveyors of bad governance.