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 DapoOlorunyomi, 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 running with the title,TESTIMONY TO COURAGE, ESSAYS IN HONOUR OF DAPO OLORUNYOMI.
Edited by ChidoOnumah and Frederick Ad- etiba, the 404-plus volume attempts to capture Olorunyomi from the cradle through the pres- ent to the remote future. The book has looked everywhere,ambushing everyone connected to the man—wife, children, siblings, friends, professional colleagues, trench comrades, 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.
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 jour- nalist. These virtues have stoodOlorunyomi 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
Waiting for Dapo Olorunyomi’s voice 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 Adetibahonour- ing 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 con- ventional 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, RopoSekoni’s Fathering a new development journalism template, wherein he argues that “In metaphoric terms, Dapsy’s (Olorunyo- mi) frontier man’s ruggednessas he explores and reshapes whatever new political and social real- ity in which he finds himself had been evident in his impact on the country’s journalism land- scape. One such evidence is his role in the design and practice of guerrilla journalism in response to the oppressive and repressive policies of mili- tary dictators in the country, particularly in the Abacha years.’’ Conviction scholar, essayist and poet, OdiaOfeimun, 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 Nige- ria’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 Plekha- nov, the Russian Marxist theoretician of the 18th
Century,whoarguedthat‘’Thefunctionofart(or anycalling)isto…improvethesocialsystem…All human activities must serve mankind if they are not to remain useless and idle occupation. Wealth ex- ists in order that man may benefit by it; science ex- ists 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, selfless- ness 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 Nige- ria’s dictators. He has been beaten, bruised, battered and driven into exile with his family. Of course, as SemiuOkanlawon 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, the online Premium Times. Its activities have ex- posed dirty deals in society, notably in government. The outfit’s outstanding professionalism along with its impact has been recognized 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 mis- sion: to create space for more heist of the national till by a few.
Ojewale writes from Lagos