To the Guerilla At The Barricade, A Toast, By Godwin Onyeacholem
On every occasion he comes to mind during one’s random musings or when the name pops up in discussions at formal and informal gatherings, an unyielding memory of the pro-democracy campaign instantly looms large – and somehow, usually much larger than the object of the struggle: democratic governance. This spontaneous sensation invariably cast him, just like a few single-minded patriots, in the mold of an undisputed symbol of a distinctive period in Nigeria’s chaotic political evolution.
Dapo Olorunyomi, journalist, humanist, teacher, mentor, thinker, lifelong comrade and sobering renaissance mind of this era with all its disarticulation, is a man purposed to fulfill mankind’s need for equity, fairness, justice and society’s ultimate quest for good governance anchored on the values of democracy. Towards securing these ennobling virtues, Dapsy, as he is fondly called inside an ever-widening circle of friends and admirers, has continued to take personal risks in a society notorious for its unhidden hostility to critical press and active civil society.
His life-time calling, apparently by choice than mere coincidence, is journalism. And boy, does Dapsy evince acute mastery and panache in this calling! He is a terrific journalist; not many journalists portray good journalism the way he does it. His journalism is for the people – the kind of journalism that recognizes the reality and tenacity of bad governance in our society, and strives to uproot it with as much grit as can be mustered. The kind of journalism whose only real reward derives from the satisfaction that society, rather than the ruling class and its usually small club of oppressive collaborators, is better served.
One confesses not being as close to Dapsy as some of one’s friends and colleagues, two of whom he bossed in those very early days at The News, a fire-spitting weekly news magazine based in Lagos, and some of whom he currently engages (among them the ever-resourceful Abdulaziz Abdulaziz) as Publisher of the frontline online newspaper, Premium Times. Chido Onumah and Chiedu Ezeanah worked with him at different times in the life of the magazine. One chanced upon Dapsy for the very first time, courtesy of Chido, on a cloudy Saturday morning sometime in 2012 at the Abuja residence of Dr. Sam Amadi, who was then Executive Chairman of Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC).
Casually dressed in a floral short-sleeved shirt over a delicate grey trousers and a pair of leather sandals, Dapsy at once radiated infectious simplicity, humility and a disarming bonhomie. He took one’s hands casually in a handshake as a comely smile played around his lips. One keeps recalling that meeting for all the charm and gracefulness it exuded. The unfailing warmth and congeniality which poured from Dapsy since that encounter still stick to him like a second skin. So much so that in subsequent meetings over the past six years, he has never pretended to be anything other than the impression he left from day one, as well as what one had heard about him from many other acquaintances, Chido especially, who know him enough.
However, it has to be stated that before this physical contact, one had met Dapsy on countless occasions only in his writings as one of the top guns in The News. At the time, one was a staff writer in TELL, also a Lagos-based fiery weekly magazine. At the helm in TELL was Nosa Igiebor, another great journalist, while an equally competent hand, Bayo Onanuga, ruled the roost in The News. Sharing the same ideology of radical journalism, both magazines were undoubtedly top-notch in their perspectives and even if locked in a fierce but healthy rivalry that ensured there was little to choose between them.
Parading some of the brightest and most courageous journalists of that period of active engagement to dislodge military dictatorship and enthrone a system of governance driven by popular participation, the two news outlets unleashed a rare kind of journalistic dare-devilry that left their competitors buried in the dust. For many of us in TELL, although he was not the biggest masquerade in the grove of The News, Dapsy was nonetheless the last word. He was the in-thing, highly regarded as the ultimate lead writer in the magazine during that anxiety-filled period of intense popular clamour for an end to military rule and a validation of the June 12, 1993 election which MKO Abiola won outright but annulled by his dictator-friend, General Ibrahim Babangida.
To say Dapsy was in the thick of the struggle cannot be said to be an exaggeration. Together with similarly plucky reporters, he held aloft the banner of combat journalism, also known as guerilla journalism, constituting real thorn in the flesh of the abominable bandit regimes headed separately by Babangida and his dark-goggled partner-in-crime, General Sani Abacha. That type of journalism perfectly suited the times but not the military. Before long, the two magazines were marked for total decimation. The military and its hired goons did everything to, in its language, neutralize these radical press boys but it could not succeed.
Some of the magazines’ workers, including editors and reporters, were arrested and clamped in detention. Many others scurried into hiding but determined to give the military a good run nonetheless. And prominent among them was Dapsy. Week in week out, there he was in one of the many secret trenches scattered around Lagos, lobbing what seemed like Exocet missiles in the form of stinging cover stories that often destabilized the ruling juntas. A dray horse for work, Dapsy is a meticulous newsman of compelling craftsmanship. His style is a model of clarity, and his prose so sleek it grips like cutting-edge velvet fabric.
For all his widely acknowledged professional brilliance and elegant comportment, he is an embodiment of incredible self-effacement with no airs of any sort about him. A man of abundant public spirit, Dapsy remains an example of grace and courage for many in journalism and even outside it. May the ink of redemption flowing from his trenchant pen never dry! Happy birthday sir!
Godwin Onyeacholem, a journalist, can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow him on Twitter @Gonyeacholem.