PUBLISHER of Premium Times, Dapo Olorunyomi, was the centre of attention as friends, journalists, activists, and political leaders paid tribute to him at the launch of Testimony To Courage, a compilation of essays written in his honour.
The well-attended event took place in Abuja on Monday and was chaired by Kabiru Yusuf, chief executive officer of Daily Trust Newspapers.
Chido Onumah, executive director of the African Centre for Media and Information Literacy, said in his welcome address that very few journalists have impacted journalism in the democratic space in Nigeria the way Olorunyomi has done in the last three decades, adding that he has proven his capacity, tenacity, and ingenuity.
“My team members and I put together this book to celebrate Dapo, to share his experience through the views of his teachers, relations, friends, colleagues, and mentees,” Onumah said.
“We hope current and future generations of journalists and public administrators will gain from the fountain of knowledge and experience that Dapo represents, so aptly captured in the over 90 essays that make up the book. If there is any time courage and integrity are needed in our country, it is now. Our dear nation stands at the crossroads and journalists and the media need to once again rise to the occasion the way Dapo and many in his generation did years ago.”
He added on a lighter note: “I’ve always teased Dapo about the limits of investigative journalism. Work on this project started in November 2017, when Dapo turned 60, and we ensured he wasn’t aware of it until a few weeks ago. I thank my co-conspirators for keeping the book a secret until we felt it was too far gone to be aborted by this self-effacing man.”
In his keynote address, Kayode Fayemi, Ekiti State governor, said Olorunyomi risked his freedom and life to ensure that Nigeria is a democratic state where the liberties of people are not trampled on. “That we still have a country to call ours”, the former minister of solid minerals development stated, “is owed in no small measure to the role played by people like Olorunyomi.”
Fayemi also emphasised that democratic rule will atrophy while periodic elections will become a hollow ritual without the media promoting truth and transparency.
“Most people will argue that intellect is the most important asset the media intellectual brings to the fore in his or her interventions in public life. I agree. However, I will add that as important as the intellect of a media intellectual is in the project in the project of public life and in the pursuit of the public good, equally important if not more important is the civil courage of the media intellectual.
“Few media intellectuals in contemporary Nigeria can claim to rival Dapo Olorunyomi in intellect and civil courage. Dapo, my boss, my teacher, my mentor, my friend, my comrade, thank you for deploying all of these tools both in the service of our fatherland and humanity,” he said.
Chidi Odinkalu, former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission who reviewed the book at the occasion, described it as representing the diversity of Nigeria and her voices owing to the broad range of the contributor’s backgrounds. He said there is a lot of wit, humour, and depth in the published work.
“It is not just a set of testimonials to a really nice guy,” he said. “It is really much more than that. It is phenomenally an important contribution to Nigeria’s political history.
“In a country where those who are least deserving get the largest accolades while some who are deserving get their recognition after death and those of us who are comrades are content to mourn them when they are no more, Testimony to Courage is evidence that the supplication for civic canonisation does not always have to await earthly mortality. Sometimes, a generation must acknowledge its best if only to encourage many more not to give up on virtue.”
Odinkalu advised there should be a second edition of the book to fix certain glitches and also allow other close associates of Olorunyomi, such as Babafemi Ojudu, Musikilu Mojeed and Ifeanyi Uddin, contribute to the collection.
The celebrator, Olorunyomi, thanked the organisers of the event and attributed his successes to his parents, teachers, friends, and colleagues.
He added: “It is impossible on a global scale to have a democracy that is striving and working without a good media. Regardless of how poor journalism is being practised today, the challenge is to make it a better profession; and he’s [Ojudu ]right with all the observations about the poverty of practice today but our challenge is to make it better except we don’t want a democracy.
“If we want a democracy, the two central pillars that underpin this institution will be the media and judiciary; and if these two are not working well, we cannot have a good democracy. If we are stuck with the idea of democracy, let’s know that we all have to collectively build a strong media.
“Our country is a work in progress and journalism has a role to play,” he concluded.
The dignitaries at the launch were Vice President Yemi Osinbajo represented by Babafemi Ojudu, special adviser to the president on political matters; Bola Tinubu represented by Sunday Dare, his chief of staff; Femi Falana, human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria; Rauf Aregbesola, former Osun State governor; as well as Nuhu Ribadu and Ibrahim Magu, former and acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Others at the event were Chris Anyanwu, publisher and former senator; Ropo Sekoni, Professor of Literature in English; Ajayi Boroffice, senator for Ondo North representing senate leader Ahmed Lawan; Barau Jibrin, senator for Kano North; Bello Mandiya, senator-elect for Katsina South; and Kole Shettima, Director of the MacArthur Foundation’s Africa Office. Representatives of the Canadian High Commissioner and French Embassy in Nigeria also attended.