Speak truth to power, so goes the adage commonly used by activists and civil societies in holding governments accountable and in the demand for a just and equitable society. But speaking truth to power requires knowing what the truth is. Therein lies the power, and attendant risk, associated with investigative journalism.
As such, a common feature of repressive governments all over the world is the attempt to suppress the media and persecute journalists whose work threaten the very pillars upon which such dictatorial regimes are built. It is a war of many battles and a lot of casualties. One that has many their lives. One that stands Dapo Olorunyomi out as a testament to the fact that the truth always prevails.
By virtue of Nigeria’s democratic ethos, journalists today are less at risk of incarceration for exposing corruption in high places. This was not the case twenty years ago when Dapo Olorunyomi, dressed as a trader sneaked through Nigeria’s borders to be exiled in the United States. In those days, journalists were martyrs in the struggle to force the military government out of power. Some were jailed, others killed.
Dapo himself had spent time in jail in 1993 and 1994 for writing against the government. The man of steel survived arrests and torture, and continued to ply his trade as an editor under grave circumstances. By 1995 the campaign of terror against the media had escalated to previously unimagined scales. A “shoot on sight” order issued by the government hung over Dapo like a cloud of death. He had to vanish underground.
A year later, while in exile in the US, Dapo was named the International Editor of the Year by the World Press Review for his bravery. He also earned PEN Center (West) Freedom to Write Award, the Press Freedom Award and the Hellman Hemmett grant of the Human Rights Watch. Dapo the editor and investigative journalist in exile thus added media rights activism to his trade. It was on that journey of shining light on media oppression in his home country that he met Nuhu Ribadu, head of a newly formed anti-corruption body in Nigeria’s nascent democracy. Dapo would return home to work as Chief of Staff and Policy Director at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, where his skills as an editor and fearless journalist helped shape the outlook of the anti-corruption agency.
His stint at NEXT Newspapers saw a return to form reminiscent of the Abacha days when he and others uncovered one of the most elaborate cases of corruption in Nigeria’s history, the Haliburton scandal.
The aluta spirit in Dapo, cultured during his days as an undergraduate and a postgraduate student in Obafemi Awolowo University, meant the brown envelope approach always fails when he smells a rat in the cupboards of those occupying the corridors of power in Nigeria. Jail and torture endured during the military junta at the hands of the dreaded SSS also meant he could not be deterred by threats.
With him as Editor therefore, NEXT grew into the most feared and most loved news platform in Nigeria, depending on which side of the truth you are aligned. A commercial non-viability however saw the demise of the company. Dapo, an award-winning editor had at his disposal tens of well-trained and currently out of job investigative journalists. His next move had a degree of predictability about it, even as the execution took everyone by surprise.
Dapo founded PremiumTimes, an online newspaper that has since eclipsed major print newspapers in readership, owing to its quality, style and delivery. If anyone doubted Dapo’s business acumen, his work at PremiumTimes has removed all doubt. Not only has the platform, under Dapo’s leadership, become the fourth most read newspaper in Nigeria, it’s operations have grown to cover all regions in the country.
In speaking truth to power, it is pertinent, for the growth of the society, to ensure the truth is not bought and re-written by the hands that hold the pen. Dapo shines as a light in this regard, not just for his own person, but also as a culture in-built in his team like the one at PremiumTimes. This is not a torch to a perfect professional, but only a celebration to a man, though imperfect himself like the rest of us, stands out in an industry where standing in has since become the norm and the rule.