Osinbajo, Ribadu, others pay tribute to PREMIUM TIMES publisher on 60th birthday

Dapo Olorunyomi at 60 - Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo's arrival
Dapo Olorunyomi at 60 - Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo's arrival

The Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, on Wednesday joined other Nigerians to pay glowing tributes to the Publisher and Chief Executive Officer of PREMIUM TIMES, Dapo Olorunyomi, as he clocked 60 years.

In a surprise birthday celebration organised by friends, mentees and employees of the media icon, held at Fraser Suites in Abuja, the vice president described ‘Dapsy’ as he is fondly called “as a man with a big heart who has inspired everyone around him.”

Mr. Osinbajo said he has known Mr. Olorunyomi for over 20 years and “he still remains one of the most reliable and transparent persons I have ever met.”

“Dapsy is a respectful human being, a great brother and friend who has inspired so many, including all of us, who are standing here today.

“Cheers to you Dapo for 60 more years,” the vice president said.

Also speaking at the ceremony, a former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Nuhu Ribadu, described Mr. Olorunyomi, who once worked at the agency, as a pacesetter in the fight against corruption in Nigeria. He described the veteran journalist as the “engine room” of the EFCC during his tenure.

He said the return of Mr. Olorunyomi to Nigeria after the return to democratic rule “changed the country’s attitude towards the fight against corruption.”

“I met him first in the United States. I said ‘come back to Nigeria,’ and he agreed. His coming changed our approach to the fight against corruption.

“People became more comfortable sharing information with Dapo more than with me. I once said ‘Dapo I did not bring you to take my job,’” Mr. Ribadu said.

Mr. Ribadu said the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo was a bit sceptical about his (Ribadu’s) decision to “work with a journalist.”

“When I told President Obasanjo then, he noted that journalists are capable of doing anything including telling the truth to achieve their objectives.”

Mr. Ribadu described Mr. Olorunyomi as a wonderful journalist, “whose contributions to his world cannot be easily forgotten.”

The Managing Director of the News Agency of Nigeria, Bayo Onanuga, described the celebrant as a renowned ‘guerrilla journalist,’ who remained relentless in his zeal to expose facts, “regardless of the consequence.”

Mr. Onanuga, with whom Mr. Olorunyomi and others founded The News magazine in 1993, said the celebrant was a man who inspired his friends and colleagues.

Speaking earlier, one of Mr. Olorunyomi’s lecturers at the then University of Ife, Ropo Sekoni, described the celebrant, as “a man of huge potentials, an incorruptible human activist, a globalist, a man of few words with many actions, and lover of accurate journalism.”

The retired professor and mentor to the celebrant said right from his undergraduate days, Mr. Olorunyomi had shown the potential to be a trustworthy fighter for fairness and equity.

Another friend of the celebrant and co-founder of the News Magazine, Idowu Obasa, noted that Mr. Olorunyomi is a man of the people, “whose affiliation with individuals of different disposition gives him off as a friend of everybody.”

Mr. Obasa said “it is impossible to identify Dapo by looking at his friends.”

“There are other types of friends here too. So, who is Dapo?” Mr. Obasa said in jest.

In his tribute to the celebrant, Sani Zoro, a former president of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, and current member of the House of Representatives, described Mr. Olorunyomi as: “the master craftsman, and the true leader in investigative journalism.”

Mr. Zoro described how he met Mr. Olorunyomi in 1991 and how he learnt a lot in journalism from the latter.

The Editor-in-Chief, PREMIUM TIMES, Musikilu Mojeed, in a brief remark at the well-attended event, described the publisher as one, who had impacted his life greatly through his actions.

He lauded the humility and generosity of Mr. Olorunyomi, who he said had also influenced the lives of all who have encountered him in the course of his career.

Mr. Mojeed also narrated how his (celebrant) mentorship to younger journalists had led to the strides being made by the newspaper in the journalistic terrain nationally and globally.

Several other family and friends of Mr. Olorunyomi also paid tributes to him at the event.

Mr. Olorunyomi, who could not hide his excitement at the surprise birthday organised in his honour, thanked all those who put the event together.

He said the strides or failures of any democratic setting is directly linked to how vibrant the press is in the discharge of its constitutional duties of keeping leaders accountable to the people.

On Thursday, a separate event will also hold at Kongi Harvest Art Gallery, Freedom Park, Lagos by 2 p.m. to honour the media icon.

The event, which has the theme, ‘‘Courage under fire: A life of/in professional journalism’’ will be chaired by civil rights activist, Ayo Obe, and will have notable Nigerians such as Lanre Idowu, Toun Ilumoka, Lanre Arogundade and Jibrin Ibrahim deliver talks including tributes by other eminent Nigerians.

Mr. Olorunyomi has had a chequered career that spans public service, civil rights activism and the media.

Educated at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), where he earned a B.A in English and M.A in Literature, he has attended several courses globally and received many awards, including the Freedom to Write Award, Hellman Hemmett Grant, Press Freedom Award, and International Editor of the Year Award.

He was a founding member of the The News magazine, launched in 1993, a flagship media publication that has produced many outstanding journalists. He served as deputy editor-in-chief of the magazine.

Due to his hard-hitting journalism, he was to be caught up in the violent repression of the military leader, Sani Abacha, which led to his exit from Nigeria in 1995.

Mr. Olorunyomi later joined Panos Institute, Washington, DC, USA, as director of Africa Programs in 1996, helping to train and mentor journalists in Nigeria and across West Africa.

He returned to Nigeria in 2004 to work as project director of Freedom House, an independent organisation that supports the expansion of freedom in the world. A year later, he founded the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) named after Africa’s first Nobel Laureate in Literature, Wole Soyinka.

A former policy director and chief of staff to then executive chairman of the EFCC, Mr. Ribadu, Mr.

Olorunyomi brought order, synergy and clarity to the work the commission did during the turbulent days of the anti-graft war under Mr. Obasanjo.

Analysts say he was able to create a public ownership of the fight through the engagement of trade and labour unions, the media, civil society, women groups, youth, students, faith-based organisations, professional associations and other stakeholders. He also strengthened foreign linkages that enhanced the war on graft.

After his stint at the EFCC, he was involved in the setting up of Next newspaper, a short-lived but highly effective media outfit that redefined the nation’s investigative journalism. As enterprise editor, he set up and headed the Investigative Reporting Team of the newspaper.

When Mr. Ribadu contested for president in 2011, Mr. Olorunyomi was the lead strategist for the campaign.

After the campaigns, Mr. Olorunyomi returned to his first love, when he founded PREMIUM TIMES, Nigeria’s leading online investigative news platform. He also launched another initiative, the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) which promotes fundamental human rights, good governance and accountability in West Africa through investigative journalism, open data and civic technology.

He has a Certificate in Human Rights Law from the Washington College of Law of the American University in Washington, DC, a Certificate in Natural Resource Management from the University of Oxford, and is in the process of completing an MBA from the Business School, Netherlands.

Mr. Olorunyomi is currently the chief judge for the Zimeo Award of the African Media Initiative (AMI), and a board member of the Norbert Zongo Cell for Investigative Journalism, an initiative of the UNODC to promote investigative journalism in West Africa.

He is happily married with children.

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