By Tunde Akanni
Arguably, Prof. Biodun Jeyifo, otherwise better known as BJ, has given the utmost visibility to Dapo Olorunyomi’s nickname, Dapsy. That was done in the tribute he wrote to celebrate Olorunyomi’s attainment of six decades on this planet. In the tribute, which also partly celebrated my former teacher, Prof. Dele Layiwola, BJ did not hide what sounds like his distaste for what I choose to reckon with as an established brand. BJ’s exception derives from the similitude of the nickname to such bourgeois concepts as popsy and mumsy, which incidentally Dapsy, being another strong ideologue, should not relate to with comfort. But then the multitude of fans Dapsy has seem to be more generationally linked to the inception of “popsy” and “momsy”.
Interestingly, BJ did well to note that Dapsy, not being a youngster again, has since been commanding his juniors, including me, to respect the elders, even if only to avoid offending some others, not him in particular, as our Dapsy essentially remains young at heart and in physique. But more importantly, Dapsy’s life of extreme self-sacrifice remains most enduring. US based Professor Akin Adesokan, a fellow fan, simply concludes that it is just good that the self-sacrifice which Dapsy symbolises is an abstract that isn’t susceptible to extinction, otherwise Dapsy would have been long one.
Not long after he ceased to be the officer in charge of the media programme for the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) in Dakar, he took up a contract assignment with Freedom House headquartered in the United States. This was in early 2000s. The office-cum-house where Freedom House was sheltered in Ikeja simply became some kind of rendezvous for many members of this generation because of the various attractive designs. There were always development programmes of varying inclinations ranging from trendy research to all-involving advocacy and campaigns going on. Others, ranging from regular presentations in the form of lectures to research validation sessions, as well as coaching and debates also held there. Indeed, not a few of many ideas conceptualised there have since been actualised and are thriving very well.
This November month of Dapsy’s birth, which is also that of the annual convocation ceremonies of the nation’s premier university, presents me with some special reminder of my invaluable bond with Dapsy. Facebook enhanced this with some of the photographs I took in 2015 when I convoked as a doctoral graduand. My Ibadan story was ignited by some effortless suggestion from Dapsy. We had just been done with a presentation on Miranda Rights by one US based Professor Olufemi Taiwo, a colleague of his at Unife, at Freedom House, which many of us found most insightful. As was often the practice then, there would be general discussion, as well as some side talks. While walking me down to my car, Dapsy asked me why I won’t complement my foreign applications for PhD programmes with local ones. “These foreign scholarships and fellowships may not be all that reliable as you know, Alhaji. And Sola (Olorunyomi) can be quickly saddled with this assignment of application form at Ibadan. Worth trying, I think”, Dapsy concluded. Thus was cultivated a protracted thought which endured the entire day and my eventual decision to apply to Ibadan for the doctoral programme. To echo pentecostalists, it ended in praise.
Though dedicated to human rights crusading, the Olorunyomi-run Freedom House at Ikeja was some kind of finishing school for different cadres. With the comradeship of Gbile Shadipe aka Man Gbyle, Dapsy consistently sought to perfect and experiment with his photographic skills. This obviously “infected” some fans without steering them away from their mainstream pursuits.
Never conceding any opportunity to wastage, he offered to coach me for a job interview to which I had been invited by the European Union at that time. Together with Gbyle, Dapsy made efforts to mould me properly, believing that such a job would, most likely be given to me being a former Chevening Scholar.
For Dapsy, you must also learn to collaborate with colleagues and friends not only for your sake but to make humanity fare better always. Apparently noticing that Omoniyi Ibietan and I share a number of traits, he made conscious efforts to make us bond properly even as we were both ‘fellows’ of Freedom House. The two of us, today, have been the better for it with robust mutual benefits. We were to later discover though that we also share the same month of birth. It is most inspiring today that a number of other ‘fellows’ of the Freedom House – both men and women – I knew then have ascended lofty heights in different parts of the world.
Perhaps the most important institutional seed sown by Dapsy then was that of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) with its pioneer ‘driver’ as the ebullient and energetic Steve Aborisade. Ensuring the seed germinated like he did for Kudirat Abiola Initiative for Democracy (KIND), Stevo has also been the better for it with if only for the benefits of experiential asset and networking values.
My relationship with Dapsy was remotely cultivated way back in 1982 when I met the younger brother who has since conferred on me the membership of the Olorunyomi family. When eventually I met Dapsy after my NYSC, his name was already fully registered in my consciousness. He immediately offered a hand of fellowship. This, I considered a most special offer, having had to expend part of my meagre resources as a job seeker to locate and connect with some other favourite media models of mine, including the late Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo, Uzor Maxim Uzoatu and much later, Abraham Ogbodo.
A mentor always keenly interested in the progress of his own, Dapsy as a refugee in the US still took time to add to the ‘fire’ of encouragement ignited by Taiwo Obe in me to make the very best out of my fellowship at the Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). Following my emergence as the only winner of a competitive $20,000 grant among my 1998 set of the fellows, Dapsy made sure he strengthened my drive for media based development campaigns with a bigger grant much later when he became the media programme officer for OSIWA.
As the ecstasy of the celebration of the birthday boy still rages, fate brought Dapsy and I together in Johannesburg for the 2017 edition of the Global Investigative Journalism Conference (GIJC), where he featured no fewer than two times as speaker. He was relentless with his advocacy for the support of men and institutions of goodwill in the international community for the dying media industry in Africa, even as he insisted that journalists could not afford to be indifferent to the development of their society by adopting corrective posture at all times. Old soldier, they say, remains same always. Happy 60th birthday anniversary sir. Ki Oluwa da Baba si fun wa.
Tunde Akanni teaches journalism at the Lagos State University.