It is rare to have someone whose faults are like a pin buried in the sand, amidst the vast ocean shore. I met him for the first time in the late 80s. Long before that time, I had heard about him and his radical exploits, as one of the most reliable fighting spirits in the students’ movement. This was at a time students’ unionism was the ‘alternative government’ in Nigeria. Student leaders were reverred and treated with awe. The students’ movement was controlled by the Left. We all looked up to the socialist revolution that would storm indecent and exploitative rogue nation and took her by the groin. It was the period of great, renewed revolutionary fervency across long-suffering Africa.
Students had a network, from the East to the West, the North to the South. It was one bundle of humanity with a common goal: transform Nigeria from the backwaters to a greater nation where lavender water flows for all.
Every radical student, young, lurch green and adventurous, wanted to be a part of that revolution, at least, the progressive students of the Marxist ideological tent. Meeting him physically for the first time, during the build-up to the anti-military renaissance was like seeing a small god. I cannot remember where we met in particular, for the first time, but Dapo Olorunyomi was a regular visitor to the home of Dr. Bekololari Kuti, and at the 24, Jebba Street, Lagos office of the late radical layer, Alao Aka-Basorun. Those two places were the nectars for the student bee-like gatherings.
The Campaign for Democracy movement later gave me an opportunity for an insight into his radical political adventure, the purity of his mind and the openness with which he handled every issue. His understanding of dialectics is profound. His presentation of facts in an argument is lucid; his thoughts versatile and his respect for every view, no matter how disdainful, quite Socratic.
Olorunyomi is not given to sophistry. His penchant for truth in any discourse is religious. I cannot go into full swing, the role he played in the struggle to edge out the draconian military regimes of General Ibrahim Babangida and that of his later successor, Gen Sanni Abacha, except to say that he was one of the most priced preys that the dangerous claws sought to devour.
Olorunyomi’s fingertips are filled with history. He is quick to tell you about the historical context in which your story is being conceived, the contradictions and the hidden elements. He is a writer, a sub-editor, a teacher, a giver of ideas, and a moderniser
I had the privilege to work with him at The African Guardian. He came in briefly as the Editor of the unique weekly that once had a Bureau Chief in West and Southern Africa. He was the best editor I ever encountered. In the morning of every Monday, it was traditional that the editorial meetings would hold. Every reporter must come with a story idea. There was no topic strange to him. He would make a rock out of the small grain you leave on the table of discourse. He had the habit of expanding the horizon of your stories beyond your imagination by broadening the form and content and introducing various dimensions. Even when you come up with what may be a stupid idea, in the newsroom, he would look for the wisdom in it and build a monument from an idea hitherto considered a footnote.
His fingertips are filled with history. He is quick to tell you about the historical context in which your story is being conceived, the contradictions and the hidden elements. He is a writer, a sub-editor, a teacher, a giver of ideas, a moderniser, a companion and above all, the grand conspirator against the established exploitative system. In spite of his inexhaustible knowledge about phenomenon, he portrays himself as a learner. He teaches you by giving you the impression he was learning something great in you. He gives you the unusual advantage of seeing the potential in your inner self.
It was from The African Guardian that he left with his colleagues to establish The News Magazine where he later became the General in the ranks of guerilla journalism. I later had the opportunity of sharing a rendezvous with him in Ghana, where he briefly spent some of his exile years, a home that Chido Onumah ‘inherited’. The brief period he spent with us at The African Guardian was revolutionary. The story headlines and the style changed dramatically. He was the editor a reporter could share a bottle of beer with, visit his home, look through his pot of soup and even ask him for a ride in his trademark LADA car. And Dapsy has an impressive, stylish gait as if ready for the battle of life, at all times. I have searched in vain to see his anger, his rage and I wonder why I never sighted him shout.
Coming from Yoruba Kogi, an ancestral community, where old values overwhelm, I do not know when and how he lost the fine rawness and the naturally gritty mien and texture associated with purely traditional creatures and how he managed to trim those innocently rough edges of village grow-ups. He is an extraordinary person that you would wonder why he continuously places the interest of others before his. Life to him is a fleeting tide that must be lived with compassion and deep feelings for the less-privileged.
*Adeoye, journalist and human rights activist, lives in Lagos