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Dapsy: A reporter’s encounter with a man of unsual courage

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By Wahab Gbadamosi

It was a few minutes to midnight. Then, the folks who man the rail lines between Maryland and Washington had slammed the access to the train station against late night commuters. “WG,” he said casually, “let’s go”. He picked his car key and a 40-minute journey was underway. Some not too disapproving smile panned the sitting room.
What if some hooded guys in DC blocked this man? Or if anything happened to him midnight? Ladi, as he calls his wife of uncommon dedication, the Lord of the Manor, seems to be ruminating as my intruding presence made Dapo Olorunyomi, aka Dapsy, leave his wife’s arms some minutes to midnight. She managed a smiled and waved him bye.

What manner of a man will leave his family a few minutes to midnight, just to help a JJC in DC? But Dapo Olorunyomi cares no hoot. If the goal is to deny himself of sleep, money and comfort to straighten out your path, Dapsy is game. A Greyhound bus at the Union Station was where he emptied this nocturnal visitor. North Carolina, my destination.

The following day, l attempted to make some heavy weather of this courtesy through superfluous thanks. Just to appreciate this unusual being. Typical of the man, Dapsy, he deliberately downplayed his heroic sacrifice and made light weather of the huge help. This was in Washington, where every minute weigh in huge dollars. A few days before, he had abandoned his busy itinerary to drive me to Rtd. Gen Alani Akinrinade’s home, for an interview published in The NEWS magazine. He didn’t toss a map at me like your typical Washingtonian would do.

That was in 1999.

Close to a decade later, he had summoned me to a point close to Louis Edet House, the Police headquarters in Abuja, yielded his car and eloped into another.

And throughout Abuja we meandered round the city, in a seemingly disorderly fashion, but as it emerged, calculated order-until the duo were done with their discussions. It turned out that some demented goons with access to state powers, mean and merciless in taking out folks like the man in question, were after Dapsy’s guest, a patriot, one who had served Nigeria at the detriment of his physical and psychological health, friendship and bales of tempting lucre.

In those two hours when we scoured Abuja’s streets, avoiding –in mathematical precision, all police checkpoints in the city, the ingredients and bureaucratic ‘scrolls’ that eventuated in nation building news copies, was the subject of the duo’s encounter.

Such is Dapsy’s love for his fatherland, this nation called Nigeria that he once quipped: “But is it a crime to love your fatherland? Is it a crime to love your nation”, -apparently bewildered why a cell in a government he was serving will seek to do him in. Then, the media reported the case of some gunmen who wanted to take him out. “But we will continue to do our best. All I know is that good will always triumph over evil”, he concluded in response to himself.

Such reassuring elan, it seems, lay at the root of his unexplainable risks for this nation called Nigeria. Dapo Olorunyomi seems to have some unshakeable faith in God, nature and some ethereal forces that the good in his good, his exertion for this good, in this immensely blessed but mismanaged nation will always trump whatever risks lay on the risky paths which he often trod.

Which is why you will catch Dapsy, at times– racing to Abuja from Lokoja at some hours to midnight, just to pave a path for a young fellow. Or do a stop by in Lokoja to broker a discussion, see an old family member or ask after your health). And doing this with a reassuring mien like God has assured him that he will take off the bad boys off the road.

And which is why Dapsy will go and confront Rtd. Gen Oladipo Diya when late Gen. Sani Abacha was new in power and the interimists were just trying to gain a foothold and ask: “Sir, with due respect, are you guys not being naïve with your perception of late General Abacha?”. Angry at BAT who brought him into Diya’s presence, Abacha’s deputy will ask, “Why bring this kind of man into my place”.

Abacha was to ensnare Diya three years down the line. Dapsy’s words seemed to be prophetic. Dapsy, Bayo Onanuga and their colleagues in The NEWS magazine were at the head of a titanic battle that ensured that Diya did not bite the bullet. What mattered to Dapsy and his colleagues was justice and the common good.

Such streaks of courage are why only the six odd men of Dapsy’s mindset: Babafemi Ojudu, Bayo Onanuga, Seye Kehinde, Idowu Obasa and Kunle Ajibade and Kabiru Yusuf will spurn Buhari’s counsel. Buhari? Yes, General Muhammadu Buhari’s admonition that they should be wary of Ibrahim Babangida as The NEWS magazine began its crusading genre of journalism in 1993.

Then, Bayo, Dapsy, Ojudu and Seye had finished an explosive interview with Muhammadu Buhari in Kaduna. Buhari had sat Dapsy and others down and lectured them on security and the new phase the nation was entering, as they began the patriotic but perilous business that was the publication of The NEWS and Tempo news magazines. It was not long before Buhari’s fears began to manifest. First in dozens of arrests, arson and questionable deaths of journalists. Kunle Ajibade lived to tell his stories in Abacha’s gulags.

Dapsy’s courage is steeped in history. His late friend and banker, Mr Adeola once recalled one of such encounters about 17 years ago. Not a fashion buff-and he protest with his wears – often, Dapsy’s wife, Ladi, once poked fun at him as she scoured their house for just one trouser for him from a pile. Some fashionistas could worry about that.

Dapsy had emerged as Dapsy. The Principal of his secondary school—somewhere in old Kwara, was up in arms and slammed a fatwa against his entrance into the school premises. Forever calm and always radiating an inscrutable peace in an ocean of chaos and confusion, Dapsy shot out: “I had a slight. I had a slight.” It was the young lad’s own riposte. For a secondary school student, in the back waters of Kwara, late Adeola recalled, this was too good an expression. The principal allowed the protesting lad to be carried shoulder high.

Dapsy’s romance with the choicest of words legislated that.

There are a lot of good things to say about the self-effacing gem of a soul that is Dapo Olorunyomi. So many bits and pieces of him that it might fill another volume. Which is why we owe immense debts to all columnists, scholars and writers who have given us their peculiar peeps into our rare brother, boss and buddy that is Dapsy. I have not had the privilege of perusing the book: Profiles in Courage: Essays in Honour of Dapo Olorunyomi, edited by Chido Onumah and Frederick Adetiba, but several bits of Dapsy readily springs to life.

One is that of Dapo Olorunyomi’s native wisdom, perennial bother of not exposing the seamy sides of good men and women—even when they screw up. It is a strangely excellent trait that only a Dapo Olorunyomi could balance.

Let me illustrate.

Dapsy shuttles Lagos-Abuja-Washington-Accra and Joburg after Nigeria returned to democracy. In the pro-democratic and activists’ cells in Lagos, many hoped that the return to democracy will give them some shade. For legal practitioners, robust pro-democracy activists and Nigerians hungry for the common good, the return to democracy and the emergence of Bola Ahmed Tinubu was some good omen.

But the pro democrats felt too, that they had been left out in the sun and inclement weather. They complained that Tinubu did not reach out to shade them.

In his typical style, Dapsy headed to BAT’s Alausa and tabled these whisperings against Tinubu. “We tried, we did ABZ and catered to the needs of our colleagues. These were those who helped us”, BAT retorted.

Stunned, Dapsy headed for the abode of the pro-democracy activist, the supposed harbinger of the governor’s homilies. “And what did he say” the reporter in me sprang up. “Hmmm…he began, in the typical Dapsyspeak. “Honestly what that guy said was a little dirty. So dirty I can’t even repeat it”.

Dapsy was not being economical with the truth. He was just being Dapsy: This pro-democracy activist in question had done so much good for the nation, the student community, journalists, activists and lawyers that it was little heavy to decapitate him on account of a single slop.

Never one to crow about self, his strange, vast, multifaceted accomplishments, Dapo, –impeccable sources affirm- had his imprint in BAT’s election to swing the gubernatorial for a BAT aide that Dapsy never talked to, but for which he passionately rooted for, before his boss. Those familiar with the inscrutable workings of the ADAN political machine affirmed that one day, Dapsy told BAT: “That guy is your best bet. He is your best bet”.

The folk did not disappoint. The rest as they say his history.

A reliable journalist claims Dapsy discreetly, once suggested –without the knowledge of a candidate for the Vice Presidency- that the calm fellow will jell with the Northern political machine. Dapsy was dead right.

But all this, you will never, never hear from him-testimonies to the nobler content of the personae that coalesce, to use one of the words that Dapsy could have summoned, to make up the Dapsy mystique.

Forever patriotic, forever looking at the bigger picture, Dapsy’s constituencies broaden into a vast amalgam of colour, generation, religion, ethnicity, profession, class and race, in a fashion only Dapsy could explain. If he is not discussing how to train the next generation of professional journalists, who will have ethics at the heart of their trade, he would be bouncing ideas on the role of data driven copies, how that could foster accountability in public space and strengthen democracy.

As he inches close to his mid-60s, will Dapsy continue to live the way for which he is known, almost in self-immolation: serve country, community, Africa and humankind in his altruistic ways? Will he enjoy the space and quiet to write some books he had dreamt about?

One of such projects is a book on late Mokwugo Okoye, an unusual scholar and humanist of another vast dimension, about his anti-corruption forays under Nuhu Ribadu, his photo project and Dapsy’s own multi-layered competencies, uncommon insights and native wisdom. In short, when will Dapsy script his own account of his journey and its rich lessons?

As we celebrate bits and pieces of this man –who celebrate the minutest of good in others– may the Creator grant him sound health so we can sip, in full measure, from his fecund mind.

* Wahab Gbadamosi, a Deputy Director, is of the Communications & Servicom Department, Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS.