Dapo Olorunyomi, How Publisher of Premium Times Was Forced Into Exile By General Sani Abacha

One who is credited with pioneering professional online journalism in Nigeria is Oyedapo Oyekunle Olorunyomi. No meaningful list of top 10 media owners in Nigeria will be compiled in this digital age without Olorunyomi’s name popping up prominently.

Who is Dapo Olorunyomi?

Olorunyomi is the founder of Nigeria’s leading online newspaper, Premium Times. He was born on the 8th of November 1957 in Kano, Nigeria. You can describe him as the godfather of online journalism in Nigeria, as his publication ushered in a new era where online newspaper ownership and online journalism practice constituted a force to reckon with in Nigeria’s media landscape. Olorunyomi is a veteran journalist who had turbulent times while practicing during the military era in Nigeria, as he was forced at some point to go on exile to the United States of America. He is publisher/editor-in-chief of Premium Times, a newspaper he founded in 2011. His show of bravery and desire to explore the untapped is impressive, as he ventured into an area of media ownership which many thought would not succeed in Nigeria – ownership of a strictly online publication. Today, several other Nigerian online newspapers have come up, only to queue behind Premium Times, the leader of this specialized area of journalism in the country. Olorunyomi played a monumental role in making online journalism a credible specialized practice in Nigeria which many upcoming journalism graduates and people with flare for new reporting are willingly moving into.

Education

Olorunyomi has an impressive educational background. He attended St. Bartholomew’s Primary School, Wusasa, Zaria, and Esie-Iludun Anglican Grammar School, Esie-Iludun and the Government Secondary School, Ilorin.

The experienced journalist has a Bachelor of Art in English Studies in 1981, and an M.A. in Literature in 1985, from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. He holds a Certificate in Natural Resource Management from the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, UK, 2017 and a 2006 Certificate in Human Rights and Humanitarian Law from American University, Washington College of Law. He is the third of six siblings, including Sola Olorunyomi, who is the author of Afrobeat: Fela and the Imagined Continent, an acclaimed publication on Afrobeat pioneer, Fela Kuti.

Career

Before moving into media ownership, Olorunyomi had worked as editor at Radio Nigeria and African Guardian magazines. He was the Enterprise Editor/Head of the Investigative Reporting Team for Timbuktu Media Limited (publishers of 234Next), and founding editor of The News, PM News and Tempo Magazine. While he was on a forced exile in the U.S. in 1995, he started work as Director of Africa Programs at the Panos Institute, Washington D.C., USA in 1996. He later worked with the Dakar, Senegal office of the Open Society Initiative (OSI) in Budapest, Hungary. When he returned to Nigeria in 2004 from exile, Olorunyomi worked as Project Director of Freedom House. He later became the policy director and the chief of staff to the Executive Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) where he led the Commission’s crimes prevention and education policy development initiatives on corruption. He sits on the boards of many organisations including the Norbert Zongo Cell for Investigative Journalism (an initiative of the UNODC), and the transnational investigative body for West Africa headquartered in Burkina Faso, CENOZO. Between 1999 and 2001, Olorunyomi served on the International Jury for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists [ICIJ] Award. In 2004, he was the West Africa Analyst for the Global Survey of Media Independence. He is the chief judge for the Zimeo Award of the African Media Initiative (AMI).

Exile to the US

It was under the military administration of General Sani Abacha that Olorunyomi was declared wanted based on his work with The News magazine, was forced into exile in the United States. This was shortly after four journalists – Kunle Ajibade of The News, Chris Anyanwu of The Sunday Magazine, George M’Bah of Tell Magazine and Ben Charles-Obi of Classique Magazine – were jailed In June 1995 after they were said to have reported an alleged plot to topple the Abacha government. These journalists were secretly tried, charged as “accessories after the fact of treason” by a Special Military Tribunal, convicted and jailed for life. After he went into exile, Olorunyomi’s wife, Ladi, a journalist, women’s right activist was detained for 68 days without charges. She was released after Olorunyomi spoke on Abacha’s media crackdown at the April Committee to Protect Journalists roundtable. Shortly after that, the four jailed journalists were released by General Abdulsalami Abubakar and Olorunyomi later returned to Nigeria.

Promotion of Professionalism in Journalism

Olorunyomi has also engaged in activities aimed at promoting and celebrating professionalism in journalism. He founded the Wole Soyinka Investigative Reporting Award (WSIRA) in 2005 which was transformed in 2008 into the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ). This centre is a nonprofit organisation primarily focused on promoting social justice and investigative journalism with the goal of exposing corruption, regulatory failures and human rights abuses. The organization also annually celebrates journalists engaged in investigative journalism. Olorunyomi served as 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 also launched the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), which has its primary goal on promoting “a truly independent media landscape that advances fundamental human rights, good governance and accountability in West Africa through investigative journalism, open data and civic technology.”

Finally!

Olorunyomi is one media owner who does not own a chain of media houses but stands out as the pioneer of online journalism that adheres to basic tenets of the profession. When talking about online newspaper owner in Nigeria, one name that will always be mentioned for fostering remarkable integrity and professionalism in the face of challenges in this particular is Dapo Olorunyomi. He is a role model whose inspirational story serves as encouragement to many Nigerians who would wish to delve into online journalism and newspaper ownership, now a trending area in the country.

The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

Nwabueze is a communication researcher with several years of lecturing experience in Nigerian universities.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *