There can be nothing about the fanfare around the public presentation yesterday of Testimony to Courage, a book on Dapo Olorunyomi that might not be justified. Dr. Chidi Odinkalu, the book reviewer, put it very well in saying that “In a country where “those who are least deserving get the loudest accolades” while “some who are deserving get their recognition after their death”, Testimony to Courage is evidence that the supplication for civic canonization does not always have to await earthly mortality”.
It is not that the joyous aspect of the event is not worth talking about but the event is also capable of being read as signifying the gradual departure from the scene by members of the generation which successfully recreated the radical tradition on a national scale for the very first time in the history of Nigeria. We call them members of Generation Radical. That is the generation that wrote The NANS Charter of Demands which, with minor amendments, can serve as Nigeria’s Constitution today even though it was written very early in the 1980s. The contention here is that the emergence of a generation that did not only have a critical understanding of the global context of the Nigerian State but was also able to put its understanding into practice consistently for three decades thereafter definitely speaks to a moment in Nigerian history.
This is the sense of reading yesterday’s book presentation as a bundle of joy and sadness even as that sense might not have been such a thick signifier for everyone. The joy is the celebration while the sadness is the departure signals in a book of tribute even when there is no no clear successor generation taking over the banner. Departure here does not suggest anything terminal or mortal but the arrival of the ‘evening’.
To the extent that democracy or more aptly civilian rule is now the norm in Nigeria, Generation Radical can be credited with having achieved what it set out to achieve. To the credit of some members of the generation are also strides in institution building, particularly in the media realm, key platforms such as the Nigeria Labour Congress, (NLC), non-governmental organisations and professional practice in academia, law, media and medicine, amongst others. Add to this the diverse but substantive issues dominating advocacy in democratization such as free, fair and credible elections, gender equity, budget inclusivity, hate speech and anti-corruption campaigns.
But, how boldly enough do these campaigns sustained mainly by members of the generation correspond to the exertions of Generation Radical in the decade of the 1980s and up to a point in the 1990s? How well has the project of remaking the world in a small corner of it called Nigeria responded to the world thrown up by the post Cold War?
It is in the context of the above and similar questions that the book presentation probably inaugurates Generation Radical turning on itself in the direction of the title of a book project also going on at another level of Generation Radical. The impending book asks its potential contributors to reflect on what they thought they were doing at the barricades in relation to what emerged in 1999, with particular reference to where each potential contributor found he or herself in what emerged in 1999. It is not clear if Dr. Odinkalu is involved in the said project but to which he is already responding in locating Dapo Olorunyomi beyond journalism but well into activism informed by a logic of decentering authoritarian predilection or the several manifestations of same in the form of multi-dimensional hierarchies.
That is to say that there is an account giving in most paragraphs of Odinkalu’s review of Testimony to Courage as can be shown in the paragraphs published below, the prelude to the second part of a special feature on Nigeria’s Generation Radical:
“Nigeria is a country defined by hierarchies in which everyone is expected to fit neatly into a box. These hierarchies are many and multi-dimensional. They vary in both shape and size and we have signature tunes for sign-posting them. You know a generational put-down when it’s uttered. When you hear, “Am I your mate?” or “your time will come”, it doesn’t matter if you are already sixty-something year-old grand-parent. “Where are you from?”, is a marker for geographical hierarchy that easily also conflates multiple sign-posts of ethnicity, religion, race and even presumed political persuasion. “You no know say you be woman?!” assumes lessons in propriety are exclusive to one gender. It is Nigerian to accept these hierarchies and their implications without question. To not subscribe to this is to subvert something widely considered essential to the Nigerian identity. It’s an invitation to trouble”.
“Our Nigerian hierarchies and accompanying boxes of identity even find expression in our sartorial preferences. They’re also canaries for prejudice and for competing claims of exception. Those who don’t fit into these boxes are worse than mere outliers. They could also end up as outcasts. Civic ecumenism in Nigeria is thus at once endangered but fascinating. It’s both vice and virtue. In this, art imitates form. A Nigerian who appears to embody these virtues could end up being both endangered and, simultaneously, a subject of considerable fascination. Notoriety is their reward. The best-known exemplar of this is Fela— he was so notorious, he did not need the luxury of a surname; so admired, everyone believed they knew him on intimate, first name terms”
“The contributors include senior citizens above 80 and young people in their 20s; senior politicians on the one hand and citizens, some of whom hold them in barely concealed contempt, on the other; pastors and atheists; Christians, Muslims and traditional worshippers; men, women and every gender in between. At one end of the generational spectrum of authors are people like Akin Olorunyomi, Dapsy’s elder brother who was there when he was born and named in 1957, Wole Soyinka, after whom Dapsy has built one of the institutions that has become his hallmark, and Ropo Sekoni, an Emeritus Professor, who was Dapsy’s lecturer in the university over 40 years ago. At another end you have contributors like Omotola Aderinsola, who confesses to having known Dapsy for “less than a year”, and Farooq Kperogi, who has never met Dapsy in person. With a few exceptions, the editors manage to distil from this conclave of witnesses a rich and highly readable variety of insights about man, virtue and country. The rulers of Nigeria have quite a lot to learn from the civic ecumenism of the book and of its subject for, true to Dapsy’s inclinations, it cannot be said of this book that any part of Nigeria is marginalized in it!”
“In Dapsy’s professional biography, the rendezvous with reportorial immolation appears with unceasing regularity. As editor of another campus newspaper, The Rapport, he reportedly published a factually accurate story of how “a senior lecturer marched a female student into the hall to conduct a special examination for her”, outside the examination schedule. Unable to fault the story nor contain the furore caused by it, the university authorities had the magazine banned. As a reporter with African Concord, he wrote a story about the cynical sclerosis of the Ibrahim Babangida regime in April 1992 that got the regime angry. When they could not get the magazine to withdraw the story, the regime had the Concord group shuttered. That led to the founding of The News and Tempo stable under Gen. Sani Abacha but, “before long, both magazines were proscribed by the discredited dictator.” They set about looking for him and when they could not find him, they even closed down his family life by arresting his wife, Ladi, and child!”
“Odia Ofeimun believes that the book is by “media activists” about a man who has been at the cutting edge of “investigative journalism”. Yet most of the articles arguably centre not on his journalism but on his activism, humanism and institution building. Later in the book, Ofeimun would admit to many more dimensions to Dapsy’s narrative, acknowledging him also as a leading student activist and a “civil society stalwart.” In his own words, Dapsy is quoted as describing himself as being engaged in “content production enterprise”, from which vintage he sees publication merely “as a platform.” All this is not unconnected, of course, with the disruptive impact of the digital revolution on journalism, free expression and activism producing much more information without necessarily improving enlightenment. The resulting “assembly line” journalistic value-chain makes it impossible to shut down publishing today as the military did before”
“Testimony to Courage is more than just a collection of feel-good testimonials. It is a very serious and multi-disciplinary contribution to contemporary political economy, history, civic activism, security and media studies, with some spell-binding vignettes. Dare Babarinsa tells of the arrogant perfunctoriness with which Ibrahim Babangida made himself “President” instead of military “Head of State”, as his predecessors were known”
“Herein lies the strongest message of the book—the man of courage who lives to tell the tale is usually the one who takes a long view. The courage to which this book testifies is of a more fundamental variety than that of a media practitioner or of an investigative journalist. It is about the courage to seek to re-make society away from the hierarchies that make demi-gods of a few, tarnish the other with toxic prejudice and diminish opportunities for everyone. It is a courage born of educated curiosity and underpinned by the inexactness of an experimentalist. It is courage of the wayfarer’s variety defined by a journey on which the destination may be known but the route unclear. It is this uncommon courage that Dapsy continues in different forms to embody”
“Sometimes, a generation must acknowledge its best in order to encourage many more not to give up on virtue. At the personal level, I suspect it may offend against Dapsy’s natural modesty to be held up to such high admiration or become the object of such elevated fascination. He may yet be persuaded to accept with some reluctance, however, that it’s a price worth paying for the cause of recruiting more people to his inestimable passion for humanity and for a country that works for all who care to call it their own”