On Sunday, the 19th of October 1986, Dele Olojede was in a Lagos hospital looking down on a grisly image that would haunt him for several years. For lying there on the hospital gurney, was the bomb-blasted body of his friend, mentor, and boss, Dele Giwa.
What Dele Olojede didn’t know while he was wracked by grief and shock was that he was witnessing a significant part of Nigeria’s history in the military era.
Just 25 years at the time, Dele Olojede was already a household name in Nigeria. He was a fearless journalist whose investigative piece about corruption in the Judiciary led to the release from jail of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the fearless Afro beat musician who was a thorn in the flesh of successive governments.
From that Sunday in 1986, his life spiraled in a direction he never thought was possible a few days earlier. Perhaps, all he ever wanted to be was to become a successful journalist with Newswatch, his employer, and rising up to the top as editor.
He got more than he bargained for. From the series of events that took flight that murderous day 41 years ago, he came full circle. He became the owner of his own newspaper. 23 years later.
The story of Dele is a study in tenacity and how it is important to pursue dreams no matter the opposition. You’d likely fall several times along the path, but the joy when you finally succeeded can never be quantified.
Young Dele Olojede
Dele Olojede grew up in the ancient town of Ife in South West Nigeria. As a young kid in the 1960s, he was exposed to some of the most influential personalities of Nigeria’s art scene.
The University of Ife had just been established. Renowned intellectuals like the poet and playwright Ola Rotimi and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka (all young men then) were all migrating to Ife to establish the theater arts department.
The precocious Olojede wasted his Sunday afternoons at the University watching rehearsals of the theater arts faculty. It was at that point he made a promise to himself he wanted to be like them. They were his role models.
Against the wishes of his father, Dele Olojede applied to study Mass Communication at the University of Lagos. His dad, though, wanted him to pick any of the popular professional courses like Medicine, law, or engineering.
According to the story, it took a long time before his father forgave him for being such a stubborn twit.
Early professional life
After graduation in 1982, he worked for a few months with the state owned Radio Nigeria. He left to join Concord Newspapers that same year.
Joining Concord brought him into contact with one of the greatest influences of his life, Dele Giwa.
At the time, Dele Giwa, his future boss and founder of Newswatch magazine, was the editor of Sunday Concord. The publisher of the Newspaper was Moshood Abiola, the presumed winner of the June 1992 elections.
Two years later, Dele Giwa and a group of fiery journalists left the Concord to establish Newswatch in 1984. They took Dele Olojede with them.
The Bomb blast that killed Dele Giwa
Dele Giwa, Dele Olojede and the group of journalists that made up Newswatch were fearless and never shied away from reporting the truth; no matter whose ox is gored.
Unfortunately, the government at the time was a military Government headed by Ibrahim Babangida.
Though the government promised to respect the rights of journalists, the unofficial policy was of a government doing everything it can to undermine press freedom. The main weapon of the government was bribery to get favorable press.
But Newswatch was a breed apart. Which according to unsubstantiated evidence, led to the parcel bomb that killed Dele Giwa?
The next day, the government shutdown down the media house because of a press statement authored by Dele Olojede accusing the government of the murder.
Coming to America
Due to the crackdown on journalists working for Newswatch in the aftermath of the murder of Giwa, Olojede was easily persuaded to leave the country for a graduate course at Columbia University in the US in 1987.
By the time he came back to establish Next newspaper (Next, like Newswatch, was a huge pain in the government’s neck) 22 years later, he had already won the prestigious Pulitzer prize (the first African to be honored), an award given to the most outstanding journalist in the US.
His series of reports about the Rwandan genocide, 10 years after the event was considered the best journalism work in 2004.
Before that though, he had worked for NewsDay of New York after his graduate studies and rose to become the editor of the foreign desk. He left in 2004, just a year before the award was officially announced.
Positive Signpost for youths
Though Next newspaper folded in 2011 due to crippling debts, the life of Dele is a positive signpost for youths of today. At 56, Dele Olojede can look back and be proud of his contribution to national development as a humble journalist.
He never wavered in his dreams; a great part of fulfilling that dream was to choose the right role models.
His biggest regret was that he wasn’t in Rwanda in 1994 when the genocide started to report the events to the whole world. The South African transition that brought Nelson Mandela to power, was considered a bigger news at the time.
One thing is for sure though, there is more to come from him. After all, he has a knack of being part of big historical events.