Friday Olokor: An Enigmatic Journalist @ 50

 

By Paul Obi

‘He hath borne himself beyond the promise of his age, doing in the figure of a lamb, the feats of a Lion. He hath indeed, better bettered expectation than you must expect of me to tell you how.’

– William Shakespeare in Much Ado About Nothing

The golden age of 50 is a remarkable feat. It attests to many battles a man had conquered and survived. It also connotes a survival instinct that tells more of a life that is to come. Instinctively, it is never a walk over to attain the golden age of 50 without the bruises of life. Therein lies the reason why 50 is celebrated with pump and aplomb.

For Friday Olokor, those in the Nigerian media, civil society and government circles would affirm to the fact that he has actually pay his dues both in life and professionally.

While his private life remains private as it ought to be, it is Olokor’s professional calling that has rather catapulted him to many lofty heights to the consternation of his admirers, even among his haters as well. As a journalist, Olokor is fearless, dogged, persevering, hard working, and above all, an uncompromising apostle of truth, eager to defend freedom in whatever form and cost.

Over the years, these qualities and stellar performance as a journalist has set him apart among his co-evals and contemporaries. Olokor’s penchant for news and resolve to constantly uncover the truth belies is most endear journalistic qualities. About 2010, when Olokor was posted by the PUNCH Newspaper to Abuja, he was quick to embrace the trio of Paulinus Aidoghie, Fred Itua both of The SUN Newspaper and this writer then as a young THISDAY Newspaper reporter into his fold.

Unknown to me, Olokor had already known me, including my exploits then as Political Reporter, covering opposition parties and democratic institutions. If Mr. Ike Abonyi and Mr. Chuks Okocha tutored me on how to report news, Olokor mentored me on how to sniff for news and to be dogged on the field.

Even with his experience and age, Olokor was tireless; his pursuit for news and exclusive stories knows no bound. In a day, he could send 15 stories and still be searching for more news stories. On this particular day, we had gone to the Nnamdi Azikiwe Int’l Airport (NAIA), Abuja for an event with another PUNCH Reporter. On that fateful day, most journalists in Abuja had about seven events and other press statements to write stories from. After the event, on our way to town from the Abuja Airport, Mr Niyi Odebode, immediate past Abuja Bureau Chief of PUNCH, had called the PUNCH Reporter (name withheld) who was with us, to go to Sheraton Hotel for an event. Few minutes later, he called again to say that another event was taking place in International Conference Centre (ICC). The reporter then asked Niyi, “Editor, please how do you want me to cover all these events?” Then Niyi responded, “My friend, go and ask Olokor how he covers 10 assignments in one day.”

That was the reality and impression about Mr Olokor’s dint of hard work. Still, only a few of us know Olokor’s magic and how he often deliver on such assignments.

Instructively, Olokor is an embodiment of journalism, particularly, as it concerns the democratic role of the media to hold government and those with the levers of power to account. Today, journalism requires more astute and fearless practitioners to confront the post-truth era, incivility and the vagaries of Donald Trump’s in-your-face kind of politics. Olokor bears the flanks of all those qualities.

More fundamentally, his contribution to the enrichment of public debate and discourse within the context of political accountability and mediated scandals comes handy in that regards. According to John Keane, a British media and politics scholar, the constitutional role of the media lies squarely on its ability to monitor democracy. Michael Schudson of renowned Columbia School of Journalism in his celebral work, “Why Democracy Needs an Unloveable Press”, postulated that “Journalism is not a perfect vessel of truth. Its coverage of politics is based on unspoken, often unconscious and sometimes unjustifiable assumptions”, yet its role in a democracy cannot be misplaced.

That said, Olokor’s role in defending Nigeria’s democracy and affording the public their constitutional right to know became more pronounced during the 2015 Presidential Elections. After the compilation of the credentials of all the Presidential Candidates, on Monday December 29, 2014, Olokor had gone to the headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and discovered that all the candidates had their certificates attached except President Muhammadu Buhari, then, a candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Buhari had indicated that his certificates were with the Nigerian military (even till date). With the caption ‘My Certificates are with the Military’ Buhari Tells INEC,’ that singular story published on Tuesday December 30, 2014, saved the media from failing in its constitutional duty to hold politicians accountable. Nigerians on the other hand, were informed. Many might have brushed aside that lapse to catapult Buhari to the nation’s oval office. But the consequences, including the merits, if any, bear witness to Olokor’s unwavering pursuit of truth in journalism.

The crack journalist has also had a rough path in the field, working for many Newspapers and media outlets without pay. Today, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in its recent report, about 45 journalists have been killed so far in 2018, while 262 have been imprisoned and 59 journalists still missing between 2017 and 2018. Obviously, journalists are daily becoming endangered species, the more reasons why dogged journalists like Olokor deserves applause and laurels. Yet, journalism is by the day becoming brute and a thankless job.

However, Olokor should thank his stars that his stable, PUNCH Newspaper is the best in the industry on welfare and corporate governance. More importantly, journalism can do more to the society beyond the pseudo-news room politics. Regrettably, while news rooms across the world are advancing in technology and commitment to defend democracy, Nigeria’s news rooms are characterised by nepotism, intimidation, harassment and deliberate democratisation of poverty among the ranks of its foot soldiers across news beats.

Simply put, journalism needs the likes of Mr. Olokor to advance the frontiers of democracy and accountability, so that society will be rescued from the shackles of injustice and deprivation facing Nigeria. That aside, Olokor was born on November 22, 1968, in Abavo, Ika South Local Government Area of Delta. He attended Ekuma Primary, Abavo; St. Charles College, Abavo, the prestigious Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Osun State, where he studied Literature-In-English. He also holds a Master (MA Degree) in English (Literature) from University of Lagos (UNILAG). I have the hope that he will cap with a doctorate degree one day.

As a jolly good fellow, Olokor have a lot to celebrate; attaining the age of 50 is great feat. For many of us, it starts with thanking God Almighty for the grace and immense blessings he has bestowed Olokor with. Therefore, may the stars be with him as we say congratulations.

***Paul Obi, a journalist, with specialisation in political communication, lives in Abuja.

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