Olojede – Newspaper Editorials



April 22, 2004

Olojede: The Pulitzer laureate opens up

Over drinks in a hotel in New York, Pulitzer Prize winner Dele Olojede poured out his soul to WALE FATADE, our correspondent in New York, revealing his humility as well as his worries about the face of journalism in his native Nigeria

As a kid, Dele Olojede’s dream was to become a journalist even though his father was not enthusiastic about the idea. At 44, he won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for his “fresh, haunting look at Rwanda a decade after rape and genocidal slaughter had ravaged the Tutsi tribe,” says the Pulitzer committee web site.

In an interview conducted over drinks at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York on the afternoon of Monday, April 11, he comes across as a humble man who apparently has never allowed success to drain him of his humanity. “I’m not exceptional in my generation,” he says in an avuncular manner that makes even a stranger feel at home in his presence. He adds that other journalists like “Nduka Irabor is a fantastic editor who can hold his head anywhere in the world, while people like Sully Abu, Nosa Igiebor, Taiwo Obe, Greg Obong-Oshotse, Okey Ndibe and Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo are fantastic reporters in my generation who can win Pulitzer if they had the chance of practicing here in the United States.” He even describes his wife as a better journalist saying “she is among the best in our generation and in fact a better writer than me.”

Having covered the Rwandan genocide in 1994, he decided to return to the country last year January for a series of stories that eventually landed his newspaper, Newsday, a Pulitzer. The journalist says he had no intention of winning the prize when he started planning for the assignment. “Frankly, there was no thought in my mind of winning a Pulitzer when I was preparing for the story even though any serious minded and ambitious journalist would love to win Pulitzer one day,” he declares. Olojede says further that he had done other great and commendable works in the past which did not win Pulitzer and while he knew he was going to do “the Pulitzer level of work” he could not guarantee it was going to win, but fortunately it won.

“The fact that you did Pulitzer level of work does not guarantee you will win it, and so an element of luck is involved. All the finalists deserved it and only one of us must win it. If you win, then you’re lucky, as that is no longer under your control because it’s only the quality of work you do that is under your control.”

While Olojede’s modesty remains a trait many of his colleagues are quick to point out, it still does not take the shine away from the rigorous preparation he did before jetting out of New York for the story. It took him three months to prepare for the story, reading various books on the country, its sociology, religion, law and the genocide. He also acknowledges the fact that his newspaper offered him a viable platform to demonstrate his ability, skills and years of experience which he brought to bear on the story. “I worked for a newspaper with resources, about $50,000 was spent on the story and this was outside my salaries, travel and hotel expenses.”

Olojede’s career started as a summer intern in Newsday in 1988 and he later became a special writer covering minority affairs. In 1992, he made the first of several trips to South Africa and his coverage drew praise and won a number of prizes. He later served as the paper’s United Nations Bureau Chief before his posting in Johannesburg as African bureau chief. Before leaving the paper last year, Olojede served as its Asian bureau chief, based in Beijing and also as the Foreign Editor, overseeing the paper’s five foreign bureaus and its daily coverage of foreign news.

Olojede, however, says that his generation is fortunate than the present generation of Nigerian journalists. “We grew up at a special time in the 1970s, the single best decade in Nigerian history when the society was booming culturally unlike what we have in Nigeria now.” He speaks of days spent in theaters at the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) while growing up and the fact that Daily Times was not only the best newspaper in Nigeria, but also one of the best in the world.

“I’m talking of the time when we have such caliber of people like Patrick Dele Cole and Babatunde Jose among others at the helm of affairs in Daily Times,” he adds. He remembers with nostalgia too the fact many of his generation were well read just as other cultural sectors were at their peak while they were undergraduates. “We had different kind of musicians playing high life, jazz and the universities at Ibadan, Ife, Zaria, Nsukka and Lagos were serious intellectual grounds we instinctively knew that we were special people. We could compete with any of our peers worldwide.” He adds that this was the reason why his transition from a Nigerian journalist working in Nigeria to one working in United States was never difficult.

“I never had any problem adjusting because there was never a time in my mind that I thought I was inferior. I was never intimidated.”

Asking Olojede a question about the state of journalism in Nigeria today is like asking a man to talk about the death of his wife. The pain becomes real and vivid while the passion too cannot be hidden. Shaking his head before pausing for some seconds, he says, “I must tell you, I’m not happy at all.”

He gives a catalogue of woes that have befallen the profession: bad writing, poor remuneration and appalling technical quality of Nigerian newspapers. “Everyone who is not unnecessarily defensive will admit that the quality is diminishing,” he intones, adding, “things are just bad.” He expresses shock at publishers who do not pay salaries on time even while their newspapers are smiling to the banks just as those who pay in time pay peanuts. ‘When I was working in Nigeria, my paycheck was never late for once,” he says.

Olojede sees poor remuneration as the main reason why good hands do not stay longer in journalism because this does not offer them the means of having decent things they needed to survive. He recalls how journalists of his generation could afford the basic necessities needed to live as members of the middle class then without battling an eyelid. “We could buy books and go to clubs without worrying how we were going to survive till the next month,” he explains.

He is bewildered equally at the obsession of Nigerian journalism with the elites, particularly politicians. ‘Nigerian newspapers are not interested in the average citizens except the people in Abuja and so you can only read about the elites and their predilections,” Olojede says. This, more than the usual excuse of poverty, for him, is responsible for the dwindling circulation of Nigerian newspapers. He wonders why there’s no connection between what’s in the media and the daily challenges of the people “and because there’s nothing useful for readers on personal finance, health and public issues, they just don’t want to buy.”

And to those who might see his criticism as being unduly harsh, he offers an explanation, “My criticism is borne out of love and not because I’m better off than my colleagues at home.”

Like many immigrants, he has plans of going back to Nigeria, but unlike them, he’s already planning towards it. One of the steps that would take him, his wife and their two daughters home was his resignation from Newsday last December. This was to allow him devote more time and attention to a project he says is designed to allow him “contribute in a direct way to journalism not only in Nigeria, but also in Africa.” Without disclosing further details, Olojede says he’s presently discussing with people in South Africa and Nigeria on concrete ways of impacting journalism in his home country and he’s already preparing his family for eventual movement back to Nigeria before the year ends.

“I’ve done everything I need to do here as a journalist and I’m heading home.”

“But do you think Nigeria is ready for you?”

“I’m a realist and I don’t think Nigeria is going to be easier than what we have here, but there’s no better time to go home than now.”


Guardian Editorial

April 13, 2005

Dele Olojede's Pulitzer Prize

IT is a moment of joy and celebration for Dele Olojede, the Nigerian winner of the prestigious 2005 Pulitzer Prize for journalism. The award was given for Olojede's expository story on civil wars in Rwanda entitled, ''Genocide's Child''. The story was published in the New York NewsDay where Olojede worked until recently as Foreign Editor. Olojede's achievement has been duly praised by his colleagues in Nigeria and the United States as a well-deserved recognition of his efforts as a journalist and a celebration of Nigerian ingenuity. The U.S.-based National Association of African Journalists (NAAJ) says ''His Pulitzer Prize achievement is an inspiration to all of us''.

Dele, 44, began his career as a reporter at the National Concord newspaper in Lagos in 1982. He was also a founding staff writer and assistant editor at Newswatch magazine from 1986-1987. As a journalist, Olojede modelled his sense of public service and investigative journalism after his mentor, Dele Giwa, who was his boss at Newswatch. In Nigeria, he established himself as a gifted reporter. For instance, it was his report in the 80s on the jailing of Fela, the Afro-beat maestro, that led to the removal of Justice Okoro Idogu by the Buhari military dictatorship and Fela's subsequent release from prison.

Soon after Dele Giwa's assassination in 1986, Olojede left the country to seek greener pastures in the United States, after winning a $26,000 Ford Foundation scholarship, which enabled him to study for a Masters degree at Columbia University School of Journalism. He later accepted a job as an intern, working as a town reporter for Long Island's Newsday newspaper. It was at Newsday that Olojede blossomed and sharpened his reportorial acumen.

He rose to become the paper's UN Bureau Chief, Africa Correspondent and ultimately the Foreign Editor, the first known Nigerian journalist in the United States to rise to such a senior editorial position. Olojede, before now, had won several awards. His story is one of diligence, excellence, commitment and hard-nose reporting, done in style and outright uncompromising passion for his job.

As Newsday's Africa Correspondent, it should have been Olojede's duty to report on the Rwanda genocide in 1994. But then, there was also the Mandela story unfolding in South Africa, where the Africa bureau of Newsday is located. However, 10 years later, haunted by his decision not to go to Rwanda as news of the tribal slaughter was emerging in April 1994, Olojede set out to examine how the Rwanda society was coping with the fallout from the genocide. The resulting four-part series, published in Newsday on May 2-5, 2004 is what has now brought him the Pulitzer Prize. He is the first Nigerian journalist working in the United States, to achieve this feat.

It is most heart-warming that the award came at a time when Nigeria's image abroad is rather poor. Whereas some Nigerians abroad have a reputation of being involved in all kinds of shady activities, which has affected the country adversely, Olojede like other Nigerians of his type, has distinguished himself, and brought glory and honour to his country. Although he shares the prize with Los Angeles Times reporter Kim Murphy, who was honored for her stories about Russia, this does not in any way detract from the significance of his own example. It shows the value of diligence and commitment.

The Pulitzer Prize should serve as an eye opener to stakeholders in Nigerian journalism. It is important for these stakeholders to take a cue from the Pulitzer Prize and endow similar prizes for journalists in the country. It was Joseph Pulitzer, a New York publisher that instituted the award that is named after him.

From a simple and obscure beginning, Dele Olojede has carved a niche for himself in his chosen career. We share in the joy of his achievement.


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One Response to “Olojede – Newspaper Editorials”

  1. Kemi says:

    I really just got to know about Mr Olojede and I am proud to say I am happy he is a nIgerian. He gives inspiration and hope to us -the younger genration who would like to venture into the field of Journalism.

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