By Temitope Ajayi
Sunday Dare’s reputation as a journalist of conscience will require a catalogue to capture. I got to know him on the pages of TheNews and Tempo Magazines during the post-June 12, 1993 presidential election imbroglio and the ensuing struggle to re-validate the sanctity of the mandate freely given by Nigerians to the winner, late Chief MKO Abiola. I followed his writings through the General Sani Abacha years and pro-democracy campaigns where the media played an active role as a major force of resistance.
At TheNews, he was one of the popular young Turks like Bagauda Kaltho, Lara Owoeye-Wise, Ebenezer Obadare, Jenkins Alumona, Akin Adesokan, Ademola Adegbamigbe, Bamidele Johnson and Henry Ugbolue among others who were mentored by the irrepressible Bayo Onanuga, Kunle Ajibade, Babafemi Ojudu, Idowu Obasa and Dapo Olorunyomi. Sunday Dare and his cohorts at TheNews were undeniably the hotheads of guerrilla journalism who irritated, in no small measure, the Abacha military junta with penetrating and exclusive stories that exposed the underbelly of the military government’s political chicanery.
The minister-designate who demonstrated uncommon élan and sterling brilliance during his Senate confirmation hearing was one of the reasons I looked forward to every edition of the magazine then. He never disappointed every week with the depth of his knowledge and the power of his pen whether he was writing the cover story, back of the book (BOB) story or a general interest story.
My interaction with him on a weekly basis through the pages of the magazine ended in 1999 when he left TheNews for Harvard University preparatory to joining Voice of America (VOA) Hausa Service. This hiatus subsisted until he joined the service of former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, as his chief of staff/special adviser on media where he had to make occasional and well-reasoned public interventions via opinion articles in defence of his principal.
For about 20 years after I had followed his career progression from journalism to public service where he had made his mark as an executive commissioner at the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), I never had any personal contact or relationship with him at any level until sometime in October 2018 when our paths crossed.
The All Progressive Congress (APC) had just elected its governorship candidate in Lagos State through a direct primary and it was not without some schism which tested the internal conflict resolution mechanism of the party. Mr. Dare was assembling a team of media and communication professionals for the Babajide Sanwo-Olu governorship campaign. My friend Ayo Oyalowo who has a long history of personal relationship with ‘SD’ as Sunday Dare is fondly called made a telephone call to me to ask if I would like to work with a team of communication professionals being put together for the campaign. I accepted the invitation and I must say the experience of working with people of diverse backgrounds in a multi-disciplinary and multi-cultural environment was very enriching.
For the six months leading to the elections and three months post-election up to the inauguration on May 29, 2019, Mr. Dare provided very strong leadership for the team and allowed us to take initiatives and execute without throwing himself into anyone’s face. He achieved much by delegating. He had absolute confidence in the capability of the team he put together. He is the type of a team leader who will go into battle with his team to win and will never be afraid to share credits with his subordinates. He did not withhold praise from any deserving member of the team and he didn’t fail to chastise when he needed to.
Mr. Dare made a very huge impression on me on my first meeting with him at the Ikoyi Office of the Sanwo-Olu/Hamzat Campaign Organisation. He came into the office at about 9pm straight from the airport and he joined us in a conference room where we had been waiting for him. When I came forward to greet him, he said, “How are you Tope?” I was rather startled. When I asked how he knew my name, he answered, “Well, I know you fairly well. We may not have met but I know you on Facebook and I have read some of your posts. Nice to meet you here.”
He made me very comfortable on our first meeting and we bonded almost immediately. However, before Mr. Dare’s arrival that night, the then governorship candidate, Mr. Sanwo-Olu had had an interactive session with us to share his vision for Lagos State. At the meeting, I asked him if he would complete ongoing and abandoned projects started by former Governor Babatunde Fashola and those of the Akinwunmi Ambode administration and he answered the question admirably.
While our meeting with Mr. Dare was going, I mentioned how the governorship candidate impressed me with his promise to complete all unfinished projects of his predecessors and that of the Ambode’s administration. It was as if my mention of the name Ambode triggered a long forgotten episode when he blurted out, “Tope, I know during the party primary your sentiment was with Ambode. Never mind. It is understandable. I also supported him to become governor too in 2015. Even Mr. Sanwo-Olu himself worked with him. The party primary is over now and we have a candidate to support and an election to win. All we need to do from now on is to work together as a team and win the election,” he declared. His forthrightness, perceptiveness and a heart without guile completely won me over that night.
Mr. Dare is a hands-on manager who will go into the trenches with his people. Several nights, he led the operations to paste posters, mount A-boards and supervised the placement of lamppost advertisement materials along the median of the 3rd Mainland Bridge and other locations across Lagos Island and on the Mainland. He led a unique and successful election operation with the team. Each time there was a need to defend the actions of his team he stood firmly as a reliable bulwark. He delegated very well and allowed the team to run the show. I once described him as a veteran of many election campaigns in South West in one of our review meetings. He is an astute and brilliant political communication strategist. He simply dazzles with his understanding of retail politics and winning ways for elections.
I must say at this point that President Muhammadu Buhari made a good choice in nominating him as one of the ministers that will serve the Nigerian people in his second term. If anybody was in doubt of his ability, he put that to rest with his performance during the Senate confirmation hearing that received positive reactions on social media and offline.
Few people, who are often the tiny yet loud minority, attempted a mockery of the ministerial nominees immediately the Senate released the list over what they claimed to be a lack of technocrats.
Except for those who thrive on undue negativity and trivialities, a list that has a Sunday Dare among other accomplished professionals from medicine, engineering, military, accountancy, law, architecture and the academia, etc. cannot be said to be without technocrats. Nigerians are easily excitable. We often erroneously consider those we see as public intellectuals as technocrats.
The fact is quite a few of those that many Nigerians celebrate as technocrats because of their name recognition are mere creations of the media. They built their profiles more on media mentions than substance. I have followed Mr. Dare’s career trajectory and he will do well as a minister. He excelled in his career as a journalist and has performed creditably in his current role as a public servant. He will deliver as a Minister of the Federal Republic in any ministry President Buhari may choose to deploy him. And if the President deploys him to the Ministry of Communication it will be a natural turf for him given his current day job at the NCC.
As if to buttress my conviction about his suitability, the Vanguard Newspaper recently x-rayed profiles of ministerial nominees, and that of Sunday Dare stood out as an intellectual and political communication lodestar. The profile read like that of a man on a continuous quest to unlock the door to personal excellence; a man with a will to win, the desire to succeed, and the urge to reach full potential. Indeed President Buhari made a good choice in the minister-designate from Oyo State.