Indy Press Outgoing Editor-in-Chief, Okafor John Dare’s Interview
As part of our farewell ovations for our outgoing Editor-in-Chief, John Dare Okafor, members, Habeeb Abdul and Eriomala John, interview him on his experiences. Their discussion includes everything from his dual ethnicity to religion and campus journalism in general.
EJ: To begin, who is John Dare Okafor?
John Okafor: John Dare Okafor is the third born child of a family of four siblings. His parents are from different tribes. My dad is Igbo, my mom is Yoruba. More than anything, the most frequent question I ever get is the question of my inter-tribal name. John Dare Okafor is just that simple guy that just wants to make meaning of life and make impact as much as possible.
HA: Can you tell us more about the experience of growing up as someone whose life crisscrosses both Igbo and Yoruba cultures?
John Okafor: In a way, I think the experience was normal. The difference is mainly the fact that we communicate more in English at home. Also, since my dad was often working and my mom spent more time with us, there was a tendency for us to be more familiar with the Yoruba language. That made things a bit complicated because men are traditionally expected to be familiar with their father’s culture, particularly as your last name reflects it. Generally, I’ll simply say it’s mixed. It can get uncomfortable when people focus on ethnicity rather than the person before them.
HA: You grew up in Lagos, right?
John Okafor: Yes, I did.
HA: Alright. How frequent are your visits to your hometown?
John Okafor: I have only been to my hometown twice, one being for my grandfather’s burial. I’m from Enugu. We rarely go home. My dad is more of a liberal person and that was so evident in the fact that at the time my dad married my mom, there were hardly marriages between Yorubas and Igbos. That’s another story on its own. We weren’t really raised to see ourselves in tribal terms.
HA: So, with your dual ethnic origins, how did it feel when unhealthy outbursts were being directed at Igbo people?
John Okafor: At some point, I was indifferent. And at some other one, I found myself in a fix because I saw that this is actually the reality of things. How do I find a balance between supporting either group against the other when both are in my home? It made me conscious of the fact that people want to label things without considering that we’re really all humans. As far as ethnic conversations are concerned, though, I don’t take sides. Although there was a point when I felt that Igbos have been marginalized. I’ve read a lot of books and they greatly informed me about the Civil War. I feel it’s needful for the Nigerian state to recognize that it actually did something wrong. The other side of me is indifferent. There are other complications that will definitely come up like the choice of a marriage partner, the side of the country they’re from; then there’s the language barrier and the fact that a majority of my experiences are on the Yoruba side. Overall, I’m mainly just neutral in conversations like this or try to at least be objective.
HA: On a surface level, would say that the divisive rhetoric affects the relationship within your family?
John Okafor: No. My dad and mum are very open-minded about a lot of things. If they were not, I don’t think would have come together. And we’re not talking about a decade, it’s a marriage of over thirty years. And they’re still together. They have seen and experienced life as one. I don’t think there have even been instances where their different ethnicities were a basis for clashing. No. It’s the family first and it’s always centred around the fact that we’re one and are always together.
EJ: So, as regards your educational journey, why UI?
John Okafor: That’s a very deep question. Now, a lot of people do not know my educational journey but UI was never my first choice. I wrote JAMB four times. I tried Adekunle Ajasin, and then tried the University of Nigeria. This was one of the few times I traveled home as a young adult. UI was during the fourth time. Most times, my issues were either with JAMB or Post-UTME. I got to know about UI through Chimamanda’s Americanah. A character spoke about UI and the scenery and ambience painted was wow. Funnily enough, I had been in Lagos almost all my life. I had heard of Ibadan and knew it was in Oyo State but I never knew they had a University. So, when I heard ‘UI,’ I went online to research it and I knew I just wanted to be here. On the first try, I chose my course, that is, Guidance and Counseling which is now Counselling and Human Developmental Studies under the Faculty of Education. I tried UI the 3rd time but JAMB jammed me. The fourth time, during which I wrote my first Post-UTME, was a walkover. I think I had around 270 and the Post-UTME was also good. I was mostly a lone ranger as I did not contact a family member I already had in the school then.
HA: Let’s quickly link this back to your growth as a young person. You tried UNN and Adekunle Ajasin before UI which was your third try, right?
John Okafor: Well, let’s say third and fourth, but yes it was.
HA: Okay. Would you say your lack of awareness about UI was due to a desire to return to the part of the country with people from your ethnic divide?
John Okafor: No, I don’t think so. It was more of trials and errors, really. You’ll try this year and so the next you search for a school you could easily get into. When you fail JAMB once, the second time, all you’re after is just gaining admission to a school. It was not about trying to go back home or link myself to my roots.
HA: But then again, if you were desperate to gain admission, UI is not really the place for that. Naturally, the bar should have gone lower.
John Okafor: Well, I was desperate but I was also focused on having the best. I was actually focused on having the best. I had the option of attending polytechnics but I never settled for that. There were so many reasons to give up. I went to a public school in Lagos and some of the people in my set have not gained admission till now.
HA: That’s pretty interesting. So, within the four-year interlude before your admission, did you dabble into other things like your classmates?
John Okafor: Within those four years? Yes.
HA: Okay, can you tell us more about that?
John Okafor: Well, there were a lot of experiences actually. First, I once went to a photography school; a skill acquisition school organised by the Lagos State Government. Then, we had our IT in a Photography lab. I interned there for close to one year as a printer. I worked on printing photographs with large machines. I even had the opportunity to be the next printer for that organisation. And at that time, I had the opportunity to earn enough. That was a lot at the time but I forfeited it because the goal was to attend school and I knew I wouldn’t go further if I settled. After that, I worked in a primary school. That was basically what I did within that space of four years.
Photography is probably something I would do for leisure purposes. The photography business itself is something I could probably fall back on much later in the future. But I think everywhere I have been, I give my best but have always been focused on the next step. And that was why I chose to work in a school because I felt it gave me a better platform to prepare towards the future.
EJ: So, given the nature of your upbringing and schooling would it be safe to say that there was nothing related to the Press per se in terms of your extracurriculars?
John Okafor: Well, I don’t think there was anything that hinted that I would go into Campus journalism although I’ve always loved books.
EJ: Alright, so what led you to join Indy Press?
John Okafor: Like I said before, I’ve always really loved books. I grew up with books. My dad read a lot; he has a library at home. I didn’t have the intention of going into campus journalism when I came in but something was clear: I didn’t know where but I knew I wanted to make impact and I had to stand out.
Campus Journalism for me began with Theophilus Alawonde. I was an occupant of B45 While he was an occupant of B46 and we were just regular guys on the same floor; not really close. However, I overhead someone asking about the Press from my room one day. And so there was a day I met him at the tap and asked about it and he asked if I wanted to join. And I said, “No, I don’t want to join now but when I’m ready I would let you know.” But I think from there our relationship picked up. We would see each other on the floor, greet, then have conversations. In the second semester, I asked him about the Press and if I could still come in, and he said “Sure, you can come in” and he gave me the E-IN-C’s number in person of Olopade Oluwasegun popularly known as Prof. He gave me his WhatsApp number and I chatted Prof up about it. He told me to come to his room and immediately, he conducted the interview for me in his room. When he asked me if I wrote, I told him I did a little writing on my Facebook page. After showing them to him, he felt they were fair enough and asked some further questions about journalism. Prof was not really concerned about finding the model campus journalist. He wanted writers that were committed and he could build. Because from what I heard, others had had more stringent interviews compared to the conversation I experienced. After that, I became an IndyPress member; I started attending meetings on Thursdays and whatnot. And that was one of the best decisions of my life.
HA: Now, the one interesting thing I find there is the fact that you weren’t exactly a consistent writer. On the other hand, you are also this person who considered photography a leisure activity. That said, I remember that when I joined the Press, there were photography columns, what prevented you from taking up photo-journalism since there was already a pre-existing connection between you and that?
John Okafor: I would say UI killed that particular interest. I had actually begun to take pictures with a small tripod camera I had at the time, but the interest fizzled out. Moreover, I am that person that likes being focused on a particular thing; if this is the main one, then that is it. I didn’t really see myself doing photography. There’s also the fact that it is quite expensive. You need to have a very good camera and funding, and at that point in time I don’t think there was the finance to do that. But mostly, UI killed the passion. There was the workload and the Press served as an escape route.
EJ: Can you remember the very first article you wrote or your first task?
John Okafor: My first task in Indy Press was a News report. There was an event at the Institute of African Studies and I had to cover it. There was no training per se on how to write. It was more like you would submit your news report and once you read the published report, you’d compare it to what you submitted. So, it was during meetings that we’d get more lessons on how News writing is basically the 5Ws, the pyramid and stuff like that.
HA: Firstly, based on what you said, you seemed to have been overwhelmed by your studies really early into your time in UI. Was your decision perhaps motivated by the pressure of academics? Also, you mentioned the absence of training when you came in; could you describe the nature of campus journalism then in relation to Indy Press?
John Okafor: For me, the Press was more like an escape route. A way to be relevant outside religion and academics.
HA: Okay, on to the state of campus journalism and Indy Press at that time.
John Okafor: The state of campus journalism then wasn’t that serious because at that particular time, most of the names you’re hearing today like Kunle Adebajo, Alao Abiodun, Kayinsola Olorunsola, graduated the year before. So, at that point in time, campus journalism was trying to regain its footing from these guys that had actually kept it running till that point. And then, there were people like Prof who wanted to maintain the standard of what they met and build up on that. I feel that though Indy Press had a structure at that point in time, he (Prof) was also trying to develop one from what he was handed. I think Prof did more on putting administrative functions into Indy Press when I came in.
HA: I remember hearing stories about Indy Press as at the time you described it, 2018 thereabout. It was supposedly at a low moment when you got in. Can you tell us about the general state of things then?
John Okafor: When I got into the Press — IndyPress in particular as it was the only Press organisation I joined — politically, the Student Union was not reinstated so the political consciousness was very low. Also, I think it was a year before that Ojo Aderemi was sanctioned so there was a whole lot of people being careful as regards campus journalism. For me, at that time, IndyPress was not so journalistic. Even our politics were more like opinion pieces. But, if anything, Indy Press still maintained this quality above other Press organisations.
We’ve had our high moments. And after Prof’s time, we’ve had even more.
HA: We would like to know some of the high moments from Prof’s time.
John Okafor: During Prof’s time, there was a column he had where he wrote fictional stories. And he wrote this fictional story on how HIV got into UI through sex and from someone in a particular hall of residence. The characters sounded so real that it matched the description of someone in the Faculty of Arts. Coincidentally, there were rumours of HIV being in UI at the time and I think that was what inspired the story. But because of the outrage, Prof couldn’t complete the second part.
We also had clashes with politicians. I don’t think Prof had very good rapport with politicians then. There was a clear distinction between us and the politicians and so we just did our job.
EJ: You mentioned having to be a fellowship leader in your 100 level. And recalling your article on ‘How to Be A Spirikoko in the University of Ibadan,’ we’d like to know if it was drawn from your experience during this time? And if it was, would you say it has affected your religious life now?
John Okafor: Well, that’s an interesting question. Coming from a religious background and by that I mean a home where we literally were raised within the confines of the church and its doctrines, I came into UI trying to maintain that spiritual consciousness gotten from home. But the reality was different when I joined a particular fellowship. The spiritual experience I had expected was different from what I met. It seemed more like getting into an ideology that just wants to suffocate you all in the name of the demands of the doctrine. And I stopped going to that fellowship in 100 level. In 200 level, I started attending church off-campus.
Yes, the experience from that fellowship inspired ‘How To Be A Spirikoko in the University of Ibadan’ but not entirely. On my current view on religion, I just feel I’ve grown to the point where I see it as being a spiritual person and having a personal relationship with God, apart from the church or fellowship. I think there, the focus was just on the church and fellowship. Personally, I still believe I’m a Christian but in the books of some Christians, I don’t think I will be tagged a Christian per se because I’m not one that goes to church every Sunday. I still go to church but maybe not as much as when I first gained admission because I also sacrificed a whole lot; press duties took my time and everything.
HA: You seem to still be figuring out the ropes when it comes to religion and spirituality…
John Okafor: It’s not trying to figure it out. It’s just trying to juxtapose it with people’s expectations and what it currently is for me. It’s not about going to church every time alone for me but more of a personal experience for me. I might grow up from this phase into something else.
HA: Let’s relate this to your political views. You seem to have a liberal perception on a relationship with God. So, would you describe yourself as conservative or open minded, especially regarding contemporary issues like minority rights?
John Okafor: Getting into UI, I was very conservative about a whole lot of things. But I think the academic sojourn was an eye-opener for me; making me know that some views are not just it. In a way, I’m still conservative but not as I was before coming into UI. The period of meeting people, reading books, engaging in some conversations and debates totally shifted my view on things.
EJ: Back to the Press, in your four years…
John Okafor: Four? That’s five years actually with the ASUU strike.
EJ: Fair enough. In your five years of being a campus journalist, what would you say have been your most interesting stories to work on. And of those, which were your toughest to work on? Either because of your inexperience at the time, or as a result of the hurdles you faced in sourcing for information, or the effects after publication.
John Okafor: I think one of my best works so far was my investigative piece last session on Jaw War after the uproar and all the questions raise. I had to go into investigation and I saw how difficult investigative stories are. The feedback was also good as many people got to understand why Jaw War was of that quality last session. It was also nominated last session for the UCJ Awards.
Poems, also. There was a time I wrote poems a lot. Few political stories. Features. Opinions too. There are quite a number of works here and there. At some point, our website crashed and I couldn’t trace the stories I had written as far as 2018 or 2019. So, mostly on topical issues. I can’t really remember most of those stories. I remember also doing an opinion on virginity that sparked a lot here and there.
EJ: Of all these, which would you say gave you the hardest time?
John Okafor: The Jaw War investigative piece because a lot of people didn’t want to say anything had to reach out to a lot of people, even outside UI, and reaching out to them I got to see that’s it not really easy to get answers. People are not comfortable with being asked their opinions, especially when things are not working out well at that time. People don’t like getting associated with flaws or failures.
EJ: Have you ever had to abandon any story as a result of difficulties faced or pressure from administration or the students union?
John Okafor: No, none I can think of. There was a time I wrote on the Students Union; ‘Toothless Bulldogs’ or so. I expected there would be a backlash or something but I didn’t experience that.
HA: How has Indy Press handled relationships with politicians?
John Okafor: Well, since time memorial, Indy Press has always been clear as a journalistic outfit and not the media arm of the hall. It has not always been friendly and I don’t expect it to be because the person on the other end will not always enjoy being told the truth. The political world within UI have not always been happy with journalists. To them, the Press is always doing something wrong. They always think they understand journalism better than the people being trained to do it.
Another thing is that campus journalists should also understand that it’s a job. Politicians see themselves as politicians. You should see yourself as a journalist and not try to integrate with politicians. The greatest victory for the Press is when politicians realise that people within the Press are doing their jobs and it’s nothing personal. And for campus journalists to treat topical issues and not attacks on personality. Then, we’ll start seeing it as a job.
HA: How would you advise pressmen to balance the need to maintain their studentship with the duty to report factually and accurately on emerging issues?
John Okafor: You’re trying to ask how to play it safe as a pressman. I don’t think there’s one way to do that, but as much as possible, make sure you dot your ‘Is’ and cross your ‘Ts’. Make sure your stories are objective enough. If there’s a need to hear from the other side, most times there usually is, do so before you go ahead to report something. Is the other voice true? We can’t say. But that voice is already represented in your story. That way we have an inclusive and balanced piece. So, do your research. You’re not writing because you want to attack someone or because you have a personal vendetta against another person. It should be issue-based. You can pursue your personal vendetta on your social media.
HA: How have you been able to balance Editor-in-Chief with your academic life and dabbling into other activities on campus?
John Okafor: It’s crazy. It has been very crazy, considering the fact that I’m not just the EinC of Indy Press, I’m also the co-founder of Boys without Borders and studying is also there. Very crazy, but I think the plus for me in final year, like first semester, was the fact that we were able to structure our classes such that we only had them on specific days. Last semester, we had classes just between Mondays to Wednesdays, then Thursdays and Fridays were free for us. This semester, we only have Mondays and Tuesdays, so the other days are free for us. So, it’s easier for me to focus on both academics and other things. My Fridays till Sunday are usually taken up by Indy Press. I put aside any events or responsibilities that come up at that point in time. For academics, it’s just balancing things. You read for tests ahead of time, I try my best not to miss classes. So, balancing things has been okay, but has also been crazy.
HA: What would you say were the biggest achievements and challenges of your administration and how do they connect to your predecessors’?
John Okafor: First, I think this administration has done so much. Buying a commercial printer for the Press and renovating the press room are two of our greatest wins. I feel very happy that we were able to achieve this during this period. Aside from that, pursuing the stories that matter. Within this session, we have done a lot of impactful stories. This session, we went full-blown journalistic in all of our outputs. We moved away from exclusively covering the student populace, we involved other stakeholders within the university. We involved kiosk owners, taxi drivers, and religious organizations, people living with disabilities. More than ever, we held political officeholders accountable. Not just that, we were consistent both in terms of weekly delivery and the quality of work we put out. Those are some of the things I think are our biggest wins. Unlike the time we published on Thursdays, we have been consistent with making our releases on Mondays and I want to believe we’re not returning those days again.
For the challenges, I would say it was the victimization of members by politicians on campus. Sometimes, we received threat messages, death threats, a whole lot of cyberbullying. There were people who were also scared to speak to us once we mentioned our name. Outside that, we had financial issues but we were able to manage them with the support of our alumni network. Then there was the management part. I’d say we were able to manage ourselves well. We didn’t have a lot of non-performing members. The commitment got stronger instead.
EJ: Away from the press for a bit, what else were you involved in apart from campus journalism?
John Okafor: I’m involved in boy-child advocacy. I founded Boys without Borders, an organization centred on advocacy and sensitization for the boy. I did that during Covid, between two and three hundred level and it has taken a chunk of my time. So, it’s basically been trying to build a structure for Boys without Borders within and outside the university. It’s mainly been a lot of volunteering for things that you are not exactly rewarded for financially. Those were the primary things I was involved in on campus.
EJ: Okay, given the fact that you already knew you were going to be occupied with Indy Press, what motivated the decision to form Boys without Borders?
John Okafor: Boys without Borders was basically because we saw that there was a need. At that point in time, there were no thoughts about how we were going to balance schoolwork with press work and the likes. The goal at that point was there was a need for us to advocate for the boy-child. It was more like an intervention on our end. It was only when we returned to campus that we had to find ways to balance things because we hadn’t done that prior.
EJ: Unrelated, but you haven’t talked about doing sports.
John Okafor: Yeah, I’m not a sports person. I didn’t grow up in a home where we are all particular about sports. My elder brother is a Man U fan but we’re majorly not sport-inclined. It’s not that I do not like football, I watch physical matches but I’m not the sports guy. But I cycle a lot.
EJ: Cycling is a very interesting choice. Still on less serious issues, we know you haven’t had time but has there been any lady in your life at any point and is there a lady in your life right now?
John Okafor: I don’t think I would like to answer that.
EJ: Okay. Who are your favorite writers?
John Okafor: There is Achebe from reading Things Fall Apart; Wole Soyinka with Ake; Chimamanda Adichie, definitely; Danielle Steele, I grew up reading a lot of her novels from my sisters; Nora Roberts; James Hardy Chase; and John Grisham.
EJ: Okay. Any plans for journalism after school?
John Okafor: I don’t think so. I think I have gained all I wanted to experience through campus journalism. I don’t aspire to go into mainstream journalism after school. I see myself in another field entirely, starting from scratch.
HA: What would that be?
John Okafor: I don’t know. That’s the thing, I don’t know. But I don’t think journalism is it for me. I just need something else.
EJ: If you were to take all you have done as a campus journalist and pick a single memory from your career so far, what would it be?
John Okafor: I would say Indy Press meetings. I’ll miss them a lot. Through them I felt what it’s like to be in a family-structured organization; the bants, the love, the relationship built… that’s a bundle of memories I would certainly miss a whole lot.
HA: Okay. What does it feel like leaving an organization where you practically moved through the hierarchy? You were Managing Editor, Deputy, then, as a climax, the Editor-in-Chief. How does it feel to leave?
John Okafor: Nostalgic. Fulfilled. I feel fulfilment because I gave the tenure my best and nostalgic because Indy Press has been home and always will be.
HA: Who were the most influential figures in your campus journalism career?
John Okafor: Definitely, I can’t talk about my campus journalism story and not talk about Theophilus Femi Alawonde, Chidera Anushiem, and ‘Prof.,’ Olusegun Olopade. These are the people I had contact with, including Kanyinsola Olorunnisola. They are the ones I’ve had comtact with and followed their work ethics. They had the biggest influence and all are from Indy Press.
HA: Thank you very much, Mr. John Dare Okafor for granting this interview. We will certainly remember your tenure a long time from now and wish you the very best in your future endeavours. Thank you.