Around the Institute

Revolutionizing Media: Nigeria’s Most Dangerous Job

October 25, 2011

Aspen Global Leadership Network Fellow Dele Olojede wins $100,000 John P. McNulty Prize

“Our aim is nothing less than to transform the way Nigerians think, to arm the citizen with factual information so that they will make better decisions,” said journalist Dele Olojede, CEO and founder of NEXT, the leading source for independent Nigerian and African news. But NEXT isn’t just transforming how Nigerians think; it is changing the political landscape of Nigeria itself—and its effects are echoing across Africa.

That’s why the Aspen Institute and Institute trustee Anne Welsh McNulty announced Olojede as the winner of the fourth annual John P. McNulty Prize, a $100,000 honor created to recognize the very best in high-impact work by Aspen Global Leadership Network Fellows—each of whom is tasked with developing a leadership project that will “make a dent in the universe.” A committee of judges—including Madeleine Albright, Olara Otunnu, Shashi Tharoor, and Anne McNulty—selected Olojede in recognition of his groundbreaking work to deliver unbiased information, demand government transparency, and advance journalistic standards.

Running a 24-hour newsroom on diesel generators amidst death threats and sabotage, Olojede and a team of young people work tirelessly to bring scrupulous investigative reporting to a country mired in corruption. To date, NEXT has exposed the role of the Nigerian political elite in a Halliburton bribery scandal, uncovered tax evasion by Nigeria’s richest tycoon, exposed a governor who was stealing from the Treasury, and published the pay of Nigerian legislators—the world’s “highest-paid and least-effective” politicians, according to Olojede. After NEXT reported that Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua was seriously brain-damaged, agents of the State Security Service attempted to burst into the newsroom and seize the paper. But the paper remains—and now there’s a new head of state. Still, publishing NEXT may be the most dangerous job in Nigeria.

Prior to founding NEXT, Olojede spent 16 years at Newsday, where he received the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the genocide in Rwanda. But it wasn’t until he became an Africa Leadership Initiative (ALI) Fellow of the Institute’s Aspen Global Leadership Network Fellows that Olojede decided it was time to return to his native Nigeria, a nation riddled with corruption, a huge wealth gap, and a resigned citizenry. The result was NEXT, a venture founded on journalistic integrity and credibility, which is now the most trafficked news site in the country at two million monthly views.

“In a very real sense, what we are doing in Nigeria today is a direct result of my involvement with ALI,” Olojede told a roomful of his peers at the Network’s biannual ACT II meeting in 2009. “Who is really behind us? It’s the Aspen Global Leadership Network. Whenever I am asked, Who is behind you?, I can always say, It’s my fellow Fellows.”

Former US Secretary of State and Institute trustee Madeleine Albright said: “Dele Olojede is a remarkable leader operating in a very difficult environment. He is standing up for media and government transparency and is a formative figure in building a strong democratic base in his country.”

“With NEXT, Dele Olojede is truly changing the expectations to which Nigerian leaders are held,” agreed Anne McNulty, founder of the McNulty Prize, “equipping Nigerians to be active citizens and leading his country toward a better future.”

For his part, Olojede seemed ready to go back to doing the hard work of changing a nation: “The funding conferred by the McNulty Prize is invaluable in continuing and growing NEXT’s operations, particularly as we expand our digital-media presence. Ultimately, our real impact will be measured by the changing thinking of the Nigerian people. But to receive the international recognition of the McNulty Prize is immensely humbling.”

Click here to read full press release. 

Watch the 2009 ACT II Keynote address by Olojede.