The world lost one of its most talented and caring voices in the struggle against HIV/AIDS last week. Nigerian journalist and AIDS activist Omololu Falobi was shot to death in Lagos,Nigeria, on Oct. 5. He was 35 years old.
Details of Falobi’s death are still unclear, but what we know is that he was returning home when he encountered a shout-out involving armed robbers. He had just addressed a group of young entrepreneurs about the importance of social responsibility in their careers.
Falobi, a Black AIDS Institute board member, had himself been a model of social responsibility throughout his life. “Omololu was instrumental in helping to lay the early strategic foundation for the Black AIDS Institute,” said Phill Wilson, the Institute’s executive director. “He was a quiet but clear voice on our board.”
Falobi accomplished much in his too short life. He finished high school at 14, had a masters degree by 26 and at 29 was named features editor of Nigeria’s leading weekly paper, The Sunday Punch. In 2000 Falobi left that position to take a leadership role in educating his country and continent about HIV/AIDS. He became executive director of the Nigerian group Journalists Against AIDS (JAAIDS), which coordinates the efforts of African journalists to disseminate information about the epidemic. From that post, he traveled the continent and the world spreading his message – that people in all walks of life must contribute if we are to win the fight against AIDS, especially in impoverished regions such as sub-Saharan Africa.
He served as the African NGO representative to UNAIDS for 2004 and 2005; helped convene the African Civil Society Coalition on HIV and AIDS, which coordinates the advocacy efforts of African NGOs; and co-founded the Nigeria HIV Vaccine and Microbicides Advocacy Group, to name just a few of his many projects. He won many global awards, including being appointed a 2001 Ashoka Fellow, an elite group of 200 social entrepreneurs recognized for developing innovative approaches to building a better world. JAAIDS was the first recipient of the Institute’s Frontliners Award, which honors developing world organizations and individuals who pioneer cutting-edge strategies.
“Omololu was an inspired and really dedicated leader in the world of journalism, who took a stance early on to mobilize the media in Nigeria to play its part forcefully in confronting HIV/AIDS,” said the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Penny Duckham.
He also helped in countless unsung ways. American journalist Mark Schoofs, who wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning series on AIDS in Africa, recalls that Falobi introduced him in 1999 to key Nigerian sources and sat with him in a Lagos hospital when the American was stricken with drug-resistant Malaria. “The story from Nigeria was the best from that series,” said Schoofs, “and I simply couldn’t have got that story without Omololu’s help.” Schoofs and Falobi remained close friends until Falobi’s death.
Omololu first joined the Black AIDS Institute’s team during the 2000 global AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa. He brought boundless energy and bold ambition to not only our organization’s work but our individual lives as well. At any formal event, he was always the best dressed person in the room, resplendent in his traditional Nigerian robe and hat. His radiant smile, warm spirit and infectious optimism reminded all who encountered him of life’s joy. We will sorely miss our beloved brother.
“I’m still in shock,” said Wilson. “The global AIDS community has lost an amazing advocate. But I think the greatest tragedy is that Omololu’s children have lost a remarkable father. Our prayers go out to his wife and his children.”
Falobi is survived by his wife and two young children in Nigeria. The Black AIDS Institute is establishing a fund to help support his family. To contribute, please send check or money order to:
The Omololu Falobi Fund
c/o The Black AIDS Institute
Attn: Maxim Thorne
1833 West 8th Street
Los Angeles, California 90057