By Femi Akintunde Johnson
How do I start writing about my friend and traditional namesake (I’m sure he’s reading this for the first time) – Ayobamidele Abayomi[Oluwaoje] Ojutelegan Ajani Momodu (omo Iya Gbongan)? By a stroke of Providence, this column falls on his 60th anniversary – today – and surely there would be hundreds of tributes and salutations about this keen humanist, adroit troubleshooter, immaculate interventionist, and one can add other heart-warming attributes that those not so close to him may snigger as platitudes to humour a master of pomp and ceremonies.
My tribute to Bob Doooo (my personal signature tag for Bob Dee) will be tailored towards more personal and subtle testaments in honour of a large and robust friend whose acts, frame and exertions fully stretch the confines of those opulent words, in many directions.
A disclaimer: I may flounder a little, here and there, in recalling dates and occasions, because of the nature of my tribute, kindly overlook such lapses in my recall process…it’s altogether a genuine human frailty.
There are many who knew Dele quite well before we met in late 80’s…those who strutted the University of Ife with him, in the 70’s, who dubbed the “bundle of atomic energy” Dele Mad. Most of them would wink or chuckle when you sought to know what he was “mad about” in school. I suspect it had to do with his electric desire to succeed and destroy the pervasive fangs of poverty. That desire also stretched towards sporadic and relentless pursuit and conquer of some of Unife’s finest girls…as he strode through the campus in his trademark native (Ankara) jumpers, quoting arcane lollipops of ancient Yoruba and Grecian literati, laced with a mischievous glint in his handsome lushly bearded face. He was a bullet of rambunctious hyperactivity…
even as a librarian, a party orchestrator, a postgraduate student, part-time teacher, native rain-catcher (hopefully, we will hear more about his exploits as a “fake herbalist”)…and itinerant newspaper writer…the point where I met him on the cover pages of Weekend Concord in 1988.
I have a great weakness for writers besotted with flowery vocabulary and florescent imagination in deconstructing mundane or strange realities. I was thus attracted to this young reporter who, months later, became a jolly good friend.
When Dele moved to Classique from Concord, my friend and brother, Kunle Bakare, was, at the same time, lured away from Vintage People while moonlighting with the upscale in-house publication, The Prince. It was inevitable that we would all assemble under the matronly coverlet of the late media stallion, May Ellen Ezekiel, MEE. My peripatetic life was thrown into disarray with the arbitrary closure of Punch newspaper (where I then worked) by the Ibrahim Babangida junta. The life of the reporter is endlessly inquisitive and nomadic…thus, cessation of activity could only be achieved through death – not closure of the presses. So, Classique served me well during the Punch closure, and my friends were all in the “house” – including Richard Mofe Damijo (yes, to latter day fans, he was once a reporter) and Mayor Akinpelu.
At a point in our quest to “do something with our lives”, it became increasingly difficult to meet in Kunle’s family house in Ijeshatedo… somehow, he ended up squatting with Dele in a “lush” self-contained apartment off Medical Road (now Simbiat Abiola) in the bowels of Ikeja, Lagos. The story of most of the “incidents” that occurred in that tiny apartment, and the number and timber of “active participants” would fill an entire book – in the hands of more adroit raconteurs.
Dele was “duelling” with us mentally and otherwise in the preliminary activities leading to the formation of FAME Weekly, a general interest magazine that took off July 6, 1991. He was integral to the build up, the planning, the mobilisation…and more, when Mayor and I would take our leave late into the night, leaving him with KB. We were all young, single and mercurial, eyeing the heavenly stars with envy. Yet, all he wanted was a small space to write his Pendulum column every week.
When FAME became a soar-away success, and he voluntarily resigned from active journalism, after arriving at a painful, but ultimately wise decision that the paper business was “sise-sise-lasan” (it’s all fruitless work, and no thanks), he opted to sell Wonderloaf (wholesale bread from MKO Abiola’s bakery) while masquerading as a PR/Media consultant. Dele’s second office was in FAME, yet – in retrospect – he didn’t make any demands on our space, time, resources or growing influence. He was assiduously building his own baby, nursing his elaborate dream, and finessing the emerging social landscapes of Nigerian major cities, building bridges, friendships and relationships.
When political activism started, occasioned by the annulment of June 12, 1993, and the travails of Dele’s mentor, Chief MKO Abiola escalated…Dele swerved into agitprop mode. His sweat multiplied. You see, when Dele was worried then, or trouble was looming, he had a knack for anticipating the dimension and the source; so while still chatting and guffawing with us about the perilous times, his handkerchiefs would be doing overtime, even as he grinned through suspicious glances and more ribaldry.
I fear that one column would not be adequate to summarise my brief assessment of the man I used to hail as “One-man riot squad”, and his favorite retort was: “Hmmm, FAJ – the Saddam Hussein of Nigerian Journalism”. No one has bothered to ask him, or me…we all just assumed it was our fond exaggerations of emerging personality traits.
Ovation International was Dele’s biggest project, apart from the preliminary spadework he did with Okagbue Aduba and few others, as precursor to the birth of this newspaper. Ovation “dealt” with Dele, in many ways. In sheer breath of imagination, conceptualization and vision, it was humongous…easily overwhelming for ordinary mortals. But he stuck at it – when vendors and agents were playing hide and seek…
when contributors failed to deliver, and I was one of them – mostly because one assumed with almost 50 great and diverse writers and correspondents, nobody would miss a FAJ, in one or two months! Not once, did he complain, or cry betrayal. His smile, jokes, bouncy anecdotes never ceased….until Abacha struck…and NADECO scattered.
Time will not permit me today to “talk” about his enduring gracefulness, after I had publicly berated him on my live radio show FAJ-Alive, in 1999/2000, for watering the quality of Ovation by going Owambe…after halcyon years of great and commodious writing, pan-African musings and travelogues. Time and space will not permit me to recount Dele’s magnanimity in orchestrating life-changing “angelic” interventions that enabled me to sustain and resuscitate my publishing businesses, on more than three occasions…time will not permit me to regale you with campus exploits of a Rain-Catcher, called Dele Mad, who was severely frustrated by celestial powers when the unruly rain refused to stop during a massive Whispers concert show in Ile-Ife, contrary to Dele’s prolific incantations! Or, of the erstwhile ladies’ man who could only be caged by the alluring wiles and delicacies of Bolaji Adaramaja… of our escapades in the groovy nocturnal habitutes that supplied verve and power to the all-night shows of Sir Shina Peters, Wasiu Ayinde, and few others. Perhaps, another day, or another week.
Today, we stand to hug a man whose humble beginnings could not hold down…whose latter-day activism, spontaneous effusions and outlandish showmanship were etched deep from many lonely fragile decades of yore. Stand tall, Bashorun Dele Momodu, irrespective of your political and dialectical disputations with your wide and diverse audiences, your friends and family are persuaded that you are constant as time, and dependable as the waters of Ogunpa – incessantly overflowing with warmth and goodwill.
So, bring out the wines…”Gbogbo Ara Kiki Ija” (the warrior who is forever battle ready) let’s clink against the vapid face of Lady Corona…!