Dele Momodu, My Publisher, at 60

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Dele Momodu,

By Ehi Braimah

Writing a special tribute in honour of Bashorun Dele Momodu as he clocks 60 years can fill a book because of his versatility, prodigious talents and multi-dimensional nature: husband, father, man of style, journalist, friend, teacher, mentor, fashionista, motivational speaker, networker, humanist, entrepreneur, writer, media consultant, politician and publisher of Ovation, an international celebrity magazine, which is loud for a purpose. The magazine which is arguably Africa’s response to Hello! — the UK magazine noted for celebrity and royal news — gives publicity to people all over the world with a special focus on Africa.

I was honoured twice by Ovation with special reports and a generous splash of photographs when I turned 50 and when I became President of the Rotary Club of Lagos. Now, Momodu presides over Ovation Media Group (OMG) comprising Ovation International, Ovation TV and The Boss (online newspaper). He was also instrumental to the founding of ThisDay newspaper because of his close relationship with Prince Nduka Obaigbena, the founder and Chairman of ThisDay.

Ovation was a child of circumstance founded in 1996 by the birthday celebrant and man of the moment when he was in exile in London. During those dark moments in Nigeria’s history, General Sani Abacha was our maximum ruler and military dictator who always wore his famous dark glasses. Fear and terror gripped the land; you could be arrested at that time for just sneezing; yes, for just sneezing or coughing. Abacha’s goons did not even trust their own shadows much less hapless civilians who were terrified by Abacha’s reign of terror. Having accused Momodu as one of the brains behind Radio Kudirat, they went after him but he was lucky to have escaped to London through Ghana. The rest, as they say, is now history.

Chief Momodu is a man of the people. As young men back in the day, we worked mostly as journalists and we also loved the good life – in our worldview, we saw life as an action-packed movie. Even with my background as a science student and mathematics graduate of the University of Benin,I took interest in writing and journalism. I remember now, with nostalgia, that I couldn’t contain my excitement when my first article was published in the National Concord as an undergraduate. The late Prof Chike Obi, renowned mathematician and human rights activist, reacted to the article by sending me a letter and some speeches written by him – there was no internet and email communication at that time.

I also made regular editorial contributions to The Observer newspaper in Benin. I was 24 years old when I shifted base from Benin to Lagos after my national youth service in Awka, Anambra State on the invitation of Dr Emmanuel Sunny Ojeagbase, one of Nigeria’s prolific sports journalists, and publisher of Sports Souvenir and Complete Football. Dr Ojeagbase – he gave me first job in Lagos and remains one of my mentors — and late Dele Giwa, Ray Ekpu, Mike Awoyinfa and host of other distinguished journalists inspired me. I enjoyed their bold and incisive columns and, deep down in my heart, I wanted to write flowing prose like them; prose that smelt like roses.

In the vibrant company of young and upwardly mobile young professionals in the 1990s, you would find Momodu, popularly known as Bob Dee, his call name; Mayor Akinpelu, Femi-Akintunde-Johnson, Kunle Bakare, Dr Reuben Abati, Zeb Ejiro, Segun Arinze, Matthias Obahiagbon, Segun Joseph, Charles Omoighe, Barbara Soky, Moji Danisa, Clarion Chukwurah, Victor Eiremiokhae, Seye Kehinde, Steve Ayorinde, Dan Akpovwa, Tunde and Wunmi Obe, Michael Effiong, Azuh Arinze, Fellyx and Mozzyes and so many other friends. We lived like brothers and congregated mostly at Niteshft, the upscale and celebrity nightclub on Opebi Road, Ikeja, Lagos that was the toast of very important people. Our chief host was the tireless and irrepressible Ken-Calebs Olumese (Lord have mercy!) who was known to all patrons as Guv’nor. The high and mighty partied all night at Niteshift. We also enjoyed the music and performances of Sir Shina Peters, Lagabja, KWAM 1, Obesere, Felix Lebarty, Mike Okri, Sunny Neji and many other artistes.

Niteshift, famously branded as a celebrity hangout that endured for over 25 years, became our second home, if you get my drift. On Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, just head to Niteshift and you will find us there socializing, networking and dancing to good music. Guv’nor Olumese instantly warmed up to this young group of ‘happening guys’ and became a friend, adviser, mentor and benefactor. As young men with plenty of energy writing for different entertainment magazines and newspapers, Glamour Boys of Nigeria (GBN) was formed to hold us together and help us achieve a higher purpose in life. GBN was also formed to give us a sense of community in Niteshift and I was privileged to be the association’s first President.

Chief Momodu was the connector of the group but working mostly from the background. He is always calm, affable, reliable and dependable. There was no need to pose for each other as we were all hustlers in Lagos. Momodu had just resumed work at Weekend Concord edited by Mike Awoyinfa; the paper sold hundreds of thousands of copies because of the special and professional treatment of human angle stories and our birthday celebrant regularly produced exclusive stories for the paper. Momodu later worked as Editor of Classique magazine, published by the late May Ellen Ezekiel,before striking out on his own to set up a media consultancy.

In our halcyon days in Lagos, Momodu and I had a common fence between our apartments in Ikeja on Olaide Tomori Street where I lived – a one room apartment in the popular face-me-I-face-you building where the landlady charged me N60/month. Not many people will remember that Momodu sold Wonder Loaf using his Volkswagen Jetta – Kola, Chief Abiola’s son, gifted him the car — from Abiola Bakery.Bashorun Momodu’s relationship with the Abiola family will also fill another book. He was very close to late Chief M.K.O Abiola, publisher of the Concord Group of titles including community newspapers, who regarded him as his own son. When Chief Abiola was denied his mandate after he was clearly the presumed winner of the Presidential election that held on June 12, 1993, Chief Momodu joined the struggle to ensure that Chief Abiola re-claimed his mandate.Unfortunately, Chief Abiola died under mysterious circumstances and Chief Momodu went into forced exile.

Bob Dee wants a just and egalitarian society; he regularly advocates for visionary leadership in his insightful weekly column, The Pendulum in ThisDay, so that Nigeria can become a better place. Bob Dee is loyal to his friends and he values integrity. On two occasions, Chief Momodu recommended me for employment in two separate organisations about 25 years ago. Although I did not work in those places, they are two unsolicited interventions in my personal life that I can never forget. Chief Momodu has a large heart but he is largely misunderstood by people who do not know him well. What they usually see, from my dip stick survey, is a “flamboyant praise singer, busy body and soldier of fortune” but they are wrong. Sometimes on social media, you see posts that misrepresent what Bob Dee truly stands for but I concede that they are entitled to their opinions.

It is not every day you turn 60; family, friends, colleagues, associates, staff and well-wishers should roll out the red carpet in their private spaces and celebrate Bob Dee, a great mind and an affectionate Nigerian on his auspicious birthday. By the very nature of his job, Chief Momodu will always be in people’s faces and he chose a career path right from day one to work with the rich and famous – he engages them and tells their stories in captivating formats using multi-media channels, especially Ovation International. At the end of the day, it is all about perception management and being a media manger himself with a retinue of associates and staff around the world, Chief Momodu knows what to do. By the way, he is an active social media influencer with an incredible number of followers on his Twitter handle, and I always wonder how he finds the time to respond to all his messages.

In normal times, Chief Momodu’s 60th birthday soiree would have been loud for a purpose. I have imagined many times over in my head how the multiple celebrations would have taken place in Nigeria, Ghana, USA, Canada and the UK. But COVID-19 has derailed those plans or we can comfort ourselves by saying the parties have been postponed. The guests list would naturally have been rich with ‘who is who’ in Nigeria and beyond. It would have been a world class event in Lagos reminiscent of Platinum Weddings, an Ovation Media brand.

Chief Momodu is definitely living life to the fullest by the special grace of God. In our several encounters, he has not disappointed me as a trusted and dependable friend. I doff my hat for his humility, perceptiveness, adroitness and sagacity. We are both supporters of Arsenal, the award winning North London Club (Up Gunners!) and he is a frequent flyer lounging in the prestigious cabins of some of the world’s favourite airline brands. In one of my trips to London about 15 years ago (I was staying in South East London), My Publisher, as I call Bob Dee, was also in London. He invited me to his home in Cricklewood, North West London and paid for the cab. Oh, Chief Momodu’s hospitality is exceptional and legendary – he treated us to a sumptuous menu and choice drinks in the company of other friends. When I sent the photograph taken from that visit to Bob Dee recently, he acknowledged it and wrote in a WhatsApp message, “Wonderful Lord.”

On several trips to Accra, Ghana, I bumped into Bob Dee and Michael Effiong, a long standing editor of Ovation and trusted employee; to the glory of God, Mike is now a very dependable associate of My Publisher. In those days, we ate and drank at House of Ovation, a celebrity style restaurant and bar thatwas first located in Osu before being relocated to Airport Residential Area. The story of House of Ovation did not end well in Ghana as it was shut down after eight years of operation due to repressive tactics of the authorities. The lesson is straightforward: to do business in other Africancountries, especially Ghana, Kenya and South Africa, Nigerians must shine their eyes; they need courage, patienceand the heart of a lion.

As a top socialite, Bob Dee is a powerful networker, an enigma and a man of immense goodwill; I doubt if there’s any circle he does not have a friend or key contact in Nigeria. When you dine with the movers and shakers, you can never be a poor man if you play by the rules. Like most of us, Chief Momodu was not born with any silver spoon in his mouth; in fact, there was no spoon at all. Bob Dee is not a lazy man and it is evident from his achievements. When a man is not lazy, it means he works very hard – our “birthday boy” works very hard and only God knows how he gets his energy.

From the dusty streets of Ile-Ife, Chief Momodu worked his way up through hard work and the generous spirit of his benefactors. I agree Bob Dee knows how to throw his weight around to get what he wants – that is fantastic skill. Our celebrant also knows the value of strategic communications and engagement which he has deployed successfully in his personal and business life. It is not easy to gain access to the high and mighty in society but Bob Dee has the keys to open doors to influential and rich people who belong to different layers of concentric circles – the circumference of each circle reduces as you go up and access becomes tighter.

I enjoy Ovation Carol, the end of year celebration packaged by OMG as a high profile event to the minutest detail with almost flawless execution. In view of the spiritual dimension of the event and the season of Christmas, I’m not surprised Rev Mother Esther Abimbola Ajayi, a prayer warrior and amazing philanthropist, has been a major supporter of the colourful show. God bless her.

Bashorun Momodu is also holder several traditional titles both at home and abroad, a reflection of his worldview and cultural orientation. He was born on May 16, 1960 in Ile-Ife, Osun State to a family of five but he hails from Ihievbe in Owan East local government area of Edo State. He lost his father when he was 13 years old and he was raised by his mother until she died on May 18, 2007. Momodu proved that he’s a properNaija home boy when he studied Yoruba Language for his first degree and subsequently a Masters degree in English Literature — he earned both degrees from Obafemi Awolowo University