Unveiling Dele Momodu: Parable of the Elephant and the Blind Men.

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GUEST COLUMNIST: MIKE OZEKHOME 

 

How does a writer capture the essence of Dele Momodu? Just how? When I got confused, it occurred to me I could use the allegory of the blind men and their encounter with the elephant. The story first originated from India. A group of blind men who had never seen an elephant were said to have argued fiercely as to what it looks like. Each of the blind men touched and felt a different part of the body. Just one part of the elephant is quite big. Each described what he felt with his hands. Each version of the experience was limited, even though true. Each suspected the other of profanity and dishonesty. They were even said to have come to blows. But they were all right; yet all wrong.

Though there are several Hindu, Jain and Buddhist versions of this story, each of the blind men were said to have groped different parts of the elephant. Their individual perceptions of what the Elephant looks like are as follows: One who touched the trunk said the elephant was like a thick snake. Another touched the large ear, he concluded the elephant must look like a fan. For another who touched the leg, he said the elephant is a pillar, like a tree trunk. One touched its hard side and concluded it was like a wall. The one who touched its tail described the elephant as a rope. Yet, another touched the tusk, and vowed to the heavens that the elephant is like a hard, smooth spear.

The blind men were all partially correct; but also, all partially wrong. In celebrating my brother, friend, and soulmate, Dele Momodu at 60, I have encountered the same difficulty of these blind men. The reason is that Momodu wears many caps, so many that he means a different person to different observers and analysts.

I will show this anon. Dele Momodu stirs controversy, wittingly and unwittingly. One of these is that people across the globe erroneously believe Dele is a Yoruba man. You cannot blame such people. He appears so. What with Dele’s one sentence-long Yoruba name, Ayobamidele Abayomi Ojutelegan Ajani Momodu (AAOAM)? What of the fact that he was born and bred in the cradle of Yoruba civilization, Ile-Ife? How do you blame anyone for thinking Dele is Yoruba when he is also married to a Yoruba woman and his first degree was actually Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Yoruba language in 1982; before Masters in Literature in 1988? During this period, he wrote features for The Guardian and Sunday Tribune newspapers. He had all these degrees at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile-Ife. Then guess what? His first job was to lecture at the Oyo State College of Arts and Science, also at Ile-Ife (1982-1983).

Still enjoying his apparent Yoruba lineage, Dele worked as Private Secretary to late Deputy Governor of Ondo state, Chief Akin Omoboriowo (1983-1985). He also managed Motel Royal Ltd, Ile-Ife, owned by Oba Okunade Sijuade, Olubuse II (1986). Then, Dele Momodu later worked with African Concord magazine, owned by late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, and was transferred to Weekend Concord, as a pioneer staff, becoming Literary Editor. In just six months, he was elevated to the position of News Editor. Dele was later to edit May Ellen Ezekiel’s Classique Magazine between 1990 and 1991, also in Lagos. All his birth, education and first working life were effected in Yoruba-land.

So, if you mistake Momodu for a Yoruba man, you could be well forgiven. The truth however, is that Momodu has his pedigree and ancestry in Edo state. Dele is an Edo man of Edoid origin. Pure and simple, he hails from Ihievbe, in Owan East Local Government Area of Edo state. He is therefore of Afenmai extraction like me (I am from Iviukwe, near Agenebode, Etsako East LGA, Edo state). Edo blood runs through the whole veins of Bashorun Dele Momodu.

As a Human Rights Activist, who strongly believes that “Nigeria died the day we killed June 12, because on June 12, there was no discrimination”, Dele later joined M.K.O Abiola’s campaign team of “Farewell to poverty”. This was after a brief stint with Thisday Newspapers. He loved Abiola with a passion. They both bonded and enjoyed a father-and-son relationship.

When in 1993 General Ibrahim Babaginda annulled the freest, fairest and most credible elections in Nigeria, Dele was caught in the crossfire of the annulment, being intensely involved in the presidential campaign of Chief M.K.O Abiola, the undoubted winner and martyr of democracy who was later illegally detained and killed in hazy circumstances undisclosed till date.

He was charged with sedition (a non-existent offence) and detained in a dungeon at Alagbon Close, Lagos. Undeterred, Dele used his caustic pen to puncture the heart of dark-googled dictator, Sani Abacha. Though innocent, he was later falsely accused of being one of the brains behind an emergent pirate radio station, Radio Freedom. Later this was renamed Radio Kudirat, in honour of fearless amazon, Kudirat Abiola, who was savagely murdered by Abacha’s faceless goons. Dele was later forewarned by his wife who had hosted strange and faceless elements who came looking for him in the morning, to skip town. Dele therefore disguised like a farmer and escaped from Nigeria (with some “co-conspirators”) through Seme border, into Cotonou. From Cotonou, he journeyed to Lomé, Togo, Aflao Ghana, and finally landed in London. Dele wept. He was sad because he was leaving behind a barely 2-year matrimony and a ten months old baby, to escape into the unknown. Esmeralda Santiago once asked, “how can you know what you are capable of if you don’t embrace the unknown?”.

Dele probably followed the advice of Deepak Chopra, who once counseled, “relinquish your attachment to the known, step into the field of all possibilities”. Thus, an unknown London opened up new vistas for precocious Dele, who seized the bull by the horn in exile to establish Ovation International in 1996. In founding Ovation, Dele probably remembered clearly the immortal words of Williams Shakespeare, “there is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures”. Dele took the current, nurtured the Ovation brand and turned it into a bilingual, celebrity magazine printed in English and French, Ovation has covered events in over 60 countries and read globally. Ovation aims at showcasing African culture, promoting it as a tourist attraction, and correcting primordial negative views about Africa as the “dark continent”. Dele has since grown Ovation stable to include Ovation TV which airs to a global audience and The Boss Newspapers, an online publication. And he is an Author of several books too.

Ovation also now boasts of Ovation Carol and Awards, one of Africa’s most popular annual events that showcases music, celebrities, drama, fashion, awards and charitable causes. And he once owned the biggest restaurant in Accra, Ghana called The House Of Ovation, where once hosted me to a sumptuous three-course meal with local brew, in 2012.

One of the many caps that Momodu wears is that of a politician. At 22, he ventured into the murky waters of politics. At different times, he was Media Campaigner to Chief M.K.O Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Chief Olu Falae of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and All Peoples Party (APP). He actually took a shot, albeit unsuccessfully, at the presidency, in 2011.

Is Dele Momodu wealthy? It depends on what you understand by wealth. Dele is quite wealthy on the matrimonial front, in having a stable, blissful family life, blessed with a beautiful wife of 28 years, Mobolaji Abiodun Momodu, and four lovely children, Pekan, Yole, Eniafe and Korewa. Wealth could also be affluence in sheer cash. But the real measure of wealth is how much you’d be worth if you lost all your money. As Ayn Rand once put it “money is only a tool…It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver”.

The wealth of Dele therefore cannot be measured in naira and kobo, Dollars or pounds, yen or Euro and Rouble. It lies in his intellect and his many contributions towards having a better society. Even then, he has solid physical wealth. Palatial mansions? He has them in form of his investment in young Africans!

You can also not measure Dele’s wealth in the number of presidents, royals, international figures and celebrities he has, over the years, met, interacted, dined and wined with across the globe. No. His writing, especially his Pendulum column, has become a piercing thorn in the flesh of successive governments.

Hate or love Dele, you must admire his writing skills, well-organised thoughts, courage and daring bravado, in exhuming and discussing issues that matter. He does it without apologies; with the typical Edoid stance or frankness, candour, honesty, openness and truth; with history in mind. And Dele has cut his wisdom tooth in history. In his writes-up, Dele rakes up the issues; speaks truth to authority; and challenges governmental excesses. He asks the right questions. Then, he answers the questions. Occasionally, he questions the answers. That is Momodu for you.

Dele, the typical story of “grass-to-grace” (like me) can be summarised in the Latinic 47 BC Julius Caesar’s phrase in a letter written to the Roman Senate after defeating Pharnaces II of Pontus in the Battle of Zela: “Veni, Vidi, Vici” (“I came, I saw, I conquered”). Congratulations, Ojutelegan Ajani, on your 60th birthday. I can only wish you Exodus 6:3 and Philippians 4:7.

Welcome, Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari

By Dele Momodu

What a choice President Muhammadu Buhari made in his new Chief of Staff. Indeed, most pundits were thrown off-balance when the name of Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari popped up out of the blues! For me, this is an appointment I cannot fault despite what a few naysayers have said about the cerebral, amiable but stern Professor.

I have known and admired Professor Gambari for a couple of decades. I had the privilege of visiting him in New York and interviewing him at the United Nations. He has always been ever so helpful and useful. Also, he is very humble and unassuming. The last time I visited him was in Lagos about five years when my bosom friend, Prince Adedamola Aderemi, who is Prof Gambari’s distant relative from the Ebeloku arm of the Sulu Gambari ruling House in Ilorin, and I accompanied Engineer Lanre Shagaya to see Prof Gambari in his Ikoyi home.

No mortal is perfect, but I am reasonably convinced that Prof Gambari is well equipped to use his great intellect, diplomacy, and wealth of experience, to the benefit of his principal, President Buhari, and the country in general. We have already seen a spate of constructive and confident Executive Orders signed by a seemingly rejuvenated President, within 10 days of the assumption of office by the new Chief of Staff. May you succeed in this, yet another, mission, Sir…