THE ENCHANTING STORY OF THE AUCHI PRINCE

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Idang Alibi pays tribute to Tony Momoh, journalist, lawyer and former Minister of Information and CultureOn January 3 and 9, I lost two of my mentors and senior friends who also happened to be very prominent politicians in my home state of Cross River namely, Chiefs Wilfred Oden Inah and Linus Emonshe Okom. My friend, Dr. Peter Akpa Oti, of the Department of Management of the University of Calabar, called to commiserate with me. He said: ‘’Sorry oh, you have lost two of your masters in quick succession’’. His words of consolation sounded to me very much like those of Prophet Elisha’s companions in the school of prophecy who had told him of the impendingdeparture of his (Elisha’s) master, Prophet Elijah: ‘’Knoweth thouthat the Lord will take thy master from thy head today?’’ The death ofthe two men made me a half orphan. With the death of Prince Tony Momohon February 1, I have become a complete orphan.My harvests of sorrow actually began in 2013 when I lost Chief TimothyOgbang Omang, my original mentor. With the death of my own biologicalfather on November 11, 1971 when I was in Primary 4, the quartet ofOmang, Okom, Inah and Momoh became my fathers, teachers and guides.And now with their departure, I no longer have the privilege of thecompany, counsel and communion of these wise men and earthly giantswhom God had ordained as my covenant connectors to help me realize mydestiny.I first met with Prince Tony Mcnonooh Momoh on April 8, 1984, when hewas the General Manager of the Publications Department of the oldDaily Times in Agidingbi, Ikeja, Lagos. Two of my influential Bekwarrabrothers who were working in Lagos and who knew me and knew that Iwanted to be a journalist, took it upon themselves to help me get ajournalism job. They took me to the late Dagogo Jack who was then theMD of the Daily Times conglomerate. His office was on the famousKakawa Street in Central Lagos without which the story of the DailyTimes will not be complete. Jack asked them to take me to Tony Momoh.They moved with me that same day to Agidingbi to see Momoh.

When Ibeheld the man, the emotions that came over me were like those thatwere said to have come over the English man who is said to have‘discovered’ the source of the ‘’majestic River Niger’’. I had beenreading the man on the pages of the DT and even when I was in theuniversity, I had read of the battle he had fought and won against theSenate of the Second Republican over a journalism canon that ajournalist cannot disclose the source of his information. And likemany young ‘revolutionaries’ of my time, Tony Momoh’s victory againstthe Senate made him my hero. Beholding this famous and massive man inflesh and blood was, therefore, something else to me. The prospect ofcoming to work with, or even near, him was something I keptfantasizing about. I was salivating.The man did not waste our time.

I realized that Mr. Jack must havespoken positively about me to him and the job was nearly in the kittyfor me if I impressed him in ways that he demanded. He asked that Ishould give him my Long Essay which I had written as part of my courserequirements for graduation. I told him I brought it with me from myvillage when I came for job hunting in Lagos but that unfortunately, Idid not come along with it to see him. He now said I should go backand bring it to him on any day I could make it. ‘’On any day I couldmake it?’’ I asked myself silently. How can an anxious job seeker begiven such a luxury of deciding when it will be convenient for him tobring anything that could open the door to his possible employment? Ifit were possible I would have gone to Victoria Island where I wasliving with an uncle to bring that document to Agidingbi in orderto land myself a dream job with the famous DTN. The day was aWednesday. The following day I brought it to him. He said I shouldcome back on Friday the following day for his reply. Of course, by 10am on that Friday, I returned to hear his verdict on my ‘’unusualinterview’’ of the content and style of a thesis written two yearsearlier to enable me to graduate in June, 1982.The moment I was ushered into his office, he told me,“Congratulations. You write very well as I could see in yourThesis’’. He then handed over to me an appointment letter and my LongEssay and asked me to resume on the following Monday. And on Monday,the 11th day of April, 1984, I started work with the great DailyTimes.I was posted to the book publishing unit of the flourishing newspaperempire headed at that time by the late Eddy Irohah, a thoroughlywell-bred man who immediately took me into his wings and mentored meto master the craft of writing and book publishing techniques. Fromtime to time Momoh will give me books to review for publications inmany titles in the stable of the DT. Less than a year in the bookpublishing unit, Momoh promoted me to membership of the EditorialBoard based on the quality of the writing he said he had seen in mybook reviews and other pieces which I was contributing to the variouspublications of the Times.If a man likes you, you will know and this does not hold true ofman-woman relationship alone. Momoh liked me and I knew it and many ofmy colleagues and seniors knew this and some will use me to penetratehim and get favours for them and us as a collective that they couldnot have gotten directly if they had gone to him by themselves.While in the Times, Momoh used to practice a management style I neverknew at the time but which I learnt of much later in my life. It iscalled Management by Walking Around. A first rate manager of men andmaterials, Momoh was not a desk bound manager. At some time of eachworking day of his choosing, he will leave his managerial desk andtake a walk to the various offices and workshops to see things forhimself. When he was on such rounds, you will hear a cry fromvoluntary and watchful spies who do not want their colleagues to becaught napping alerting them that ‘’GM is coming!’’ GM is coming!’’and they should behave themselves. Some errant staff upon hearing suchwarnings, will dash back to their office and give exaggerate pretenseof being serious with their work. Of course, Momoh was never fooled bysuch pretenses because he knew the character and work rate of nearlyeach worker of the DTN under his direct supervision.In 1986, Momoh was appointed Minister of Information and Culture byPresident Ibrahim Babangida. He wanted to appoint me his PersonalAssistant to help him with his work but tremendous pressure was piledon him by some prominent Auchi persons who pleaded with him to givethe job to an Auchi son who had just returned from the USA and wasjobless. A completely detribalized Nigerian that I know of, Momohsuccumbed to the powerful Auchi lobby not on the basis of tribe butbecause of the sheer power of the lobbyists. But this did not stop hislove for me neither was I annoyed at the development. From time totime, he will invite me over to his ministerial quarters then inGlover Street, Ikoyi, where I will be certain to eat ‘’ministerialdiet’’ with him. On such days I will tell my madam not to botherreserving a portion of our ‘local dish’ for me as I was sure of a‘diet with a minister’.While he was minister, I had started gathering materials for abiography on him. A few years later I moved from Lagos to Calabar totake up an appointment as the Editor of the Sunday Chronicle.Communication with him became difficult and work on the book slowedand nearly died. But I managed to do a draft but mysteriously I lostthat handwritten stuff. But a few years later, I, again, mysteriouslyfound that draft and sent it to him in Lagos. He read it and latertold my courier that ‘’that is a brain wasting away in Calabar’’. Thegreat teacher that he was, he corrected the few errors that he foundin the draft and sent it back to me in Calabar, telling our go-betweento prevail on me to finish the work. To my eternal sorrow and regret,I could not and have not finished that work that was entitled “TonyMcnonooh Momoh: The Enchanting Story of an Auchi Prince’’.My failing the Prince and myself did not stop this man from continuingto like me and speak well of me to people, some of whom he willintroduce me to as his “former colleague in the Daily Times’’ despitemy loud protestations that I was and have remained his mentee and notcolleague.When he moved over partially to Abuja from his base in Bush Street,Anthony village in Lagos, our master-faithful servant relationshipresumed anew and deepened. He was ageing and was diabetic and sobecame very choosy about the kind of food he must eat.

As a part-timefarmer, I took it upon myself and my wife to assist with some of whathe needed to eat to complement what his domestic staff were preparingfor him. We started by cooking and taking to him in his servicedapartment place in Utako wheat swallow and ewedu and ogbonocombination draw soup which he liked and or groundnut and ‘adanger’, asoup ingredient made of dried tender beans skin enjoyed by the Tivpeople of Benue and the Bekwarra people of northern CRS, which heregarded as a peculiar delicacy.After a while, he told me he had read some literature about wheat;that it was not a good food for diabetics contrary to earlier claimsby even some nutritionists that it was. We now changed to water yamand a nice and expensive local food of the rice family known in Hausaas ‘’Acha’’. Most times, Sule Oyofo, an Auchi son, my close friend andalso a Momoh protégé, used to accompany me with supporting bottles ofwine to go visit and do honour to the great man so that “our days maybe long on the earth’’.I was also involved in his prodigious writing work, proof-reading,editing and carrying out many other of his projects. As a mark of hisenormous respect for me and his confidence in my ability to deliverwhatever was needed, he asked me to write a foreword to his bookagainst the advice of many of his friends who asked that he should aska former Head of State of this country to write the foreword. He gaveme a long philosophical and historical argument about why heconsidered me a more proper person to do that piece of writing for hisbook.Until he died, Mcnonooh Momoh, who took for himself the name ‘Tony’because of his admiration for the First Republic politician, TonyEnahoro, the 75th child on the log of his father, Momoh Idao, theFirst Otaru of Auchi’s 155 biological children, did not know whichparticular state, between CRS and Akwa-Ibom, was really mine. Icorrected him several times to no avail so I resigned myself to fatein the same manner that one of late American President Richard Nixon’saides, John Haldeman, a White House Counsel, said he did in histhoroughly enjoyable book on the Watergate scandal entitled A Witnessto History when President Nixon just could not correctly spell hisGerman name on any occasion.As this truly remarkable Nigerian has died, we are most certain tohear that much abused word ‘icon’ used very liberally in Nigeria, to describe him. For me, one of Momoh’s fiercest loyalists, he wasmuch more than an ‘icon’. He was something more iconic than an icon.In that moment of effusive promises based on everyone’s expectationthat President Muhammadu Buhari was going to perform magic, Momoh toldNigerians that they should “stone us (APC if in two years we do notperform’’. When later things did not quite turn out the way Nigeriansexpected, a friend of mine, a wag, told me one day that he has beenlooking for that my master, Tony Momoh, to stone him. That I shouldtake him to the man so he can fulfil on him a request he had solemnlymade to Nigerians. I reported this to him and he gave me a most iconicanswer that, unfortunately, I cannot report here.From my four masters who are all gone now, I learnt neatness, caution,diplomacy, hatred of conflict and conflictual situations from ChiefOmang; thoroughness from Chief Inah; living a life larger than onefrom Chief Okom and from the last of my titans, Tony Momoh, I learnthard work and a cosmopolitan attitude towards people of all races andnationalities. May God help me to enjoy the life of significance whichall these men lived and died in their ripe old ages. Amen.