Tony Momoh: In Him We Had a True Nigerian

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Raheem Akingbolu

Prince Tony Momoh, a former Minister of Information, who died on Monday, February 1, 2021, lived a life of a true Nigerian. Till he breathed his last, Momoh demonstrated through actions and association that one Nigeria was possible. Perhaps if the Edo State born former newspaper Editor was here with the likes of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, his philosophical works would have made huge influence on the society.

Whether as a Journalist, Lawyer, Politician, Administrator and community leader, Momoh, lived a life of a philosopher, teacher and pathfinder. As a nonconformist, thinker with deep hindsight and foresight, Momoh had, on many occasions, used his radical views to save his people and provided direction on national issues. Of course, his closest friends while alive were always quick to explain that the late minister read wide and so always think wide.
In settling for friends, Momoh sure looked beyond his nose and extended his dragnets to all parts of the country. As if there is a law that recommends geographical spread of friends, Prince Tony Momoh had friends in almost all the ethnic nations of Nigeria.

Looking back at his political and social life, it is now clear that the former newspaper man sacrificed a lot for Nigerian to be one. When he had enough people to pick from in his Edo State, he went to the North and South to settle for friends. This was also the trend of his political association, which for a long time made him pitched tent with many Nigerian leaders and elder statesmen, including the current President Muhamma du Buhari
Till last Monday, Momoh kept answering questions and explaining the mystery surrounding his birth, his polygamous background, his faith and his lucky number -13, which was regarded as a contrary view to the position of the Astrologists that the number 13 is synonymous with bad luck and misfortune.

From Palace to Classroom…
He attended Government School Auchi from 1949 to 1954 and Anglican School Okpe in 1954. Momoh was Pupil Teacher at the Anglican School, Auchi from January to December 1955 and Headmaster at the Anglican School, Ubuneke, Ivbiaro, Owan Local Government from January 1958 to December 1959.

He went to the Provincial Teachers Training College, Abudu, Edo State and Government Teachers College, Abraka in Western Region (1960–1961).
Later, while working at the Daily Times or on sabbatical, he attended the University of Nigeria, Nsukka from September 1964 to October 1966 where he earned a degree in Mass communication, and then the University of Lagos where he studied Law.
He attended the Nigerian Law School, Lagos from October 1974 to May 1975, and was called to the bar in June 1975.

Inside the newsroom…
Momoh started his journalism career as a sub-editor at the Daily Times in October 1962, rising steadily through the ranks to become Editor and deputy general manager from June 1976 to May 1980.
Momoh had a reputation for standing firm in the face of intimidation and he was known for fighting for press freedom. Joseph Wayas, former senate president, once invited him to appear before the chamber over an “uncomplimentary” and “contemptuous” publication, asking him to disclose his source of information. Momoh sued the senate at the Lagos high court over what he described as an attempt to infringe on press freedom in the country.

In the legal battle that ensued, Momoh argued that a journalist has the constitutional obligation to hold the government accountable at all times. The court held that an individual had the right to refuse to disclose their source of information.
In its ruling, an appellate court, however, stated that the 1979 constitution did not shield a journalist from disclosing his source of information.

His birth, his faith and the controversies
Prince Momoh was born on 27 April 1939 as the 165th child of King Momoh I of Auchi. The king had 257 children and the ex-minister was the third of the four children that his mother, a junior wife amidst 48 queens, had for the king. In an interview, the deceased recounted that every six months, his father’s wives would take a traditional oath not to do anything to undermine their husband, children, or one another.

In 1955, Momoh converted from Islam to Christianity. He was named Suleiman at birth, but changed to Tony — taking after the personality he admired, Anthony Enahoro, one of Nigeria’s foremost anti-colonial and pro-democracy activists.

Commenting on his faith, he once said: “When I was being sworn in as minister of information and culture, I said I wouldn’t swear by the Bible or the Quran and I said, ‘So help me God’. When I stepped out, journalists asked me, ‘They said you are an atheist.’ I said I was not an atheist. They asked why I did not swear by the Bible or the Quran but only said ‘So help me God.’ I said, ‘I am a Christian and a Muslim when they are not quarreling, and neither when they are.”

Momoh attended the Government School Auchi, a school founded by his father in 1922. He later moved to Anglican School Okpe, where he served as a pupil-teacher. He also served as headmaster of the Anglican School, Ubuneke, Ivbiaro, Owan local government area of the state. Momoh attended the Provincial Teachers Training College, Abudu, Edo state and Government Teachers College, Abraka, Delta state. He proceeded to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), University of Lagos and the Nigerian Law school. He possesses degrees in mass communication and law.

His Politics and the Flipsides…
Later in his career, Momoh was appointed by Ibrahim Babangida, then military president, as minister of information and culture from September 1986 until 1990. Earlier in 1983, as the editor of Newswatch, Dele Giwa, was detained for a week by police for publishing what they called “classified material”. On 17 October 1986, Giwa was accused by Colonel A.K. Togun of the State Security Services (SSS) of anti-government activities including attempting to import arms to foment insurrection. On 19 October 1986, Giwa was killed by a parcel bomb. At first, Momoh pledged that there would be a government probe of the incident. He soon backed down, saying “a special probe would serve no useful purpose. In 1996, he (Momoh) became a director of Newswatch
In 1987 at a seminar in Lagos, Momoh had enthusiastically stated that radio, television and newspapers should be seen as tools “for the promotion of national unity and integration”.

In what looked like a follow up to an agenda setting statement, Momoh again said in 1988 that the government was trying to find radio sets that could only receive approved broadcasts from the federal and state radio stations. This was “as a means of ensuring that information about the country was adequately disseminated”.

Aside serving in Babangida’s administration, Momoh also served in various capacities in the last two decades. In 1999, he was director of the Alex Ekwueme presidential campaign organization. The deceased served as the chairman, media and publicity, of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). Also, he was chairman of the political committee of the Muhammadu Buhari Organisation and national chairman of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), one of the parties that merged to form the All Progressives Congress (APC).

During a campaign rally in 2015, Momoh was reported to have said Buhari was capable of tackling headlong the myriad of problems confronting the country, saying the people should stone him if his candidate does not perform after two years.
“At the end of the day if Buhari doesn’t perform, stone us because he is going to perform,” he was reported to have said.
Three years later, Momoh said Buhari had done well and delivered on his campaign promises despite the challenges he met upon assumption of office.