Its 7:30am, central United States time zone. I am at my desk; home desk sipping on a mug of very hot antioxidant tea with honey and milk added to taste. My cell phone, fully charged is located next to the 24 inches computer monitor waiting to be picked up.
Just as I reach the phone to begin scanning through the nights messages, it begins to vibrate. At this moment, my mind zero’s in on a thousand possibilities. The caller I.D plays its role.
Chief Ayobamidele Momodu A.K.A Bob Dee may be known to thousands of admires in different ways but he comes to me as a classic and chronic communicator who makes it a ritual to reach out to his associates anywhere in the world he finds himself. As long as I’ve known him in the corporate world, he has always carried a set of at least three cell phones at any given time anywhere in the world. “Tosan, I am going to run for Presidency…”
Here, he recalls his past in a recent article published on thisday and titled; “On the Wings of time”. Time indeed is the ultimate referee. No matter who you are and the circumstance of your birth, only time can tell who and what you will become. Time will always blow the whistle at every stage of your life. And you move from one game to another. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. What is baffling is the rapidity with which time moves. Time catches up with everyone ultimately. As I look back in time, I seriously wonder where all that time has gone.
It seems like yesterday, when that little boy was born in the ancient city of Ile-Ife on May 16, 1960. His parents had searched for this child for years though the couple each had two children from previous marriages. As their prayers were answered, they rejoiced and named him Joseph, the dreamer. And no razor touched his head for the first three years, as it was foretold that he was a child of destiny. At the Church of the Lord Aladura in Obalufon where he was born, the prophets offered marathon prayers. And they fasted to no end. This child must survive, they told the good Lord. And he did.
At age six, his parents felt it was time for school. In those funny days, eligibility was determined by your ability to stretch your right hand over your head to touch your left ear. I still wonder till this day what happened to those with short hands. Theirs must have been a case of automatic disqualification. Despite not being a pigmy, Joseph’s hand was not long enough for the first headmaster he encountered at a primary school in Ilare. He was advised to try his luck in the next year’s session.
His parents were not amused by the rejection of a boy they had placed so much hope on. They tried another headmaster who was more benevolent. And he told them not to worry, and that he was ready to admit the little boy. In those days, most schools were public schools, or were owned by the missionaries whose primary mission was to evangelise the people and open up their eyes to western civilisation. The kids had unfettered access to free copies of the Bible, and leaflets known as tracts. The Whiteman’s religion taught the kids not to steal, not to tell lies, to obey their parents, and forgive their enemies countless times. They were to pray before every meal and pray thereafter. Many of the kids opened one eye lest their meals got stolen by the bad boys. Even in those good old days, there were bad boys who loved double rations. The seniors regularly bullied their juniors. Joseph was lucky to have a protective senior who kept him away from the bullies.
The Local Authority school was small but serene. The teachers were smart and good. They worked hard at keeping the pupils busy. They were selfless and ready to wait for their rewards in heaven. The headmaster rode his Lamberetta motorbike with pride. It was a look-alike of the popular Vespa brand. The aroma of his coffee was strong and tantalising. Most kids trekked to school, and this made them agile. The gap between the rich and the poor was narrow. They mingled freely. And no one felt oppressed.
Joseph would always remember the civil war and his many family friends who disappeared forever. It was a terrible time when friends turned against one another in a senseless war of attrition. Those friends who kept some of their things with Joseph’s family came back to meet them intact. And it was a happy reunion. Others were not so lucky. They met nothing. Many were stranded and homeless. Throughout the war, it was difficult to communicate. Telephony was archaic and backward. The landline in Joseph’s house was more cosmetic than useful. To make an international call, you needed to dial the Osogbo Exchange of Post & Telecommunications, where you booked a call to Europe or America. You had to exercise the patience of a snail by staying glued to your box in expectation of the almighty operator. If you were lucky, you got hooked up in 24 hours. Just imagine that you had to keep vigil over ordinary telephone, and paid through your nose. There were Postal services. The fax or email of those days was called Telegram.
Life was simple but exciting. You ate omelettes on Sundays, and enjoyed rice and chicken on special occasions. Christmas was always extra special. It was time to partake in the giddiness of the season. Kids fired their loud bangers with a vengeance. Joseph was nearly ten when he visited the beautiful city of Ibadan. Ibadan of those days was like going to London. The departmental stores stocked an assortment of everything you found abroad. The Cocoa House was the Burj Khalifas of today. You looked forward to visiting Father Christmas at Leventis and Kingsway stores. The Liberty Stadium was one of its kind. Bodija Housing Estate was a paradise on earth. You drove through Oke-Ado and Oke-Bola and could not but notice the popular Odeon Cinema where lovers lived their romantic dreams. The jollof rice at Coco Dome was the best in Africa.
During holidays, you could find something to do if you wanted to. Joseph did cleaning jobs here and there because he was taught that there was dignity in labour. His father had died when he had barely turned 13. He was left in the care of his poor unlettered mother. The life of the family had nose-dived as soon as his father died. They were kicked out of their rented home. The only option was to squat with some relatives in Modakeke. Life was tough but tolerable. The West Africa School Certificate examination soon came knocking but the results were ugly. The 16-year old Joseph recorded a poor Grade Three. An attempt to secure a job with the poor grade so infuriated an Uncle who told Joseph to simply give up and learn how to become a typist. But his mum chose otherwise and asked her son to retake the exams. At a second attempt, tragedy struck again, in 1977, as there was mass leakage of the examination papers. Many results were cancelled or withheld. Joseph was instructed by his mum to try again.
Within that period, he had engaged himself variously as a village teacher, a library attendant, and so on. In 1978, mother luck smiled at him. He passed his exams, and also became a pioneer Jambite. He gained admission into Africa’s most beautiful campus at the University of Ife, to study Yoruba. Many wondered if he was such a dullard. He stuck to his guns and completed his studies in good time. He immediately went on National Service and taught A-Level Yoruba.
Thereafter, he became a Private Secretary to a former Deputy Governor, Chief Akin Omoboriowo. He left that job to work for one of Africa’s most powerful monarchs, The Ooni of Ife Oba Okunade Sijuwade II. From there he returned to his former University to bag a degree in Literature-in-English, a rarity after a first degree in Yoruba. On completion of his Master’s programme, he wanted to be a University teacher but fate had other plans for him. He couldn’t get a job because the military government had placed an embargo on appointments and promotions in the universities. That was the beginning of the slide into anarchy in our higher institutions.
A jobless and frustrated Joseph was advised to travel to Lagos in search of greener pastures, and was lucky to get a job at the African Concord magazine as a Staff Writer. In no time, he sparkled on his job and was soon moved with others to start what would become Nigeria’s biggest weekend paper, Weekend Concord. His boss soon got attracted to his style of reportage, and he earned several promotions. In 1990, Joseph got an offer that made him the highest paid editor in Nigeria when he became the Editor of Classique magazine. His meteoric rise was just beginning. He resigned in less than two years and had to try his hands in trading when he distributed Wonder Loaf.
He also started a public relations outfit and handled projects for Chief Moshood Abiola, Dr Mike Adenuga Jnr., Mr Hakeem Belo-Osagie, and others. In 1992, he made history when he was invited by Mr Nduka Obaigbena to help midwife his new project Leaders & Company, which would give birth to Africa’s most prestigious newspaper, THISDAY.
Joseph left the job after recruiting some of the finest journalist of the time to go into politics with his mentor, Chief Moshood Abiola who contested the presidential election, and clearly won, on June 12, 1993. For no justifiable reason, the election was cancelled by the military government of General Ibrahim Babangida. This forced Joseph and many Nigerians to wage a major campaign against the military government. This landed the man who had only married months earlier to be locked behind bars between July and August 1993. He returned from detention and carried on with the campaign for the revalidation of the best election ever held in Nigeria.
In 1995, he got into a bigger trouble when the military government of General Sani Abacha forced him into exile on allegations of treasonable acts by participating in the operations of a pirate radio station, known as Radio Freedom before it was changed to Radio Kudirat. Joseph fled Nigeria and escaped to Great Britain. He had cried his heart out as he crawled out of Nigeria through the smugglers’ route into Benin Republic from where he travelled to Togo and Ghana, and eventually to London. Unknown to him his life as a refugee in Great Britain would change his status forever. He and his family were granted full asylum. His life came full cycle as the man of humble beginning started what would cause a major revolution in African journalism. That dreamer is no other than your columnist, Dele Momodu who turns 50 tomorrow. How time flies!
This piece will generally recall my experiences with “the publisher” in the previous years that I have been associated with him. Watch out for additional details intermittently.
Tosan Aduayi is the founder and publisher of Trendy Africa Media and writes from Dallas.