The name Dele Momodu evokes creativity, innovation, dynamism and foresight. He is the Prophet whose people love to hate at home but the strangers love abroad. Haven’t it been said that a Prophet has no honor in his own land but abroad? He is the oracle who saw the tomorrow of celebrity journalism and institutionalized new norms with exactness, through his awe-inspiring OVATION International Magazine brand. He is equally the language man whose infectious power of words charms his readers forever. He is the later day politician whose sojourn into politics was initially booed by his countrymen but now wooed by a number of bright minds.
Basorun (Dr.) Joseph Ayobamidele Ojutelegan Momodu is nothing but an epitome of African renaissance in all ramifications. A man who started from nothing at the back street of Ile-Ife (Osun State) to become a star on the high streets of Lagos, London, Paris, New York, Cambera and the world at large. A man who have transverse over 60 countries of the world and still counting. An Ambassador extra-ordinary.
A Journalist. A traveler. A tourist. An actor. An author. An orator.
He is not only my role model but a man whom I have studied closely in the last 20 years since I ran into him one evening on the premises of LTV 8—Lagos. On Friday June 15, 2018, I met him inside one of his well equipped libraries in Lagos to talk about the validation of JUNE 12, 1993 election of his godfather, the late Basorun MKO Abiola by the federal Government of Nigeria. It was a meeting I knew will happen, despite chasing him for months.
But let me tell you the full story of how I met Dele Momodu 20 years ago and how destiny has glued us together for this long. It was sometime around the summer of year 1998, I was inside the compound of Lagos Television (LTV 8) in Agidingbi to see a senior colleague, Mr. Tunde Okeowo. In those days, I was a young aspiring journalist/TV man. I started my career on Minaj Broadcasting Corporation (MBI) where I and few other young people appeared on a weekly show ‘Teen Issue’ (TI). The show was later cancelled as a result of issues between management/sponsors and the presenter. And some of us moved to Murhi International Television (MITV) where we started staring on Teens on Tube (T-on-T) with Alhaja Adebanjo, Mrs. Kemi Ikotun and Mr. Damilola Akingbagbohun as our producers at interval. Mr. Akingbagbohun was our last producer. I was handling the News Presentation segment with one Gloria Odiaka while one Debowale Atobatele and Simileoluwa Oyebanjo handled the body of the show.
In those days, it was normal for me to wander into LTV 8 to see few elderly colleagues like Mr. Deji Balogun and Baba Oke (Mr. Tunde Okeowo, a producer). Of course, I did other things by the side to survive.
It was the glorious days of the earlier eminence and charm of OVATION International Magazine. The magazine was arresting, famous, inspiring and larger than life. Holding a copy of the magazine was like winning a jackpot; from the London-freight-into-Africa/Nigeria aroma (Print Aroma) down to the glowing pages, the wrap up nylon covering the hard copy, it was all too awesome to behold and read. Ha, there was and there is still nothing like OVATION!
Till date, it still retains that niche except for the fact that time and tides changed with the advancement of E-Journalism, Citizen Journalism and Space Journalism. OVATION remains an iconic brand.
On this particular day and date, Dele Momodu was a guest on ‘Tiwa N’ Tiwa’ a Yoruba phone in program presented by vernacular broadcaster Mr.Toyin Kawojue and produced by Mr.Tunde Okeowo (my elderly friend). And it was on that very program (after the show) that I met Dele Momodu. It was an inspiring encounter; it was one of the best things that happened to me that very day. We moved into Feminar Café (Inside LTV 8) and chatted with some photo ups as part of the encounter. (I still have a copy of Dele Momodu’s picture on the show with Toyin Kawojue till date). And you won’t believe it, our chemistry just clicked from that moment. He had this famous Multilink Number that starts with 775….in those days which he humbly gave to me. He rarely gave out that particular number but he made it available to me. It was an honor I cherished for long. He had over 15 international telephone lines at the time, but he made sure he made his direct line in Nigeria available to me.
Dele Momodu unlike his peers who were the kings of the soft sell magazine industry of those days (Some of them are presently helpless and ‘Lookmaning’ the industry as it evolves) was humble, accessible, tolerant and inspiring. I must confess that his gift of tolerance and leadership is second to none. I have fought him on few issues in our 20 years of our son-father relationship and the way he forgives and forget still baffles me. He is a statesman not race runner, a leader not a dealer. Unlike his peers, Bob Dee as we all address him is a mind moulded with gold and mercury not bricks and sands. Every other of his peer in the industry is a worm but he is a golden worm.
In those days, I must confess, I was young and naïve and no adult was ready to help navigate my direction except Dele Momodu. Of course, at a junction of our trajectory, some of his eagle eyed friends disrupted my dream for him but I thank God for evolution; with time, the emotional wound is healed but we know them for who they are.
In Nigeria, every one you look up to for mentorship ends up tormenting you. They appear as leaders but at the end they turn out to be dealers.
But Dele Momodu was far off it, he will never disappoint. Once you are his friend, then you are free to connect to other friends in high places. I can boldly say 45% of people or celebrity friends I made along my over two decades career in journalism are people I met directly through my relationship with Basorun (Dr.) Dele Momodu. He is a door opener!
In those days, it was a great privilege to be in his ambience at room 306 (later 406) at Excellence Hotel—Ogba. Those were equally days when Excellence Hotel was excellent in structure, service and patronage. Today, that hotel is a shadow of it animated old self. The days when you see Dele Momodu’s customized cars (Ovation 1, Ovation 2 down to Ovation 6) parked on a lane inside the hotel. In life, chemistry is the most powerful affection. It was the days of Dipo Efunkoya, Bode Olowoporoku and Dele Coker of Hotel Support Management and Dele Momodu’s chemistry jelled well with that of those three hospitality genius—haven’t it been said that ‘the deep calls unto the deep?’.
For some of us, it was excitement galore meeting Dele Momodu. He was difficult to catch up with but once you meet him, you were made. Three things distinguishes those rare encounters—there is no day you run into Bob Dee in his suite, that you won’t meet one famous face or the other, politicians, business men, celebrity women, actors and actresses—Dele Momodu has them at the tip of his finger. Secondly, his prodigious intellectual talent is second to none. As a young journalist, being in his presence is all you need to get the wits and wisdom to break even in your endeavors (I will tell you how he helped me with this later in this write-up). The third one is that Chief Dele Momodu is obsessed with offering hospitality. I don’t know who taught him this or how he came about giving food, drinks and even money to people without being prompted to do so. But once you are in his room, he will tell you to open his little white fridge and take any drink of your choice. In those days, all sorts of drinks ranging from assorted wine brands from best brewers in the world to all sorts of high profile drinks often stares my young face. But I always take solace in being humble in appetite—after all I am not Dele Momodu or any of his high profile friends, so, I will take either Coke or Fanta and that’s all. And if by chance, you came around his breakfast or dinner hour, all of you will be piloted down to the hotel restaurant and you can eat anything you desire. At such instances, you are there eating together with a Senator, a business man, a publisher all manner of his high profile guests? It is always a moment you think of yourself low and pray to grow to greatness like those you are dining with.
However, my challenge in those days was clothing. I didn’t particularly have a good wardrobe, so (May God bless his soul, he is late now) there was this dry cleaner guy called SELENCO around Ahmadiyya area of Lagos (where I resided at the time) who used to borrow me fine dresses in those days just to wear to meet Dele Momodu. The reason was simple, once you run into Dele Momodu, you must see one big man or the other. And Dele Momodu is never ashamed introducing you to them or other way round. So, you must look real. The rich don’t want to associate with someone poorer in look and dress sense. That is the honest truth. But people like Dele Momodu dealt with the inner things—character, intellect and creativity rather than the outer things—wrist watches, shoes, fine clothes with nothing upstairs. But he was in the minority of men of noble understanding, some of his media friends even loathed the idea that we got close to him. But he was the melting point for both the rich, the poor, very poor and the rest! Dele Momodu’s type is rare!
So, in those days, I got SELENCO to give me some of those expensive outfits. Our agreement was to always hype him on my show on MITV (As my costumier) but the bigger reason oblivious to him, was for me to use the dress to go greet Dele Momodu at Excellence Hotel.
Few months after cementing my relationship with him, I invited him to one of our newly created segments on our Youth/Teenage program—Teens on Tube called “Role Model Segment”. Before him, we had invited Segun Dawodu the then Lagos State Commissioner for Sports and Youth Development, we had invited late journalist and book author Gbenga Adefolarin and we equally invited late trado-medicine expert Dr. Smily Adeniyi Olowu aka Bulldozer among many other celebrities. But Dele Momdu was a very hard grab.
Since we do suggested celebrities to come on that segment based on our relationship with them, it was my personal project to bring Dele Momodu on the program which was aired every Wednesday between 5pm and 6pm. I was the one who invited Gbenga Adefolarin and Bulldozer while Debowale Atobatele invited Segun Dawodu the Lagos Commissioner.
So, I tried inviting Dele Momodu and the joy was in the air at our studios. But two days to his appearance, the visit was cancelled as Dele Momodu had to fly off to New York Island to do a report on late Chief Deinde Fernandez’s magnificent sea mansion. Deinde Fernandez is the rich and famous Nigerian born billionaire diplomat who lived all his life abroad and died in September 2015 at age 86. Though reasons for the disappointment were cogent but at my end, it was shocking as my colleagues made a joke of it at MITV. But I kept faith with God. At another time, I tried bringing him for a second time and during our encounter at Feminar Café, he even introduced the white bearded Oyinbo photo journalist Colin Ramsay (who bought his first aero plane at age 25) to me. Colin Ramsay was in Nigeria in preparation to fly out of the country with Dele Momodu for an international assignment.
DAY DELE MOMODU SHOCKED ME!
Then, one day in September year 2000, I was shabbily dressed, just like the normal day-to-day me, and something prompted me to step into Excellence Hotel, Ogba to see Dele Momodu. In those days, when you go in, the security men will use the intercom to verify if the person you are looking for is around. If the person is around and he wants you to see him, you will hear ‘Go up to Room 306.’ That means you are lucky. But on this particular day, I was not praying to be lucky because I was just trying my luck based on sheer instinct. I didn’t want to run into those big men in Dele Momodu’s room. But like play, like play, getting to the intercom section, the security man asked who I came for and I answered ‘Dele Momodu’. He quickly made a call and two minutes later he said ‘Go to Room 306’. I asked him if he was sure of what he just said, and he answered in the affirmative. Then two spirits suddenly got hold of me. One said ‘Go and meet him’, the other one said ‘you better go back home as you are not looking nice’. Even though I slowly climbed the stairway heading to the third floor of the hotel, the two spirits kept battling me, but despite my unprepared looks and lowly outfit, I decided to honor the first spirit. I got to his door and one of his aides opened and as usual, I ran into a house full of dignitaries. I was overwhelmed. I sat down like a chicken beaten by rain.
But Dele Momodu, maybe oblivious of my dress and countenance started “This is Gbenga Dan Asabe, he said I am his role model but I don’t know how true is that” he laughed and started introducing me as usual, to his conglomerate of rich friends. It was like bringing out fish off the water as I needed to stand up and shake hands. I was so conscious of my dress sense but my host was conscious of my strength of character.
With that, he asked when was my show taking place and I said “Wednesday, 5pm” (The day in question was a Sunday). And he said to me “call me first thing Wednesday morning; I will be in your studio this time around”. I was dazed in between belief and disbelief, fusion and confusion because he already disappointed us twice not intentionally but due to the exigencies of his unpredictable schedule. So, I left hoping that a miracle will happen this time around.
When I told my producer the following Monday during our early week meeting, that Dele Momodu will be on our program that coming Wednesday, he simply flash his face at me with a funny smile “Se man to man je breakfast e ni London, Lunch ni Paris ati Super ni Ghana yen lo ma wa? Joo Gbagbe e” (Is it that man that has his breakfast in London, Lunch in Parish and Super in Ghana that will come to MITV, please forget him joor). And on that note, he ordered Debo Atobatele and Simileoluwa Oyebanjo to get another guest for Role Model segment. He totally believed Dele Momodu will disappoint again.
On that fateful Wednesday morning when I called Chief Momodu (7am) he retorted “Aaah, Gbenga, you woke me from bed this morning” and I quickly followed with several salvos of “Sorry sir, sorry sir, sorry sir, sorry sir” and he asked “When is that your program?” which I answered ‘Sir, 5pm but you must be in the studio by 4:30 for familiarization on questions and answers etc’. He gave me assurance to be there, and somehow I just believed him.
As God would have it, that Wednesday, both Simi and Debo couldn’t lay hand on a guest. But my madness began at 4pm, normally I supposed to select news relating to Youths across the newspapers, and rehearse the bulletin with Gloria Odiaka my co-presenter for our news segment. But I was not ready for all of that; I simply wrote out the news item and gave Gloria’s own to her while I stood like a mad man at the gate of MITV. In those days, there were no GSM phones. So, you have to find a call center to make calls and it was quite expensive.
So, at the gate of MITV, I became a mad man, waiting for Dele Momodu. Everyone who greeted me was in trouble, even though I am the jovial type but this very day, my mood not cherry. I was more serious than an angry old school headmaster. Questions rang in my mind ‘Will he come?’, ‘Will he disappoint me again?’, all sorts of questions, queries rattled my mind as my body grew hot and my temperament charged up. 4:30 came, he didn’t appear, 4:35, no show. 4:45, no signs…my madness grew in leap as I became more anticipated. 4:50pm, nothing to see of Dele Momodu.
I was almost losing my head when suddenly, at 4:52pm, a grey colored Shagari Benz car pulled via the left side of MITV gate. Who was the driver? Chief Dele Momodu was behind the wheel, with his then P.A. Uncle Remi Aboderin (aka ABOD) with another man in suit. The gate men wanted to start interrogating the occupants but I jumped in front of the gate and released the chains that barred entry, signaling the car to drive in.
When Dele Momodu came down from the car, it was like bringing a Hollywood Star to one’s neighborhood. That was the very first time Chief Dele Momodu will step into MITV compound and I was the first guy to bring him there. I remembered Mrs. Funmi-Davies Farodoye hailing Bob Dee from her office asking “Ki le wa se ni MITV” (What did you come to do in MITV?) but I was not ready for all that ‘Yoruba familiarity bazaar’ as I quickly piloted my guest and his aides to my producer’s office. I rushed to the studio at 5 minutes to air time, and shouted ‘He is around, he is around’. My producer and his deputy quickly moved along with me as we returned to the administrative side of the station where they met a smiling Bob Dee who apologized for lateness and exchanged pleasantries with them as he was quickly ushered to the studio.
Two things happened that day, the ROLE MODEL Segment which is a ten minutes segment and comes towards the end of the show came first after signing in. Two, the segment was increased from 10 minutes to 30 minutes because of the character and reputation of the guest. It was huge, huge, huge in terms of phone ins, questions from live audience and the rest. It was dramatic, unique and historical. One day, I will release the video of that 18 years experience on my YouTube channel. It was the greatest day of my life as an aspiring journalist.
Of course, after Dele Momodu’s patronage of the program, jealousy, greed and envy from senior native Producers (Awon Yoruba wa) rose and they quickly killed the program by changing the name from Teens-On-Tube to Club 305 claiming that some of us were no longer teenagers but youths who kept shaving their beards to keep a young look. To make the political intention more prominent, they brought new faces and asked us to relate with them and supply our contacts to them. In journalism, your biggest asset is your contacts. I led a revolt, we disagreed and we left MITV. Myself, Debo and Simi left!
I later created a show called ‘Ovation Show’ but some forces grew against it and shot it down. They were Chief Momodu’s friends. Some of them are now ‘lookmaning’ the evolvement of the media industry. It is a story for another day!
But since then, Dele Momodu became a part and parcel of my life. On four to five occasions, he sponsored my trip to Ghana and on one particular occasion he took me on a special visit to the house of Ghana’s riches man, Alhaji Asoma Banda for the birthday ceremony of his twins born to him by his pretty wife, Ba’aba.
At another time, I was in Sierra Leone in 2007, and I needed to speak to a top diplomat and all I did was to call Chief Dele Momodu and he connected me. The man, Ambassador Johansen is the husband of West Coast’s most influential female journalist, Isha Tejan Cole (Now Isha Johansen). Her husband is the Norwegian Ambassador to the Republic of Sierra Leone and MD/CEO, Leone Cement. They gave me a treatment that is second to none on their hill top mansion in Freetown. The couple equally introduced me to their mini zoo where i learn a lot from intelligent domesticated animals.
There are other experiences that I will share in a later article on Dele Momodu. But let me tell you this; Dele Momodu is bigger than we see him in Nigeria. He remains one of the few eminent Nigerian citizens that can give you a solution anywhere you find yourself in the world. He did that for me in Sierra Leone in year 2007.
Lastly, when I started to write for FAME Magazine in 2002 (After his friends convinced him not to support our dream) he was the first to encourage me. When I told him I was on the society beat, he said something that has remained a guide to my work spirit till date. He said “You write about celebrities?” and I said “Yes, sir”. He replied “A lot of people will think you are rich when you are actually poor. They will think the people you write about gives you money because they see you mingle with them. But unfortunately, celebrities don’t give money, they live by budget. And that’s why we make them to pay to appear in Ovation”
When I met him again on Friday June 15 (The last time we met was Saturday, September 13, 2014 over dinner at Eko Hotel Restaurant with Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi aka Oosa), Dele Momodu maintained his octupus nature. Right inside his house, I ran into the Orangun of Oke Ila, His Royal Majesty, Oba (Dr.) Dokun Abolarin (Aroyinkeye 1). Oba Abolarin a lawyer by training and educationist by gesture is the one who honored Chief Dele Momodu with the title of Basorun a decade ago (Dele Momodu is the Basorun of Oke-Ila). And before we could switch our eyes off the Kabiyesi, another set of eminent Nigerians strolled into Basorun Momodu’s apartment—the Orolugbagbe brothers (This trio of Ijesa heritage—Agbogungboro are the ones who hid Dele Momodu inside a private bunker in July 1995 before his miraculous escape from Abacha’s gun men to London via NADECO route). I will tell you more about the Orolugbagbe brothers at a later date! But that is Chief Dele Momodu for you, an epitome of friendship, brotherhood and great human relationship. He ordered his cook to make sure we all ate something before the interview began. Again, you cannot take away the hospitality culture off him. He keeps it to himself like a second nature. You will never know his worth if you don’t find out his networth in terms of kindness, love, friendship and mentorship. For me, Chief Dele Momodu is a city of knowledge, an encyclopaedia of experiences and a moving train of common sense.
Our latest encounter revolved around his new books for late Chief MKO Abiola, June 12 validation by Federal Government of Nigeria,his 2011 Presidential ambition and other things you never heard or read about him. You will find it very interesting on www.YouTube.com/AsabeAfrikaTV.
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Due to his love for books and intention to open a new library in Ibadan very soon, I gave him a copy of the book “Nigeria: Beyond Divorce” by General Sam Momah (CFR, Mni) a retired military officer, former minister of Science and Technology and Pioneer Director of National War College, Abuja.