My path crossed with Basorun Dele Momodu’s in June 1989. I had got tired of the federal civil service and I was thinking of a new challenge as well as planning my exit from the laboratory. I had also started planning my retirement from the Nigeria Stored Products Research Institute, NSPRI, Ilorin, Kwara State, where I was a Science Technologist.
After contributing a few articles to The Herald newspaper in the Kwara State capital, where I met Dapo Olorunyomi, Publisher of Premium Times, I caught the journalism virus. It went straight into my blood streamline and my life never remained the same again. I never thought twice before I sought admission into the Post-graduate programme of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, NIJ, Lagos. This was in 1988, the year I had my last born, who is now a lawyer/TV journalist.
Luckily, I got admitted into NIJ for the one year programme in 1989. However, midway into the programme, my friend and classmate at the postgraduate class, Mrs. Dupe Onabanjo, took me to Concord Press of Nigeria, where she introduced me to Mr. Mike Awoyinfa, the pioneer Editor of the highly successful Nigeria’s first Saturday newspaper, Weekend Concord.
That was where I met this phenomenal Nigerian, Dele Momodu, who was then burning newsstands across the country with one cover story after another in the irresistible Weekend Concord. His stories were thrillers in print
When it comes to news, Bob Dee, as we call him, would squeeze water out of the rock. He would turn what many people would consider as insignificant into a masterpiece which entraps you with an intro that reads like the opener of an action movie; and hooks you so tight you won’t drop the paper until you have read the last word.
Though he read Yoruba in his first degree at the then University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, this wordsmith stitches words with the power of an alchemist, turning what the uninitiated sees as base things to gold; the kind of masterpiece you cut and store in the safest corner of your library. No issue is too hard for Dele to turn to gold; a precious piece you want to keep forever.
His style? I can’t find the appropriate word to describe Dele’s style. Very articulate, he could be chatty one moment, then compendious or conversational in another. Other times, he could be emphatic or epigrammatic. Whatever style he chooses to tell his story, he does so with panache, using flowery language to dismantle the most complicated of issues. No matter the style, Dele makes words sing. At his command, words wax lyrical. He could also make words weep when the matter is catastrophic or cataclysmic.
Oh, I almost forgot this: his column-Pendulum. You may not agree with him all the time, and you don’t have to, but this genius does not monkey with words. Never circuitous or rhetorical, he gives it to you with strong effects; punchy.
Can I also ever forget Dele Momodu’s impact on my journalism? Never. Apart from our two bosses, Mr. Awoyinfa and Pastor Dimgba Igwe (of blessed memory) who held the light for us, Dele Momodu also helped a lot in steadying my feet in journalism. If I wrote well, he gave me thumbs-up. If fell short, he corrected with love. Though he was already a celebrity journalist when our paths crossed at Concord Press, he carried no airs. He was as humble as they come. He was jovial and expansive. Passage of time has not changed him a bit.
My first story for the Weekend Concord was a VOX POP which Mr. Awoyinfa deliberately assigned to me apparently to assess my suitability for human interest reporting. Remember, this was 1989, and eateries were springing up with dizzying speed in Lagos. And what was I to do? Visit as many of these eateries as possible and interview sultry ladies. Ask them: what would they do if they go to an eatery or a restaurant, and they see a well-groomed and fancily-dressed man, sitting alone at a table, and they apply all the tricks in the book to make him notice them, but the dude simply refuses to play ball? Would they make the first move?
I interviewed 20 beautiful ladies, including another classmate at the PG class, Sarah Sanda, formerly of NTA but now a big lady in the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Abuja. Boy, were the responses mind-blowing. They got Mr. Awoyinfa and Pastor Igwe screaming. The story made the centrespread of the wave-making tabloid. I walked on air. I bought about a dozen of that edition and proudly distributed them to my friends, classmates, and colleagues in Ilorin. I wanted to show them an incontrovertible evidence that their beloved friend was now a confirmed journalist!
Wherever I went that weekend, I behaved like the agama lizard. Like the agama lizard would do after diving from a tall tree, nodding its head in self-adulation on landing, I also indulged in some self-admiration.
And why not, if not? Here was I, a bloody civil servant and reporter-in-training, trying to squeeze my oblong head into a star-studded team. The team comprised Dele Momodu, Omololu Kassim, Wale Sokunbi, Femi Adesina, Aliu Mohammed, the late Gbola Adebayo, Uncle Lat Oyemade, Timothy Oyeola, Felix Asimone, Emmanuel Otaru, Gbenga Opebi, and Lanre Ajeboriogbon. Eric Osagie, the late Sunday Umahi, Chika Abanobi, Blessyn Okpowo, Ose Oyamedan and Yetunde Francis (now Mrs. Oladehinde) joined us later. Waziri Adio, Bolaji Abdullahi and Lanre Issa-Onilu stopped by briefly after youth service, I think.
But that was not all. The team also had Sam Omatseye (of the Political Desk of National Concord) contributing as our in-house essayist, Kunle Ajibade (of the African Concord weekly magazine) who dominated our Arts and Literary pages for years, and Seye Kehinde (also of the African Concord) contributing entertainment and court stories.
Dele didn’t contribute to my VOX POP. It is the stuff for boys. But he put his Midas touch on my subsequent story. King Sunny Ade had been my idol since primary school in Ilesa. He still is my idol as far as juju music is concerned. His name and music excite me like no other. Though a rookie reporter, I had wandered into King Sunny Ade’s office at Jibowu, Lagos, thinking I could interview him. Imagine my audacity. Of course, I didn’t get the interview that I so desperately sought that day but I got an appointment; and an exclusive that excited Mr. Awoyinfa on end. I wrote an impressionistic account of what I saw while waiting for the legend that day. I saw ladies of different sizes, shapes and complexion, moving back and forth, apparently anxious to see the juju music maestro.
I took notes and talked to some of them after discovering that they were some of the King’s many Queens. The story was titled: The many wives of King Sunny Ade. But the Editor kept it in his file, waiting for the main interview with KSA.
Now, I cannot recall if KSA loved my story or not, but I got the interview appointment. The Editor thought I was too green to handle a sensation like KSA. So, he assigned Dele Momodu to go with me, and the quintessential journalist showed the stuff he was made. That day, I experienced the magic of Bob Dee for the first time in an interview session. It was a long interview, spanning about one-and-a-half hours but there was never a dull moment. Mr. Awoyinfa celebrated the interview. And my earlier story was, again, used in the centrespread. It buoyed my confidence.
There are so many angles to this celebrated journalist, social crusader, publisher, media entrepreneur and philanthropist that time and space won’t permit me to write. Indeed, I can write a book on this wonderful human being without stress. But, permit me to save it for another day. However, suffice it to say that the story of Dele Momodu is that of humility, hard-work, courage, wisdom, temperance, and justice, without which no man can be truly successful. And this virtuoso, born and raised in Ile-Ife but whose father, Jacob Momodu, hailed from, Ihievbe in Owan East Local Government Area of Edo State, is success personified.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, kindly raise your glasses and let us toast to Basorun Dele Momodu as he joins the Elders Club, CLUB 60 today, May 16, 2020.
Big congratulations, my dear brother. May God bless your new age. May He grant you long life in health, ceaseless blessings, endless joy, divine protection and peace that transcends all understanding.
Happy birthday, Bob Dee.
Igba odun, odun kan ni o. Ire kabiti.