By Dele Momodu
Fellow Africans, today is an incredibly special day in the journey of my life. And I am extremely exceedingly grateful and thankful to God Almighty and all the uncommon Angels that God has most generously sent my way. My trajectory is very unusual and uncustomary. It would be impossible to express everything that has happened to me since that fateful day I was born in the ancient town of Ile-Ife, and for me looking back now, it was clearly no accident that this was where I was born. Ile-Ife is a town steeped in history, culture, tradition and mystery. It is not for nothing that it is described as the cradle of civilisation. It has spawned and engendered several myths and folklores, myriads of creativity and innovation and more recently modernisation and technology. Somehow, all of these resonate with me and have combined to shape my life. My life has been like a moving tableau in plain sight visible for most to see.
Let me start this way. My father, Jacob Momodu, had migrated from his village, Ihievbe, presently in the Owan East Local Government of Edo State, and navigated his way to Ile-Ife. What remains a mystery to this day was how a young man of those days meandered through the epic journey from far-flung motionless Ihievbe to bustling, historical Ile-Ife. A myth or fable suggested that he remained in Ile-Ife because he may have fallen in love with a beautiful, intelligent but unlettered lady, Gladys, who later became my dear beloved Mum. Otherwise, he might have moved on to the bright klieg lights of Lagos, where many a young villager hoped to end their sojourn in those days. Not unlikely, since my Dad seems to have got stranded in Ife, voluntarily. Sadly, but mercifully, I am the only product of that fantastic union. It is an irony of fate, that the journey that it seems my Dad was unable to complete was eventually left for me to finish and even go further afield to all parts of the world. I am yet to reach Iceland and Siberia, but knowing me, and by God’s grace, that remains work in progress.
My Dad previously had two children from another relationship, Simeon and Grace while my Mum also had two, Oladele and Feyisara. My Dad was a civil servant who worked with the Public Works Department and rose to the level of Road Overseer. In those days of yore, that was a decent rank that guaranteed him an elegant motorcycle with the powerful brand name, Jawa, and a special number WF 333. I wouldn’t recollect at what stage he resigned or retired from his job because I was too young and little then to comprehend much. But I remember he once owned and operated a small hotel, what you may now call a boutique hotel of the type that his beloved son would stay in on some of his frequent trips abroad. He was also a keen photographer and made a profession of it too. Later he got the franchise for Pioneer Biscuits from Apapa in Lagos and another franchise from Dumex also in Lagos to sell Maltex drink in Ile-Ife. These later ventures make me to believe that my Dad’s sights had always been set on Lagos, but that the cold hands of death cut short his dreams. What is obvious is that my Dad was extremely hardworking and unrelenting, traits which I have obviously learnt and cultivated.
My Mum, on the other end was a good cook and food seller. Her business wasn’t big, but she was proud of it. My maternal grandmother was trading in local beads, cola nuts and so on in Gbongan, a nearby town, less than 30 minutes’ drive from the University town of Ile-Ife. They both inculcated in me the values and virtues of hard work and pride in whatever one did. I have never looked down on any job. I will later tell you a few of these jobs that might be considered menial, but which I dabbled or engaged in with the same gusto and passion as everything that I have been involved with.
My parents were prayerful. They prayed more than what I choose to call the proverbial praying mantis. My God, they lived virtually in the white garment Aladura church where I was virtually born on that fateful day, 16th May 1960. I remember growing up in the hands of a spiritual father, Papa Ayoola Akeju. He was hot and on fire, as an evangelist and prophet and renowned all over Ile-Ife and its environs. He was clearly much loved by God for his faithfulness because he must have died at close to 100 years in particularly good ruddy health and sound mind. My parents prayed and fasted like no one else I knew. They ate and drank prayers. My Mum often went into trances and had precise visitations about things to come. The prayer warriors prophesied I will be famous if I survived the first seven years. Secretly, I doubted the predictions at the time, but clearly, I was the gifted beneficiary of all those prayers and fasting and my Mum’s visions would come to pass. I survived many years, certainly more than the dreaded seven years, but the figure seven has played remarkable roles in my life. However, my world was to collapse around me before I doubled the first seven years of my birth, after my father suddenly and mysteriously died on June 14, 1973. I was barely 13 years old.
I won’t bore you too much with all the things that went wrong, they were many and varied, but my Mum remained steadfast and maintained her prayers and fasting. She never gave up on the Lord and the Lord did not forsake her. I have written about some of these in the past. The most memorable of these was that we were chased out by our landlord for our inability to maintain our monthly rental payments. We had to move to Modakeke where we squatted with our Mum’s cousins, the Oyemades. It was here I noticed the beginning of miracles in my life. We were welcomed and reasonably catered for. Life was quite good. You only needed to work hard even with blisters on your palms. That has been my motivation all the way.
I attended Local Authority Primary School Ifewara Road, Ile-Ife. Then Inisa Grammar School where I had a brief, but indelible, stint because of the hardship and pain that I had to endure, and my resolve not to remain in that school. From Inisa I proceeded to Oluorogbo High School, Ile-Ife, where I should say I really started and completed my first year of secondary school. I then migrated to St. John’s Grammar School, Ile-Ife, a Catholic School, where I became grounded. But even at that, I was still slow on the uptake and had not found my gravitas. I flunked all the important subjects in my West African School Certificate Examination, in 1976, with F9 in Maths, Physics and Chemistry despite my older Brother, Oladele Ajayi, bagging his PhD in Physics from Stanford University, USA several years before. I was totally downcast, but my Mum pulled me up to try again. She reminded me that I was destined for great things. My second attempt at the School Certificate examination met with even more trauma. This time my results were withheld in 1977, the year of widespread examination paper leakages. My Mum told me I had no choice but to try for a third time in 1978. I was also given great encouragement by my bosom friend and brother, Damola Aderemi who had by this time become my inseparable ally and mate. I retook the School Certificate examination, but my earlier 1977 results were eventually released, and I got enough credits to proceed to University. Before then, at every school break and every opportunity whilst repeating exams, I did lowly jobs to keep body and soul together.
I sat for JAMB in 1978 and got admitted to study Yoruba single honours at the University of Ife. I took elective courses in Literature-in-English, Philosophy, Religious Knowledge, and others. I bagged my first degree in 1982 and went straight to National Service. Thereafter, I worked as Private Secretary to the former Deputy Governor of Ondo State, Chief Akin Omoboriowo. After the turbulence that attended the Ondo State elections in 1983 and the incarceration of my Boss for many months, I was forced to seek employment again. I found myself working for His Majesty, The Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse II. I worked with him in a few capacities before eventually being tasked with turning around the fortunes of His Majesty’s Ile-Ife resort, Motel Royal, a task which I accomplished, despite tremendous impediments, to the great appreciation from the late Ooni. I headed back to the University of Ife, which later became the eponymous Obafemi Awolowo University, upon the demise of the late sage, for a Master’s degree in Literature-in-English, which I completed in 1988.
I found my way to Lagos and I got my real first job at The African Concord Magazine, owned by Chief Moshood Abiola who miraculously subsequently became my adopted father and played the role perfectly. Life in Lagos was different from where I came from. Things moved fast. I had to quickly adjust to the pace. Upon my arrival, I had to squat with several friends before I could eventually rent a small apartment of my own. But my work progressed at supersonic speed. I was soon transferred to Weekend Concord as one of the pioneer staff. Here, I earned rapid and spontaneous promotions, courtesy of my boss for life, Mr Mike Awoyinfa, the Editor, and his Deputy, Mr Dimgba Igwe of blessed memory. Within months, I rose to become News Editor. Six months later, I was on my way to Classique magazine, exactly two years after migrating from Ile-Ife, and became the highest paid Editor in the country. I worked tirelessly, from 1990-91, to justify the confidence of my boss of life, May Ellen Ezekiel, MEE, now also of blessed memory.
I resigned from Classique Magazine towards the end of 1991 and became a bread distributor. I also established a Public Relations company. While at Classique I had met Dr Mike Adenuga Jr and struck a lifelong relationship that can only be described as divine and surreal. Till this day, I marvel at the seemingly spiritual connections between us and I have given him the title of The Spirit of Africa, because he is the man you don’t see, but feel his presence and impact all around you.
In 1992, Prince Nduka Obaigbena brought me back from the business world I was developing as a tyro to the world of journalism that I was predestined to be in. He requested that I join him in setting up the editorial architecture of what has become the most influential newspaper in Africa today, Thisday, with fingers in several other pies.
I got married to my sweetheart, Mobolaji Adaramaja, that same year, on December 19, 1992. Less than two months later, Chief Moshood Abiola, suddenly declared interest in the Presidential race. Naturally, I followed him like a true disciple. Loyalty and integrity have always been my mantra, and this was a true test for me. I have no regrets, only thanks, praise and gratitude to God.
The story continues…