By Hon Femi Kehinde
Yoruba epistemology and mores, believe that whatever happens to man, whatever happens in life, has already been predestined. Man chooses his destiny- “AYANMO” while coming into the world and man kneels down to choose his lot (Akunleyan) before the presence of God.
The great music maestro and philosopher, Chief Ebenezer Obey, had sang in a beautiful lyrics – “Ayanmo mi latowo oluwa mi eda aiye kan ko le yi mo ni po pada …” Man’s destiny is unalterable.
Navigating through the labyrinths of Dele’s chequered life and career and the truculent interplay of forces, one would safely say, that Dele’s “Ori”, a Yoruba metaphysical concept, is certainly one that is destined to be “Ori Alariwo” and “Ori O’lokiki,” both interchangeably, meaning greatness.
Through challenges of early life and its murky waters, Dele’s rise to stardom today, was never meant to be.
In 1958, Gladys Arike left Gbongan, her place of birth to soujourn in Ile-Ife. She left Gbongan, where she had been previously married to Chief Ajayi, and had two children – Ezekiel Oladele Bolarinwa Ajayi, now retired Professor of Physics, specialising in Materials Science and Feyisara Adeniran (nee Ajayi).
She was in Ile-Ife through the influence of her aunt, Olori Rachael Morenike Aderemi, wife of the late Oba Adesoji Aderemi and native of Gbongan. Olori Morenike Aderemi was the grandmother of Prince Adedamola Aderemi.
It was in Ile-Ife, that Gladys Arike met Dele’s father, Momodu.
Momodu took instant liking to Gladys Arike, they got married and the marriage produced her third child, that was born on the 16th of May, 1960 and was on the 8th day, named Ayobamidele Ojutelegan Ajani Momodu.
Dele’s Dad worked at Public Works Department (PWD) as Road Overseer while his Mum engaged in petty trading. Dele lost his Dad while he was barely 13 and life became very tough.
The circumstances of Dele’s birth, could have dwarfed his growth, but his name “Ojutelegan” (i.e. shame on my detractors) actually ran after him, and he rose steadily.
Dele lived his childhood and adolescent life in Ile-Ife and mixed with his age grades within the palace of the Ooni and outside the palace. After he left primary school, the choice of a secondary school became a nagging issue.
He was to go to Inisha Grammar School, Inisha, and Oluorogbo High School, Ile-Ife, before destiny finally threw him to the elitist St. John Grammar school, Ile-Ife, where he finished secondary education in 1976. Saint John is a Catholic boy’s school. After secondary education, Dele worked briefly with the CSS Bookshop, Iremo, Ile-Ife, and later the University of Ife Library, where he had the unique opportunity of devouring all of the James Hardley Chase series and quite a number of other interesting books on the African Writers series.
I have known Dele Momodu from our childhood days in Gbongan, where we both had our maternal roots.
Mama Gladys Arike (Iya Oyo) from the Fatoye Family Oke Egan, Gbongan, was also my mother-Wulemotu Aduke’s aunt, from Ile Opo Gbongan.
We bonded and related. In our secondary school days, we exchanged notes. Dele had been reading Hardley Chase from secondary school. He tells us “yam has a botanical name, Dioscorea Alata, Cayenensis Esculenta and Bulbifera.
I reminded him that our Agriculture teacher in Origbo Community High School Ipetumodu had also taught us those botanical names.
He was always willing to impact knowledge. In 1978, we both entered the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, variously to study Yoruba and History respectively.
Despite the less attraction of his course of study, he was always willing to parade himself, as a student of Yoruba, as against fanciful courses like Law Medicine, Estate Management, Engineering, Pharmacy and the likes.
I eventually left the study of History, to pursue a fresh course in Law. Dele graduated from the Department of Yoruba in 1982 and was posted to Bauchi State for his youth service, which he eventually changed to Ile-Ife, then Oyo State, after the orientation camp, because the Ile-Ife in him could not leave him.
During our undergraduate days, we sojourned in the boys quarters of Dele’s elder brother, our uncle – Professor Ezekiel Oladele Ajayi, alongside some of our brothers’ friends and compatriots: Prince Adedamola Aderemi, Wole Adelakun, Yemi Aderemi, Sesan Popoola (late), Layi Oladele (now Professor) Deinde Orafideya, (Dr) Ladiran Akintola, now Judge of the Oyo State High Court, Bola Adeyemo, (late) Wale Adeyemo and a host of others.
We were like a swarm of bees in the household of Professor Oladele Ajayi, who apparently thought we were not serious. Dele’s gift to us from Bauchi, was a pack load of “Burantasi”- an aphrodisiac.
Dele came back from Bauchi, having been redeployed and was posted to the Oyo State College of Arts and Science (OSCAS) an advance level studies school, as a tutor of Yoruba, alongside the likes of Doksy – now Oba Adedokun Abalarin, the Orangun of Oke-Ila.
Doksy was a tutor of History; he had read Political Science up to Masters level in Ile-Ife before he eventually studied Law and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1991. These were our colony of friends in our days in Ile-Ife of which Dele, was like our grand master
After the completion of his NYSC, he became a Private Secretary to the troubled Chief Akin Omoboriowo, who was Deputy Governor of Ondo State and had a running battle with Chief Michael Ajasin, in a bid to succeed him as governor.
Dele loved Chief Akin Omoboriowo, who had also been an Ile-Ife man, having lived in the staff quarters and worked as Registrar, before he became the Deputy Governor of Ondo State in 1979. His son, Segun, was in our fraternity of friends.
He worked tirelessly for Omoboriowo during the Ondo State governorship election of August 1983.
In that election, the Federal Electoral Commission, (FEDECO) headed by Chief Michael Ani, as the Federal Electoral Officer, had declared Chief Omoboriowo, who had now defected to the NPN as the winner of the Governorship election in Ondo State.
That announcement caused sporadic uproar, mayhem, arson and violence, all over Ondo State. A lot of houses were burnt and destroyed, and a number of prominent politicians were killed or maimed. Chief Agbayewa, a prominent Akure business man and politician was burnt to death while Hon. Olaiya Fagbamigbe, a member of the Federal House of Representatives, elected on the platform of UPN who had then defected to the NPN, was also burnt to death and his entire house was razed to the ground.
The wife and children were only lucky to escape by the whiskers. Omoboriowo managed to escape and Dele Momodu was always with him at this troubled moment. Ajasin was declared winner by the election tribunal and this ended the night mare.
The military sacked the second republic government and a new Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari, emerged on the 31st of December 1983.
Dele went back to his normal life in the staff quarters in Ile-Ife, and began a Masters Degree studies in Literature in English, to chart a new course or path.
In the course of his studies, he had begun to write articles for the Nigerian Tribune, most especially. In his research studies, he had found a piece by an author that was used in a column by Ray Ekpu – a notable journalist, without acknowledgement.
To Dele, this was plagiarism and he made a big issue out of it. He wrote a piece challenging this journalistic indiscretion, and it was published by the Nigerian Tribune; Folu Olaniti, was the Sunday, Editior- Tribune, ably assisted by Yinka Adelani.
He used this piece and this was Dele’s first “Okiki”- public reckoning. The success of this endeavour honed his journalistic skill and he began to devour and search for knowledge. During this period, he was a Manager at the Royal Motel of Oba Okunade Sijuwade on Ede Road, Ile-Ife.
This reckoning brought about Dele’s employment with the Concord Newspapers of Chief MKO Abiola.
He worked in the African Concord Magazine and the Weekend Concord, a Saturday tabloid, under the editorship of Mike Awoyinfa and Dingba Igwe (late).
At Weekend Concord, he wrote beautiful stories and scoops. He wrote that the then Head of State, Ibrahim Babangida baby sits in the State House when he had his last daughter.
He churned out many sensational stories until when a former colleague in the Concord newspapers, May Ellen Ezekiel, invited him to edit her new magazine, the Classique Magazine, with a chauffeur driven car, good salary, an impressive package, and thus a change of life and status. Hitherto, the profession of journalism had been that of the “flotsam and jetsam of the society”, according to Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
He had now moved to his first rented apartment on Bashiru Oweh street, Ikeja Lagos, which we also turned out to be our rendezvous.
As editor of the classique magazine, Dele almost got me into trouble with the authorities. I have been practicing Law in Ibadan since 1984. I was on a trip to Aramoko Ekiti, alongside our friends; Barristers Yinka Ogungbemi and Kayode Olabiran for a prayer session.
I stopped over at Ile-Ife to see Dele Momodu, who was in town for the weekend. I told him of our mission, and he decided to follow us for prayers with this highly spiritually gifted woman of God, Iya Ayo. We were in Aramoko Ekiti, met the woman of God, who prayed for us, but on the side line, exhibiting her spiritual prowess, told us, that she was spiritual consultant, to Mrs. Rebecca Aikhomu, wife of the then Vice President, Admiral, Augustus Aikhomo.
She even mentioned that the woman had just left. The journalistic instinct in Dele saw a scoop in the woman’s narration, and decided to make it a bumber story and headline in the Classique magazine- “Aikhomo’s wife consults spiritualist in Aramoko, Ekiti.” The woman did not know Dele was a journalist, but only knew some of us as lawyers.
This was a bumber sale for the classique magazine. In the editor’s note, Dele had thanked me for ‘having a jolly good ride with me’, to Aramoko, where he got the scoop.
Dele was eventually picked up by the SSS for writing the story, but luckily I had travelled abroad, before the news came out. In Ibadan, I had assisted Dele to interview Governor Omololu Olunloyo, former Governor of Oyo State, Chief Adeniyi, former Private Secretary of the Late Premier, SLA Akintola, Mrs. Mary Fagbamigbe, wife of the slain Olaiya Fagbamigbe of Akure and her daughter Yetunde.
Mrs. Fagbamigbe in her narratives explained her near miss with death when Akure raged, over the declaration of Omoboriowo as the Governor of Ondo State in the August 1983 election.
Dele’s relationship with the late acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 election, started with his stint with the Concord Newspapers, and he bonded with Chief MKO Abiola. He attended Dele’s wedding in 1992 in Ijebu Igbo, when he got married to Bolaji Adaramaja, daughter of the late silk, Dr. Adaramaja (SAN).
After marriage, Dele moved from the boys haven on Bashiru Oweh Street residence, in Ikeja, Lagos, to another rented apartment, Adigbolaja quarters in Ojodu Berger area of Lagos/Ogun State.
Doksy, now Oba Dokun Abolarin, the Orangun of Oke-Ila, then a fresh barrister, lived with Dele Momodu in his Ojodu Berger residence, before he also secured an apartment around the same area.
Dele had left Classique magazine and now freelance as a journalist, media consultant and distributor of Abiola’s ‘wonderloaf’ bread from the Wonderloaf Bakery in Ikeja, Lagos.
Dele already had in his kitty a Mercedes Benz 230 imported from Germany and a Volkswagen Jeta Car. Then suddenly came Nduka Obaigbena, who introduced Dele Momodu to his pet project – ThisDay Newspapers for consultancy, and he came with a princely sum of money. He was handed a chauffeur driven brand new Peugeot 504.
Shortly after his marriage, he was waylaid by armed robbers at the Ikeja Under Bridge and locked up inside the boot of his Mercedes Benz 230 car.
Armed robbers and kidnappers were not as violent and vicious then. He was later released after a little torment, unscratched – another intervention of fate.
The year 1993 marked a watershed and turning point in Nigeria’s political history. M. K. O. Abiola, Dele’s mentor, role model and pathfinder, contested election on the 12th of June, 1993 to be President of Nigeria, and was acclaimed to be the winner of that election. Unfortunately, the election was annulled.
Dele was part of the publicists for the reclaim of his mandate. He was part of the Epetedo declaration on the Lagos Island where MKO declared himself as the President of Nigeria.
MKO Abiola was picked up from the venue of that declaration and never saw the light of the day or freedom again until his death in July 1998.
Dele was also picked up and locked up in Alagbon. Some of us visited him in Alagbon, and we discovered that his stomach had caved in. He loves good food and he is a good cook himself. After a while, he was released from Alagbon custody and shortly thereafter, found his way, through the NADECO route, to exile in London.
London was an unprepared life and an uncharted sojourn. He arrived London, with a future unknown and became a prominent member of the NADECO group with the likes of Air Vice Marshal Dan Suleiman, Bola Amed Tinubu and many others.
In London, he floated the idea of Celebrity Magazine, Ovation, with his constant star and solemate, Prince Adedamola Aderemi as Chairman.
Segun Fatoye, his cousin, was also on board. Segun’s father and Dele’s maternal uncle, my uncle too, Chief Ezekiel Olasunmoye Fatoye, then an executive director with N.I.T.E.L, assisted Dele’s dream to become a reality, with a princely sum of money in hard currency, for Ovation to debut.
Chief Ezekiel Fatoye now an Octogenarian, first set of Nigeria’s telecommunications engineers, a Gbongan high Chief also joined some of his Indian friends to establish Multi links, after his retirement from N.I.T.E.L.
Ovation magazine became a house hold name and an international celebrity and glamour magazine. His stars began to shine and exponentially too. I became one of Ovation’s distributors in Ibadan, just like so many of our friends.
From London, he relocated to Ghana where he also became friends with the elites and political class in Ghana.
As a man of great culinary taste, he set up a restaurant and also ran his ovation magazine enterprise in an impressive office set up. In appreciation of Iya Oyo’s motherly love and affection, Dele took exceptional care of her, relocated her to Lagos, where she lived until she breathed her last in 2007 and was given a befitting burial in Gbongan.
According to Justice Ladiran Akintola, son of the late Premier of the Western Region-SLA Akintola, “Dele has an attitude that doesn’t brood on negatives or disappointments. You would hardly ever see him moody. He is almost always radiating joy. The story of Bob Dee is one of hope, determination and focus. He certainly had a date with destiny. You would not imagine that a young Dee MAD who obtained admission to study, to obtain a B.A degree in Yoruba while young men were scrambling for the professions, Law, Estate Management, Medicine, Pharmacy or Engineering had a date with destiny.
“His apparent casualness to matters at that time could mislead an unsuspecting observer to draw wrong conclusions. Alas, Bob Dee knew what he was doing.”
Oba Adedokun Abolarin, the Orangun of Oke-Ila, who bestowed Dele with the Chieftaincy title of “Bashorun”, has gleefully described Dele as “a man of the world, but to some of us, Dele is still his old self, Omo Iya Oyo: Loyal to friendship, amiable, courageous, industrious, academic, kind, boisterous, adventurous, a typical Yoruba Omoluabi.
Kabiyeisi further said, “the year 2006 was not a good year for me and the 8th day of December, 2006 was the saddest day of my life, incidentally it was the day I became the Oragagun of Oke-Ila. I didn’t go to school to be a Yoruba Oba. I thought it was a movement from Grace to Grass but my friend and brother, Ayobamidele and many other great Nigerians, saw what I didn’t see, that service to humanity at grassroot level is the greatest. Almost immediately with the approval of my good people, he became the Bashorun of Oke-Ila Orangun. May the good Lord continue to bless him for humanity.”
Ayobami Dele Ajani Ojutelegan Momodu, you have lived your yesterday for your today. You have paid your dues. You deserve all the thrills, the frills, the glamours and encomiums that the world has bestowed on you on the occasion of your diamond jubilee anniversary.
“Omo ti yio je Asamu ati kekere ni yio ti maa jenu samu samu” – a bright child would always display his brightness from an early age. This is an apt Yoruba aphorism. May this bright light, continue to shine.
Hon Femi Kehinde, legal practitioner and former Member, House of Representatives, National Assembly Abuja, represented Ayedire/Iwo/Ola-Oluwa Federal Constituency of Osun State (1999-2003).