By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, exactly 50 years ago today, a beautiful baby girl was born into the illustrious family of Chief Akinola Adaramaja, a first class brain, erudite lawyer, the first Attorney-General of Ogun State, and Mrs Ebunoluwa Adaramaja, an extremely beautiful and very successful businesswoman, dealing in assorted merchandise of textiles and jewellery on the famous Lebanon Street, in Gbagi Market, Ibadan. On the seventh day, the baby girl was named Mobolaji Abiodun Adaramaja. The Adaramajas are a very prominent family in Ijebu-Igbo while Mrs Ebunoluwa Adaramaja descended from Ijebu-Ode but grew up in Kano.
About the time Mobolaji was being delivered, a baby girl was also delivered by the wife of her dad’s cousin, Chief Olabiyi Durojaiye. As if by special arrangement and agreement, the Durojaiyes also named their baby, Mobolaji. The two Bolajis remain like twins, to this day. In Yoruba culture, names often carry special meanings. Mobolaji is a name usually given to a child born into prosperity. Mobolaji Adaramaja was indeed born into wealth but the parents would never allow her to become a spoilt brat. She was raised as a disciplined child along with her siblings. She attended Sacred Heart School, Ibadan for her Primary education; and St. Theresa’s College Ibadan for her Secondary education. After that, she was admitted at the Obafemi Awolowo University, where our paths crossed, almost miraculously.
In May 1990, I was appointed the highest paid Editor in Nigeria by Classique magazine, owned by the late May Ellen Ezekiel in May 1990. That much-advertised appointment came with an official car and driver. I had arrived in Lagos from the ancient town of Ile-Ife in 1988, and got an instant job at the African Concord magazine, owned by the iconic Chief Moshood Abiola. The African Concord was one of the seven titles published by the Concord Press around that time. A new title, Weekend Concord, would be added a few months after, in March 1989. My career as a journalist had exploded positively while in Weekend Concord and I earned spontaneous and superfast promotions, courtesy of my boss and Editor, Mike Awoyinfa, the famous polemicist, who loved me to bits.
Despite the fact that I was now living in Lagos, I never left Ile-Ife totally. I travelled home frequently and regularly to visit my Mother, Gladys Momodu, (of blessed joyful memory) and my siblings and friends. The university was my playground both for academic pursuits and high jinks pleasure. My friends and I took to gaming, got our gun licences and invaded the wilds of Ile-Ife in search of animals to shoot. It was during one of our adventures to Ile-Ife that I met Mobolaji Adaramaja inside the popular female hostel, Moremi Hall. What attracted me was her tall frame and low haircut. My case was that of love at first sight. I was transfixed in one spot while salivating about this beautiful lady. Fortunately, I saw her with her friend, Bukola Ayoola, the daughter of the World Court Judge, Emmanuel Olayinka Ayoola, who later became a Supreme Court Judge and even much later still, Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) in Nigeria. Bookie, as she is fondly called by her friends told me not to worry too much as she would make sure we “conquer the babe.”
Bukola introduced Mobolaji to me but I did not make much progress on that trip. I discovered that I actually knew her sister, Oluwatoyin Adaramaja, a very brilliant lawyer who had also graduated from Great Ife. I had visited their home in Felele, Ibadan, in company of my friend Segun Omoboriowo, and knew of their impeccable pedigree.
I loved the fact that the Adaramajas were very brilliant kids. Education has always been a priority for me. I travelled back to Ife after meeting Mobolaji but something twigged and realisation dawned on me. I could think of no other woman despite being a lady’s man by reputation, at that time. Anyway.
I started plotting my strategy on how to conquer this lady. I could see clearly that she was not going to be an easy mission. I got a brainwave and decided to use shock therapy by inviting my friend, Sir Shina Peters, who was the biggest superstar in town, to accompany me to Ife. Shina agreed, and we went in full force. We arrived Ife at night and drove straight to Moremi Hall, where Shina nearly caused a commotion. We invited Bolaji and Bookie along with us to Ondo town, a journey of about one hour away, where Shina was performing that night. After the show, we retired to one hotel where trouble started as the ladies were ‘forming’ difficult. I couldn’t believe that our combined stardom could not impress these ladies enough to capitulate. We dropped them off in their university hostel the following morning and for me it was “goodbye to timewasters.” I never saw Mobolaji again for another couple of months.
My appointment at Classique magazine was well celebrated in Nigeria. It came exactly two years after I completed my course work for my postgraduate degree in Literature-in-English, after obtaining my first degree in Yoruba (1982), a very rare and awkward combination. My university was very excited to learn of my meteoric rise and I was soon honoured with an award. I travelled to Ife to accept my award. Unknown to me, Mobolaji was in the audience. As my citation was being read out, as I found out later, Mobolaji’s head was swelling like “Ijebu gaari.” Once I returned to my seat, a young boy walked up to me to convey a message. “Miss Mobolaji Adaramaja asked me to tell you she’s around and if she could see you briefly.”
I stood up humbly and followed him to where Bolaji was seated. She fired the first shot: “why have you not checked on me again? Is it because you didn’t get us cheaply?” I was quite uncomfortable with her barrage of questions and I tried to murmur a few words in response: “I felt you didn’t like me and so decided to let you be in peace.” We agreed to meet the following day and that was it. We never left each other again. She gave me a message to her older sister, Mrs Oluwatoyin Seriki, married to a pilot, Captain Rotimi Seriki, (of blessed memory) and living in Ikeja GRA. I was very happy to meet her sister, who turned out to be Mobolaji’s best friend. One thing led to another and Mobolaji and I became inseparable.
We had planned to get married in 1991 but an unfortunate mishap aborted our plans. Around September 1991, I resigned from my job at Classique because I had been promoted upstairs, and into redundancy, by my boss, and I felt it was time to move on. That move added one year to my bachelorhood. We eventually fixed another date, December 19, 1992, and our wedding was the talk of the town. A week to my wedding, on December 12, 1992, to be precise, Chief Moshood Abiola bagged a doctorate degree (honoris causa) from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, and I was there to witness the occasion and congratulate my mentor and benefactor, Chief Moshood Abiola. Instead of meeting one person, I met a second man who would change and affect my journey of life so massively in time to come. He is no other than Dr Mike Adenuga Jnr, who practically co-sponsored our wedding with Chief Abiola. Chief Abiola’s first son, Abdul-Lateef Kolawole Abiola had bought me my first car in 1991 (he was barely 29 years old at the time) while his dad bought me my second car in 1992. The intervention of Chief MKO Abiola and Dr Mike Adenuga Jnr changed the tempo of our wedding. We invaded Ijebu-Igbo and Ijebu Ode. I had two best men, Sir Shina Peters and Kunle Bakare. The wedding was attended by so many dignitaries including Chief Alex Akinyele, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, a rarity at social functions, Chief Ebenezer Babatope and so many others.
In the evening, we got the biggest shock as we drove into my father-in-law’s compound and saw one of Chief Abiola’s ubiquitous cars, a black Mercedes S 560 neatly packed. As we approached, we noticed that Chief Abiola had already “received” my wife from her dad on behalf of my family. It was such a moving episode to watch. He apologised for arriving late in the evening when he had promised to be there during the afternoon reception. Who would have quarrelled with Chief Abiola, a man of many parts whose attention was needed in countless places. He asked where we were going thereafter, and I said the Okunowos’ palatial mansion in Ijebu-Ode which was graciously released to us by Chief Chris Funmilola Okunowo. Surprisingly, Chief Abiola offered to travel to Ijebu-Ode with us.
At Ijebu-Ode, more visitors joined us, including Nduka and Efe Obaigbena, Kola Abiola, Tunde Adejumo (God bless your soul dear Uncle), Rotimi Ebenezer-Obey, Captain Tunde Ashafa of blessed memory and his wife, Grace Ashafa and others. Shina Peters played all night and even sang sonorously during a special breakfast organised by my mother-in-law in her own lavish palace.
Everything went well and we returned to Lagos. About one month later, early 1993, Chief Abiola declared his interest in the Presidential race. I had been invited by Nduka Obaigbena in December 1992 to join Leaders & Company as pioneer Editor of what would metamorphose into Nigeria’s most prestigious Thisday newspaper. I had finished recruiting some of the key staff when Chief Abiola’s decision hit us like thunderbolt. Naturally, I followed Chief Abiola, who later became the flagbearer of SDP while Nduka Obaigbena worked for the NRC candidate, Alhaji Bashir Tofa. Chief Abiola won the June 12 Presidential election but the military junta, headed by President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida blatantly refused to hand over power to him. Trouble started within the twinkle of an eye and I was deeply immersed in it. First, I was detained and kept in terrible condition. It was the first baptism of fire for my brand new wife, Mobolaji. After my stint in detention, I continued with my fight for the revalidation of the June 12 election. In 1994, Chief Abiola himself was arrested and detained indefinitely. My wife suffered so much during this period. By 1994, she was pregnant with our first baby. She had the baby in my absence in London because of my activities back home. The boy was named Olupekan, God has expanded our roots.
By 1995, things had become so terrible in our country. On July 22, 1995, we got a tip off that I was to be arrested again and charged with treason for being one of the brains behind Radio Freedom, which later became Radio Kudirat. I still wonder till this day who roped me in as I knew nothing about the radio at that stage. I was coming from Abeokuta where I had gone to see Chief Olusegun Osoba, our great leader, when I met my wife on the way to our house and I was advised to disappear immediately. I planned my exit through the expert advice of Tokunbo Afikuyomi and I was able to navigate my way through the smugglers’ routes from Seme border into Cotonou in Benin Republic. I also meandered my way through Togo to Ghana. I had to abandon my wife and son. July 25, 1995, would remain one of my saddest days on earth as I said good bye to my young family. My family later joined me in England and the suffering was so excruciating. Special thanks to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Lt. General Alani Akinrinade who supported us in exile and many of our young friends when we landed in London. My wife bore it all with equanimity and we had three more baby boys in exile namely Enitanyole, Eniafe and Enikorewafunmi. We also had another baby, named Ovation International, which compensated us for all the punishment and emotional stress we endured.
It is a long story, which I only chose to paraphrase, as my darling wife turns 50, to the glory of God and, against all odds, still in a union where we both remain madly in love with one another!
Please, join me in a toast to the health, well-being, long life, prosperity and happiness of this amazing amazon. To Mobolaji Abiodun Momodu …