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Pendulum: 30 Years of Living and Working in Lagos (Part 2)

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By Dele Momodu

Fellow Nigerians, I started what would easily pass for my mini-biography last week in this column. The response from readers has been truly humbling. It is not easy starting a career with a bang and maintaining the ovation consistently for 30 years, and still counting. My story reassures us that our youths can still achieve a lot if they work very hard and tenaciously on their dreams. I was certainly not born with spoons, be it bronze, silver or gold, but education opened my eyes to uncommon possibilities. Rather than bemoan my humble background or begrudge successful people or government officials, as architects of my poor economic condition, I arrived Lagos in 1988 with a vengeance. I promised myself something; I will work as if work was going out of vogue, and I would leave the rest to God to sort out. And God answered my prayers beyond my asking. Things happened so fast and till this day, I’m still in a daze, some kind of wondrous haze.

I stopped last week at the point I became the pioneer Editor of Leaders & Company, the parent of Thisday newspapers. There are lessons to be learnt from my uncommon trajectory. Please, let me rewind a bit. When I was leaving Ile-Ife to seek greener pastures in Lagos, my dream was to work for only one newspaper, The Guardian, owned by the great Publisher, Mr Alex Ibru. I was equally attracted by the powerful assemblage of superstar writers in The Guardian: Olatunji Dare, Stanley Macebuh, Yemi Ogunbiyi, Onwuchekwa Jemie, Chinweizu, Sully Abu, Andy Akporugo, Odia Ofeimun, Edwin Madunagu, Patrick Dele Cole, Femi Osofisan, Sonala Olumhense, Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo, Amma Ogan, Greg Obong-Oshotse, and others, who worked there. They were first and world class. For any budding writer at the time, your dream was to work or write, every now and then, for The Guardian. Though the Concord Press of Nigeria, owned by Chief Moshood Abiola, was a much bigger media empire, with different publications, in English, Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo languages, every person of intellectual bent queued up patiently to appear in The Guardian. It was the Holy Grail of Nigerian Press.

Many of us had our biases against Chief MKO Abiola, who had acquired many unprintable sobriquets and nomenclature.  Some of the more palatable ones included Islamic fundamentalist, friend of the military, American agent, and all sorts. I therefore joined the Concord most reluctantly, and mainly out of desperation. Little did I know, that it was working within this organisation that would be the springboard to my successful career in journalism and public relations. Prior to that, I was writing on the opinion page of The Guardian to keep my body and soul together. On joining the Concord, I realised Abiola had been a veritable victim of the most malicious campaign of calumny. Though he was not a saint, he definitely was not the demon he had been painted to be, particularly by legendary musician, social critic and kinsman, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. I learnt many lessons for working for Chief Abiola from 1988-90, two years that now seemed like eternity.

I discovered the real Abiola. He was totally detribalised. He never practised quota system. No one asked about our State of origin or religion. It was immaterial that you were male or female. Christians held some of the most important positions in his organisation, at different times. We had and heard of non-Yoruba names like MCK Ajuluchukwu, Tom Borha, Stanley Egbochukwu, Nsikak Essien, Rose Umoren, Chike Akabogu (of blessed memory), Sam Omatseye, Lewis Obi, Ben Okezie, Yakubu Mohammed, Ray Ekpu, Dele Giwa, Nosa Igiebor, Nnamdi Obasi, May Ellen Ezekiel, Richard Mofe-Damijo, Dimgba Igwe, Ohi Alegbe, Betty Irabor… I can go on and on. All that qualified you for a job with Concord was that you had intellect or flair, or both. Journalists enjoyed substantial freedom, except on several and specific occasions when the military governments vehemently protested against certain stories and threatened hell fire and brimstone. We had a bush canteen where we committed sins of gluttony and alcoholism. Most journalists smoked like chimneys and were never discriminated or recriminated against by our amazing Chairman. He gave everyone his due and was probably the most generous employer of his time.

No one ever missed an opportunity to visit Chairman’s house in Ikeja. A visit would always guarantee some hefty gift, mostly cash. I remember an occasion when Babafemi Ojudu and I went to interview him. He made sure he arranged some substantial taxi fare for us, despite being the one paying our salaries. Our colleagues at work were endlessly jealous of our good fortune. On another occasion, our Managing Director, Dr Doyinsola Abiola had sent me on errand to secure the music star, Sir Shina Peters, for a performance at Chairman’s house where he was hosting the Super Eagles national team. Job done, I went to Chairman’s house to give a positive feedback and he was very elated. Abiola was a Master of appreciation. He must have noticed the rubbish wristwatch I adorned so proudly on my wrist and he entered his bedroom and came back with a solid gold watch which he gifted to me.

On several occasions, I had the privilege of listening to our Chairman as he explained his many battles and how he won most of them. He was a naturally affable personality (I liked to call him the spellbinder in many of my reports on him) and so it was not surprising that he had friends in high and low places. Did he take advantage of his extensive global connections and networks? Who wouldn’t? But he didn’t do business for the benefit of himself and family alone. He was the modern-day Santa Claus who spent lavishly on virtually all those who came in contact with him. His generosity was legendary. He represented one of Africa’s biggest business interests, ITT, in Africa and the Middle East, and so the accusation of him being an American agent was not surprising even if far-fetched. The lesson I learnt was not to judge anyone without cast-iron evidence. This attitude would help me and my business of journalism in years to come. As a matter of policy, I learnt not to attack viciously but to present my story in a fair and balanced manner and let the readers be the judge and interpreter.

Another lesson was in the art of dedication. I loved my job with a passion and it was palpable. No one would have believed that I worked at Concord for only, and exactly, two years, but our relationships didn’t just end there. I did not tell the famous generalissimo I was teleporting to Classique magazine but told our MD, Dr Doyinsola Abiola (nee Aboaba). I later ran into Chief Abiola at Sheraton Hotel & Towers, a few months after, where he was hosting Mallam Sani Zorro, a staff of Concord, who had just been elected President of the Nigerian Union of Journalists. Chief Abiola, who flew in that evening from Tokyo, if my memory is intact, gave May Ellen Ezekiel (God rest her soul) and I a pleasant surprise. As he made his speech, extemporaneously, he acknowledged both of us and asked, rhetorically, why I left without informing him.

I walked up to the boss of all bosses after the event and apologised to him. He was just too kind. He said my leaving Concord did not mean I could no longer visit his home and he requested for my business card but I had none on me. He then took one from my friend, Bimbo Ashiru, who was present, and signed behind it with written instructions to his security to give me unfettered access to his house. He then asked me to paste my own card on Ashiru’s own and laminate. “That is your multiple visa to my house,” he said jocularly. And indeed, that simple note opened doors from then to the end. I practically became Abiola’s official biographer. If he sneezed or coughed, I turned it into big exciting stories. Our bond grew in leaps and bounds. We became almost inseparable. He never considered anyone too junior or too young and I experienced to advise him and he listened and consented to superior argument and logic. He taught us to convince ourselves about anything before we can hope to convince others. We got to a point that he publicly announced to the media world that I was his adopted son, and I felt truly honoured. Interestingly, after I resigned from my job at Classique, and decided to start a public relations outfit, my first account came from Kola Abiola, who signed me as a consultant to their Summit Oil International company. My adult life has always intertwined media and public relations. I’m certain, I was brought to this world for the two.

I added other accounts later and consulted for the Spirit of Africa, an extremely hardworking and irrepressible business Guru, Dr Mike Adenuga Jnr, as well as Mr Hakeem Belo Osagie, fondly called the whiz-kid, who had just acquired United Bank for Africa, and worked with him on the Moneygram project, in Belgravia, London, when he brought the money transfer company to Nigeria. I also handled an aspect of Chief Abiola’s media campaign when he launched his Presidential bid. I was fortunate to meet and work closely with them at a young age. I was 28 when I joined Concord, 31 when I met Dr Adenuga and I was 33 when Chief Abiola contested in 1993, and I had been working for or meeting with the rich and famous, high and mighty in Nigeria since the age of about 20. This would adequately prepare me for the task of establishing and sustaining an elaborate publication as Ovation International in the future.

Chief Abiola entrusted me with great responsibilities. For example, he had sent me to Vienna, Austria, to represent him at the Bruno Kreisky awards, where Chief Gani Fawehinmi, was a proud recipient. As important as June 12, 1993, was to all of us, I left Nigeria on June 9, 1993, and joined Chief Fawehinmi in Vienna, on June 10. The event was on June 11. Chief Fawehinmi was shocked to see me in person. “Dele is this you or your apparition?” he exclaimed in his famous loud voice. I told him Chief Abiola had sent me with a special letter of congratulations and he was deeply touched. The ceremony went well on June 11.

I left Vienna for London on June 12, but there was no way to return to Nigeria faster. I called Nigeria on June 13 and was told by sources at Concord that Chairman was coasting home to victory. I called Nduka Obaigbena on June 14 but the news he gave me was as if I had received a sucker punch to my solar plexus. “Dele, where have you been? Try and reach your man Abiola and tell him to call his friend IBB (Babangida) urgently. It looks like he would win the election but they won’t hand over to him…” I promptly told him to stop the joke. How was it possible for a man to work feverishly and sleeplessly, as Abiola had done, and yet fail to get his mandate, I wondered aloud. I couldn’t reach Chief Abiola in the midst of this hullabaloo. Chief Fawehinmi arrived London that Monday of June 14, 1993, and I broke the news of what Nduka had told me to him. He too dismissed the report as unfounded. He said if there was any atom of truth in it, he was ready to fight to finish.

We boarded our flight from London Gatwick, North Terminal, two days later, on June 16, 1993, when the news came stealthily, like a thief in the night, that the military government in Nigeria had asked that the counting of votes be stopped by the electoral commission. Our worst nightmare was actually turning into unfortunate reality. By the time we landed, Nigeria was almost reaching a boiling point. Dr Beekololari Randsome-Kuti and Lawyer Femi Falana were already on standby and waiting for Fawehinmi’s arrival. That was it. What started stupidly as a wicked joke had suddenly spiralled out of control. The chickens had come home to roost and Nigeria, its leaders and its people would not be at peace for a long time to come.

I soon became an early victim of this unnecessary, ill-advised and ill-fated provocation. I was picked up one early morning in July 1993, by security agents on orders from God-knows-who! I was kept in a putrefied, rancid cell at Alagbon Close, in Ikoyi, Lagos. Thus, began my baptism of fire and a cat and mouse game between me and the then military government. The farce eventually reached a climax under the Abacha government and I was forced into exile on July 25, 1995. My dramatic escape from Nigeria is another story to be retold some other day …

 

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You’ve Nothing to Offer Nigerians, Only Insults, Akwa Ibom Gov Slams Tinubu

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Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Udom Emmanuel, on Monday, replied the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Bola Tinubu, saying that he (Tinubu) always resorts to abusing and insulting people during campaigns because he has nothing to bring to the table for Nigerians.

He also said that despite being insulted by the former Lagos State Governor, he would prefer to allow peace to reign by ignoring him and focusing on helping install good governance to rescue Nigerians from their present woes.

Emmanuel spoke on Monday evening at Government House, Uyo while inaugurating newly appointed Permanent Secretaries, Chairmen and Members of Boards and Commissions, as well as a Transition Committee to ensure the smooth transition of power to the next administration.

Recall that Tinubu had during his rally in Uyo Monday afternoon, reportedly said, “Akwa Ibom, that boy wey bring Atiku here, wey de call himself Governor, tell him enough is enough! He lives in my backyard in Lagos, If no be say we be one, I would have driven him home. You see that mansion he is living, I would just use lizards, pigeons and scorpions to put him inside.“

But reacting few hours later, the Akwa Ibom State Governor said, “for the country to remain in peace, one party must ‘play saint’ and that is why he would refrain from replying Tinubu.

Emmanuel who is the Chairman of the PDP presidential campaigns said, “I also go to other states, and if you watch our campaigns, my principal (Atiku Abubakar) has never spoken about any Governor, he has never spoken openly about Asiwaju before.”

He added that it was unfortunate that Tinubu, who was granted state-owned facilities such as the airport, security, stadium, and a good atmosphere to come in and sell his manifesto, ended up coming to insult the integrity of over 7.9 million Akwa Ibom people.

The Governor wondered if it is possible for any Akwa Ibomite to go to Lagos that Tinubu stays or the actual state that he hails from, to insult Tinubu in like manner and still be allowed to safely return home, “but here our people at the stadium including some state governors just laughed and applauded him.”

“What makes him think he will govern Nigeria? If I reply him now, people will call me and say, haba oga you are not like that. But I will reply him one day. There is nothing like ‘emilokan’ (it is my turn) here, Nigeria is in God’s hands.”

He maintained further that despite being the highest revenue contributor to the federation account, Akwa Ibom State has not gotten a single kilometre of road from the APC-led Federal Government for nearly 8 years adding that the poor response from the Federal Government also caused the delayed commencement of the seaport in the state.

Meanwhile, the governor thanked the newly appointed Permanent Secretaries for accepting the onerous task of service, and urged them to see themselves as ambassadors and work towards raising the bar of leadership which would encourage productivity and promote good working relationship with subordinates in the service.

“This is one thing I promised Akwa Ibom people that appointment of Permanent Secretaries shall be totally on merit and not by mercy, let those that can do the work be given the opportunity. Permanent Secretary is not a promotion, it is an appointment on merit.

Governor Emmanuel also reiterated his commitments towards enhancing efficiency within Civil Service, noting that during his administration civil servants have been promoted on yearly basis.

He assured that before he exits office more Permanent Secretaries would be appointed into the service to fill vacant positions left by the ones who retired.

Addressing Chairmen of Boards and Commissions, Governor Emmanuel who described them as pillars in government, acknowledged their commitment particularly, Chairman, Akwa Ibom State Environmental Protection & Waste Management Agency, Prince Akpan Ikim, for winning laurels for the state through his outstanding performance in keeping and making the state the cleanest in Nigeria for five consecutive years from 2018 through 2022, and tasked others to create an impact that will stand them out.

In the same vein, the Transition Committee members were handed the task of ensuring a seamless transition of government to an incoming administration, and also verify all projects executed by the present administration.

The newly appointed Permanent Secretaries are; Mfon Inuaesiet Edemekong Esq., Dr. Stephen Effiong, Atim Chelly Okoko, Iquo Okon Abia Esq., Uwem Sunday Andrew-Essien, Isaiah Robson Ntekim and Emaeyak Nyong Akpan as Auditor-General for Local Government.

The Transition Committee has Mrs. Ekereobong Umoh -Chairman, Uko Udom SAN, Prof Augustine Umoh, Dr. Ini Adiakpan, Mrs. Nsemeke Daniel, Dr. Nathaniel Adiakpan, Mr Elijah Udoiyak, Mrs. Esther Inyang, Pastor Uwem Andrew-Essien, Mr. Isaiah Ntekim, Mr. Effiong Ekpenyong and Mrs. Bella Akpanya as members.

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PDP Condemns Attack on Buhari in Kano, Blames Tinubu, Ganduje

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The Peoples Democratic Party Presidential Campaign Council, has blamed the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and the governor of Kano State, Abdullahi Ganduje, for the attacks on the convoy of President Muhammadu Buhari, during a visit to the state on Monday.

The spokesperson of the campaign council, Dino Melaye, who shared one of the videos from the reported attack, wrote, “The fight between Tinubu and Buhari is entering a new dimension. The attack in Kano was properly coordinated and funded allegedly by Asiwaju.

“The meeting to push Buhari to submission or face sponsored attack in the north was said to be hatched in Bourdillon. Me, I am busy with Atiku.”

A political activist, Deji Adeyanju, who shared another video of the reported attack, said, “They are showing Buhari and APC Shege in Kano and many northern states.”

Similarly, the PDP in a statement signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, on Monday also blamed Tinubu and the Governor of Kano State, Abdullahi Ganduje, for the attack.

According to the party, the attack was designed to undermine the Presidency, cause confusion, trigger violence in the country, disrupt the conduct of the 2023 general elections “and derail our democracy having realised that he cannot win in a peaceful, free and fair electoral process.”

The statement read in part, “The PDP invites Nigerians to note how Governor Abdullahi Ganduje attempted to abridge President Buhari’s movement and even tried to stop him from visiting Kano State.

“More disquieting is the fact that the APC Presidential Campaign sought to humiliate and harm President Buhari while performing his official duties in Kano.

“It should be noted that the APC presidential candidate has been displaying open aversion and making inciting statements against President Buhari since Mr President’s declaration, in line with democratic best practice all over the world that Nigerians should freely vote for any candidate and party of their choice in the 2023 general elections.

“The apparent frustration of Asiwaju Tinubu to resort to encourage or condone violence is fueled by his entitlement mentality, that it is his turn to be President, despite his numerous ineligibility and disability baggage.”

Ologunagba reminded Nigerians about Tinubu’s infamous statement in London where he declared to his supporters that “political power is not going to be served in a restaurant, it is not served a la carte.”

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Organ Harvesting: Ekweremadu Battles for Freedom, Appears in Court Tuesday

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A former Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, will on Tuesday appear again in court in the United Kingdom where he has been accused of human trafficking.

The lawmaker was in June 2022 arrested at Heathrow Airport in London after Staines Police Station received a report from a young man claiming to have been trafficked into the UK.

The young man, who made the report shortly after arriving in the UK from Nigeria, also alleged that he was made to undergo some medical tests, none of which he consented to.

Ekweremadu was immediately arraigned before a Magistrate’s Court for bringing a child into the UK to harvest his organs.

While the lawmaker had been in custody since June 23, his wife, Beatrice, who was arrested with him, was granted bail by a criminal court in London shortly after their arrest.

Monday (today) makes it 221 days since Ekweremadu was placed in the custody of UK authorities.

The case against the lawmaker which had been slated for May was later scheduled for January 31.

The 60-year-old, who denied the allegations against him, will again appear before High Court Judge, Mr Justice Johnson.

His daughter, Sonia, had on November 7, 2022, appeared in court to defend the accusation of trafficking a homeless man into the UK to harvest his organs for herself.

According to Daily Mail, the 25-year-old, who is battling a kidney-related illness, pleaded not guilty to the charge level against her when she appeared again in court on January 13.

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