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



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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Fuel Subsidy Removal: FG, Labour Meeting Ends in Deadlock




Talks between the Federal Government and organised labour over the removal of fuel subsidy ended in a deadlock on Wednesday as they failed to reach a consensus following the hike in petrol pump prices to over N700 from N195 per litre by oil marketers.

The hours-long meeting which was held at the Presidential Villa was to, among other things, prevent a labour crisis following the recent increase in the petrol pump price occasioned by the discontinuance of petroleum subsidy.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited said it had adjusted the pump price of Premium Motor Spirit to reflect the market realities. The agency, however, failed to state the new prices of petrol.

However, several retails outlets sold the product between 600 and N800 in Lagos, Abuja , Ogun and some other states.

The National Public Relations Officer, Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria, Chief Chinedu Ukadike, pointed out that the hike in the cost of PMS would trigger galloping inflation in the country, stressing that some outlets in the South-East were currently dispensing the product at N1,200/l.

Ukadike stated, “Once NNPCL retail stations have adjusted their pumps to reflect the new price, there is nothing you can do about it; that is the new price. As I speak with you, all of them are now selling at the new prices. The situation is so bad, that somewhere in Ebonyi State our members informed us that it is now N1,200/litre.

“We thought the President would remove the subsidy through a seamless means because the source of this petrol is the NNPCL. They are the ones subsidising petroleum products, they are the people who use their revenue to subsidise this product.’’

The IPMAN spokesperson expressed worry over the rate of increase in inflation and hardship that would come as a result of the latest hike in petrol price.

“This hike in petrol price will definitely lead to galloping inflation and will worsen the hardship already being faced by the Nigerian masses. It is not something to cheer about. It came as a surprise and in the coming days, we will see the very harsh ripple effects,” he stated.

Meanwhile, Ukadike has called on the Federal Government and the NNPCL to give other marketers the opportunity to start importing petrol in order to create competition in the sector.

“The NNPCL is importing and has not given people the opportunity to join them in importing so as to see whether private sector operators can import the product cheaper or not. So there is no competition. In a deregulated regime, there must be competition, everyone with capacity should be allowed to import,” the IPMAN official stated.

When asked whether other marketers could resume imports since the government had finally deregulated petrol prices, Ukadike replied, “Marketers can import, but let me tell you some of the factors militating against this. The first is that there won’t be availability of dollars.

“You will source your dollar from the parallel market and if you are not careful in doing this, and you go into the importation of petroleum products, you might not ‘come out of it alive’ at the end of the day.

“So what we are saying is that those advantages that NNPCL has, should be shared with other major importers of petroleum products. If it is through crude buy-back, they should let us know so that independent players such as IPMAN members can come together and be able to use it in the buy-back model.’’

He added, “For independent marketers, the most important thing is that there should be availability of petroleum products, and the government should open up the space for importers and investors to come in.”

NNPCL, the sole importer of petrol into Nigeria for several years running, confirmed the hike in petrol price in a statement and a new pricing template released to marketers nationwide.

But the move has sparked a groundswell of anger across the nation with the Nigeria Labour Congress demanding an immediate reversal of the decision.

The union also said it would hold an emergency meeting on Friday on the fuel price increase which had triggered hoarding and scarcity across the country with attendant rise in transport fares, goods and services.

The fuel price hike by the oil firm is coming 72 hours after President Bola Tinubu declared in his inaugural address on Monday that the subsidy regime had ended.

To pacify the growing anger over the situation, the FG hastily summoned some labour leaders to a meeting at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, on Wednesday evening.

The meeting had in attendance the NLC President, Joe Ajaero and his Trade Union Congress counterpart, Festus Osifo, former NLC President and immediate past governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, Permanent Secretary, State House, Tijjani Umar, Head of Service of the Federation, Dr Folashade Yemi-Esan, Group Chief Executive Officer of the NNPCL, Mele Kyari, and others, however, ended in a deadlock as the labour and government teams failed to reach a consensus.

Speaking at the end of the meeting, Joe Ajaero, said “As far as labour is concerned, we didn’t have a consensus in this meeting.”

He faulted the NNPCL over an official release published hours earlier reviewing the petrol pump price in its filling stations nationwide.

He said the move puts the labour unions in a difficult position on the negational table.

“That’s the principle of negotiation. You don’t put the partner, ask them to negotiate under gunpoint. The prayer of the NLC is that we go back to the status quo, negotiate, think of alternatives and all the effects and how to manage the effects this action is going to have on the people. If it is an action that must take off.

“The subsidy provision has been made up to the end of June. And before then, conscious people, labour management, and the government should be able to think of what will happen at the end of June. You don’t start it before the time,” Ajaero said.

The Punch

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Breaking: Founder, DAAR Communications, Raymond Dokpesi is Dead




By Eric Elezuo

The Founder of DAAR Communications, owners of the foremost radio and television stations in Nigeria, Raypower and African Independent Television (AIT), High Chief Raymond Dokpesi, is dead.

Reliable sources said the High Chief died while exercising on a treadmill on Monday afternoon.

The source said Dopkesi suffered a stroke some weeks ago.

Details soon…

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I Stand on Rule of Law, with Our Candidate, Atiku Abubakar, PDP, Says Dele Momodu




By Eric Elezuo

Frontline journalist and Director of Strategic Communications of the Atiku/Okowa Presidential Council in the just concluded Presidential election, Chief Dele Momodu, had said that he remains a loyal member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and will always stand on the side of rule of law, and with the party’s presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.

Momodu made the revelations in a statement he signed himself, noting that the last election, which brought Asiwaju Bola Tinubu to power, was savagely manipulated by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

He praised the steps Atiku, and the presidential candidate of the Labour candidate, Mr. Peter Obi, have taken in seeking legal redress.

The statement in details:


My position on the state of our country NIGERIA is simple and straightforward. I’m a loyal member of PDP who owes absolute allegiance to Nigeria and its Rule of Law. My political party PDP and others passionately hold the view that the last Presidential election was savagely manipulated by the ruling party APC and the cases are already in courts. Nothing will make me abandon my party on the altar of convenience and profit. Win or lose, I will continue to stand on this principle without any malice or prejudice against those who think otherwise. Democracy is a game of choice and I’m resolutely standing by our candidate, the former Vice President ALHAJI ATIKU ABUBAKAR (GCON) who has taken the honorable and peaceful step of going to court to seek redress. This is the only way we can deepen our hard earned Democracy. Sacrifice is not always convenient but painful.

I salute and respect The Wazirin Adamawa and others like my dear friend and Brother, former Governor Peter Obi, the Labor Party Presidential candidate, for promoting the best tenets of Democracy in Nigeria and I’m willing to encourage them rather than discourage their onerous quests…


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