Dele Momodu is a journalist, publisher of Ovation magazine, and former presidential candidate. In an exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ Michael Abimboye, he speaks about his relationship with the rich and influential in the society, his 2015 ambition, and his quest for a better Nigeria.
PT: You are critical of government and government officials in your Thisday column and on Twitter, how do you manage that with your cozy relationship with the powerful and rich in Nigeria?
Dele Momodu: I have not been critical of government; I have only been analyzing issues and proffering solutions. You cannot call me a bitter critic because you must differentiate between people who just criticize anything that has to do with government; that is not me. I proffer solutions, I write letters to Nigerians, write letters to leaders, and give them my ideas. SEE MORE AFTER THE CUT>>>>>>>
When you talk about cozy, I am a leader and a leader must know the good, the bad, and the ugly. I contested to be president of Nigeria and presidents won’t govern over saints, he is going to govern over saints and sinners alike, the rich and the poor, so when people say you are their friends and all that, as a matter of fact, I should take credit for my ability to tell my friends the gospel truth. If all of us can tell ourselves the truth, Nigeria will be a better place. But in Nigeria, once you are comfortable, once you have cozy relationship with people then you cannot talk to them again. I don’t believe in the traditional definition of critics in Nigeria, which means that when you are a critic, you must be a poor man, you must not have rich friends, all your friends must be saints. I don’t know where those saints are.
PT: What is your reaction to criticism that you are massaging the ego of those perceived to be stealing from Nigeria through Ovation magazine?
Dele Momodu: I am a reporter and Ovation is a lifestyle magazine that normally deals with newsmakers, lifestyle of the rich and famous, so that is my job. My job does not preclude me from criticizing society.
King sunny Ade praises people on weekends; it doesn’t mean that he would not sing about operation feed the nation or the ills of the society. I grew up knowing Ebenezer Obey, he had friends everywhere, but at the same time, he has a conscience. So despite that I know these, it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be able to tell them the truth.
PT: What kind of Nigeria do you want to see and how are you working towards it?
Dele Momodu: I have been working since I was in school, I tell people I have been in this advocacy thing since 1978 when I entered the University of Ife, we started the “Ali Must Go’ riot at that time and I have never stopped. It has led me to the prison; it has led me to exile, but I keep on. You see, it is easier to talk and clean mouth as if nothing happened, but I refuse to. I am not a contractor; I am a reporter with a conscience. I have friends in low places but I have the conscience. So I have always been consistent. A lot of people once they are comfortable and have friends in high places they don’t care about what happens to the rest of the society and I think it is unfair.
PT: So what Nigeria would you like to see?
Dele Momodu: Ok, the Nigeria I would love to see, seriously, is the Nigeria where there is infrastructural development because we have so many resources to fix our infrastructure. I mean if you ask me, my biggest frustration is the lack of infrastructure. I want to go and see my people in Ife, most times I can’t go because I have to think about the road, I have to think that I will get stranded for the next 10 hours for a journey that is not more than 2 hrs.
There is no electricity, I would love a situation where I am spared the noise of generator and fumes that comes from the exhaust of these generators, this is monumental pollution. If you go to smaller countries in Africa like Senegal, Ghana and places like that, even in Liberia where after the war, there was no electricity, today, they are
managing their affairs better that Nigeria. It seems the more money we sink into providing electricity, the less we get. I can’t explain it and it really worries me.
Even our education is nothing to write home about. I went to local schools in Ile-Ife, today, I can speak English like a man who grew up in London. I wish we could do something very drastic about our education. I am worried about mass unemployment, these days, I run away from my telephone because eight or nine out of 10 callers are asking for favours that I know I cannot deal with. People assume shaking hands with presidents, governors, some money must have been exchanged. It is not true. I live strictly by what I do and it is a tough business.
You are in journalism and you know how tough it is for most magazines to survive these days, Ovation is not different. It is a tough game, we just have to manage and manoeuvre our ways through this turbulent times without compromising our quality and principle.
So I am hoping that Nigeria will be a place I and my family and everybody will have a decent living. It can be done, we are not asking for too much from the government. We are just asking for the basic necessity of life which I believe God in his infinite mercy has endowed us with.
PT: Will you contest the Presidency come 2015?
Dele Momodu: No I won’t.
PT: Why are you not contesting?
Dele Momodu: Nothing. I have already contested for the presidency of the republic of Nigeria. I am not a professional politician, I have a job and the reason I contested to be president is because I know and realize that without executive powers, I cannot do or achieve what I hope to do in Nigeria. So I have contested, I have supported two contestants, Chief MKO Abiola and Chief Olu Falae. Mine was to get a full experience and that has exposed me and convinced me about Nigerian politics. The reality about Nigeria is Nigeria today is not ready for change. I have seen the attitude of our young people who you think want more change, call them tomorrow and tell them you want to
contest; they will say you lack experience. What experience do I lack?
Is it experience of stealing government’s money, experience of failure to deliver on our promises , the experience I bring is of managing people and resources very prudently, because for any business to survive in this terrain, you must be very prudent. But what you see is that once our people get into government, they become very profligate, they spend money as if it is growing from the air, they don’t care if you and I cannot feed our families, as long as they have access to government money, they waste it.
I have realised that no single individual can dislodge the PDP, that is why I am hoping that the APC will get their acts together, if they do, it doesn’t mean that they are going to be totally different, but at least, we have tried one party for 16 years and we can see they are going nowhere, so let’s try some other people even if they will fail,
let’s hope they don’t fail absolutely like the ones before them.
PT: What party do you belong to?
Dele Momodu: Oh, National Conscience Party. I have not left my party. I am not one of those who jump anyhow. When I left the Labour party, I looked for a party I thought would best serve my ideas and ideals of
what a nation should be and I went to a party founded by late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, NCP and I am proud to be a member.
PT: Do you see any chance of the All Progressives Congress, APC, wrestling power from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, come 2015?
Dele Momodu: It will be tough but it is possible. It will be very tough, I mean you can see they are saying people should not do rally but PDP is already doing rallies. (Pointing to the Television) you can see all their governors, that is Akpabio (Governor of Akwa Ibom State) talking, nobody will arrest them, the police cannot do anything about it. It is a lawless society. While APC is yet to decide who will be its presidential flag bearer, these guys have started campaigns nationwide. They are going round the country and that’s the way it’s going to be. They will spend your money, the presidential jets will be fuelled by Nigeria, the police will be paid by Nigeria, (President Goodluck) Jonathan doesn’t have to spend anything, and the money is there.
PT: Who is your preferred presidential candidate in the APC?
Dele Momodu: Nobody has presented himself yet, we are all doing guess work that General Buhari is interested, Atiku is interested, people have even rumoured that the Speaker of the House Representative, Aminu Tambuwal, wants to cross over and join the race. So we don’t know; until they present themselves. But I can tell you upfront the way I reason, I would love to see a younger person who is not above 60 years or thereabout. When I say younger person I expect a 30 something year old but looking at the peculiarity of Nigeria, I would say let’s see if we can include people who are 60, 61, 62 and right now, they are not too many people. I won’t mind to see a Tambuwal and a Rotimi Amaechi contest. People say can’t you find another people; you see the reality on ground is that in politics you must be able to mobilize people.
It is not about emotion, you and I can shout from now till kingdom come, I would love to see a Donald Duke contest. But you see, I am close to these people and I know their strength and weakness. The strength of Donald Duke is that he would make a good and effective leader but his weakness is that he will not have the ability to mobilize a lot of the ordinary folks who may not have heard of his name before. I am popular, there is no elite in Nigeria who doesn’t
know me or Donald Duke but when it comes translating that into votes, I’m not sure it’s going to be that easy. So now you have to look for experienced people who will fill that network of nationwide platforms, people like Atiku, Tambuwal. As speaker of the House of Reps he has his foot soldiers already in the membership of the National Assembly. So it might be easier for him than me because you still need the instrumentality of politics for you to be able to contest and win in an election.
PT: What is your reaction to the sack of the former Sports Minister, Bolaji Abdullahi, do you think it is political?
Dele Momodu: Oh it is very clear, I tweeted about it, I did not hide my opinion. I don’t believe that every minister must be a member of PDP. I worked for MKO and I wasn’t a member of SDP. My partner at Leaders and Company, the parent company of ThisDay newspaper, Nduka Obiagbena, was campaigning for Tofa. We didn’t become enemies because of that and he didn’t sack me, I was even using the official car of Leaders and Company.
There is nothing wrong in Bolaji Abdullahi to be a working for government without being in PDP. Must every civil servant in Nigeria be a PDP member? And I have pleaded with the president to, if possible, reverse the decision. It is one wrong decision that cannot be justified. They said he is not showing enough commitment, and he is a double-faced member of the cabinet because he was selected by Bukola Saraki; and so what? Saraki is a Nigerian and that’s why people go into government and quickly steal what they can steal before they are removed.
This is a guy that has brought glory to Nigeria several times, from his first appointment when he was Minister for Youth; he did the ‘You Win’ thing. He and my former presidential campaign manager, Ohimai Godwin Amaize did the project. We must allow technocrats to survive in Nigeria; if everything is political then we are doomed and sentenced to eternal stagnation.
PT: You are one of those who believes social media can effect change in Nigeria’s democracy, how feasible is this?
Dele Momodu: I am not under any illusion that social media will ignite a revolution in Nigeria. Don’t forget that Nigeria has come a very long way and about 70 to 80 per cent of our people are unlettered, illiterate, and sometimes incurably ignorant because some people just refuse to change and they will tell you this is how it’s been done since the first republic and this is how it will be done. So social media has it uses, for me, it is a form of therapy, social therapy, just to calm me down and at least give me a voice that I am saying my mind and
expressing my views without hold back. If I go to NTA or FRCN, they may say I can’t say certain things whereas on social media, it is free. Once I pick my Twitter or Facebook, I can express myself.
Trust me, I am not stupid enough to think things will change because of social media otherwise, in the last election, we used social media very well but we saw the result and I contested not because I was certain I would win, but I contested to see the extend to see how serious people are about the change they all scream about and I
realize that people just talk about change but are not ready to walk the path.
PT: How can you rate the standard of journalism in Nigeria considering the high rate of ‘brown envelope” practice?
Dele Momodu: Well, I will say it the way Yoruba people say; “Eyan nibe ninu eku, tan pe legun, ara orun kan o si ni bi kan”, “there is a man behind the mask that we call the masquerade, the man is not from heaven”. Journalists are part of the society, they have bills to pay and trust me, we are among the poorest professionals in Nigeria. I know some students I taught at A levels in 1982 that are bank directors today. They are buying houses in Ikoyi, V.I and all over the places, but we can’t.
Any journalist who can find the money to buy himself new cars, new house, go and check it out, there must be a deal with government or business people. So if you don’t know how to do those deals it’s going to be very difficult for you to be able to even fulfil your obligation as a man. You have school fees to pay and you are not able to pay. People expect the journalist to be the lamb of God and take away the sins of the earth, but that’s not it. It is not easy to stop brown envelope because journalists are part of the society and they must be able to live responsibly to the expectations of their family.
PT: why was Ovation red carol staged in Ghana last year instead of Nigeria?
Dele Momodu: You see, Ovation is an international brand; it is a global product, so we feel we have done about five editions in Nigeria and we should start taking it round the world. We are a bi-lingual magazine now. We do a French cover and English cover for Ovation. So we can’t be doing everything in Nigeria, otherwise people will just straight jacket us as a Nigerian product which is what we are not.
If Globacom is in Cotonou, we must be in Cotonou, if they are in Ghana,we are in Ghana, we should promote our brand more. The essence of Ovation carol is not just to do an event in Nigeria, it is to promote our brand and the brand cannot be promoted fully in Nigeria when we are in other countries.