By Gboyega Okegbenro
It will be stating the obvious to remark that the raging corona virus pandemic robbed the world of one of the most vivacious celebrations that would have seized the entire nation, nay Africa, today as Mr. Celebration himself, Basorun Ayobamidele Abayomi Ajani “Areago Arikuyeri” Momodu, aka Bob Dee, turns 60!
So much had gone underground amongst Dele’s close friends over the last few months until the seriousness of the pandemic really dawned. It was to be a global chain of events, with stops at major world capitals and grand finale in our dear Lagos. Tactically, the key actors and conspirators had to wind down, praying and hoping that things got better, but here we are…
Nonetheless, immense thanks to Jehovah God that our dear friend and brother, Bob Dee, can still, in good health and sound body, savour the warm embrace of his dear wife, Mobolaji, and four lovely sons; singing and clapping unto his creator for guiding him to the 6oth rung of the ladder of creation today Saturday 16th May, 2020.
I did not attend the University of Ife, but destiny long connected myself and Dele through our common friend, Dapo Thomas (now Dr. Dapo Thomas, a lecturer at LASU); the notorious King Cobra Campus Magazine Editor, much haunted by the Buhari-Idiagbon military regime in the mid-eighties; who was my colleague and very close friend in the Newbreed/President Magazines in 1988.
About that same time, Dele shot into national consciousness along with another friend and colleague, Kunle Ajibade, with their earth-shaking public rejoinder cum allegation of plagiarism against one of Nigeria’s journalism giants, Mr. Ray Ekpu, then Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch Magazine concerning, the latter’s widely-circulated review of the book, Born To Run, a biography of the late Dele Giwa, co-authored by Dele Olojede and late Dr. Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo.
The episode raked so much storm locally and globally that not a few journalists of our generation marveled at the audacity of two “unknown young upstarts” to rubbish our highly esteemed senior colleague and accomplished journalist. But Dele and Ajibade stuck to their guns and the controversy raged for months. Shortly afterwards, Dele relocated to Lagos and took up a full time reporter-writer position with The Guardian; then not long after switching over to African Concord from where he was redeployed as a member of the pioneer editorial team of Weekend Concord, under the inspirational editorship of Oga Mike Awoyinfa.
It was during his stint at Weekend Concord and later Classique, that our friendship cum brotherhood blossomed. I had joined the Prime People as News Editor and later Editor in late 1989 and being Editors in the same genre; we naturally gravitated towards each other amidst a wider network of close friends including Uncle Bisi Olatilo, Mayor Akinpelu (Baagboro of Africa), Femi Akintunde Johnson (FAJ), Ehi Braimoh, Kunle Bakare, Richard Mofe-Damijo (RMD), Kayode Ajala, Dr. Reuben Abati and numerous non-journalist close associates as Oba Adedokun Abolarin (then simply Barrister Doxxy), Goke Omigbodun, Prince Damola Aderemi, Sir Shina Peters, King Wasiu Ayinde, Adewale Ayuba, Ohi Alegbe, Dr. Justin Okonoboh, Barrister Segun Adegbesan, Guv’nor Ken Calebs Olumese of Niteshift, to mention a few. In our own modest ways, we hugged the high-life and good living big time. We worked hard and socialized hard.
I consciously dubbed Dele The Okunrin Marun of our time (meaning a 5-part strong man) in this tribute because that early on, precisely between 1989 and 1990, I had observed five strong attributes about his person; which he had faithfully applied and adhered to in all his endeavours, relationships and work life; and which I dare say, had worked for him a hundred percent. These are: Hardwork, Scholarship/ideas seeking; Humility; Love of people; and lastly, Self-Love (or Good living) if you like. Dele works extremely hard and thinks even more deeply. By way of information, Ovation was not Dele’s first project; it was just destined by God to be the main propeller! Before Ovation, he had registered and ran Cels-Goodwill Ltd., a celebrity PR company which handled a few popular yet enduring brands and personalities in the banking, oil & gas; and communication sector; and also briefly distributed his mentor, Chief MKO Abiola’s wonder loaf bread. He also served briefly as ThisDay Newspaper’s first editor on record, with a Peugeot 504 official car for years without much ado.
Dele never looks back once he commits to any work idea. Nothing better underlines this fact about him than his very challenging early years in exile. All appreciation and respect to his most accommodating, supportive and tolerant wife, Bolaji. Dele, upon arriving London on exile in 1995, against popular advice, took a dangerous plunge of daring to publish Ovation. Without much needed capital but for the grace of his Uncle, Chief Fagbemi and soul-mate, Damola Aderemi, Dele took the plunge; taking out a palatial office suite at Beauford’s Court, Docklands.
Not just that, he had a very pregnant wife, son and professional colleagues to take care of. Yet he never looked back. He kept working, struggling really hard and producing the bumper editions. Most times, he’d keep a whole ready magazine edition and spend days on end, sleeping in the office, working the phones, looking for funds to pay the printers based outside London. But along the way, God showed up and Ovation is a success story today. With off-shoots of Ovation TV, The Boss Newspaper and lately Ovation online. I laugh when I hear people speak of Dele’s glamorous life of travel, parties and meeting people. For the Ihiebve, Edo-state born guy, those travels are hardly all leisure. Dele loads them up with enormous work, interviews, writings and plenty of telephone pressure!
Dele loves books and reads widely. Infact, as generous as he is, one area he doesn’t extend that quality to is his books. It’s always easier for him to give out any of his possessions but his books. Always, a no go area! Dele’s life is forever one of chasing knowledge and ideas. This is attested to in the quality and depth of his writings. He spends massively on resources, written and technological, to keep up with contemporary developments across politics, literature, governance and business. Yet he is at once extremely humble. Irrespective of his wide circle of friends in power and positions of influence, Dele carefully manages his person and successes in a way that sees him consistently and deliberately project his cherished “Omo Iya-Oyo” identity.
Even with his friends, their families and his much younger associates, Dele’s life is shorn of the garrulous and abrasive tendencies. He relates with the high and low in society; yet keeps his head and that amiable brand image of the man next door; especially to the less-privileged in society, who he supports constantly through numerous formal and informal channels.
As a people’s man, Dele is beyond compare home and abroad. I will never forget an incident in summer 1996. Dele had just moved into a new apartment, atop a well-patronized corner shop on Romford Road, East London. Days after, Bolaji gave birth to their second son, Enitanyole and trust Dele, a party was organized for the next Sunday afternoon. From about 2pm, the neigbourhood was swarming with all manners of luxury cars, dropping one notable personality after the other, amongst them Senator & Mrs. Bola Tinubu (then in exile in London too); Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, Late popular lawyer, Tunde Adejumo; and many others. Trust London neigbours, most of them kept gazing through their windows, uncomfortable with the unusual noise and typical loud, Naija hailings and back-slapping.
Towards evening, our good friend, Gbenga Olunloyo (Kapor) and Prince Yemi Aderemi, set up two barbecue grills right at the door of the corner shop and pronto, started grilling wings, kebabs, corns and the like. Within minutes, thick black smoke filled the skies across the entire neigbourhood. Trust good, old London grannies, from their window viewing holes, they rang the emergency service, Her Majesty’s Police and Fire Service. On arrival, Dele met them and introduced a few of the dignitaries. Satisfied that we were not unruly, they left. Two hours after, at about 8.20pm, they returned, and gave us just another 40 minutes to wind up the party that was just gathering momentum! Just as they were issuing the orders, hordes and hordes of guests were still hopping off their cars; smarting onto the dance floor and grabbing food and drinks, enjoying themselves at the party of our “Man about town”.
Such was Dele’s deep love for people and the good life; both for himself and all around him. A very kind man, Dele respects all his friends, supports them and spares nothing in showing up whenever there was need. Quietly, he avails his time, contacts, moral and financial resources to every of his associates without noise or anything in return. Dele’s kindness and selflessness is legendary just as his love for his cult heroes, three of whom I know to be, late Chief M.K.O. Abiola, Chief Olusegun Osoba and Dr. Mike Adenuga Jnr. Till tomorrow, unknown to a lot of people, one of Dele’s favourite songs is the popular praise song for Chief Osoba by Chief commander Ebenezer Obey in the late 80s.
Anyday, anytime Dele would drop anything he’s doing once he hears the lyrics or mere guitar tunes of Obey’s hit song “Olusegun ooo….Olusegun ooo Omo Osoba, Omo Osoba Akinrogun Moba rode…”
As the whole world rejoices with you today my dear brother, I pray and pray that your tomorrow shall be better than the last 60 years put together. You shall know no sorrow. You shall know no bitterness. May God Almighty continue to be merciful and benevolent unto you, your family and your work.
God bless you my dear Egbon! (He likes that appellation so much!)… The Bashorun of Oke Ila!!!