By Michael Effiong
It was in 1991 or was it early 1992, I had just joined Fame Magazine as a Freelancer and Bob Doo as he was called was a Contributor and was a very close friend to the three Musketeers that founded Fame: Mayor Akinpelu (Editor), Kunle Bakare (Managing Editor) and Femi Akintunde-Johnson (Executive Editor).
You cannot but notice Chief Dele Momodu. His ebullience fills the room, and of course his booming voice is unmistakable. Later on, his Aramis Perfume will announce his presence and will be wafting in the air, and captivating your senses long after he had gone. He had a presence.There was never a dull moment with him around, that is why we used to call him: Adekiluomo (The one who shakes the town with his presence)
He was a master story teller, never tired of sharing his escapades. So we always gather when he holds court. Of course, when he has spats in the Media, Fame, was the place to review and gauge the reaction.
There were no twitter trollers or voltrons back in those days. On such days, when he arrives, he is hailed by all ” Bob Doo, gbogbo ara Ija, action-packed like a Chinese film”-and he would be atop the moon. He will then remark “Don’t mind so so, I have another bazooka next week!. To us younger friends like Sanya Ojikutu, Ojiks Conga aka The genius, Ayo Aninashaun etc, he would always say, “everything you do, give it your very best, you never know who is watching.Never allow any one rubbish your work or your name.”
I was a bystander as well as a participant as his life progressed. Interestingly, the flat he left when he got married in 1992 was the same flat, on Medical Road, Ikeja that I moved into with Sanya Ojikutu (the award-winning Cartoonist and artist now based in Maryland, USA). Sanya himself had lived there with Kunle Bakare (Publisher, Encomium Magazine) and later we had Tunde Thomas (now based in London, UK), Ajayi Oyebo, Remi Aboderin ( Secretary General, Nigeria Boxing Board of Control) and others all using this facility. It was a Boys Hub!
As the youngest members of the team, Sanya and I were the ones always at the beck and call of these other Senior Colleagues, thus, we played very critical roles in the weddings of all of them, except FAJ (who played a fast one on us all). Bob Dee’s wedding in Ijebu Ode and Ijebu-Igbo was the top of the pile. The weeks of preparation, the shuttle to the tailors and back. It was tasking but it was Bob Dee after all, he always raises the stakes..
It was at his engagement ceremony in Ijebu, Ogun State that I really got up, close and personal with the late MKO. He had arrived in the night, and I can never forget that occasion. The way he ate with everyone and joked. I was astounded at this rare expression of humility from such a giant of a man. I then began to see why Bob Dee would sing Abiola’s praise to the high heavens.
During the June 12 struggle, we were in the trenches, although not as deep as some others. We used to serve as couriers and also I remember the occasion when Bob Dee brought tapes of a song by the famous Lagbaja lambasting Abacha for us to distribute in the dead of the night..”Some parts of that song said ” igo (glasses) lo ju Omo Odaran spectacle lo ju omo ja wo ja wo ja wo, how dem go know, how dem go know say we dey suffer, Aso Rock e different from Olumo”. He played the tape for us to samplein inside his green flat booth Mercedes Benz and then said ‘Guys, we have to hit town with this o”. That is equivalent of saying, guys we have to make this trend, in today’s language.
With Abacha informants everywhere, we were not sure if this was a wise thing to do, but you do not say no to Bob Dee. Since I lived near the Afrika Shrine. It was quite easy for me to execute the job. As a night crawler, the street boys from Ikeja bus stop all the way to the shrine were my guys, so with their protection and help, we did it perfectly.
That is Bob Dee ‘s greatest strength, he is loyal 101 per cent. if he is convinced about something. He gives it his all. I remember when Ovation began. Our office, at Wemabod Estate was the semi Nigerian office, Ovation tapped into the pool of resources we had. Ovation was Bob Dee’s baby, anything that belonged to Bob Dee was ours. Though, there was a serious personal quarrel with one of his close friends in Fame at the time, it did not dampen our enthusiasm to ensure Ovation succeeded big time. We could feel his enthusiasm though he was in far way London. He was in constant touch to monitor sales, reactions etc.
I think my name first appeared in the second edition of Ovation.I had written a reaction to an article on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Ovation at the beginning was more wordy than it is now.
When he came back to Nigeria after those years of living in exile, Bob Dee on his trips to Nigeria was a willing host at his base in Lagos Travel Inn or Excellence Hotel. He was very gracious with food, drinks and other matters that excite the writer’s muse. He never fails to impress and his joie de vivre never wanes.
Fast forward to 2003, Chief Dele Momodu has always loved my writing, the love affair was mutual. I loved the way he writes, and he, along with Mr Kunle Bakare and Time Magazine’s Nancy Gibbs top the list of my finest journalists and writers. These three, craft words that bring a nystory to life. It was on one sunny afternoon that I got a call from Bob Dee. He was calling from London. That call eventually changed the trajectory of my career in journalism.
It was a simple conversation: “Mikolo, do you have a valid UK Visa? I said, Yes. He continued. “I would like you to go with us to the Caribbean, I wanted to go with your oga KB to help us handle the stories, he says he is busy, you are my alternative”. I said an instant yes. Although he supports Arsenal (in the days of Kanu), his lifestyle is encapsulated in the pay-off line of Liverpool: He never walks alone. It also brings to fore his penchant for spotting and deploying young talents, numerous stories will be told of his appreciation and support of young people in different spheres of life.We promote them all the time in Ovation magazine.
He then said, “Paul (Ukpabio), (his Personal Assistant at the time), will call you and arrange details. Every year, I had always saved to travel, I have always believed that traveling was not only for exposure but education. This was an all-expense paid trip, a jackpot and an opportunity to save my money that summer. It was a win-win situation because I knew with Bob Dee as your host, it will be fun and enjoyment all the way.
The trip came and went, and caused a lot of bad blood. The full details would be revealed in my forth-coming memoirs, but that exciting trip to The Commonwealth of Dominca, St Lucia and Barbados, despite the intervention of Bob Dee himself, Benny Obaze (The King of Bevista), Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi and a few others, led to my exit from Encomium.
One thing about Chief Dele Momodu is his ability to connect. Many have attested to this. After that not so happy exit at my job at Encomium, a company that we all founded, that I wrote the first cover story and gave my all, I was of course devastated.
I had planned to take a trip to visit my sweet mother whom I had not seen for months because of the back-breaking work as Editor, Encomium Magazine and then seek the advice of a few of my mentors and older friends like Chief Mike Inegbese, Mr. Godwin Mekwuye of Vivid Imagination, Oba Adedokun Abolarin (who has always wanted me to go for my Masters), the late Gbegi Ojora and a few others.
I was planning that all important trip to Akwa-Ibom State when I got a call from Bob Dee. Again, he was in London. He said he heard what happened and wanted to know what my plans were for the future. I told him I was still consulting. He then said: “The job of Editor, Ovation International is open for you, think about it and let me know when you are back”.
Seventeen years after that conversation, I am still here as the Editor of Ovation: I will describe Chief Dele Momodu as a friend, a boss and a teacher. He scolds bountifully and praises sparingly. In the past few years, Ovation has faced tough challenges, we had made some wrong business decisions, but he would always say, we have lost millions but we have gained billions in experience. We have also had our big breaks. Bitter-sweet will be the best way to describe the journey so far, God has been faithful. And I believe there are still many rivers to cross.
His love for his brand is unbeatable. He wears it on his head and on his body. It is unmistakable, it is his love for real. We have been stopped at far flung airports many times by strangers to confirm if he was indeed the Mr Ovation in flesh and blood. His love for Ovation is only matched by genuine affection for his wife, Bolaji and children: Pekan, Yole, Eniafe and Korewa. I believe they have all come to appreciate that the sacrifice he makes by giving his all to the Ovation Project, is to ensure they are not exposed to the vicissitudes of life.
Chief Dele Momodu abhors indolence and you cannot be around him and not want to be a success: His usual refrain: There is nothing to glamorise about poverty rings in my ears every time. He insists that the reason he works round the clock is to chase away the stubborn demon called poverty from his family! He would then add that it is the reason, his greatest investment in life apart from Ovation, is the education of his children.For him, if not for education, he would not be where he is today.
And having lived with the family, and watched all the boys grow through primary school, elite public schools in England and now University (three are already graduates), becoming fine, respectful, responsible and Afrocentric young men, I know that he is as proud of them as they are of him.
I must personally thank his wife, Yeye Bashorun Bolaji(she likes to be called Blajo) for holding forte. She has been a stabilising force and the bridge. She also has played host to many Ovation staff, myself inclusive, without any complaints. She is ever willing to serve her award-winning Jollof rice (second only to that of my wife, Oluwakemi) anytime, any day- and that is not all, she and the children, sometimes catch the bug, and help out with Ovation production!
No one is perfect, we sometimes have our combustive battles, and whenever I hear Michael or Mr Editor on the other side of the line, I know there is trouble, but there is mutual respect, which has helped to shape the relationship that we have. Many times, I have felt like leaving, but he always finds a way of worming his way into your heart. Bob Dee is a charmer no doubt.
One important thing about Chief Dele Momodu is that he listens at times. He may argue openly but in his sober moments when he sees reason with your line of argument, he will often soften up and backtrack.
One of those occasions,was when the frustration of running our Ghana operations was becoming too suffocating. The government agencies were not friendly at all, he was so downcast because we were bleeding financially and wanted to leave. I told him that just packing up and leaving was not his stock in trade. By giving up and taking off, we would be leaving years of corporate equity that Ovation has garnered in Ghana. I wanted us to reduce our operations and cruise along.
Three days later, he had made a decision. He called me to his room and informed me that he has agreed that leaving Ghana completely was not an option-and it turned out a very divine decision because our stay in Ghana led to his meeting with President John Dramani Mahama, with whom he has now struck a life-long friendship.
He is a risk taker par excellence. There is no better example of this than the coverage of Esama of Benin, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion’s 70th birthday. We were contacted to cover the event, and some members of the family were not too sure it was worth it. Hon. Omosede Igbinedion and her mother, Lady Cherry Igbinedion appealed that we should make the trip, they contracted us, and begged that we go ahead with the little they were offering. They were sure that Chief would come round to liking the idea when he sees us in action.
In typical Ovation style, we are not known for doing small things, our first payoff line: Loud For A Purpose” was not for nothing.We went all out. Instead of one photographer, we flew in two. I led the advance party while the Publisher was to join us. I joked to our Publisher that we have overshot our budget in terms of airfares, upkeep and accommodation. He said “Editor, don’t worry yourself, you will see, this is our territory”.
We landed in South Africa a good two days to the main ceremony, and we had hardly unpacked, when we were told that our services where needed because the House of Igbinedion was going to visit President Nelson Mandela and Winnie Mandela.
And as God would have it, the official photographers they had arranged were not available, thus, we were the only ones around! That was how we rescued the situation. And we took those unforgettable shots.
From South Africa, we covered London, Abuja and Benin segments of the birthday. At the end of it all, the inimitable Esama was so impressed with our professionalism that when we named our price for a Special Edition, he paid! And for the past 15 years, he has been inviting Ovation to every important family function!
I have slept in the worlds top hotels, flown business and first class, cruised in private jets, savoured first-rate yachts, indeed, traveled the world and met Africa’s leading lights on account of my association with Ovation International and Chief Dele Momodu. He has his way with arranging the perfect trips.He tries to give maximum comfort.
My boss, is like a baby when it comes to trying out new things.He plunges into it headlong with so much innocence and willingness to learn. That is why his social media presence is so huge, he is driven by passion. He always loves new adventures, new projects and those situations keeps his adrenaline pumping! He is a man who never settles for anything but the best!Look at how he has launched into the instagram live space-you cannot but admire his penchant for exploring new opportunities.”You are as good as your last performance,” “never live on past glory”, “reinvent your self” are some of his favourite quotable quotes.
On my 50th birthday last year, he shocked me totally. Femi Otedola’s daughter, Cuppy was having an event in Abuja same day, I felt he would just breeze in and out. No way! He was the Chief of Protocol, welcoming guests and coordinating activities. At the venue, I spotted him a few times working the phones inviting people. He kept shifting his flight and eventually caught the late night flight to meet Cuppy’s fundraiser. That was truly remarkable and made me very emotional.
My friends, colleagues and fellow members of Rotary Club of Ikeja South were surprised that he could perform such a role. They do not understand that Bob Dee is a master in making every encounter memorable. I had promised to beat his record when he turns 60, but God had other plans for the world. Therefore, I join the millions around and few of us that are in the inner inner caucus, to wish him a wondrous birthday. Don’t worry, we would be there to do justice to your 70th, 80th, 90th and 100th!
Bob Dee, I am mightily proud of you for being able to move through hard work, tenacity and God’s grace from Ile-Ife to Ikoyi. I pray that God will continue to shower you with excellent health and grant you long life to enjoy the fruits of your labour and to savour the success stories of your children’s children. Amen. Happy Birthday THE BOSS!