Late Mr. Tony Momoh.
Mr. Idang Alibi.
By Idang Alibi
On January 3 and 9, I lost two of my mentors and senior friends who also happened to be very prominent politicians in my home state of CR namely, Chiefs Wilfred Oden Inah and Linus Emonshe Okom. My friend, Dr. Peter Akpa Oti, of the Department of Management of the University of Calabar, called to commiserate with me. He said: ‘’Sorry oh, you have lost two of your masters in quick succession’’. His words of consolation sounded to me very much like those of Prophet Elisha’s companions in the school of prophecy who had told him of the impending departure of his (Elisha’s) master, Prophet Elijah: ‘’Knoweth thou that the Lord will take thy master from thy head today?’’ The death of the two men made me a half orphan. With the death of Prince Tony Momoh on February 1, I have become a complete orphan.
My harvests of sorrow actually began in 2013 when I lost Chief Timothy Ogbang Omang, my original mentor. With the death of my own biological father on November 11, 1971 when I was in Primary 4, the quartet of Omang, Okom, Inah and Momoh became my fathers, teachers and guides. And now with their departure, I no longer have the privilege of the company, counsel and communion of these wise men and earthly giants whom God had ordained as my covenant connectors to help me realize my destiny.
I first met with Prince Tony Mcnonooh Momoh on April 8, 1984, when he was the General Manager of the Publications Department of the old Daily Times in Agidingbi, Ikeja, Lagos. Two of my influential Bekwarra brothers who were working in Lagos and who knew me and knew that I wanted to be a journalist, took it upon themselves to help me get a journalism job. They took me to the late Dagogo Jack who was then the
MD of the Daily Times conglomerate. His office was on the famous Kakawa Street in Central Lagos without which the story of the Daily Times will not be complete. Jack asked them to take me to Tony Momoh.
They moved with me that same day to Agidingbi to see Momoh. When I beheld the man, the emotions that came over me were like those that were said to have come over the English man who is said to have ‘discovered’ the source of the ‘’majestic River Niger’’. I had been reading the man on the pages of the DT and even when I was in the university, I had read of the battle he had fought and won against the Senate of the Second Republican over a journalism canon that a journalist cannot disclose the source of his information. And like many young ‘revolutionaries’ of my time, Tony Momoh’s victory against the Senate made him my hero. Beholding this famous and massive man in flesh and blood was, therefore, something else to me. The prospect of coming to work with, or even near, him was something I kept fantasizing about. I was salivating.
The man did not waste our time. I realized that Mr. Jack must have spoken positively about me to him and the job was nearly in the kitty for me if I impressed him in ways that he demanded. He asked that I should give him my Long Essay which I had written as part of my course requirements for graduation. I told him I brought it with me from my village when I came for job hunting in Lagos but that unfortunately, I did not come along with it to see him. He now said I should go back and bring it to him on any day I could make it. ‘’On any day I could make it?’’ I asked myself silently. How can an anxious job seeker be given such a luxury of deciding when it will be convenient for him to bring anything that could open the door to his possible employment? If it were possible I would have gone to Victoria Island where I was living with an uncle to bring that document to Agidingbi in order to land myself a dream job with the famous DTN. The day was a Wednesday. The following day I brought it to him. He said I should come back on Friday the following day for his reply. Of course, by 10 am on that Friday, I returned to hear his verdict on my ‘’unusual interview’’ of the content and style of a thesis written two years earlier to enable me to graduate in June, 1982.
The moment I was ushered into his office, he told me, ‘’Congratulations. You write very well as I could see in your Thesis’’. He then handed over to me an appointment letter and my Long Essay and asked me to resume on the following Monday. And on Monday, the 11th day of April, 1984, I started work with the great Daily Times.
I was posted to the book publishing unit of the flourishing newspaper empire headed at that time by the late Eddy Irohah, a thoroughly well-bred man who immediately took me into his wings and mentored me to master the craft of writing and book publishing techniques.
From time to time Momoh will give me books to review for publications in many titles in the stable of the DT. Less than a year in the book publishing unit, Momoh promoted me to membership of the Editorial Board based on the quality of the writing he said he had seen in my book reviews and other pieces which I was contributing to the various publications of the Times.
If a man likes you, you will know and this does not hold true of
man-woman relationship alone. Momoh liked me and I knew it and many of my colleagues and seniors knew this and some will use me to penetrate him and get favours for them and us as a collective that they could not have gotten directly if they had gone to him by themselves.
While in the Times, Momoh used to practice a management style I never knew at the time but which I learnt of much later in my life. It is called Management by Walking Around. A first rate manager of men and materials, Momoh was not a desk bound manager. At some time of each working day of his choosing, he will leave his managerial desk and take a walk to the various offices and workshops to see things for himself. When he was on such rounds, you will hear a cry from
voluntary and watchful spies who do not want their colleagues to be caught napping alerting them that ‘’GM is coming!’’ GM is coming!’’ and they should behave themselves. Some errant staff upon hearing such warnings, will dash back to their office and give exaggerate pretense of being serious with their work. Of course, Momoh was never fooled by such pretenses because he knew the character and work rate of nearly each worker of the DTN under his direct supervision.
In 1986, Momoh was appointed Minister of Information and Culture by President Ibrahim Babangida. He wanted to appoint me his Personal Assistant to help him with his work but tremendous pressure was piled on him by some prominent Auchi persons who pleaded with him to give the job to an Auchi son who had just returned from the USA and was jobless. A completely detribalized Nigerian that I know of, Momoh succumbed to the powerful Auchi lobby not on the basis of tribe but because of the sheer power of the lobbyists. But this did not stop his love for me neither was I annoyed at the development. From time to time, he will invite me over to his ministerial quarters then in Glover Street, Ikoyi, where I will be certain to eat ‘’ministerial diet’’ with him. On such days I will tell my madam not to bother reserving a portion of our ‘local dish’ for me as I was sure of a ‘diet with a minister’.
While he was minister, I had started gathering materials for a
biography on him. A few years later I moved from Lagos to Calabar to take up an appointment as the Editor of the Sunday Chronicle. Communication with him became difficult and work on the book slowed and nearly died. But I managed to do a draft but mysteriously I lost that handwritten stuff. But a few years later, I, again, mysteriously found that draft and sent it to him in Lagos. He read it and later told my courier that ‘’that is a brain wasting away in Calabar’’.
The great teacher that he was, he corrected the few errors that he found in the draft and sent it back to me in Calabar, telling our go-between to prevail on me to finish the work. To my eternal sorrow and regret, I could not and have not finished that work that was entitled ‘’Tony Mcnonooh Momoh: The Enchanting Story of an Auchi Prince’’.
My failing the Prince and myself did not stop this man from continuing to like me and speak well of me to people, some of whom he will introduce me to as his ‘’former colleague in the Daily Times’’ despite my loud protestations that I was and have remained his mentee and not colleague. When he moved over partially to Abuja from his base in Bush Street, Anthony village in Lagos, our master-faithful servant relationship resumed anew and deepened. He was ageing and was diabetic and so became very choosy about the kind of food he must eat. As a part-time farmer, I took it upon myself and my wife to assist with some of what he needed to eat to complement what his domestic staff were preparing for him. We started by cooking and taking to him in his serviced apartment place in Utako wheat swallow and ewedu and ogbono combination draw soup which he liked and or groundnut and ‘adanger’, a soup ingredient made of dried tender beans skin enjoyed by the Tiv
people of Benue and the Bekwarra people of northern CRS, which he regarded as a peculiar delicacy.
After a while, he told me he had read some literature about wheat; that it was not a good food for diabetics contrary to earlier claims by even some nutritionists that it was. We now changed to water yam and a nice and expensive local food of the rice family known in Hausa as ‘’Acha’’. Most times, Sule Oyofo, an Auchi son, my close friend and also a Momoh protégé, used to accompany me with supporting bottles of wine to go visit and do honour to the great man so that ‘’our days may be long on the earth.’’
I was also involved in his prodigious writing work, proof-reading, editing and carrying out many other of his projects. As a mark of his enormous respect for me and his confidence in my ability to deliver whatever was needed, he asked me to write a foreword to his book against the advice of many of his friends who asked that he should ask a former Head of State of this country to write the foreword. He gave me a long philosophical and historical argument about why he considered me a more proper person to do that piece of writing for his book.
Until he died, Mcnonooh Momoh, who took for himself the name ‘Tony’ because of his admiration for the First Republic politician, Tony Enahoro, the 75th child on the log of his father, Momoh Idaoh, the First Otaru of Auchi’s 155 biological children, did not know which particular state, between CRS and Akwa-Ibom, was really mine. I corrected him several times to no avail so I resigned myself to fate in the same manner that one of late American President Richard Nixon’s aides, John Haldeman, a White House Counsel, said he did in his thoroughly enjoyable book on the Watergate scandal entitled A Witness to History when President Nixon just could not correctly spell his German name on any occasion.
As this truly remarkable Nigerian has died, we are most certain to hear that much abused work ‘icon’ used very liberally in Nigeria, used to describe him. For me, one of Momoh’s fiercest loyalists, he was much more than an ‘icon’. He was something more iconic than an icon.
In that moment of effusive promises based on everyone’s expectation that President Muhammadu Buhari was going to perform magic, Momoh told Nigerians that they should ‘’stone us (APC if in two years we do not perform’’. When later things did not quite turn out the way Nigerians expected, a friend of mine, a wag, told me one day that he has been looking for that my master, Tony Momoh, to stone him. That I should take him to the man so he can fulfil on him a request he had solemnly made to Nigerians. I reported this to him and he gave me a most iconic answer that, unfortunately, I cannot report here.
From my four masters who are all gone now, I learnt neatness, caution, diplomacy, hatred of conflict and conflictual situations from Chief Omang; thoroughness from Chief Inah; living a life larger than one from Chief Okom and from the last of my titans, Tony Momoh, I learnt hard work and a cosmopolitan attitude towards people of all races and nationalities. May God help me to enjoy the life of significance which all these men lived and died in their ripe old ages. Amen.