I had heard about Dele Momodu, from a trusted source over time, but I never took him seriously, at least when it came to politics. I mean he was always in the glossy colorful pages of popular lifestyle magazines for throwing huge parties or hobnobbing with the rich and famous. However, an incident in 2008 slightly altered my view of him but definitely NOT to view him as a qualified presidential political candidate. Are you kidding me? No disrespect to the man, but what has he done, politically that is?
In 2008, I assigned the coverage of the Nigeria Entertainment Awards to one of Ladybrille Magazine’s special contributors. My contributor returned with the cool and not so cool aspects of the event. He also explained to me that while there were many celebrities, the real deal was when Momodu appeared. He was very surprised both by the reception and respect Momodu commanded from the many youths present. For both of us, as Nigerians, we knew us young folks blamed the problems of Nigeria on the older corrupt leaders and, again no disrespect, but Mr. Momodu fell into the category of the “old folks.” His wealth didn’t help our perception either. So, my contributor was surprised and so was I with such a reception from the young folks present, given this fact. When he inquired more into this, he found, from the youths, that Momodu had been instrumental in their lives as a mentor and for some, in their careers, hence the immense respect they had for him.
Okay, cool. But what has that got to do with politics and being the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria come 2011? Fast-foward to July 5th, 2010, I was chatting with my trusted source when my source informed me Momodu was in town. He had attended the Nigerian Reunion Convention, had recently declared his candidacy and was campaigning to become the next President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. “You don’t say,” I thought. Images of the wealthy Momodu, ‘Ovation Red Carol’ etc. flashed in my head. I was intrigued and amused, all at once. Despite trying to meet important deadlines (trial preparation for trial within 24-48hrs), I knew I had to interview him and would of course pay for it by burning the midnight oil.
“I would love to interview him,” I said to my source. There were no real promises made. We chatted some more and then said our goodbyes. Thirty minutes later, Mr. Momodu called! “A humble man I suppose,” I said to myself as I made a mental note of the fact that the very busy jetsetter and media mogul just called. His flight was to leave the next day, July 6th, 2010 returning to Nigeria. He had a scheduled interview with popular R &B singer and writer Banky W; but he accommodated my 1hour request for an impromptu interview. I was flattered.
This is Part I of my in-depth cut to the chase interview with Mr. Dele Momodu, a man who expressly states he can be Obama to Nigeria. My interview addresses his political qualifications, campaign finance, infrastructure (unemployment, power), national security, law enforcement, the legislative and judicial branches of government, fashion and textile industries, foreign direct investment, his health (lessons from Yar’adua ) and so much more including his agenda for the citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Yes we covered it one hour. A little over 56mins. Print to read at your convenience, share on facebook, twitter, share with your friends and begin the dialogue on who should rule Nigeria come 2011. YOUR VOTE COUNTS. Get Involved! #Enough is Enough! #Light Up Nigeria, Let’s go there!
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: I am looking forward to an amazing one-hour that is thought provoking, fun, insightful and truly when we are done, Nigerian youths; particularly, get to know who you are, (you can) establish your credibility on why you want to run for office and why you want to represent them.
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: How are you this evening?
Dele Momodu (DM): I am well and you?
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: I am well. It has been a very busy day but overall, I am blessed. Really blessed. Thank you.
DM: That’s good. It is nice linking up with you. I have heard so many great things about you, your organization. Well done and please keep it up.
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Thank you so much. [B]efore I get into it, I have shared the same sentiments and it is truly a pleasure to speak with you.
WHY RUN FOR OFFICE?
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: When you hear about Dele Momodu running for office, [t]here is a healthy skepticism. It’s like, “okay, why?” Tell us who you are, first?
DM: Well the way I describe myself is that Dele Momodu is that guy who was born in the village environment of Ile Ife in 1960 and managed to go to school (and) did everything in Ile Ife before getting to Lagos at the age of 28. So you can imagine what it was like for me when I got to Lagos. I always describe myself as a “Village boy” and I never forget where I came from.
My father died when I was thirteen (13) and my mother had to take over. She was an illiterate who couldn’t speak one word of English. So, you can imagine how tough life must have been for me, growing up. So, when people talk about Dele and say I am glamorous and all that, it is all a world of make believe which is what showbiz is all about. I have been a Journalist all my life, practically, since I came to Lagos. I have also been a political activist and there has never been a time that Nigeria was in crisis that I shyed away from defending the rights of the common man in Nigeria. Even as a publisher of what is regarded largely as a lifestyle and celebrity magazine (Ovation International Magazine) in Nigeria and beyond, I have always been a social crusader and that is why I write a weekly column called ‘Pendulum’ which I have written for different publications including Fame, Global Excellence, The Sun Newspaper and presently ThisDay on Saturday.
DELE MOMODU THE POLITICAL ACTIVIST
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Okay, so let’s really get into it. Yes, you are right. We see the glamour and it is all these beautiful pictures of Dele Momodu hanging with the celebs or throwing big parties. Could you shed some light on Dele Momodu the political activist? [W]ho are you as a political activist? What have you done?
DM: I have been in the corridor of politics, practically all of my life. I always try to differentiate between the corridors of politics and the corridors of power. My corridor of politics: as early as the age of 23, I was the private secretary to the Deputy Governor of Ondo State, Chief Akin Omoboriowo. In 1985/86, I had the privilege of working for one of the most influential monarchs in Africa, the Ooni of Ife Oba Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse II. I served him and then resigned to go for my masters degree in Literature in English from the University of Ife now Obafemi Awolowo University. On completion of my masters program, I joined the Concord Newspaper which was owned by Chief Moshood Abiola and that was in 1988. I started with the African Concord Magazine that was transferred to the Weekend Concord, which became the biggest circulating newspaper in Nigeria. I served that paper as the number three (#3) man (in command), I was News Editor in 1990.
I (later) joined Classique Magazine which was owned by the late Ellen Ezekiel who was married to our star actor Richard Mofe-Damijo. I was the pioneer editor for Classique and from Classique I resigned and became a bread seller. I was selling (bread) at Chief Abiola’s Wonder Bakery, which he owned in Ikeja. From there I started a public relations outfit (w)hich did a lot of campaigning for Chief Abiola (both) in business (and/or) politics. I also had accounts from such business gurus like Dr. Mike Adenuga Jr., Hakeem Belo-Osagie who later bought United Bank for Africa etc.
I was the pioneer editor for ‘Leaders and Company’ and I was saddled with the part of setting up the company that gave birth to ThisDay Newspaper today. I was invited in 1992 by Mr. Nduka Obaigbena to set up (the company) which is the parent company for ThisDay. Down the line, I had to pull out because Chief Abiola decided to go into politics.
[I] was a major part of (Chief Abiola’s) media campaign in 1993, then the June 12th crisis came and I found myself right in the middle of it. Between July and August, I was arrested by the Babaginda government and (c)harged with ‘Sedition.’ (The accusation) was that I was writing a lot of seditious stories against the government and I was hauled to (jail) and kept in the waiting cell for all the days I spent (campaigning) in (Alagbon) in Ikoyi. I was later released and warned never to go back to the original campaign otherwise I would be arrested again. [O]f course I went back. I went straight to Abiola’s house. Abiola, himself, was arrested in 1994 but we never stopped campaigning for the revalidation of the June 12th election.
In 1995, I suddenly became a refugee (he was married with a son under one(1) at this time) because I was accused of being one of the brains behind the private radio station called ‘Radio Freedom,’ at the time; and the Abacha government was really worried about the activities of that radio. I got tipped off and managed to escape from Nigeria.
I crossed the border into Cotonou in Benin Republic and from there to Togo, Togo to Ghana and from Ghana I found my way to London where I spent the next three years as a political refugee. Of course I had to apply for asylum from the government of Great Britain, and it was approved. I was one of the few people, ever, to be granted full asylum in the history of Great Britain for my political activities. I was given a United Nations passport to be able to travel around the world except to Nigeria. Of course while we where in London, I participated in all the activities to not only revalidate the election results but also to get Chief Abiola and all the other political detainees in our country freed! It was while in London that the idea of Ovation came to me because I needed to do something for a living.
Initially we tried to assemble some of our brightest writers who were scattered all over the world. We were doing a lot of political stories but one day, we carried a story about a wedding and people began calling us the “Hello of Africa.” That struck a chord in me and I chose to go and research Hello Magazine; which is probably the most popular magazine of its nature in England. That was how the idea to go to the glossy style came to us. That is how we started (leaning) towards entertainment.
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Got it.
DM: In retrospect, I have no regrets for making that decision because if we had gone political, by now the magazine would have died. Most magazines in Africa write only about politics. Nobody covers entertainment . . .
DELE MOMODU ON CAMPAIGN FINANCE
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: [T]hank you for that really important background. Let me take you a different direction. First I want to cover how campaigns are run in Nigeria if you could give us a brief overview. Then I want to go back to the June 12th, 1993 crisis and tie it into the current ongoing crisis we see in Jos and political crisis as a whole in Nigeria; and what your platform and agenda will be as the President of Nigeria.
(Starting with) campaigns, could you tell us how campaigns, as a whole, are financed? Brief introduction, especially for the (many), that might not be (aware of that process?)
DM: Yes. My experience with the June 12th campaign was that most of it had to be financed by Chief Abiola. Don’t forget that he was seen as the richest man of the time in Nigeria. So, we didn’t have the idea of asking the young people to donate money . . . so Abiola of course had to spend a substantial (part) of his wealth to fund his campaign. Of course there must have been other people who (c)ontributed money such as friends and family etc. In terms of running the campaign, we had what we called the ‘Political Team’ and the ‘Technical Team.’ I was a member of the Technical team . . . (interruption)
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Yes. I am here.
DM: (Continues) Okay. To remove the ruling class in Africa, you have to use a style they are not familiar with, which is part of my strategy at the moment, which is what Abiola did. Abiola, because he had touched the lives of Nigerians both at home and abroad, every single soul knew Abiola as a the most (I missed what he said) man of his time (which) helped him connect to the ordinary man on the street. That is why the reigning song of the campaign was, (breaks into a song) ♫“MKO is our man o on the march again waiting for Mr. President, on the march again. MKO” ♫
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Hmmm . . .
DM: It was easy for people to see him as the man of the people. Otherwise it would have been impossible for him to have such an overwhelming result if not for the fact that people were able to connect not just to him but his message. His manifesto was also powerful. We had a manifesto which was titled, “Farewell to Poverty.”
CAN DELE MOMODU CONNECT WIH THE MAN ON THE STREET?
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: (before you continue) Let me (interject) and talk about your ability to connect with the ordinary man on the street. I will break it down into two folds. [Y]ou come from the streets but at the same time through media, and over time, you have been re-branded as a man that is more for the elites than the streets. What are you doing as part of your campaign to help the man on the street connect with you? What are you doing that will make people sing the song they sang to Abiola that you are the man for them?
DM: That is quite easy. I have just produced a documentary which we are editing at the moment; and which we are going to unleash on Nigerians worldwide. It is not just going to be a local affair because Nigerians go beyond those who live in Nigeria. There are people living outside with families in Nigeria and they have a say in what goes on back home. Through that documentary, people will really be able to see my abilities. Obviously running Ovation has overshadowed everything else. I am always telling people you can delete Ovation from my CV and I will still be an important member of our society.
The success of Ovation is a catch 22 situation. I can’t run away from it. People think I am a big man because they see me with big men but I am just doing my job. . . there is no way you will cover celebrities that you will not become a celebrity yourself.
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Yeah, that is true. . . On the finance part, let’s go back to campaign finance. . . Are you funding this campaign yourself?
DM: I am a reporter so it is impossible (to do so). I can tell you that we intend to raise funds. [T]he very week I declared my candidacy, a gentleman I have not met till now donated a vehicle to the campaign. We met on Facebook. He had shipped his vehicle from America to sell in Nigeria. He heard and read about me and he donated a vehicle. It is just like you said with your reporter who told you the kind of respect I was accorded when I attended the Nigerian Entertainment Awards last year. There are so many people who know my story and are able to connect with me. The story of my life has been an open book so people are able to donate to me because they know I have never stolen public funds. I have never been in government. It is impossible to make a lot of money in our kind of country if you have not been in government.
So, I don’t have that kind of funding behind me but I know that the young people are already putting things together, and if there is one person who can do the Obama thing in Nigeria, I believe I am one such person.
DELE MOMODU ON POWER & UNEMPLOYMENT/JOB CREATION
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Let’s talk about doing the Obama thing in Nigeria and let me take you the direction I talked about taking you with the Jos crisis. You’ve got the Jos crisis, there is the #Lightup Nigeria campaign. There are now youths saying, #Enough is Enough. We are not putting up with this anymore! (Getting passionate) What is Dele Momodu’s agenda to fix the infrastructural problems: from health care to light (power) to everything the average Nigerian citizen and future citizens should have. Tell us, why you? Why are you the man for us with respect to these issues?
DM: The first thing I will say is that I have had the privilege of living in much smaller countries like Cotonou and Ghana and I will say (based on my experiences there), there is really no big deal about fixing these problems. It is just about the determination of the leadership to tackle those problems. How do you tackle those problems? First the leader must be an upright person. He must not be a corrupt man; the major problem in Nigeria is corruption. The way I would work is to make corruption less attractive. Why is corruption so attractive in Nigeria at the moment?
Let’s say you say today, “Okay Uduak, I want to go to Nigeria and live there.” Of course you are already used to some level of comfort from where you are coming from. By the time you go home, you probably want a flat in Ikoyi or Victoria Island. It will cost you $150,000 a year to get a flat and you are not buying it, that is all rent. You have to pay about 3yrs upfront about $450,000 for the flat. Please are you going to get your salary in advance?
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: (listening and absorbing the scary facts) Hmmm . . .
DM: (Getting even more passionate) No! The answer is no. So we must begin to discourage a situation where people are then forced to look for money by hook or crook. If you want to buy a property here (USA), you have to go for a mortgage, no matter who you are. You cannot pay $2million cash down. Do you understand?
DM: Whereas in Nigeria to buy a plot of land in Lekki, Victoria Island or Banana Island, you need to cough about $2million dollars and that is before you even put up a structure on the land. So, these are issues that have not been effectively tackled. You cannot get a car loan in Nigeria. It is very difficult. So we have to restructure our economy in such a way that we can now make use of the things we have learnt living in other cultures. I lived in Great Britain and I enjoyed the benefit of their welfare system. I know that there is no place we need the welfare system better than Nigeria. We have the money but we need fiscal discipline. We are not going to fix electricity forever unless, we have fiscal discipline and you don’t allow those who are benefiting from the present problems to continue with it.
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: I remember when Obama ran for office. The American people wanted to nail him down to specifics. [I] hear you on tackling Nigeria’s issues. But I know my audience and the rest of the Nigerian people that will read this interview on the various platforms this will be published, they will want to know specifically (emphasis added), point by point, how will healthcare, poverty, (unemployment) be handled under a Dele Momodu regime?
DM: I can tell you that for a Presidential (candidate), it is not possible for an individual to talk within a few minutes and give you all these points. There is a document that is being put together just like we did with MKO’s the ‘Farewell to Poverty.’ We have all kinds of experts working on that document. And, not just that, you also have to look at the practical side of things. You are not going to say just because you want to win an election, you say, “Oh let me produce a document!” [W]hat we have seen, the world over, is that the most important aspect of a government is the leader himself. Nigeria is not in a short supply of good documents or manifestos. But, we are in a short supply of leaders who are courageous enough to take on the status quo. In Nigeria, we all know what we mean by electricity. I live in Ghana and I do not have a generator in my house in Ghana and I know what Ghana has done to invest in the power sector. Obasanjo has spent billions (emphasis added) of Naira trying to fix electricity in Nigeria but it has all come to naught. Why? Because there is no willingness on the part of the leadership to tackle the mafia that has been militating against our (ability) to generate enough power in Nigeria. What I intend to do is make sure that:
1. Power: You have to decentralize electricity. Let Lagos, Oyo, Ogun and everybody be able to generate their own power in a way that they can now connect to the grid. In Nigeria, if you want to connect power in Lagos, they will tell you, you cannot connect to the national grid and without the national grid, you cannot get distribution of electricity. (Getting passionate and raising voice) These are key areas that have not been addressed and I don’t know why everyone is shying away from it. If you look at the roads, from Lagos all the way to Badagry going . . . towards the Benin Republic, the Federal Government came and said it is a federal government road, you cannot not tar the road. What does it matter? You are not doing anything. Lagos has been practically abandoned by the Federal Government. Then the State says I want to build 5 lanes from Lagos and 5 lanes back to Lagos. How can you stop such an important project? That is what we are facing right now. It is a big problem in Nigeria. The Federal government behaves like a headmaster. The headmaster wants to control the entire school and doesn’t want to give any of the teachers the initiative to do anything. So we must tackle that.
2. Employment: If you talk about employment, by the time you are building these roads, there will be employment for the people. Agriculture is also a key area. I have family members who I sent to school. They are graduates and they couldn’t get jobs. I told them, “All of you, I can’t get you the jobs, the jobs that you want. Can you please come up with your own business ideas?” One of them, my nephew, came up with an idea to develop some farms in Oshun state. You will not believe it, the entire money needed to build about 10 acres was less than 1million Naira!
DM: You will not believe it. So that opened my eye to the possibilities. Which means, depending on the scale, an average of 1million Naira (given) to one thousand graduates that is 1billion Naira. With 1 billion Naira, they would have cultivated over 100 acres of land. So just imagine the spiraling effect, nationwide. So, you have a lot of young people graduating school and nobody is doing anything about them. Nigeria is so big that if you have the proper management of our resources . . . (he changes thoughts) look at our Senators wanting to earn 1million Naira per day. It means one Senator could have built 360 farms. So, what is the problem with leadership? The leadership is afraid. The leadership says, “if I take on this guy, I may not get a second term.” I can tell you I don’t care if I get a second term or not. The first time I get, I will make sure that my name will be etched into the golden part of history.
~TO BE CONTINUED . . .
~Interview by Uduak Oduok
~C0urtesy Photo by Dele Momodu
Behind the Glitz and Glam of Dele Momodu’s Life