Dele Momodu: An African Icon At 50! By Kayode Mallami

On May 16, 2010, Africa’s most celebrated Publisher, Chief Dele Momodu, will turn 50. For those who have followed Dele Momodu’s life and career, this journalism icon deserves a standing ovation for his outstanding contributions to the development of mass media in Africa and beyond.

Dele Momodu’s life at 50 is spectacular. He has been a scholar, teacher, administrator, writer, polemicist, reporter, columnist, photographer, publisher, political activist, detainee, refugee, actor, restauranteur, speaker, networker and world traveller. It is doubtful if any one of his age has travelled more than this gentleman who caused a revolution in magazine publishing when he started OVATION INTERNATIONAL magazine in the city of London in April 1996.

The story of Dele Momodu is a must read and a classic for those young people who want to achieve greatness because of its grass to grace appeal. He bagged a first degree in Yoruba from the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, in 1982, and bagged a Master’s degree in Literature-in-English in 1988. He’s the only Nigerian ever to have such a rare combination. He taught A-Level Yoruba at the Oyo State College of Arts and Science in Ile-Ife, from 1982-83, while on National Service. Between 1983-85, he was private secretary to the former Deputy Governor of Ondo State, Chief Akin Omoboriowo.

In 1986, Dele Momodu served His Imperial Majesty the Ooni of Ife Oba Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse II, when he managed the Motel Royal Limited owned by the influential monarch. He later resigned to go for his post-graduate studies in Literature-in-English. During this period, he was contributing powerful articles to The Guardian, Sunday Tribune and others. In May 1988, he got his first job as Staff Writer with the African Concord magazine, owned by Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola. In 1989, Dele Momodu was transferred to Weekend Concord as one of the pioneer staff to start what soon became the largest-circulating weekend paper. He wrote the first cover story for the paper in March 1989, and got many exclusive stories for the paper, which endeared him to the Managing Director of Concord Press of Nigeria Limited, Dr Doyinsola Hamidat Abiola, and the Chairman, Chief Moshood Abiola.

Dele Momodu was a hot item on the stable of what was easily Nigeria’s biggest newspaper conglomerate. The prolific writer contributed to other titles such as the National Concord, Sunday Concord, Business Concord and the Yoruba newspaper, Isokan. In May 1989, he earned a double promotion and became Literary Editor, and another promotion within six months, when he became News Editor of Weekend Concord. This made him the third in command after the Editor, Mr Mike Awoyinfa and his Deputy Editor, Mr Dimgba Igwe. It was around this period that the responsibility to edit Nigeria’s most popular MEE column fell on his desk. The column was written by the prodigiously talented May Ellen Ezekiel who later married Nigeria’s Denzel Washington, Actor Richard Mofe-Damijo. Dele and MEE struck a chord which blossomed into inviting him to edit MEE’s celebrity magazine, Classique, between May 1990 to September 1991. This appointment made him the highest paid Editor in Nigeria.

After his resignation, the humble journalist tried his hands at doing business and became a bread distributor for Chief Moshood Abiola’s Wonderloaf. For him, there was dignity in labour. He also started a public relations outfit, Celebrities’ Goodwill Limited, which managed the accounts of Chief Moshood Abiola, Dr Mike Adenuga, Mr Hakeem Belo-Osagie and other distinguished Nigerians. Dele Momodu married his heart-throb Mobolaji Abiodun Momodu on December 19, 1992, in Ijebu-Igbo. The star-studded wedding attracted Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Chief Alex Akinyele, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, Mr Nduka Obaigbena, Mr Kola Abiola (who bought him his first car) and Chief Moshood Abiola who was the father of the day.

It was at this period that Dele Momodu was invited by Nduka Obaigbena to assemble the core staff that would start a new publication, Leaders & Company, which later became the parent company for Africa’s most prestigious newspaper, This day. He was also the Founding Editor of Leaders & Company. He was able to attract some of the brightest journalists of the era to the company and the strong bond between him and the Publisher endures till this day.

In 1993, Dele resigned to join the Moshood Abiola Presidential Campaign Organisation, while Nduka Obaigbena supported Abiola’s main opponent, Alhaji Bashir Tofa. Despite their political differences, they remained friends. Dele Momodu was arrested and detained at Alagbon Close in Lagos, after the annulment of the June 12 Presidential election by General Ibrahim Babangida.  He was severely punished for his views but was unbowed. In 1995, he got into a bigger trouble when he was to be arrested and charged for treason by the Abacha Government. He was accused of being one of the brains behind the pirate radio station, known as Radio Freedom and later changed to Radio Kudirat, after the cold-blooded murder of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola.

Dele Momodu managed to escape through Seme border into Cotonou, in Benin Republic, from where he fled to Togo, Ghana and eventually landed in England. This sad episode would totally change his life and that of his entire family.  It was a most excruciating experience for a young family whose first son was under one year old. They lost all their possessions and could barely pay rent in London. For three agonising years, Momodu could not enter Nigeria. He started OVATION INTERNATIONAL in 1996, and it was a big struggle to keep the business afloat. He and his team were under constant harassment of court bailiffs when they couldn’t meet their financial obligations.

It was when Chief Abiola died in prison, one month after Abacha’s death, that Dele ended his exile. He was then able to restructure his business, and worked assiduously at publishing what is today seen as Africa’s hottest celebrity magazine. Today, OVATION INTERNATIONAL is a global brand. The magazine has showcased the best of Africa by promoting those who would never grace the covers of HELLO, OK, EBONY, and Oprah magazines. Ovation is also the leading events magazine dishing out the most glamorous pictures of the lifestyles of the rich and famous Africans. Ovation has resisted the temptation of discriminating against anyone and has left its readers to be the judge. Its critics who reason that certain families should not appear in the magazine often forget that the tenets of journalism abhor censorship. Every Saint and devil must be afforded their fundamental rights of fair hearing and freedom of association. Ovation has never written anywhere that a rogue is a Saint or vice versa, and it has been globally applauded for its objectivity and world-class quality.

In the 14 years of its glorious existence, OVATION INTERNATIONAL has covered stories and events in over 60 countries and on all the continents of the world. Dele Momodu has enjoyed worldwide acclaim and has met the High and Mighty, including Her Majesty the Queen of England, African Presidents, former American Presidents, world scholars. He has used his wide contacts to benefit the poor and the needy of Africa in many African countries. He has sent many poor students to school. He has created wealth for the boys on the streets of Africa by providing employment and paying the highest commission ever to news distributors and vendors. OVATION INTERNATIONAL is also a fashion catalogue to young tailors who are making brisk business by dubbing fashion styles from the glossy and colourful pages of the magazine. Event planners are also smiling to the banks by picking different ideas for their clients. OVATION INTERNATIONAL has remained a blistering phenomenon in the publishing business in Africa. It is only popular bilingual magazine out of Africa at the moment with a French office in Cotonou.

The doggedness of Dele Momodu and his team is highly recommended to the youths of today. Dele Momodu attributes his success to God and relentless hard work. Let’s all rise and propose a toast to this enigmatic who has brought so much pride and joy to Africans all over the world...