Mr Dele Momodu, the publisher of the Qvation magazine, was the presidential candidate of the National Commission Party (NCP) in the 2011 general elections. In this interview, Momodu speaks on the Buhari administration, the elections of the leaders of the two chambers of the National Assembly and his relationship with the National Leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Ashiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, as well as the late politician, Chief MKO Abiola, among other issues.
You were, before the general elections, one of the unofficial spokespersons for President Muhammadu Buhari, who was then the APC presidential candidate. But of recent, your thoughts about the president appears to be changing?
I am surprised at your comment because I have never changed. I am the biggest supporter of President Muhammadu Buhari today. All I have done is to tell the president what people are saying outside, that is my job. We don’t tell our leaders the truth. I told former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the truth throughout his tenure. This is detailed in my forthcoming book, titled, ‘’Pendulum, a book of prophesy’’. Everything I told President Jonathan happened. I owe that to our president too today.
Once you become the president in Nigeria, people stop telling you the truth. They only tell you what you want to hear. I am a stakeholder in this government. I wonder what would have happened to me if the PDP had returned to power. I was already under constant threat. I received threat messages. I had to name all the numbers anonymous because they were all attacking me for supporting Buhari. I didn’t support the president because I wanted anything from him. I supported him because I believed at this time of our lives, we need a father-figure, what I called the Mandela- option in Nigeria. And I thought Buhari, as a man of integrity, of impeccable character, fits that bill.
But, three months after the election, Nigerians are getting impatient because most of them cannot wait for even one second. I was the first to write an article titled, ‘’In Search Of Patience’’, telling the people to exercise patience with the man. But being patient does not mean we should fold our arms indefinitely. There are things that can still be done. I found a proverb some where which says ‘’the meat of antelope tastes very good, but while it is cooking, we can still make do with groundnut’’. While we are waiting for that big action, some things must keep us going, whether pop corn, ice cream or something. If the National Assembly, within some minutes, approved about 15 Special Advisers; so, what is stopping us from picking our National Security Adviser, if we have to change the one there now.
How about the Chief of Staff, the Principal Secretary, the Secretary to the Federal Government. The longer it takes, the longer the tension, and also the longer the pressure on Mr President. I want the president to know that if they begin to put pressure on him, things may begin to fall apart. Had it been some things are already in place, I am sure the tension would have reduced.
But things have rotten so much so that many people support the president taking his time before making any appointments.
No. I was once a presidential candidate. Before a man says he wants to be president, he must have his plans and blue print of things that he saw not working properly. As such, he thought he had solution to them. Yes, you might not have 100% solution to the problems, but you have a fair idea of what needed to be done urgently. And you said you have the answer to them before you offered yourself to serve. And there is nobody more experienced than President Muhammadu Buhari. He was there over 30 years ago. He also acted in other capacities before now.
So, I expect him to be able to know what he wants to do. Your principal staff, you will know who they are, and you will appoint them. Even the ministers, by now, there is no law that says all the ministers must be ready at the same time. The problems we have in Nigeria are so big that one second is like eternity. I pleaded with people few weeks back to be patient, but I am telling you that the public outcry is no longer favourable to our cause. And I don’t want us to lose that moment to the concerns of the people. It is like a plane that is about to take off.
The outcry, some have said, is genuine but that people are not well informed about the enormity of the problems at hand?
No one is crying foul. Don’t let us misuse language. They are only asking for action. They have the right to that. Their expectation was that of a magician. That was what I wrote in my article. What the Nigerians expect of you is like that of Jesus Christ turning water into wine, raising Lazarus from the dead. I wrote another article, ‘’Buhari and the burden of expectations’’. To whom is given, much is expected. Nigerians saw him as magician. They believe he has talismanic powers to transform Nigeria from penury to prosperity. You can’t blame them. Nobody is blaming Buhari, we are just saying ‘please sir, time is not on your side’. I am not one of those who will rush him.
I am just reflecting the mood of the nation. I am a journalist. I gave him hints of what people expect him to do. I am not one of those who write abstract nonsense. I write constructively as a patriotic citizen. I joined the struggle since my days at University of Ife in 1978. I have never stopped since then. I also a country my children can live in and live in peace. I want a country where no girl would vanish into thin air for two years without any trace. I want a country where young school leavers would get jobs. I want a country where I will not spend all my money to generate electricity. I want a country where the infrastructure meets international standard like other oil producing countries. I want a country where our people will not be too distant from their leaders.
Talking about sudden change, you were known to be a friend and admirer of the APC National Leader, Ashiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, but suddenly you started supporting the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki, against his party?
There is nothing sudden in that. From day one, I supported Saraki for various reasons. I will say that, boldly, any where. And I stand by it. I supported him based on empirical facts of what I know. One of it…..
(Cuts in)But you are not a member of the party?
Yes, that is the beauty of it all.
So how come you are saying authoritatively that ‘’from what I know’’?
I interact with people. At my level, a 55-year-old man, I have friends everywhere. I have contacts. I say this with every sense of responsibility. I don’t know of anybody who worked harder than Saraki, Amaechi and the rest of them for Buhari. Yes, so many people worked for Buhari, but I am telling you that from my own stand point, from my interactions, these people mentioned almost worked themselves to death for Buhari. As a matter of fact, at a time, some people were saying it was better to have consensus candidate for the party so that there won’t be rancour after the primaries; but some people refused, saying they were not ready to step down for Buhari.
Saraki was one of the first people who declared total and unflinching support for Buhari. Amaechi adores Kwankwaso. I know that for a fact. Ameachi loves Kwankwaso to death. But because of Buhari, Amaechi refused to support Kwankwaso. I don’t know if Kwankwaso will forgive him for that. But, he was honest enough to tell Kwankwaso that ‘’I have given my word to Buhari, I cannot turn back’’. Same thing with Saraki. I know for a fact that Saraki worships Tinubu. Quote me. Maybe our Oga (Tinubu)does not know it. You know, sometimes, you don’t know those who love you if you have a lot of crowd around you. But I am saying it to you that Saraki, the Senate President, worships Tinubu.
Then or till now?
I am sure till today. Saraki was one of Tinubu disciples. In fact, when some people were saying Tinubu wanted to hijack the party by installing his men, Saraki and Amaechi were among those who said ‘no, we must give our leader whatever he wants; we must not humiliate our leader’, because they(new PDP) had the power at that time to install their own candidate and they would have won, because the new PDP that joined APC at that time was formidable enough. But, they insisted they must defer to Tinubu. It is what I know, not that they told me.
There are people who may go behind and tell the leaders lies, but I love Tinubu to the extent that I will never tell him a lie. I will tell him only what I know. So, among those who worked so hard day and night, gathered those who could support the campaign, Saraki was one of them. Amaeachi risked his entire life for that campaign. In an association of five or more political parties, I expected that immediately after victory, all of you would have come together to decide which of the parties in the association takes what. That was not the case.
My advice to those of us who are close to Ashiwaju Tinubu is that people should prevail on him not to oppose Saraki because he is one of his men. If you have children and you show one that he is the preferred child above other ones, they will be angry. I think Saraki felt betrayed. If I were Ashiwaju, I would have done what the president did. I can almost bet my life that the President Buhari had a preferred candidate even though we didn’t know who the person was, but he said he would not interfere.
It will get to a stage in life where two of your children are fighting for something, you stand back and let them go to the field and whoever wins, you support him, not that you tie the arms of one against the other. You have not even told us why you are supporting one against the other. I have not read it anywhere. The only thing I have so far read was that Senator Lawan is a ranking member, beyond that, what else? Beyond that, nobody sold Lawan to us.
But the elections in both chambers appear to be polarising the party?
Yes. That is what it will come to if you supported one child against the other. I predicted it. Go and read my article, titled, ‘’Let’s honour our heroes’’, in which I canvassed that we must honour those people who worked for the party. I saw this coming because whoever knew a little bit of the rudiment of politics would have predicted same. Don’t forget that the generation of today is different, the temperament is different. The man’s(Saraki) life ambition was to be Senate President, to, at least, go beyond what his father achieved of being the Senate Leader. That is the dream of everybody in life, to surpass your father’s glory. That is why you had a W. Bush, and then, a George Bush Jr. and then a Jeb Bush coming, if it happens.
You must know that a Saraki who had that kind of ambition, you could not discourage him. If you are not going to support him, don’t discourage him. That was my position. I am not saying Tinubu had no right to support Lawan or anybody for that matter. But I know from my interactions with the senators particularly from South- West, many of them were secretly supporting Saraki but for the fear of Tinubu and the backlash, they didn’t come out in the open. And when this was about to happen, I sent people close to Ashiwaju to tell him that this was what was happening.
Whenever I met those South-West senators, they would say, E ba ore yin soro(please talk to your friend), but I can no longer do that, those days are gone. Today, if you go to Ashiwaju’s house, it is like a market place. And in a market place, all human beings will be there, and, most of them, for one purpose or the other. The reality is that has Tinubu accepted Saraki as one of his children and did not show any open bias against him? I am speaking facts, I am not taking sides. I am one million times closer to Tinubu than Saraki. But I will always support the under dog. That is me.
When General Buhari was going to speak at Chatham House in London, contrary to what the Fayose and co were saying that it never took place and that the man was in air ambulance…. I was in contact with Amaechi and Saraki. He was going to speak on Thursday, I left London via Madrid on a Tuesday for Ghana. I got to Accra in the evening. On Wednesday, Saraki contacted me and said Buhari was going to speak at Chatham House. I told him that I just got to Accra last night. He pleaded that whatever I could do, media wise, to make the day successful, I should do.
So, I contacted an international photographer and asked him to meet up with Amaechi while I took the next available flight back to London. Saraki was shocked and excited that I could return to London the following day for the event. So, I knew the efforts of Saraki and Amaechi. And when you talk about party supremacy, yes, the party is always supreme but not party dictatorship. Yes, the party will advise you, but you too will have a say. The party is made up of human beings. Even a father cannot be absolute. This is democracy.
Why did the Senate South-East caucus reject Lawan? Was it Saraki that rejected him? The party can make recommendation but everybody must be carried along. It would have been impossible to win that (Senate) election without carrying PDP along. What I expected from our leaders from the South-West was to have accepted the voice of God, whether it was controversial or not. Aminu Tambuwal emerged as Speaker from the PDP, it was controversial. And he remained Speaker till May 29, PDP didn’t kill him for that, neither was he called names. Tinubu is a father-figure to all of them, I think that is the role he should be playing.
Are you Tinubu’s boy?
Tinubu is my mentor. And I won’t join those who mislead our master. There is nothing wrong in being anybody’s boy. If you humble yourself, God will lift you up. I will always respect Tinubu. He is older than me, minimum of 10 years. So, if I cannot call him my father, anybody who wants to disrespect his own father can go ahead, he is free.
You said the late Abiola has more than 70% influence on you, it is like you are fanatical about this man?
Yes. I worked briefly in one of his companies, Concord, from 1988 to 1990. Because of my visibility in five of the titles on the Concord stable, coupled with my assistance in getting Shina Peters to play in his house for a party he hosted for the Super Eagles at that time, I became known to him and, from there, we became bonded. While a lot of people were following him because of money, I was always going to see him, mainly for mentorship. I was a disciple of Abiola, I later became an apostle. I could almost tell you how Abiola would react to any situation. There are two people today in my life that affected me: Abiola and the other one who I call a spirit you don’t see but you feel. That is Dr. Mike Adenuga Jr. He is just incredible. I have learnt a lot from these two men. You cannot be great if you don’t recognise greatness in others. That is why I say that about 70% of what I have learnt today is from the late Abiola.
Ovation is 364 pages, from less than 100 pages. Is that not too voluminous?
The idea is to make every issue of Ovation a collector’s item. Something you cannot throw away or use to sell groundnut. Ovation is a lifestyle magazine. You have to aspire to be there. There was a woman who called some years back from Ilorin, Kwara State. She had been dreaming for 10 years about two things, that is when her daughter is getting married, Ovation to cover the wedding, and having Sikiru Ayinde Barrister to perform, even if he was going to come on wheel chair. She fulfilled the two dreams. Barrister played for her before he passed away. It is not like any or every other magazine. It is very spiritual in nature in its birth, conception, sustainability.
Some say you are trying to scare your competitors away?
There is nothing wrong with that. In anything you do, if you are not strong enough, your competitors will come and kick you away. I leant that from Mike Adenuga who puts everything in his business to make a difference. So, we have to put everything we have back into the magazine and that was why we have the French version of the magazine which has been running since 2006, because we do French covers. We have done cover in Hausa language before. We are experimental. That is why the fun has been on for close to 20 years now. We will be 20 next year April. We are also presently having the television version of it, now airing on Silverbird and Ben TV in London.
Which of these editions would you say is most outstanding for you?
Every copy of ovation, as I said, is a collector’s item. Every copy of ovation is a work of art and science. We go to the very extreme to give our readers the best value for money. That is why it is probably the most expensive magazine in the whole of Africa. Even at that, you cannot cover the cost, because every copy is like a hand-woven work of art. We have been with the same printer in London for the past 15 years. I am proud that in Africa, a company fully controlled by an African can think about quality; that, I think, is the greatest secret of ovation. Those who buy it do so because of its quality. When President Jonathan’s daughter got married, Ovation was the magazine of choice, it was the official magazine, and that was despite my opposition to the PDP. I am a professional to the core.
The magazine is for everybody. Whether you are in PDP, APC, APGA, any party at all. When the Queen of England was coming to Nigeria, Ovation was chosen by Buckingham Palace as the official magazine for Her Majesty’s visit. When Dubai was going to be marketed to Africa, the British trade partners invited us to London to go to Dubai to take pictures all over Dubai and produced an edition which we called ‘See Dubai and Die’. Of course, that changed how people perceived Dubai because, before then, it used be only traders who went to Dubai.
So, I cannot say a particular edition is the best. I can give you some of the memorable ones. Dr.Dehinde Fernadez Island in New York, to me, that is epic. Then going to Maiduguri, Borno State, to photographe Alhaji Muhammed Indimi’s house called House of Gold, I have never seen anything like it. It is an incredible monument. I flew in Collin Ramsay, the father of all photographers, in his late 70s, from London. The man who had taken world celebrities photographs including Imelda Marcos. That was the level that we took photography to. Some said when we first started that within six months, it was going to perish, but here we are, 19 years after, still standing.
You said you are not rich, even with the success of Ovation?
Wealth, I believe, is relative. People in Africa, especially in Nigeria, tend to assess achievement in terms of money. I don’t. My biggest achievement today is creating a global brand; a brand that anywhere I am, and I have been on all the continents in the world, I have both brand and name recognition. I have been able to build a double brand. That is one of the most difficult things to do as an entrepreneur. When you mention Microsoft, your mind naturally goes to Bill Gates. You mention Apple and your mind goes to Steve Jobs. You mention Virgin and your mind goes to Richard Branson. You mention Ovation, your mind must go to Dele Momodu. that is my greatest achievement. Every other thing, God will take care of it.