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Dele Momodu’s lion tribe of journalists

Mike Awoyinfa

Fellow Nigerians, permit me to celebrate today one of our own: the man recently “ordained” bishop and of whom Pastor Tunde Bakare of the Latter Rain Assembly declares: “He is one of the few men I read every weekend when he writes at the back of Thisday. I read him because he is practical, he is pragmatic and what he writes makes sense to me. Him and a few others I call pen prophets because they write and foretell the future. God is not limited to church sanctuary. He has his people everywhere. So I want Bishop Dele Momodu to say something.”

I was in my hospital bed recuperating from surgery when Dele Momodu launched three books at a go, a two-volume compilation of his columns and a book titled Fighting Lions—The Untold Story of Dele Momodu’s Presidential Campaign written by Ohimai Godwin Amaize, the young campaign manager (at 26) of Momodu’s political adventure. I really missed the book launch because I had been encouraging Dele to take his journalistic game one step higher by writing books. It was the same way I encouraged him in 1989 to join the Weekend Concord team from African Concord magazine to start an exciting, trailblazing Saturday newspaper. And when my late friend MEE Mofe-Damijo approached me, wanting Dele as the editor of her Classique magazine, I encouraged him to go, as painful as it was, because losing Dele Momodu is like losing a Messi or a Ronaldo. It was Dele Momodu who even reminded me the other day that I even drove him to MEE’s office where he was appointed editor with alacrity.

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Since I couldn’t make the book launch, I requested for the books and wassohappytoreceivethem. Ofthe three books, the one that immediately aroused my curiosity was FIGHTING LIONS. I was wondering: Who are the lions? How do you fight lions? I read the foreword by Dr. Doyin Abiola, the visionary woman who saw something special and took the risk in appointing me editor, then gave me the freedom to create a brand new newspaper from the scratch. From Dr. Abiola’s foreword I saw this book as a manual for everyone who wants to be a campaign manager or wants to understand how to navigate the stormy waters of Nigerian politics.

“Just occasionally, you read something that stops you in your tracks. It startles, it provokes. This is one such book,” Dr. Abiola wrote. By the time I started reading the 120-page book, I found myself hooked. I was looking for lions in the book. Coincidentally, I received an amazing video of a tribe of lions lying on the highway and stopping traffic. (You can find the “Spectacular New Lion Road Block” video on YouTube.)

Confronted with lions on his political path, the author of FIGHTING LIONS Ohimai Amaize asked a barrage of questions: “Why did I choose to support a candidate who many thought did not stand a chance of winning? How did we manage to run the whole race from declaration, through the party primaries to Election Day, despite the odds? What was our experience with money politics? Did Candidate Momodu appear on the scene ahead of his time? Were there any chances of ever winning that election? Was our campaign team just a bunch of overly ambitious guys or a team of believers inspired by the audacity of hope?”

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Like T.S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi,” you sometimes question your own sanity while embarking on such odyssey. You are filled with regrets, disappointments and a feeling of betrayal. An amazed Amaize writes about how Dele Momudu’s journalism constituency instead of being his No.1 champion acted saw it all as an attention-seeking farce. “We had started off with the conviction that the media would support one of their own,” the author wrote. “We could not be more wrong. The politics of the newsroom had some surprises in store for us, for the media practically wrote off one of their own. To them he stood no chance, and they gave him none. Many of his colleagues were dismissive of his aspiration and were not ready to listen to him. Those that bothered to listen, refused to take him seriously as a contender. “Indeed the media constituted the biggest bloc of anti-Momodu cynics, and their unwillingness to give his message of a new Nigeria a chance, played a big role in the outcome of the 2011 presidential election. In our post-campaign analysis, we concluded that after the issue of campaign financing, the next major setback our campaign suffered came through the cynicism of the Nigerian media. I learnt from my days as a campus journalist about the agenda-setting role of the media. The media had the power and influence to set a change agenda for the country; and in this case, it appeared the agenda was different. In enlightened societies, the media educates and guides citizens towards making informed choices. In the case of this presidential race, the idea of an underdog like Momodu who had no godfathers but God-the-Father, did not resonate with the Nigerian media. It soon became clear that the only crime Momodu committed was his inability to mobilise a humongous campaign war-chest as is usually the case with candidates who have had unbridled access to the nation’s commonwealth. But ours was a campaign that believed it was possible to make a difference by thinking differently.”

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He recalls how they tried to replicate the Obama strategy but it didn’t work in Nigeria. Take the mass-fundraising strategy that Obama successfully innovated in America: “In America, Obama raised over $750 million from a pool of American citizens. We started on this premise that if it was possible in America, it could also be done in Nigeria. But as we came to realize, this was not America. The popular perception of the average Nigerian was still anchored on the belief that it takes a billionaire to run for President. If you were running for President, you must have some billions stashed away somewhere.

“While a few Nigerians believed and donated selflessly, most were still not ready to part with their hard-earned finances for our campaign. Our first donation came through Facebook, from one Bob Olukoya, an Abuja-based lawyer who donated a GMC truck to the campaign. He wasn’t even a friend or close associate of Momodu. We took it as an early sign of good tidings in the offing…We were wrong. Comprehensively wrong.”

Just like the media, show business stars were also castigated for not supporting Dele Momodu. To the author, it was almost like betrayal, considering Dele Momodu’s role in promoting the careers of certain stars and the entertainment industry in general through his Ovation magazine.

In the book, you will read about how Momodu left the Labour Party after his presidential ticket was sold to someone with deep pockets and he was declared “unserious” because he had no big money to fund his presidential ambition. From Labour, he defected to the National Conscience Party and luckily got the ticket. Unfortunately, Dele Momodu was excluded from the presidential debates after he had received a letter of invitation. That was the “most unkindest cut of all”—apologies to Shakespeare. Femi Falana, the party’s chairman even had to sue the Nigeria Elections Debate Group for N1 billion. Looking back, Amaize wrote: “That day was one of my saddest days ever. I felt helpless. We were fighting lions with bare hands. How do you win such a battle?” It was from this incident that the book got its title: FIGHTING LIONS!

Wish more campaign managers and political actors can write their memoirs, such as this young man has done on Dele Momodu in the lions’ den.

Tokunbo David :Sun News Online team writer and news editor

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