By Wale Alabi
ln real love you want the other person’s good. In romantic love you want the other person.
Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness.
February 14 is St Valentine day, renowned and celebrated globally as lovers’ day. In Nigeria, like in other parts of the world, Val’s day is also a money spinner for commerce and industry. Entrepreneurs, brand owners, brand custodians and brand guardians have turned Val’s day to a multi-billion Naira industry in Nigeria. Yearly, owners of both tangible and intangible products leverage on Val’s day to connect with consumers and for marketing.
From banking to insurance, hospitality and tourism to telcos, and from Fast Moving Consumer Goods to alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages the experience is the same: brand owners feast on St Valentine to smile to the banks. Ironically, while the beneficiaries of Val’s day in Nigeria are many, very few of them today remember or acknowledge the origin of St Valentine day celebration in Nigeria. That it was a lady with a heart of gold that started it all. And that she was a journalist.
Like Princess Diana of Britain, she was Nigeria’s queen of the hearts. Like Princess Diana, her entry and exit in our consciousness were both mercurial and dramatic. Her name was May Ellen Ezekiel Mofe-Damijo popularly known as MEE to her legion of fans across the country.
During her lifetime, MEE was a journalist, author, publisher, TV show host/ producer, entrepreneur, philanthropist, wife, mother and a consummate lover and romantic. She was married to Richard Mofe-Damijo popular actor, journalist turned politician. Their love and romance though cut short by sudden death of MEE in 1996 lasted only six years, it was hot and sizzling.
Recounting her dating experience with MEE after her demise RMD confessed in an interview that it was MEE that made the first move. According to RMD, “One day she (MEE) sent me a note that if I am not afraid at being looked at, being gossiped about, that I should come and go with her to a party. So, I wrote back to her to tell her that they haven’t given birth to the man that will give me a complex in my life or instead look at me and gossip about me going out on a date with a woman.” Although slightly older than RMD, it was MEE that made the first move. And thus began a sizzling romance that was soon consummated to a marriage.
An incurable romantic, their age difference did not affect their love. Like Siamese twins they were always together. They even became business partners when MEE launched out from her paid employment at Quality Magazine to become an entrepreneur. It is on record that it was MEE that changed RMD’s career path turning him to a businessman. From Classique Magazine to Mister, Nigeria’s equivalent of the Gentleman’s Quarterly, MEE was involved.
RMD and MEE were still deeply in love when death came for her on March 23, 1996. She died of complication from fibroid operation in a Lagos hospital. Exactly like her mentor, Dele Giwa who was brutally assassinated ten years earlier MEE died at 39.
MEE came into journalism after quitting a troubled marriage. She honed her journalism teeth at Sunday Concord in the early 1980s where she worked as a society reporter under Giwa’s tutelage. An alumnus of the famous Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Lagos, MEE later travelled to the US for further studies. Back in Nigeria in 1985, she was again employed by Giwa as a Senior Staff Writer at Newswatch. At Newswatch, MEE’s career flourished and soared when she was appointed the founding editor of Quality, a soft sell and sister magazine birthed by Newswatch in 1987.
Quality was an instant hit. It was at Quality that MEE ignited the fire of Valentine day celebration in Nigeria. She later took the Val’s day celebration to Classique Magazine when she left Quality to become an entrepreneur.
In his tribute to MEE on her demise in 1996, a fellow Dele Giwa’s protégé and Nigeria’s king of tabloid journalism, Mike Awoyinfa wrote, “MEE was a dreamer who accomplished her dreams. It is not enough to dream. It is not enough to have vision. What is important is working hard to make the dream come true. Having made her mark in the print media, she shifted her focus on television, to become the Queen of the tube, Oprah Winfrey.”
A year after her demise, on March 20, 1997, a lecture and award were held in honour of MEE by the Nigerian Institute of Journalism Alumni Association (NIJAA) in Lagos. Designed as an annual event, the lecture/award was devised to immortalize MEE for her invaluable contribution to journalism development in Nigeria.
Contrary to impression in some quarters that MEE left behind millions of Naira in her account and landed properties owing to her glamorous lifestyle, the philanthropist left little rather she brought joy and succour to the needy and the underprivileged through her Sunshine Foundation. “ My wife didn’t have cars. We had a company, Birdland Investments Limited. She wasn’t a material person. She didn’t have jewelry, she wasn’t crazy about anything. She didn’t have any passion. The only passion she had was making people smile. Giving out to people. She wasn’t somebody that wakes up in the morning and say I want to buy a new car! Charity was uppermost in her mind. She did not have a house, neither did we build any together as husband and wife.”
For Sam Omatseye who worked at Quality with MEE, “MEE was an exuberant soul, full of repartee and pleasantries and the sting.”
Unknown to many MEE also authored a novel, Dreammaker and left behind a daughter, Onome whom she had before meeting RMD. Like the title of her novel, MEE was a dreammaker. She actualized her dreams just as many of her fans and admirers were able to activate their own dreams too through her writings and her acts. Dear Vals as you celebrate today please do not forget to light a candle and say a little prayer in memory of MEE, Nigeria’s Queen of the Hearts.
Journalist, author and brand analyst, Wale Alabi who was at Newswatch with MEE is the Editor-in-Chief of Brandwise. www.brandwise.com.ng. He can be reached at [email protected]