Exit of a prince
The remains of Prince Tony Momoh will be interned this afternoon on Grailland, Iju Hills, Iju, Lagos. When urgent calls came in torrents into my phone to announce his departure from earthly life, I was jolted and I quickly wired a WhatsApp message to Chief Segun Osoba: “Have you heard? The Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian has just informed me Tony has passed away.” An alert reporter that he ever is, he replied immediately, “Unfortunately true!” Then I called the wife, Princess Jane and the confirmation came without equivocation. I was jolted not so much when it is a dignified passing that his was but because any definitive parting comes with certain indefinable pains. This is because memories of shared moments of certain recognitions, of shared values and views of life flow in. These together with even argumentation are forfeited for either party. I was jolted also because we spoke three days before he exited. I did not pick any hint from his voice during our telephone conversation that his time was up. I was later to gather he had a premonition that his sojourn on the planet earth was coming to a close.
Tony Momoh would have been 82 in April if he had tarried a little more. In 2019 when he was 80, his children wanted to mark it. But he had said to himself that the 70th birthday would be the last he would celebrate elaborately on earth. And Sad Sam put a stamp of approval on his resolve; or do I say, in his inimitable way, decreed it! So, when he was 80 and the children informed him of their plan, he turned it down. He preferred a ticket for himself and his wife instead to travel out. Here is the story in his own words. Captioned “HURRAH I AM ON RUNG 81, he wrote:
“In less than a minute ago, I stepped on to the 81st Rung of the Ladder of Life. The journey to now started on April 27, 1939 when I dropped from my mother’s womb. You will get the full story from my Biographer, Andrew Okwilagwe, Professor of Library, IT and Archival Studies of the University of Ibadan.
“After about seven years of research he published a 590-page book he titled “Prince Tony Momoh A National Bibliotherapist & Cultural Engineer.” I didn’t know what Bibliotherapist meant but they said I was Africa’s foremost Bibliotherapist. What I recall in proof of the claim is that in my whole career as a journalist between 1962 and 1990, I did not use a curse word and was never invited by the police! Why? Because I learned early enough in my life that here and hereafter, you will account for everything you did during your sojourn on earth. The doing is with your hands through activity, your mouth through spoken word, and your brain through thinking! The Book under reference was presented at the biggest ceremony organized to celebrate my birthday. I was 70!
“My Friend Sam Amuka Pemu, publisher of the Vanguard titles, came to my Bush Street Okupe Estate Residence and invited my wife Jane to be witness to the message he brought.
“’Tony’, Sam said. ‘Die’. ‘Jane, tell your Husband to die!’ Sam said the event of the previous day at the National Theatre Iganmu, Lagos, could never be equaled or beaten. It was chaired by Gen. Yakubu Gowon. Two other former Heads of State, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari and Chief Earnest Sonekan were also there. Many of my former colleagues in IBB’s government were there. So also were the media leadership in Print, Electronic, Advertising and Public Relations.
“The National Troupe performed and some of Nigeria’s foremost events hosts—Bisi Olatilo, Ali Baba, Soni Irabor and Patrick Doyle compeered. AIT covered the event live! To crown it all, four books were presented, three by me, and one on me. They were reviewed by the Chairman of the Editorial Board of The Guardian, Dr. Reuben Abati, and Festus Unuigbe. The one on me is the one anchored by Prof. Okwilagwe while the three by me were the first two volumes of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary, 1999 to 2008, and Tony Momoh’s Spiritual Essays. The third volume of Democracy Watch completed my monitoring of governance in pursuance of the media’s role to hold government accountable to the people, a chore I performed through weekly publications in Sunday Vanguard for 12 years under the title Point of Order.
“You see how big the outing was when I was 70 and why Sam asked me to die when the ovation was loudest! I decided the last Birthday I would celebrate before my departure to where I came from on April 27, 1939 would be my 70th which was 11 years ago. Many activities have taken place since that outing at 70! I remain eternally grateful to Prof. Okwilagwe for promoting a name he says anchors many things to go for! For instance, when I was 78 he gave out 1,000 copies of his four volume Nigeriana Stirling- Horden Encyclopaedia of Mass Media & Communication to all university libraries in Nigeria, all editors in Nigeria and media houses in Nigeria plus a copy of my biography he wrote, all in the name of Tony Momoh Foundation!
“And last year when I clocked 80, my children wanted to mark it and I told them, ‘Give my wife and me business class tickets to Dubai for a week. I will do a comprehensive medical check-up …’ My wife and I were at Radiscon Blue where the hotel brought flowers and cakes to mark our 50 years of marriage and my 80th birthday on April 27. I did the medicals at the American Hospital in Dubai.
“Yes, at the appropriate time, I will and you will, whether you like it or not, return to where we came from. We are told that we are in this world but not of this world. The Holy Quoran tells us you shall return. Unfortunately, between the time we come and the time we leave, we imbibe teachings that lead upwards to where we come from or downwards to the depths. The choice is ours, to choose life or death. Fellow travelers on the Path, I choose life and that is that I know my home is not this earth, it is up there in Paradise, not down there in hell!!
“Knowing that Paradise and Hell are places outside this earth, it is obvious that it is what I do, that is, my actions, my speech and my thoughts that will determine where I go. The call to board comes, wish me Happy Birthday. Thank you.”
The birthday he had in mind would appear to be an event already fulfilled in the future which was only separated by time and space, but the fulfillment, however, he was already sensing deep within him. Since then month after month, week after week and day after day, it would appear he found himself yielding irresistibly to influences he did not quite grasp. He only found himself tidying things up. This became clearer and more poignant in the last fortnight to his departure when he started to drop hints to his wife; they sent for the children and they took family photographs. What I am getting at is that the invitation for friends and associates to wish him Happy Birthday may not have been meant for yet another birthday on earth. It could be interpreted that he was seeing himself departing the earthly plane and being born in the Beyond. Departure from earthly life is birth in the beyond. And like every child on earth does, the departed learns to use etheric organs of sight and hearing, although the mastering is faster in the Beyond than it is on earth as the self-enforcing Law of Motion drives activities faster than they are on earth. Separation is automatic as well with the Law of Attraction of Homogenous Species in activity aided by compulsion of the Law of Motion. All souls with similar tendencies are consequently grouped together, headed for the same direction. Those with similar traits of guilt sink, finding their levels and bearing love and goodness rise as harvest to live in their own environment— each according to the level of his weight which depends on how heavy from dross or how light from goodness each soul is.
Everything about Tony Momoh can be said to be extra-ordinary. He made friends effortlessly, he could mix freely and would flow with everyone without surrendering the solidity of his inner being, his character. Our disagreement was on his foray into politics. I once asked him: Prince, what are you looking for in that wilderness, arguing that true leaders are not electable. You can trust him, never non-plussed, he responded: “If there is anyone in the wilderness then he is in need of rescue and help.” I stood my ground and he stood his. The secret to his being able to mix freely, work with anybody, accommodate and relate with all manner of people was not far to seek.
Tony was born into a large family of the Otaru of Auchi, Momoh 1, in 1939. As he was to reveal in his book, News of the Forgotten Army, his father had more than 40 wives and the children were more than 200. He says in the book: “… the 1963 census showed more than 900 of us in our beautiful, hilly little town of Auchi in the Mid-Western State of Nigeria. In Lagos, capital of Nigeria, we number some four dozens, and in the USSR, the UK, the U.S. and Australia, more than a dozen are currently acquiring different skills, from engineering and medicine to accountancy and advertising. So you see, Norma, I am in a position to like and understand people because I was brought up to live with all types under all signs of zodiac. Little wonder then I have never met anybody whose character defied analysis after I have listened to them for five minutes.”
Tony was christened Sulaiman Momoh. Following the introduction of Free Primary Education by Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the Western Region which necessitated massive recruitment of teachers, he went to train as a teacher obtaining Grade 3 and later Grade 2. He became a headmaster. In the course of teaching at an Anglican School, he became a Christian as he read the Bible from cover to cover to be able to impart Bible knowledge to his pupils. He studied to pass ‘O’ Level and later
‘A’ Level examinations through private studies as young men of that generation were wont to do. With his wider knowledge, he took active interest in public affairs. Chief Anthony Enahoro soon became his hero as a politician and as a journalist. Without any further ado, he changed his name to Anthony Momoh. He came to Lagos in 1962 to seek out Alhaji Babatunde Jose who was editor of the Daily Times. He told Alhaji Jose that he wanted to be a journalist like Anthony Enahoro. Incidentally, it was Enahoro who was editor that employed Jose himself at West African Pilot. Editor Babatunde Jose employed Momoh as Trainee Sub-Editor. He took him to the Newsroom and handed him over to Mr. Mac Alabi, the Chief Sub-Editor, to train him. With Jose’s liberal disposition to higher education and commitment to Manpower Development programme he established, he released Tony Momoh to go to University of Nigeria, Nsukka to study Mass Communications. Following the outbreak of hostilities in the Eastern Region, he along with several others trapped in the East were brought to the University of Lagos where finished.
Upon his graduation, he returned to the Daily Times where he became editor of Spear Magazine (1967 to 1971) in succession to Sam Amuka who was appointed editor of Sunday Times. By that time, Alhaji Jose had concretized the idea of setting up a formal training school to train journalists from within and from without. Tony Momoh was chosen to become the Training Manager. He was sent to Plymouth in Britain to train and hone his skills in every aspect of journalism. The training took him also to Thomson Editorial Study Institute in Cardiff. Before long he could parade a long list of, indeed, several accomplished journalists who predictably passed through his hands.
In his book, he says: “Only a few things impress me, and the most important is what you are worth upstairs. I don’t envy the rich because, honestly, I believe even a dunce can be rich overnight. There is inheritance. There are windfalls and sweepstakes. And Norma, there is armed robbery. And most penetratingly painful of them all because it is institutionalized there is fraud. But when it comes to acquiring knowledge, and wisdom, there is nowhere to grab it overnight. You must go get it from the department Conscientious Hard Work. On yourself.” He had hardly settled in his new assignment as Training Manager of Times School when he decided to read law. He was to say that it is only in journalism that you offer free consultancy services, solicited or unsolicited, to the lowly and the high, to the powerful, to the government that may even lock you up. But for such in law called briefs you present your bills, most times heavy, his decision to read law.
When he finished at the law school, he returned to his desk at the training school. He taught what was novel in journalism at the time: Teeline which replaced shorthand to enable reporters and correspondents report more accurately. It was from the training school that he was appointed editor of the Daily Times in 1976. He was in the saddle until 1980. At Editorial Board meetings, you had Tony Momoh to contend with for depth, scholarship and disarming logic. As editor he sued the Senate to stop from forcing him to divulge the source of his information in a publication that rattled the Upper Chamber. He won in the court. When the NPN government of Shehu Shagari settled down and disbanded Dr. Patrick Dele Cole’s team in 1980 for the newspaper’s fierce independence despite government’s interest in it, Tony Momoh was moved to Deputy General Manager, Planning and Development, Daily Times, (1980-1982). He could also brandish his credential to include General Manager, Planning and Development and general Manager Publications Division, Daily Times of Nigeria Limited.
Momoh was active in several media organisations where he was afforded leadership positions. He was chairman of the accreditation of the Nigerian Union of Journalists. He was member Board of Governors of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism. He was secretary Guild of Editors at a point, and later its President.
Although he read law nothing gave him fulfillment as journalism. Journalism itself he saw as a vehicle for fulfillment of higher tasks. In 1972, he came across the Work, In the Light of Truth—The Grail Message. It was the Book that transformed his outlook to life and his life in its entirety. By the time he came to a full appreciation of the significance of the Book for all mankind in 1974, he became an adherent and was able to discover by himself why he had to be born in a large family. It was to teach him to understand people of all shades and live in harmony with them. His doors were to be opened to all human beings who might wish to benefit from what The Grail Message inexhaustibly offers to those who are serious about their lives, the purpose of life on earth and their salvation and where their paths lead them after earthly life. Everywhere he became an advocate of the Work; he wanted it to be reflected in all his exertions what transformation it has made to his life, and drawing knowledge and wisdom from therein. In government, his colleagues regarded him as a philosopher and General Babangida was wont to call him the teacher. He brought the unique knowledge to bear on his attitude to work and in his books—“The News Of the Forgotten Army” and “Simple Strokes” as well as the booklet, “In Search of Viable Nigeria.”
In “Simple Strokes” he says of Balance: “Balance, my friend. Between work and play, waking and sleeping; thinking and doing. Even in nature, rain and shine; planting and reaping; birth and death. Balance, my friend. You may not be so fortunate next time, especially if you make it a habit. When it starts telling on you, do not say you were not warned.” In his writings, he also became careful not to cause harm or bring anyone’s name to disrepute. Allah-De was his oft example in this. He would say Allah-De was never invited by the police. He also restored his name to Suleiman after gaining knowledge of the importance of names, that each person is the name he bears. Suleiman thus became his middle name.
I have no doubt that multitude will throng the Holy Land of God, Grailland to wish Anthony Suleiman Momoh well as he turns his gaze away from the materiality of this world to focus on the lofty Heights that is Paradise. He knows it is a long way up in the Spiritual Realm. Given his accustomed firm volition to drive whatever he believes in, he is confident that coupled with the knowledge of the Path thereto he is mercifully permitted, he will be borne aloft. That is also my prayerful wish for a bosom friend and a colleague spanning some five decades.
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