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Tony Momoh (1939 – 2021)

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Prince Tony Momoh exemplified the strength of character, focus and commitment that are missing in many public officers. Like Alhaji Lateef Jakande, Tony Momoh was also a veteran journalist of no mean repute. Both men taught by their lives that the character of a person models his office or profession. A man of many firsts and many parts, Tony Momoh was balanced by the quintessence of strong spirituality, and carried on like one who had complete mastery of self. Grilled in the finest traditions of professional tutelage, Momoh passed through teaching, journalism and law to prepare for public service.

Born in Auchi, present Edo State, Tony Momoh, who passed away on February 1, 2021, was born on April 27, 1939. He was reported to be the 165th child of the Momoh dynasty of King Momoh 1 of Auchi. Having traversed careers as a school teacher and headmaster, Momoh veered into journalism as a sub-editor at the Daily Times in 1962, rising steadily through the ranks to become Editor and deputy general manager in June 1976.

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As a professional, Momoh expanded the frontiers of the ethics and law of journalism, when as the manager of the Daily Times he took to court the Senate of the Second Republic to test the investigative powers of the National Assembly over the right and duty of a journalist not to disclose his source of information. In reaction to a Daily Times publication, alleging legislators as contractors, the Senate of Nigeria led by Joseph Wayas summoned Momoh for contempt. In the ruling of that case, Tony Momoh v The Senate of the National Assembly & Ors, the court held that the right to freedom of expression protects a journalist’s right not to disclose his source of information, as to do otherwise would amount to infringement.

In an appellate ruling of the same case, the Court of Appeal held that the press is not a fourth arm of government or a constitutional sanctuary foreclosed to probes concerning inquiries on the legislative domain. Thus, a newspaper publisher has no special immunity and the press can be ordered to disclose its sources in exceptional circumstances. These two injunctions, spearheaded by Momoh and others that followed, formed “basic limitation to the investigative powers of the National Assembly under the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria.”

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Later on in his sojourn, Momoh got a bitter test of his journalistic puritanism barely a month as Minister of Information, when the founding editor of the then Newswatch, (a news magazine) Dele Giwa, was killed by a parcel bomb. Tried as he did to assuage the ill-feeling of the people against the government by assuring them of a probe, he later demurred seemingly, stating that “a special probe would serve no useful purpose.”

To promote his image as a conscience of the government and a servant of the people, Momoh adopted a creative ministering technique of writing a series of ‘Letter to my Countrymen’, in a bid to bridge information gulf between government and the people. Relying on the dictum that “the medium is the message,” Momoh suggested that good governance would be better appreciated when there is communication between such a government and the people who yearn for good governance. In his own justification of this radical communicative action, Momoh was quoted to have stated that letter writing “has a unique impact, depth and intimacy more than any other medium of communication can offer.”

Though exposed to the influences of Islam, Christianity and the traditional religion of people, Momoh cultivated a spirituality nurtured by the Grail Message. He was ontologically entrenched in the spirituality of movement that his utterances, his public speeches, his publications and even his actions resonated the Grail Message philosophy. Perhaps, it is a combination of this philosophy as well as his diverse professional experiences that made Momoh a convincing magisterial testament in all his earthly dealings.

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Prince Tony Momoh
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