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OBITUARY: Tony Momoh, the staunch Buharist and journalism champion who ditched his birth name for Enahoro’s

No one sees death, no one sees the face of death. No one hears the voice of death, but cruel death cuts off mankind” – Utanapishtim.  


 Less than four weeks ago, Tony Momoh, a former minister of information and veteran journalist, rendered a glowing tribute following the death of his colleague, Eddie Aderinokun, describing him as a great journalist whose life was worthy of emulation. 

He lamented the deaths of his peers who had graced the journalism profession with their glowing pens in their heydays.

 Momoh took solace in the words of the Bible that humans are in the world, but not of the world, bidding his friend bon voyage to paradise — not knowing that the same fate lay ahead for him on the horizon. 

 On Monday, fate dealt his loved ones a cruel hand. 

When the bright sun was about to morph into the dark night, Momoh had his last breath and bade the world goodbye just two months to his 82nd birthday anniversary.

For the Nigerian journalism space, it is a huge loss. In the political landscape, a prominent voice has vanished. 

 The famous writer of ‘Letters to my Countrymen’ was a man of many sides — a journalist, lawyer, teacher, writer and politician. 


 165TH CHILD FROM A ROYAL BLOOD M

Momoh is blue-blooded from a Muslim family. He was born on April 27, 1939, in Auchi, Edo state. He was the 165th child of King Momoh I of Auchi. The king had just 257 children. The ex-minister was the third of the four children that his mother, a junior wife amidst 48 queens, had for the king. In an interview, the deceased recounted that every six months, his father’s wives would take a traditional oath not to do anything to undermine their husband, children, or one another.

 In 1955, Momoh converted from Islam to Christianity. He was named Suleiman at birth, but changed to Tony — taking after the personality he admired, Anthony Enahoro, one of Nigeria’s foremost anti-colonial and pro-democracy activists.

 Commenting on his faith, he once said: “When I was being sworn in as minister of information and culture, I said I wouldn’t swear by the Bible or the Quran and I said, ‘So help me God’. When I stepped out, journalists asked me, ‘They said you are an atheist.’ I said I was not an atheist. They asked why I did not swear by the Bible or the Quran but only said ‘So help me God.’ I said, ‘I am a Christian and a Muslim when they are not quarreling, and neither when they are.” 

 Momoh attended the Government School Auchi, a school founded by his father in 1922. He later moved to Anglican School Okpe, where he served as a pupil-teacher. He also served as headmaster of the Anglican School, Ubuneke, Ivbiaro, Owan local government area of the state. 

Momoh attended the Provincial Teachers Training College, Abudu, Edo state and Government Teachers College, Abraka, Delta state. 

He proceeded to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), University of Lagos and the Nigerian Law school.

 He possesses degrees in mass communication and law. He had four children, three boys, and a girl.

 A VETERAN JOURNALIST AND INFORMATION MINISTER 

 The deceased cut his teeth in journalism as a sub-editor at the Daily Times in October 1962, where he rose to become editor and deputy general manager in 1980. Momoh had a reputation for standing firm in the face of intimidation and he was known for fighting for press freedom.

 Joseph Wayas, former senate president, once invited him to appear before the chamber over an “uncomplimentary” and “contemptuous” publication, asking him to disclose his source of information. 

Momoh sued the senate at the Lagos high court over what he described as an attempt to infringe on press freedom in the country. 

 In the legal battle that ensued, Momoh argued that a journalist has the constitutional obligation to hold the government accountable at all times. 

The court held that an individual had the right to refuse to disclose their source of information. 

 In its ruling, an appellate court, however, stated that the 1979 constitution did not shield a journalist from disclosing his source of information. 

 Later in his career, Momoh was appointed by Ibrahim Babangida, then military president, as minister of information and culture from September 1986 until 1990.

 When Dele Giwa, former editor of Newswatch magazine, was killed by a letter bomb, Momoh promised there would be a probe of his death. He later backtracked saying the probe would serve no useful purpose. 

In 1996, he became a director of Newswatch. 

 While he was minister, he was said to have engaged in a crossfire with late Gbolabo Ogunsanwo, then Daily Times editor. 

In one of his articles, the latter described him thus: “A ministerial toga is no magna carta for mandibulae walkabout. Here is a Muslim born Anthony, who became a mid-day grail mover and ended up neither believing in Jesus Christ nor Mohammed.” 

 Momoh served as chairman of the board of the defunct Nigeria Airways and was also a member of the Nigerian Press Council. He was honoured with the Selkyo Culture Award in Japan in recognition of his “great contribution to society”. 

Until his death, he was a strong supporter of restructuring and was outspoken about national affairs. 

A ‘BUHARIST’ TO THE LETTER  

Momoh is well-rooted in politics, serving in various capacities in the last two decades.

 In 1999, he was director of the Alex Ekwueme presidential campaign organization.

 The deceased served as the chairman, media and publicity, of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). 

Also, he was chairman of the political committee of the Muhammadu Buhari Organisation and national chairman of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), one of the parties that merged to form the All Progressives Congress (APC). 

During a campaign rally in 2015, Momoh was reported to have said Buhari was capable of tackling headlong the myriad of problems confronting the country, saying the people should stone him if his candidate does not perform after two years.

 “At the end of the day if Buhari doesn’t perform, stone us because he is going to perform,” he was reported to have said.

 Three years later, Momoh said Buhari had done well and delivered on his campaign promises despite the challenges he met upon assumption of office.

 In 2018, after the press reported the controversial ‘Lazy Nigerian Youths’ comment made by the president while speaking at the Commonwealth Head of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London, Momoh defended him, maintaining that Buhari said the truth and owes no one an apology. 

 Commenting on his unbreakable ties to Buhari in another interview, he said: “So, my attachment to Buhari has to do with the mission. He is supposed to be part of laying the foundation for a Nigeria that must make a statement to the world in the next few years and I repeat that there is nothing anybody can do about it’ 

 “So, when people think I have an attachment to Buhari, yes I have been with him since 2003. Some people even said I was following a stupid man who would never win an election. It’s now they know that I was the one right because I was seeing beyond just the horizon and it’s not an emotional following. It is a cosmic following. He is more prepared to rule Nigeria than any other person.” 

 ROMANCE WITH NUMBER 13

 In astrology, the number 13 is synonymous with bad luck and misfortune but throughout Momoh’s eventful life, it was a constantly-recurring number.

 In his tribute to the deceased, Taiwo Obe, a journalist and media trainer, disclosed that Momoh’s lucky number was 13. 

 The number, Obe said, was associated with Momoh’s residence, place of work, and notable job positions during his lifetime. So while 13 — the dreaded successor of the magical number 12 — may represent bad luck to many, it was Momoh’s lucky number. “Many dread #13. But for our dear senior, Tony Momoh, who exited the Earth today, 13 was his lucky #. He lived at 13 Bush St, Maryland; law office at 13 Sylvia Crescent, Anthony; was 13th editor of Daily Times, 13th Information Minister & chair, 13th Governing Council, UNIJOS,” Obe wrote on Twitter.

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