Celebrating Dele Momodu, My Star Reporter
Like the Beatles, we were young, gifted and out to change the world, not with pop music, but with a new brand of pop journalism, a new narrative, a new song, a new approach to news. Call it new news! M.K.O. Abiola’s Concord newspaper offered us that platform to excel, to fly like eagles, to be creative, to change the narrative of news reporting, to infuse literature into journalism through a Saturday new newspaper fleshed out of the daily National Concord and called Weekend Concord.
It was the idea of our then Managing Director and Editor-in-chief, the cerebral Dr. Doyin Abiola, a great woman of journalism who is our own version of Katherine Graham of Washington Post. Katherine Graham who wrote the bestselling memoirs titled “Personal History.” I am waiting to read Dr. Abiola’s memoirs. There will be a chapter on how she went abroad on holidays in 1989 and had this brainwave of creating a distinct Saturday newspaper with its style, culture and identity different from the main daily and the Sunday edition. She then called me—I was the Features Editor of National Concord—and gave me her vision of the newspaper and instantly asked me to run with it and give her a dummy—a prototype of what the newspaper would look like.
I had just written a book, Art of Features, together with my twin brother from Sunday Concord days, the late Pastor Dimgba Igwe of blessed memory. Shortly after completing the book, I was sent to the features desk as Features Editor to take over from Lewis Obi who went to edit the African Concord newsmagazine. It was an opportunity to implement everything we wrote about on what a feature story should be. Like a football coach, I had to pick a team. In assembling my team of fresh, bright young men for the new Weekend Concord, one talented journalist with African Concord Dele Momodu came to mind. He had written some pieces for me at the Features desk where we changed the whole orientation towards features, making features livelier, more human angle-oriented and turning the feature pullout into a paper within a paper, such that it improved the circulation of the daily paper. This was what must have impressed Dr. Abiola to ask me to start a fresh paper from point zero. About that time, Dele Momodu was introducing Nigerians to Woman at Point Zero, an exotic small novel by Nawal El Saadawi, the Egyptian doctor and feminist who wrote this poignant novel after encountering a woman on death row for killing a pimp on a Cairo street and telling her pathetic story. Nawal El Saadawi has Dele to thank for introducing Nigerians to her literary works like God Dies by the Nile, The Hidden Face of Eve and other works which Dele wrote about—having bagged his Master’s degree in Literature after a first degree in Yoruba. It was this love for literature that brought us together. Within Concord, we created a small circle of literature aficionados which included Kunle Ajibade, Sam Omatseye, Dimgba Igwe and Mike Awoyinfa who as the Literary Editor of Sunday Concord did extensive magazine interviews with Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Amos Tutuola, T.M. Aluko, J.P. Clark, Cyprian Ekwensi, Onuora Nzekwu, Chukwuemeka Ike, Flora Nwapa and Buchi Emecheta. How I wish I can get back all these interviews and put them into a book! I really feel a sense of loss. There was no Google and no Internet in those days where you could archive your stories. Who can help me out? As the pioneer editor, I wanted Weekend Concord to have a literary flavor. So I reached out to Dele Momodu but he initially didn’t understand what kind of paper I envisioned. On hearing the name Weekend Concord, his mind went to Lagos Weekend, a popular paper from the Daily Times stable that specialized on sex, divorce and had a ‘Wakabout’ column written in Nigerian pidgin.
“No, no, no, I am not interested,” Dele initially told me. But I had to sit him down to explain the paper. Luckily, he caught the vision. And the rest is history. I am proud to say, the Weekend Concord became an instant success because of stars like Dimgba Igwe, Dele Momodu, Femi Adesina, Omololu Kassim, Shola Oshunkeye, Eric Osagie, Wale Sokunbi, Aliu Mohammed, Ose Oyamedan, Blessing Okpowo, Chika Abanobi, Lat Oyemade, Yetunde Francis, Timothy Oyeola, Felix Asimone, Emmanuel Otaru, Gbola Adebayo, Gbenga Opebi, Lanre Ajeboriogbon, Waziri Adio, Bolaji Abdullahi, Lanre Issa-Onilu, the late Sunday Umahi and the late Bolaji Macaulay.
Right from the start, Dele Momodu demonstrated leadership and was promoted twice as News Editor and Assistant Editor. I can still remember him writing his stories longhand and helping to edit and rewrite stories. He is not just a good writer whose prose is every editor’s delight but has a nose for news. Dele is a writer and a reporter. Two rarities merged with the love for adventure.
How can I forget Saturday, March 4, 1989, the day we first hit the street? The birth of a newspaper must be occasioned by a big bang. Just like the birth of creation itself. The paper must come out with something earthshaking, the kind of story that would forever register in people’s mind. For the Weekend Concord to live up to expectation, we needed something extraordinary. And this was where Dele Momodu came to the rescue with a WORLD EXCLUSIVE! An interview with the ex-wife of our Nobel Prize hero telling us the untold love life of the literary genius who made Africa so proud winning the Nobel in 1986. I don’t know how Dele talked the woman into talking. Nawal El Saadawi would have been proud! It was my proudest moment as an editor—and probably his proudest too as my star reporter! Today, I remember the past and join the world in celebrating the great Bashorun Dele Momodu at 60. May 16, should have been double celebration. It’s also the birthday of my late friend, the unforgettable Dimgba Igwe. May his soul rest in peace.
At 60, you have lived a good life Dele, but the best is yet to come. Like the phoenix, you have this knack for reinventing yourself. I like what you are doing today, dominating the social media with good, old journalism brought all the way back from our younger days in Weekend Concord, interviewing everyone with a story to tell. Keep up the good work.
Happy birthday from the one you call “my boss for life.” It is humbling saying in your interviews that Mike Awoyinfa taught you a greater part of the things you know today in journalism. It is the same thing I say of my late editor, an Auchi man, another Dele, born and bred in Ile-Ife like you: the legendary Dele Giwa. As you turn 60, may God open a new vista of goodness and greatness for you to the glory of His Holy name. Amen.