For those who knew them, Mallam Isa Funtua; Sam Nda-Isaiah and Tony Momoh shared one thing in common — they were media giants in their own rights. But apart from making significant contribution to the media landscape, the trio were towering figures in the class of those who loved, adored, supported and stood solidly behind President Muhammadu Buhari.
Funtua and Nda-Isaiah crossed to the great beyond in 2020 and on February 1, 2021, Momoh joined the journey of no return, depleting the rank of the pillars of President Buhari. So close was he to the president that when the president declared publicly in 2011 that his race for power was over having contested and lost thrice, Momoh was among the few persons who succeeded in convincing him to give it another shot and the president hit the goldmine after that nudge from his bosom ally.
A former Editor of Daily Times, Momoh granted many media interviews in his lifetime and in one of those interactions with reporters, he offered explanation on why he had so much confidence in the Buhari presidency.
“I have confidence in Buhari and I believe strongly that he has all it takes to achieve all those things that you have listed. He is the only elected President of Nigeria that started by wanting to become President. In 1960, Sir Tafawa Balewa was made Prime Minister. His ambition was to become a broadcaster. In 1979, Alhaji Shehu Shagari became President. He had wanted to be a senator.
“Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was made President in 1999. He was in prison and his thought was to be free and not to die in prison. In 2007, Yar’ Adua was made President by those who chose him. He had wanted to finish his eight-year term as governor of Katsina State and thereafter return peacefully to his job as lecturer at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.
“Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was very comfortable with his job as governor of Bayelsa State. But he was brought to Abuja first as Vice President and later as President. None of them ever thought of being President. But when you talk of somebody who started out by really wanting to be President, it is President Buhari.”
MOMOH WAS MANY THINGS ROLLED INTO ONE
Writer. Poet. Lawyer. Politician. Journalist. Momoh was many things rolled into one and he lived his life to the fullest. In another interview, the deceased shared his sojourn into journalism.
“I liked journalism. When I applied to the Daily Times, (Dele) Giwa, who was secretary to Alhaji Babatunde Jose liked me because I was coming there to know the situation (with my application). I went there one day and he said, ‘They have written to you; haven’t you got your letter?’ I said no. I said, ‘What did they write there? No job?’ He told me to talk to Alhaji (Jose). I waited and when Alhaji came out, I said, ‘Sir, I came to find out about my application for a job.’ He asked, ‘Haven’t you got a reply?’ I said no.
“He said they had written to me telling me there was no job. I said, ‘Sir, please, let there be a job.’ He asked me what I was doing before and I told him I was a teacher. He said, ‘Go back and teach. When there is an opportunity, you will come.’ I insisted I wasn’t going back and I pleaded with him. I said, ‘Sir, I know your headache.’ He said, ‘My headache?’ I said, ‘Yes sir.’ He asked me what it was and I said, ‘I have no experience and that is why you won’t give me a job.’ He said yes. I said, ‘But you are known all over the world today; someone must have given you an opportunity.’ He was to tell the story much later that what I did to him was what he did to Zik (Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe) when Zik gave him a job in Pilot. I said, ‘Just give me six months. Don’t pay me. If I don’t impress you, sack me.’ Then, he employed me. He asked where I wanted to start, I said, ‘Train me. I want to start from the beginning.’ So, he employed me as a trainee sub-editor and that was where we started until I wanted to further my education,” he had said.
INTERESTING ASPECT ABOUT GROWING UP
There were many interesting aspects about Momoh’s childhood. As the 165th child, growing up was tough in a sense.
“We grew up in a family of seven compounds and the compounds were headed by women. The most senior wives of our father headed the compounds; the youngest wives lived with them while the middle-level wives lived on their own,” he said in an interview.
“My mother was one of the youngest ones and she lived in the compound whose male head was Kessington Momoh, who was the most popular politician in the Momoh family and was an Action Group minister who followed (late Chief Obafemi) Awolowo.
“All of us in the compound, growing up, knew all the women – about 48 of them – to be our mothers. We couldn’t differentiate between the women. Every woman in my father’s house was a mother to every child in my father’s house. Every six months, they (the wives) took an oath not to do anything to undermine the husband, the children or one another.
On siblings rivalry, he narrated an encounter with one of his brothers: “We loved ourselves. For instance, I have never fought in my life. I have never exchanged blows with anybody in my life, apart from the case of one of our brothers who was always beating up people. And he would beat up anybody who touched me. We were in the same class and his name was Abdul. One day, he wanted to pounce on me and that day was the first day I remember I fought. And I beat him to coma.”
THE DELE GIWA CONTROVERSY
The reputation Momoh built over the years was almost destroyed after serving as a minister under Former Military President Ibrahim Babangida. The ex-military ruler appointed Momoh Minister of Information and Culture in September 1986 and one month after, Dele Giwa was killed by a parcel bomb. Momoh, who had initially said there would be a probe, later recanted by saying: “a special probe would serve no useful purpose”.
This obviously came as a rude shock to many who have followed him for years, especially how his path crossed with Giwa earlier in life. Before his death, Giwa had opened up to Momoh about being interrogated by security operatives. He had said he feared for his life because of the weight of the accusations levelled against him. According to Ray Ekpu, a veteran journalist who was Giwa’s ally, Momoh “dismissed it as a joke and said the security men just wanted to rattle him”.
RELEVANT IN POLITICS AFTER SERVING THE MILITARY
After the military interregnum, Momoh returned to active politics, serving as the director of the late Alex Ekwueme Presidential Campaign Organisation in 1999. He also chaired the screening and conduct of Gubernatorial and State House of Assembly primaries in the Kano chapter of the PDP for the 1999 general election together with Abdullahi Sumaila and Senator Bala Tafidan Yauri.
He also chaired the media and publicity of the defunct All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) Campaign Organisation in the 2003 and 2007 elections.
He was also chairman of the Political Committee of the Muhammadu Buhari Organisation. In January 2011, Momoh was appointed chairman of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in the lead-up to the April 2011 national elections, with Buba Galadima as national secretary.
Born on 27 April, 1939, he attended Government School Auchi (1949–1954) and Anglican School Okpe (1954). Momoh was Pupil Teacher at the Anglican School, Auchi (January–December 1955) and Headmaster at the Anglican School, Ubuneke, Ivbiaro, Owan Local Government (January 1958 – December 1959). He went to the Provincial Teachers Training College, Abudu, Edo State and Government Teachers College, Abraka in Western Region (1960–1961).
He later attended the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Momoh served as Chairman of the Board of Nigeria Airways and was a member of the Nigerian Press Council. He was awarded many honours, including fellowships of the Commonwealth Journalists’ Association, the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, and the Advertising Council of Nigeria.
He was a patron of the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria, and a holder of Selkyo Culture Award presented to him in Japan in recognition of his “great contribution to society” through his “consistent and valuable activities for the sake of the creation of peace and culture”.