Tony Momoh: Exit of the Real Father!


I was angry at myself this Monday evening—the first day of February 2023—having encountered yet another bruising traffic jam as I tried to rush home for another assignment. Journalists like us always try to meet deadlines; we are used to it by training. The gridlock—for no reason—as usual dragged on for nearly two hours! I got home tired, exhausted, but with enough willpower to continue my efforts. As I made to settle on my desk to switch on my computer, NEPA or PHD…or whatever name they call them—struck and darkness closed in.

I have learnt to be calm in these unnerving circumstance because it is as though they exist to frustrate us. By now we have all leant not to depend on NEPA for surely you will be disgraced. Then the news filtered in that the man who had become everything to me has passed! Dazed, I became cold and struggled to sit properly on my desk; my immediate response was to burst out in tears, but I stiffened in time to bounce back to reality. The generator was now on and as I tried to maintain my composure but found myself drifting in and out darkness. Was I becoming unconscious? Faintly, I heard my wife say “my dear go and rest for a while before you continue”. At that moment my mind raced and in a flash, I found myself back in June 1986.

I am saying this for you to know how time flies—and the meaning of life. I had driven into Agidingbi premises of the Daily Times of Nigeria in Ikeja, Lagos, and walked in to see Tony Momoh who was then the General Manager. Don’t waste your time trying to add “chief” or “doctor” or “High Chief” to his name. He is not impressed; Tony wasn’t cut out for that shit (permit this). He was the straight forward quintessential Nigerian who has no time for rigmarole or beating around the bush. “Yes, Sule, why are you looking for me”, he asked me trying to squeeze out a smile.

His stern reputation as a disciplinarian had gone before him so I was prepared. “I want a job sir”, I told him. “A graduate of mass communication like you looking for job…… common go and resume immediately”, he barked at me. Startled, I looked right and left wondering if this man was playing me. You know it is usual for “big men” to say one thing and mean the other; not this Tony. He had already pressed a bell and sent for the editor then, Farouk Muhammed who walked in and led me to my new office as a cartoonist. That’s how my career in journalism began and how fate brought me in contact with the man whose name is synonymous with “journalism”!

As I grew up with him from his days as honourable Minister in 1986 to his last days on earth 35years later, I saw humility, grace, honour and the real meaning of integrity in life. Everybody was proud to be associated with him. Tony never wasted his time trying to become the rubbish we often gloat after. A Spartan personality, he aimed for perfection and produced in all cases astonishing results. He sat down to read and became a practising lawyer. Although from the royal family, Tony preferred a frugal existence throwing himself into and performing any task—no matter how difficult.  Each time I visited I found him on his desk –writing and I wondered asking him “don’t you ever have time to play?” He would laugh and tutor me on so many things, but this one —the principles of Time and Space—I will explain.  I will skip the details of taking you through the origin of his letters to my countrymen or his active days in the political circles. But he did make me understand—most importantly–so much about death– and the life beyond this earthly existence; as I write this, be rest assured that I am struggling to hold back my tears; but like a soldier, I will still attempt a summary.

Though an unusual topic, hold your breath; He once referred me to a chapter dealing with the title “death”, in Abd’rushin “In the light of the Truth”, and I quote here:  “Death, is one thing in which all men believe, without exception! It is one of the few facts about which there is no dispute or ignorance. Although everyone reckons with this fact, the majority always tries to ward off the thought. Many people are even vehement if the subject is broached in their presence, yet it is an indefinable fear that prevents them from seriously grappling with this irrefutable fact!”

The chapter tells me that “a secret fear exists in our hearts that death may one day suddenly surprise us”; but we inevitably and yet so constantly push aside the thoughts! The chapter goes further to say “this illusion does not alter the fact in the slightest degree that earthly death will one day creep in!” Tony thought me not to be intoxicated with this earthly life and prepared me to abandon frivolities. He told me that my existence on earth was only temporally—because all that is transient—will someday perish. He told me that the process of dying is in itself nothing but birth into what is called “the Ethereal World”—similar to the process of birth into this very earth also called “Gross material World”.

He said to me “without fear and anxiety, those who live well here can welcome the Hour of Release—mark this word into the next phase of life, meaning definite progress for the good they have done will so powerfully bring them happiness! Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, in this hour of grief and mourning, I have the pleasure to announce to you that our dear Prince Tony Momoh has drifted into happiness—and peaceful rest. The final result is that he has been delivered of all the pains we –as mortals—experience.

A new and peaceful journey to the beyond has begun; we should all at this solemn moment maintain absolute quiet—and dignity. Now, my eyes are becoming cloudy again; life is really inexplicable—happiness today and grief tomorrow. To my departed father, I may not sit with you again in flesh and discuss “books’ in this earthly world, but in the process of time, I know we will meet in paradise. Nothing that has a beginning in this world that would not have an end. Farewell in your journey sir; for you re the real father.