By Anthony Akaeze
IN recent days, Dele Momodu, the Nigerian journalist and publisher, has been in the news. This is somewhat out of order as journalists are hardly newsmakers themselves in the real sense of the word. They rather cover the news, event or people and that way, create or elicit discussions. But Momodu has suddenly become, as I see it, like a few other times in the past, a subject of discussion. The trigger to this was Momodu’s recent visit to Dino Melaye’s house in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city and seat of power. Melaye is a former House of Representatives member and Senator representing Kogi West Senatorial district.
From Momodu’s account of the visit in an online interview last week, he arrived Abuja and decided to visit Melaye in his house and it was while there that he felt the need to unveil the residence to the public via Instagram. An article written by Momodu on the tour titled Dino Melaye and the Critics of his Lifestyle, reveals the grandeur of the house and its owner. “Let me say for emphasis, that I was totally wowed by what I saw, “ began Momodu. “I have covered many homes of the rich and famous, including that of Ambassador Antonio Deinde Fernandez, in New York, Alhaji Mai Deribe, in Maiduguri, Chief Richard Osuolale Akinjide in Stanmore, England, Jimoh Ibrahim’s mansion on The Bishop’s Avenue, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion’s home in London, South Africa, Abuja and Benin, Otunba Subomi Balogun, on Glover Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, and others, but Dino’s home turned out to be an artistic masterpiece. Everything in the house was, obviously, deliberately and meticulously, put together. From his vintage and contemporary cars, artworks, dogs, super bikes, chandeliers, gold plated dinner plates and cutlery, elevator, bars, bedrooms, floating swimming pool, assorted drinks which he does not drink, clothes, shoes and the most controversial, over 200 pieces of exotic wristwatches,” wrote Momodu.
The reaction of many Nigerians to this exhibition was more of outrage, as people wondered how a public servant not known to have been wealthy before his foray into politics, acquired such house and valuables.
Momodu probably did not imagine the public reaction to the visit, or if he did, did not consider it important enough to make him drop the idea.
And so to Melaye’s house he went. Since the visit, not a few persons have expressed their minds about it and it wasn’t just about Melaye; Momodu was not spared. They accused him of doing it again! Using his Ovation magazine platform to showcase a politician with doubtful wealth, the same way he portrayed others over the past two decades. “Dele Momodu has moved from the sublime to the ridiculous,” wrote one of my friends on Facebook.
Another critic, reacting to the issue, wondered what public good the visit was meant to achieve.
Momodu responded to the attacks. In the online interview which I watched last week, he wondered why people castigate him as he only did his job as a reporter. “You said Dino stole your money, the journalist is showing you Dino’s house, you now arrest the journalist and Dino. It doesn’t make sense to me,” he said.
For a man not new to criticism, Momodu, in his aforementioned article insisted he only did his job as a journalist and that those who think otherwise, including his media colleagues are probably ignorant, jealous or envious of his achievements. “Such is the irresistible effect of hate and envy,” he wrote of one journalist, who he said, previously called his professional integrity into question, and added: “I have suffered many such attacks from colleagues, friends, haters, and others for simply minding my business diligently, professionally, ethically and successfully. If there is any offense I have committed, it is my refusal to join them in mob journalism, media lynching, practicing entertainment journalism as opposed to bolekajanism, granting access to everyone whether saints or sinners, and so on.”
Momodu’s defence of his work reminded me of my encounter with Oliver De Coque, the Nigerian highlife musician of Igbo origin, a few months before his death in 2008. Oliver De Coque was known for singing the praise of wealthy people, many of whose wealth were allegedly questionable. So, in my interview with him at the Sheraton Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos, as a Newswatch reporter, I sought to know why he did that. He replied that he was just like someone who sells cement and that if you came into his shop to buy cement, it was not his business to probe how you made your money. “If someone comes to me and says, take this money, sing about me,” it is left to him to decide to accept or decline, he said.
I found De Coque’s response to my question amusing. But not Momodu’s! Which is why, as I listened to Momodu defend his journalistic style in his recent interview, I wondered, for a moment, whether he’s truly at a loss why he’s being attacked. Indeed, I feel he knows why. The reason for the brickbats in past and present times is clear even to Momodu. In recent write ups, Momodu admits that Nigeria’s such “a big mess;” there’s so much hunger in the country, such that he admitted being “overwhelmed” when people responded to his call to send in their bank details to enable him transfer N5,000 to each lucky person selected by random. His N5,000 palliative package, from comments on his Twitter page following the kick off of the project, means so much to many people, many of who have no source of income not because they choose not to work but because there’s simply no work to earn a living. Many lucky to be employed, earn paltry sums as salary insufficient to sustain a decent living while many others are owed salaries for months on end by their employers in both public and private sectors at the state and federal levels. The combined effect of these on the populace is deprivation, poverty and hunger. So bad is the Nigerian situation that the country is currently rated the world’s poverty capital. As a Nigerian, it gives me no pleasure to state this, but it’s the fact. From a once Olympian height of not knowing what to do with money, as a former Nigerian leader reportedly put it in the 70s, (euphemism for great wealth) the country now leads and sets the pace in grinding poverty. The people responsible for this disaster are politicians (military and civilian) in past and present times; people who, given the opportunity, failed to uplift their people and environments. Aside poverty, how does Bola Tinubu, the former Governor of Lagos State, for instance, feel about the Lagos environment today? He once claimed to have done much to improve Lagos aesthetic in an interview I read, and I wonder. The last time I walked round streets of Lagos Island in 2018, (to talk of just there) I left assaulted, and to this day, I am still haunted by what I saw. It isn’t simply possible, except where you don’t care, for anyone who calls himself a leader to accept as normal, the Lagos environment as it was during Tinubu’s era and today. What is the current Lagos Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, doing about it? What are others elsewhere across the country doing about theirs?
So, yes, some people get attacked for doing their jobs or merely seeking to do it better or not doing enough or nothing at all but could Momodu’s case not be judged as justifiable anger given what we know of Nigerian politicians who, truth be told, like elsewhere, are not short of good people in their rank?
I have not yet read Melaye’s response to the attacks, if any. He is at liberty to respond or not but in a May 2020 video shared by Sahara Reporters, an online publication, Melaye spoke about his possessions. “I am here to address some myopic, porous, intellectually stagnant individuals who have been calling on me that, Dino Melaye sell all your cars, sell your houses and give to the poor as if that would solve Nigeria’s problem. There have been a lot of unnecessary, stupid talks… Maybe only when I do that will they consider me a saint. But the truth of the matter is that if I sell everything I have, I will become poor and only the rich can deliver the poor. The poor cannot deliver the poor. I have never claimed to be El-Shaddai, I’ve never claimed to be Jehovah Jireh, I cannot solve everyone’s problem. I’m doing the best I can within my limits to help as many as I can. But for my passion, I want to say that I hold it, I stand by it. And I want to say I’m not an impulsive giver. I give as the holy spirit gives me utterance and I’m doing my best. I’m not going to sell any of my cars, I am even praying for more wealth to buy more…everyone has got his passion and my passion is automobile. I have one on the sea that I’m expecting now,” he declared.
Melaye’s property and rhetoric brings to mind Chuba Okadigbo, former senate president who said, during an interview in the 2000s, that he was not in Abuja to spread poverty. It’s not impossible Melaye has such mindset too. If so, people may want to know how many people, beyond ‘handouts,’ as a member of parliament, starting from his constituency, he succeeded in lifting out of poverty. How has he transformed his senatorial zone and state in terms of infrastructure provision?
Simply, many Nigerians feel shortchanged by their politicians and their reaction to the Melaye revelation says so: Why do you have to remind me so brazenly about the symbol of my pain? How does that solve my problem? Is this how to measure performance in public service or what?
**Anthony Akaeze, an award-winning freelance investigative journalist, is an author of four books. He is currently working on a new book with the tentative title, “Where Strangers Dwell,” a story of hope, pain, accomplishments, migration and discovery.
– Sept. 22, 2020 @ 18:55 GMT |