Ovation for Basorun Dele Momodu at 60: 6 precepts from the life of ‘A de k’ilu mo’
Only a few people we knew – personally and publicly – qualified to be decorated with the epaulette of ‘A de k’ilu mo’. The unofficial title proudly earned by the colourful First Republic Minister of Information, Chief TOS Benson (July 23, 1917 – February 12, 2008), roughly translates to ‘one whose presence in town is public knowledge’. And he lived those words. At public fora, whether it was a party or book launch, you could not ignore the lawyer and socialite big brother of the flamboyant musician Bobby Benson. Often, he arrived when events were underway – and he would never tiptoe. He pranced around, greeted and exchanged banters audibly. And comperes had to acknowledge and lead him to a front-row seat for the programme to proceed.
Chief Benson’s story, success and life of drama fascinated us to no end – and one of such astonishing episodes was his demand for a refund of all monies spent while wooing an illustrious dame that turned him down.
And in the years of grueling toil and drudgery, when we were young journalists with big dreams but empty pockets, we were not short of nicknames and sobriquets for one another. We usually searched for befitting accolades from everywhere. And ‘A de k’ilu mo’ fitted Bob Dee. He earned the title in 1990 because the colourful ‘Oni gege wura’ (another of his accolades which means ‘the man with the golden pen’) was not short of drama and spectacle. He holds the singular title of having the most nicknames and sobriquets – from ‘public complaints commissioner to one-man riot squad’.
Family, friends, associates and well-wishers, kindly accompany me on this short journey listing six precepts from the life of Basorun Dele Momodu as he celebrates 60 this beautiful May 16 day in the year of our Lord, 2020:
(1) Look up, even when you are down on your luck
In a dramatic twist of fate, Bob Dee was promoted into oblivion (as we joked in those days when anyone got elevated into uninfluential position in a shake-up) at Classique magazine. Profoundly hurt, he resigned and was never tired of telling his side of the story – that even at the wedding of Mr Kola Abiola in November 1991, he adorned his anger. Staged on the grounds of Tafawa Balewa Square, Onikan (Lagos), Chief MKO Abiola treated his first son to a superlative nuptial under the most massive marquee assembled in record time. During the ceremony parading the largest number of guests yet for any ‘owambe’, the man of enormous means marched to the stage to survey the crowd. Arms akimbo and deep in thought, his eyes roved as I moved closer and hailed inaudibly, ‘MK Naira’. He looked my way and just smiled.
But Bob Dee was in one discussion after another, regaling those who cared with details of the unfair treatment he got at Classique (where he was editor from May 1990 – September 1991). ‘Are you contesting an election?’ I asked on our way out of the shindig.
Though enraged, weeks after he left the job, he had to start anew. He turned a bread distributor (for Abiola’s ‘Wonder Loaves’). It was a lowly and drab means of survival, but he had to roll up his sleeves. Without a functional car (his jalopy, a gift from the son of the billionaire, spent more time at the mechanic’s than on the road), he trudged on. And eventually, he started a public relations stint while he maintained his PENdulum column in Fame Weekly. Events later collaborated to turn his fortunes around – and he walked his way unto relative comfort.
(2) Life will deal you deadly blows sometimes
Hardly anyone escapes the deadly blows of fate. Sometimes you are kicked in the teeth, dragged on asphalt road bare-chested and trampled on.
Bob Dee (the nickname that accompanied Basorun Dele Momodu from Ile Ife, the university town in Osun State) has had his fair share –and some I witnessed were heart-wrenching. Once, when his car was snatched somewhere in Maryland, he was weeping as he narrated the story to me. The robbers had tormented him, drove him around a bit before kicking him out of the car. He urinated in his pants and was lucky to be ferried by a taxi driver who consoled him as he broke down: ‘Eni ija oba, l’onpe ‘ra e l’okunrin (it’s only the untested that chants I am a man’).
And he has also seen his fair share of fear. For a jolly man, fear and despair are unpleasant, especially when it could lead to incarceration or death from the hands of a callous and blood-thirsty dictator.
And I saw this emotion on three occasions. Once when I met him at Kam Salem House, Onikan, after his arrest by the Abacha junta, and during his week-long detention at Alagbon Close, Ikoyi (both in Lagos) in 1993. And later as he fled into exile in 1995 through the Republic of Benin and landed in the United Kingdom, leaving everything behind at a moments’ notice. He left his young wife in Lagos, sneaked out in the middle of the night accompanied by Messrs. Rotimi Seriki, Bola Orolugbagbe and I.
(3) Court those who can advance your dream
As a young lad in Ile Ife, he mastered the art of nurturing enduring relationships. And in his corner were longtime friends like Messrs. Diran Akintola (son of the second Premier of Western Region, Sir Samuel Ladoke Akintola), Wole Adelalakun (law lecturer relation of legendary politician Chief Busari Adelakun), Dokun Abolarin (lawyer and lecturer who is now the King of Oke Ila Orangun in Osun State) and Damola Aderemi (the lawyer grandson of Ooni of Ife, Oba Adesoji Aderemi).
In Lagos, there were Messrs Segun Adegbesan (who first accommodated him) and Biodun Ogunsakin (who cushioned his relocation).
It was not difficult for him to attract Chief MKO Abiola, Dr Mike Adenuga Jnr, and Mr Femi Otedola’s attention in Lagos after his arrival here in 1988 as he bent backwards to show a clean hand of loyalty.
In rain and sunshine, Bob Dee stood with those he counted as friends, mentors and benefactors.
(4) You can be a colourful socialite and be serious
It is easy to label him a jolly man who relentlessly chases fun. He is indeed a socialite – but that’s only a part of the man. Until I started living in his very modest ‘self-contained’ apartment on Bashiru Oweh, off Medical Road in Ikeja, I didn’t realize how much of a scholar he is. In the ‘parlour’ that became my bedroom for almost two years, there were shelves of books on many subjects. And at every opportunity, he bought more books.
He had the discipline never to miss his weekly column despite the hoopla of socializing.
And nothing tests rigour more than publishing (once touted as suffering the most mortality rate of any business except running a restaurant). Ovation has been on the streets, though sometimes at long intervals, since 1996. Through regeneration, Bob Dee (who shares this May 16 date of birth with our ‘younger brother’ Sanya Ojikutu, the genius artist who has made the United States of America home) moved the magazine to television and now online.
(5) Circumstances of birth can be retrogressive – but you can rise above it
From a humble background, his father worked at the palace of the Ooni in the laundry department, while his unlettered mother was a trader. But they encouraged his education with all the means at their disposal. And he didn’t let them down, despite sitting West African School Certificate exams thrice.
He went on to study Yoruba (first degree) and Literature in English (masters degree). He knew his visa for a better future was education, and he kept his eyes on the ball.
And Lagos, the hub of journalism, was where he knew he could advance his career. And with practically nothing, he sought a better life here – starting at African Concord, later Weekend Concord, then Classique and now Ovation.
(6) Marry the woman of your dream
Bob Dee was no match for Miss Bolaji Adaramaja – except in age and education – at the time their romance kicked off. And she didn’t give him much of a chance, mainly because of his reputation as a lady’s man.
But he pursued her relentlessly and made a woman of the Ijebu Igbo damsel on December 19, 1992 (where I was best man along with Sir Shina Peters who played a prominent role as ‘a la re no – ‘messenger of love’).
The wedding attracted Chief MKO Abiola, who arrived at night and was hosted by Chief Funlola Okunowo at their stately home in Ijebu Ode. Chief Gani Fawehinmi, who didn’t have a social life but came all the way. And a few pillars of high society, who honoured him in the sleepy town in Ogun State.
And from our ‘self-contained’ apartment in Ikeja, the couple settled at a three-bedroom flat in Adigoluja in Ojodu-Abiodun, Ogun State (where Lord Mayor Akinpelu occupied the ground floor flat). Today, apart from a house in Northwest London, he lives in a penthouse in Ikoyi, Lagos.
Ladies and gentlemen, please, join me in welcoming to the Diamond Club ‘Bob Dee, one-man riot squad! Adiye ba l’okun, ara oro ‘kun, ara oro adiye (the chicken perches on the rope, it’s not at ease, neither is the rope). Oni gege wura. Action-packed like a Chinese film.’
Let’s chant 60 gbobas for Basorun Dele Momodu as we wish him more colourful and dramatic decades in sound health…