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Lessons From Tony Momoh, Our Chairman

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By Osita Okechukwu

As our chairman, prince of Auchi royal kingdom, Tony Momoh, went home, February 11, 2021, after a sojourn of 81 years and nine months on Mother Earth.

We, his children of extended clan, and adherents can only quip that whom we cherished, we can never lose. And, as Irving Berlin’s lyric posited, the song has ended but the melody lingers. The Letter to My Countrymen, like many of his lucid prose, have no new ones henceforth, in fact had seized from legendary Prince, it can only be found in the archives.

For the sage says that death is a universal destiny and uncommon denominator, which spares neither the royal rich nor the poor, neither black nor white and neither young nor old. He was intensely spiritual, making him seem as if he operated between the living and the dead.

Our chairman was an octogenarian and lived an exemplary and successful life. Prince was chairman of the editorial board, Daily Times, chairman Alex Ekwueme Campaign Organisation (ALEPCO), chairman media and publicity committee of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), chairman The Buhari Campaign Organisation (TBO), media and publicity, and chairman of the defunct Congress for Progressives Change (CPC). Indeed chairman of all chairs.

Prince was a pan-Nigerian patriot par excellence, a kind-hearted and charitable persona. He touched many lives, mentored uncountable hundreds and was a model to be emulated. He was passionate in his beliefs and spiritual even in politics. A spiritual realm vividly captured by his grandson, Esivwe Momoh, “As if he knew it was time, he told us shortly before he passed on that he was going for SPIRITUAL CHECKUP.”

He was in the same league with Rt. Hon. Chuba Okadigbo of blessed memory in prophesying as early as 2002 that President Buhari would not only halt the pet project of former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who was then constructing a one-party system for Nigeria, but would one day win the presidential election.

We thank Almighty God that their labour, indeed our labour, for multiparty system in Nigeria was not in vain. It is with nostalgia that one would recount my encounter with him after an AIT television session where one was paired with PDP’s spokesman, Kola Olagbodiyan.

I got a kind of emergency call from him. If you know Prince, you dare not fail to honour his summons, so, I abandoned my schedule, headed to his Utako home in Abuja. After greetings, good morning, sir, he sat me down. As an old teacher-cum-professional journalist, he queried my answers on what Mr. President has achieved.

He cleared his throat, gave me pass marks on issues like Buhari’s agrarian revolution and infrastructural development; but rebuked me on what he rated the most remarkable achievements. He reminded me of multiparty system as the hallmark of liberal democracy with unique feature of two dominant political parties. He said without the strident, passionate and uncommon resilience of Mr. President and some of us his foot soldiers, Nigeria could have remained under a one-party system, hence, unbridled dictatorship.

Quoting him, “Never forget the landmines placed on our tortuous route to merger that gave birth to All Progressives Congress on July 31, 2013. This is the most important achievement of Mr. President, like him or hate him, this is a historical fact.”

He added the issue of prudent management of scarce public fund by Buhari’s administration as a major achievement. For him, anti-graft war is work in progress. On the issue of herdsmen/farmers’ clashes, he expressed misgivings and promised to meet Mr. President to advise him to take decisive action. Whether he did, one doesn’t know. Suffice it to say that he intoned of decisive action from our dear President.

It was lecture series one would ever miss from this icon. Albeit, Prince reminded us that, when you are sorrowful, look again and again in your inner heart and recount the useful lessons he bequeathed to us. The lessons are unlimited, as one cannot easily forget his stand at Railway Guest House, Jos.

Alex Ekwueme Campaign Organisation used the guest house as TAC headquarters and was confronted with a big dilemma, between the devil and deep blue see, as the presidential primary election was shifted to Sunday.

Opinion was divided whether there could legally be a shift of date without National Executive Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party’s meeting. The late Dr. Emeka Enejere and some of us contested the shift because we were angered first because Chief Obasanjo’s camp had earlier allegedly shot our campaign director-general, Chief Audu Ogbeh, who was contesting Benue South Senatorial District with Senator David Mark.

Added insult to injury was the shift, resulting from the fact that we booked full most hotels in Jos and Obasanjo camp was left out in the cold Jos weather. They were forced to be quartered miles away outside town. Prince, late Adamu Ciroma and Dr. Ekwueme stood on the side that contesting the date may derail the transition programme and that nothing on earth should halt Nigeria’s move to democracy, whether Ekwueme lost or not. And with the military establishment push, Ekwueme lost, but democracy triumphed.

Another remarkable event, which demonstrated Prince’s professional dexterity as a journalist, was immediately after our exit from the defunct ANPP, when the late Chief Edwin Umezeoke, then chairman, and his cohorts post-2007 mangled presidential election, abandoned Buhari at the Presidential Election Tribunal. Prince invited ANPP media and publicity team to his hotel and marshalled out a media action plan.

He said, “Osita, we are going to use your platform as the publicity secretary of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) to advance our narrative against their bogus claim of National Unity Government. For the spokesman of the party didn’t exit with us.”

It was then that he reminded us that he had made legal history in the classic judgement of Momoh vs. National Assembly. A Grapevine report akin to today’s constituency project grapevine news of building bridge to nowhere story.

The judgment was one of his gold medals, that the source of news is sacred and cannot be disclosed by journalists as guaranteed by the constitution.

In sum, Prince was my dear chairman at different times at different fora, spanning over two decades; accordingly, in tribute, permit me to end with one of the the occasions when he demonstrated his most remarkable commitment to democracy.

When most APC leaders were losing their heads consequent upon the brouhaha over the National Assembly election that produced former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, he remained calm and philosophical.

In a crucial meeting of core legacy members of APC, he assigned me to go and plead with my brother, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, to vacate the office of Deputy Senate President. That it was an aberration and antithetical to the cohesion of our great party, the ruling party.

For him, that was the only snag and he was ready to plead with all those that were offended in one way or the other, if he would resign or withdraw. There and then I told him, there was no need broaching it, for the Ekweremadu I knew would not agree.

I then whispered to him that we should go to Mr. President as members of the defunct CPC family and fashion out ways and means of managing the Presidency. He shouted, are you one of those who still talk of CPC family, when we are now one family under APC? He frowned seriously and named some prominent individuals he rebuffed on this score.

I calmly took time to narrate how we need to assist Mr. President as the centre could no more hold, as Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, after contributing immensely in the construction of APC merger either by commission or omission, breached one of the Igbo maxims. He quietly as usual asked me whether I was coming with another Igbo proverb.

I said no proverb this time, but a maxim that you do not allow the sharing of shops of a new market to denigrate into a fight, especially when Asiwaju had gotten the VP’s slot. He could have avoided such fierce struggle for National Assembly slots, more so when Mr. President had publicly pronounced that he was ready to work with anyone. That after such a fight, it becomes very difficult or almost impossible for shareholders to sit amicably. That we were going to be the bridge, he refused and up to death was committed to one APC family. For this, I once more salute his tenacity, resilience, learnt a lot from him and wish we all emulate him.

Prince, the song has ended and the melody lingers!

Adieu! Adieu! Adieu Prince!

• Mr Osita Okechukwu, Director General, Voice of Nigeria

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