PRINCE TONY MOMOH: How I Blackmailed Alhaji Jose to Get Daily Times Job

A Journalist, Lawyer and Politician, Prince Tony Momoh is no longer another name in the motley. Well, say he is one of the recurring names in Nigeria – and for the most positive of engagements. Since independence, this one of the 257 children of the Auchi royalty has been visible in the shaping and reshaping of the Nigerian commonwealth. Once the editor of the matriarchal Daily Times in her glory, Minister of Information and Culture in Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida’s regime and recently chairman of Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Momoh marked his 75 years birthday anniversary recently. We thought it was fitting to talk with him about his trajectory so far.

This chat took place in his Anthony, Lagos office. Excerpts:

You were 75 years recently; so let me, as it is traditional, congratulate you on that feat – well, as you know, it is now a feat to attain such age in a country where life-expectancy is 45.

I agree with you, and I thank you very much.

Well sir, I had the opportunity to talk with John Cardinal Onaiyekan about two months ago when he attained 70. He said, now that he is 70, each day that passes has become overtime for him. You are 75, are you also counting this as overtime for you?

I have a different perspective in life, although with the cardinal’s upbringing, the perspective is in the same direction and that is spiritual. But by my own horizon, I know that every breath you take is in an overtime when you are on earth because as a believer in reincarnation, what you do in your physical body you must redeem in your physical body; what you do with your thoughts, you must redeem at the level of thoughts; what you do with your words, you must redeem at the level of words, and these are levels in creation where everything you say, think, and do is a sowing, which would bear fruit for your reaping. So, if, for instance, you are supposed to redeem a particular burden on earth, and you have to spend only one day, the day you appear on earth and the thing touches your body, you redeem it and you move out. So, every breath you take while on earth is overtime and we thank God for it. So, it is human calculations that now say, ‘oh you are 40, 50, 70 and so on and so forth. If you have that kind of perspective, you thank the Almighty for every breath you take. But because of that spiritual dimension to life, I don’t even think of the physical body as anything but a dress, which would be worn, and then we dropped off and then I go my way.

I have heard you speak several times, and each time you do, you speak spiritually and I have also read somewhere that you said that you are both Christian and Muslim, when they are not quarrelling.

Yes, you have quoted me right.

So, how do you marry the two?

There is no marrying the two. It is the same person who is a Muslim, a human spirit that can be a Christian that can be Buddhist, that can be a lawyer that can be a journalist – it is that same person. It depends on the cap you wear. All these are segmented in the thoughts area. When you start thinking of a particular cap you are wearing, then you bring the knowledge you have acquired in that area to bear on the station where you are manifesting.

Do Nigerian ‘religionists’ understand this? I ask this question because there is so much acrimony within and among them?

Don’t forget that religion is a cloth we wear in public.

That is what I am saying – do they understand it this way; that religion deals with things spiritual and that the universe of the spirit is one?

In fact, they will understand it this way but because you have to behave in a particular way in public, then they behave the way they behave that would now say… for instance, the Bible tells us, give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Now we know that God is not a politician, so how do we now come here and begin to bring God into politics? God does His anointing without voting. So, the democracy of God is one, which reaches out to those who have programmes to perform, to the glory of God, be anointed to perform them. And when they deviate from that performance, then they go the way of perdition. But here we are, as politicians on earth, we scheme to ensure that our vested interests are on top every time even when someone is hurt. So, let’s not look at politics…I had a cause to say the other day and people were taking me to task – and I say it with all sense of responsibility – that the extreme end of religion is the ‘politicization’ of truth.

We’ll come back to that, but first, but first let’s look at your pristine year, which of course, has to do with religion, though. There is this story about you and religion. Your parents obviously didn’t name you ‘Tony’.

No.

So, how did it come?

I was a Muslim when I just left primary school. I missed entrance into the secondary school and I wanted to teach. I applied to teach the council and then the person in charge said we should pay five pounds before we’d be employed as teachers and I said I won’t pay. So, I went to the Anglican school, and the Church Missionary School said yes, there is a problem and I asked what the problem is? He said look, we employ Christian here not Muslims; I said I would be a Christian. I now abandoned Islam. (I was born into a Muslim family. My name is Suleiman). Then I said that I’m no longer a Muslim and I became Christian. Then I had to be baptized, and I told them that my baptismal name is Suleiman. They said I must have English name; but you answer Tony? I said: “No, Tony is not my name, Suleiman is my name.” The name you bear is brought by you, woven into the mind of someone who calls it. Suleiman is my name. Suleiman was the name I brought to the Earth and it’s the one I bear. I told them to either baptize me with Suleiman or no baptism. So, they bulged and baptized me with Suleiman. Even in the church, I have never denied that I am Suleiman. But I took Tony because of years of hero-worship and when I just came into journalism. Tony Eden was the prime minister of Britain, who called the bluff of Egypt and bombed the Suez Canal and I said that is my man – Tony. Then Tony Enahoro was the most popular politician in my area and said I’d work in the footsteps of Tony.. The first man to earn a degree in Auchi was Tony Useni. I had all these dreams of youth then I took up the name, Tony.

In 1962 when I joined the Daily Times, I went to do a story and our editorial adviser from England saw I wrote Suleiman Momoh as my name and said no, that ‘Tony’ is more poetic (laughs). So, that was how ‘Tony’ stuck.

Otherwise, none gave you the name; not family, not institution?

No, no, no, I adopted it. And I had many of my brothers who had their own names – my elder brother was Washington, my other elder brother, who’s now the Otaru of Auchi – number 90 of my father’s children, I am number 165 – is Highbred. Then we had another one ‘Kings’, then the oldest Momoh in Lagos now, when he was young he bore ‘Vigour’. (General laughter)

Why was he called Vigour

Because, when he was in school, any person that crossed his path he slaps the person. That was why they called him ‘Vigour’.

You came from a very large family and the name, Momoh, must have played well for you. Now tell me, what is the burden you bear for answering the name?

We were brought up in a very large family, organized in seven compounds and headed by the most senior wives of my father. The first son of my father was born in 1903 and the last was born in 1945. We were 257 children, 47 wives and I claim that we have the largest organized family in the world. I’m number 165 of the direct children. In Lagos alone, his descendants in 1993 were 1, 200. And if you see any of my brothers, you would identify he is a Momoh. We have a very large and organized family. So, it is strange to me to say that you are of the same parents and you come to particular place and you say you can’t eat because you are quarrelling. We were brought up to believe that if you have anything against your brother, you would drop dead. So, you can’t think evil of your brother, not to talk of going to a juju man to do anything against your brother – you’ll drop dead; that’s how we were brought up.

So, going into the outside world, you’ll discover that everybody you meet is a brother – a man is your brother, a woman is your sister and an elder one is either your father or your mother. All the 47 wives of my father were the mothers of all the children. So, you could hardly recognize who your mother was.

Your father had so many wives.

Yes.

From what strength did he marry so many?

As an oba, that time he was supervising lots of areas and the chiefs he was supervising would give him their daughters in marriage. He spread Islam also in the area, between 1921 and 1926. My uncle told me that my father sent him to Nsukka and he was in Nsukka for five years spreading Islam. The first central mosque in Auchi was built in 1912 and the fact is that, all the totems in Auchi were destroyed by him. Auchi is one place today where you don’t have even one totem. You can’t go to juju man’s place and you see a shrine. They were all destroyed.

So growing up in that kind of environment, what did it do to you?

That’s what I’m saying – it broadened my perspective and you have respect for human life, even for plants. For instance, when I was five, my younger brother and I went to the palace and removed the fronds of a coconut tree and started designing wristwatches. My father came and asked us whether we knew the harm we were doing to the plant. He told us that the plant had life and that we were killing it. He asked us if someone started cutting off our fingers would we like it? We said no. Then he took us to the outer room and brought koboko (horse whip). He said we would whip each other.

To that extreme?

Yes, my younger brother was left-handed and he had a very deadly stroke. He flogged my buttocks and it got swollen. When I was asked to have my turn to whip my brother, I told them to allow me to finish crying. And then my father’s right –hand man asked if I thought they would wait for me to finish crying. What I was thinking of was, which painful part of the body to hit someone. Then I remembered the ear. So, I gave him five strokes on the buttocks and then targeted his ear for the sixth. When I landed the stroke, his ear started bleeding. He ran to his mother, in their own compound. The women lived together, and the women followed the mother with the child to our own compound in the palace and abandoned the child with my mother.

That is the type of life we were all living. Two women could quarrel but when one woman is going out, she would leave her child with the other woman. And all of them are our own mothers; we were brought up to respect the lives of things, even plants. When I see a flower, I am enamoured by its presence and I feel hurt when the petals are being removed.

Your present spiritual inclination, is it something you discovered for yourself or it was one of your childhood inculcations?

Actually it was experiences of life. First of all, until I moved to Anglican school to finish my standard six, living with my brother at Okpe in Akoko-Edo Local Government Area, I had never touched the Bible. I was in government school Auchi, and then we had Malams teaching us Qu’ranic studies every Friday and then priests teaching Christians in Christian studies. I did religious studies while I was at Okpe because it was a CMS school and that was when I started reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. I had never heard the Bible stories in my life. I thought it was sin to even touch the Bible. I must say it now, so that we can have the idea of the upbringing of some sects. I was in a Qu’ranic school that taught that after the death of Jesus and the coming of Mohammed, Christianity faded away. And I was even told that if you kill there is a prayer that you can say that would make God to forgive you that sin of killing. I think teachings still continue in some sects. But much later I discovered that nowhere in the Qu’ran where you are asked to destroy life; no, because I had to read the Qu’ran. I later had to leave Christianity again, when at teacher training, we were asked to pay five pounds before we could get council scholarship. All my colleagues paid, but I refused to pay.

I judge institutions by those who own them. That was the second time I was experiencing that. I left Islam because a Muslim asked me for a bribe. And this time a Christian has done this injustice to me. I judge institutions by those who run them. I said I’m no longer a Christian, so I left.

In the early 70s, I attended a lecture given by Chief Adeyemi Lawson on Grailland, and what he said about Mohammed, Christ and other issues were mind-blowing. I then realized that I had been deceiving myself. The Holy book says this is what you should do and I was looking at individuals who had their own to account for. So, I now decided to embrace both Islam and Christianity, because I know that they should be showing us the way to God Almighty. Then when I was being sworn in as Information Minister, I said I would affirm and that I would not swear by the Bible or Qu’ran, because bringing the two together, our level of development was such that they would say it is sacrilege. So, I said, I’d affirm and when I said “so help me God,” and came out, my colleagues said you don’t believe in God. I said I believe in God and they said, so why did I not swear with either the Bible or Qu’ran. I told them that I am a Christian and a Muslim when they are not quarrelling and neither when they are (General laughter).

You were a teacher and then you became a journalist. At what point did you abandon teaching for journalism?

When I was in teaching, I was taking current affairs in the secondary modern school. I would write current affairs on the board and everybody I school, year one, two, three…. would go to the board and copy what I wrote there. And then during exams, I would set exam for the whole school, collect the papers and mark for the whole school…

(cut) No, at what point did you go into journalism?

That was in 1962.

What pushed you into it?

I came to Lagos from Auchi to apply to Daily Times.

Why was that, and why Daily Times?

It was because I wanted to be a journalist so I applied to Daily Times. And each time I’d go to the place. Then one day, Giwa, the secretary of Alhaji Jose told me that they had written a letter to me, I said: “ahh, is it good?” he said, “no, they said there’s no job, but go and see Alhaji” So I went to see Alhaji Jose. I said: “Sir, I applied for a job.” He said: “yes, haven’t you got the letter?” I said: “No, sir.” He said they had written to me and I asked what the decision was. He said “No job.” I said “That’s serious.” I told him that I needed the job; that I want to be a journalist, “I want to be like you.” He insisted that there was no job. Then he asked: “what were you doing before?” I told him I was teaching and he said: “Then go and teach.” I told him no, that I had every reason not to teach again.

He said, “Well, there’s nothing I can do.” And I told him: “Sir, I know what your problem is.” He said, “My problem?” I said, “Yes, you don’t want to give me job because you know I don’t have experience.” He said “yes.” Then I told him: “didn’t someone give you the opportunity that gave you this experience?”

You were telling Alhaji Jose?

Yes! Then I said: “sir, I’m telling you I want to work here, you say there’s no job, I will go, when I get married and have children I will tell them that I wanted to be a journalist but Jose stopped me.” He said: “what?” I said, “yes, sir.” He said, “You dare not.” And I said, “Then give me a job.” He then gave me a job. He asked, “Where do you want to start?” I told him from the beginning and he said he would train me. That’s what happened; Jose trained me and I owe everything professionally to him.

How was it working in Daily Times in those days?

It was a joy working in Daily Times. It was a huge family. Jose was editor when I came, few months later he became managing director and Peter Pan became editor. And Jose as editor-in-chief read all the proofs. And until his proofs came for corrections to be dropped, we won’t go to press and he was always working.

When you joined Daily Times, was it your ambition to become the editor of the paper someday?

I was a sub-editor in training. I later went to university. I applied to read journalism and the only university I applied to was the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. That was the only university that offered journalism. And so when I was admitted to read journalism then, Peter Pan called me and told me that I was young and I could become editor. But I wanted to widen my horizon.

He didn’t want you to go to university?

No, he didn’t. In fact, he said I was bright and they wanted to give me graduate salary not to go. But I said ‘no’ that I must go. They said if I had problem paying my school fees that they won’t take me back and I told them I would then go to the farm. But I went to university and every vacation, I came back to work in the Daily Times. In university, we had about 11 courses in law. So, it was really very packed and when we graduated, I now had interest in law. I went back to study law and by 1975 I was called to the Bar. I had my law degree in 1974 and my Mass Communication degree in 1967.

Which means you were one of the first university graduates to be journalists?

Well, there were others… yes I was one of the first. And then, of course, we had a one year training programme in Daily Times, which I developed and expanded, and we were training non-journalism graduates in mass communication.

What was the feeling being one of the first university graduates to be journalists?

No, I didn’t feel anyhow; I just had work to do and did it. I didn’t feel anyway. I have never looked forward for any job; I’ve never been ambitious enough to look for any job. It just happens that I am there and those who are seeking those to take positions think of me. In Daily Times, I was the one sent abroad to go and do courses in media training, and I expanded the Daily Times Journalism school. Then I did courses in Journalism training, and then I went on to do courses in training-trainers of journalists. And I went to France for the highest management course in Europe, also to ASCON, I went to all of them; in fact, man-power department, if there was any courses, they’d send me. I liked courses and it helped me a great deal, especially when we were all thrown out of the Daily Times editorial by the NPN government. And then I was taken to a non-existence position of Deputy Manpower and Planning Adviser. The training centre was under that. We had industrial relations, corporate management and lot of them. The managers there who were experts were the ones programming my courses and I was supposed to be their boss. So, what could I tell them? (General laughter).

What politics was behind all that?

We were thrown out. I was made Deputy Manpower and Planning Adviser and sent out of editorial; Tunji Oseni was made District Manager and sent to Enugu; Adedoja who was news editor was sent to Times Press to be the Sales Manager and all of us were just scattered all over the place.

Would you say that was the beginning of the end of Daily Times?

It was; it was, because all of us were the first and last to be editors by exam. When people wrote against Jose that he was monopolizing Daily Times; that he was the owner of Daily Times, government took over 60 per cent of Daily Times first in 1975, then set up an enquiry. It was discovered that it wasn’t true. Then those who pioneered the uprising were removed, but government appointed Dele Cole to be Managing Director of Daily Times because Jose had to leave. And fortunately Dele Cole was not a disaster; he tried to build on the legacies of Jose and did something which I was very happy with – he gave Daily Times intellectual touch by bringing in the Stanley Macebuhs, Dele Giwas, to Daily Times and that time I was the editor. It was really a great revolutionary time for Daily Times. Unfortunately, the NPN government came and they scattered everything in 1979, and we were all removed and the crop of Daily Times operatives went to found the Guardian. And you can see it is the flagship of Nigerian journalism. That intellectual touch of the Guardian was initiated by the majority of people that came from Daily Times.

Let’s talk journalism. Between your time and now, so much has changed. Are these changes for good or for ill?

It is expressing opinion when you are talking of any change. Change is a definition of what is not static. So, it is either for good or for ill, depending on who is doing the describing. But I think it has been a great eye-opener, because when change comes, if you are not careful, you will be left in the past. My own regret is that we have not domesticated the profession, which must happen in every polity. It is just like moving in to the World Trade Organization and opening all our gates when others have laws that protect their goods. Then what happens? The Chinese and Americans move into a world system with what they have and their culture; Nigeria moves into a world system with nothing. So, you see now that the pre-occupation with wanting to do what CNN or BBC does, has to do with orientation. That is not the fault of journalism but the fault of the upbringing of the person who practices journalism in Nigeria. I was in University of Nigeria, Nsukka and it is the first university that offered journalism and media studies in Nigeria at degree level. At the last count, we have more than 100 institutions today that offer communication studies. Do you know that, out of those, it is only University of Lagos, through Professor Akinfeleye who has touched on the main area of media practice or media obligation in Nigeria, which is in Chapter two of the constitution?

Every country has its own road map, Nigeria has a constitution and that is a road map. Chapter two of our constitution deals with the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy. Section 14 is specific: sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria and through the constitution government derives all its power and authority. Sovereignty belongs to the people and in section 22 it says, ‘media monitor these people on our behalf’. So, the media is to perform oversight functions in respect of the performance of duties that the people have given under chapter two and these are social political, educational, economic, cultural, environmental, foreign policy… they are there. And any political association that wants to be registered as a political party must go to Chapter Two and look at all those areas and pick and put in their own manifestoes, what promise they are making to the people, before they can be registered. So, you see the ideology of Nigeria is settled in Chapter Two of the constitution – and people say, no ideology; they don’t know what they are talking about…

Now what we are saying is that there is no freedom of the press provision in the constitution; there is freedom of expression and then freedom of ownership of the press. You can own a medium to express your views and opinions to anybody who is ready to receive them. But what we are saying is that, because of the obligation to monitor governance in Chapter Two, and you are using the medium, the person who works in that medium must be a professional. That is why I insisted that time, in the Press Council Decree, that anybody who is not a trained journalist should not be allowed to practice, and if anybody professes to be a journalist when he is not, he should be tried under decree and sentenced to jail for three years. That was what that decree was to achieve and then people said I wanted to jail journalists, whereas it was meant to protect journalists.

So, you see the problem we have now is that we are working; we train in America; we report, using American eyes; we report Nigeria as if BBC is speaking. And there is hardly any commitment to a Nigeria that all of us should love, work for, grow in and grow. We must grow in Nigeria and we must grow Nigeria. And that is what I said in the little pamphlet I sent to members of the National Conference; that Nigeria doesn’t just have a future, it has a mission. I did so in my “Letter to My Countrymen” when I was a minister in 1986 to 1990, and people didn’t know what I was talking about.

Let me take you on, on those letters. What was the philosophy?

The philosophy was to change the mindset of the people.

And did it change?

Well, I don’t know if it changed. You are the one to decide if it changed.

What feelers did you get, because if you are communicating, you should be able to get a feedback? What feedback did you get?

There were lots of criticisms at that time. There were lots of acceptances, too. In fact, Dr. E. A. Okwilagwe, associate professor of Library and Archival Studies at the University of Ibadan, anchored my biography and had about four other professors and some other workers. And for seven years they were working on my biography and they came out with the title: Prince Tony Momoh: National Bibliotherapist and Cultural Engineer. That whole book, more than 600 pages was based on ‘Letters to my Countrymen.’ They analyzed them and concluded that they were ‘bibliotherapeutic: I had never heard that word before. I later understand that a Bibliotherapist is one whose writing heals. I agree with their conclusion; that my writing can heal because, in my upbringing, we don’t hate. I have never written anything to the advantage of another without proof. I don’t curse people in my writing. I look at issues right from the time I have been writing; I have never been an attack dog. Bibliotherapy is traced to the Thabes, 5000 years ago. The researches at Ibadan are experts in Bibliotherapy and they have read and taught Bibliotherapy literatures over the years. My biographers say that I am Africa’s foremost Bibliotherapist and that they would stand anywhere in the academic world to defend it.

You were the minister of Information and Culture during the military era, analysts continue to point to the military as the spoilers of the Nigerian commonwealth; that the military regimes are the architects of where Nigeria is today. How do you feel having served one of those regimes?

I am not the defender of the military. Another thing is that when I got to the ministry of information, I was given a brief of what they wanted me to do. There was nowhere they said they wanted us to steal. So, if anybody stole, it was a personal decision to steal. It’s just people being satanic and then collecting instead of serving. I went there to serve, and my salary was N16, 000 per annum – I didn’t say per month, I said per annum. I had N250 non-accountable allowance a month. Some years ago, when a journalist interviewed me and I told him that my non-accountable allowance was N250 a month, what came out in print was N250, 000 because, apparently, nobody could believe it. Later, the salary was increased to N27, 000 per annum and that was what I touched in four years of being in government. I did not take money to spend and then render account later. Two years after I became minister, I was in Abuja and one of my press officers, Omole, gave me N2000 – that was more than my salary. I asked where he got the money from, and he told me that when as minister travelled out of station, I was entitled to N2000. That meant that for two years, someone had been pocketing that money. For four years, I never touched government money. Someone once said that professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti and I were the poorest ministers in IBB’s government. Yes, I came out with nothing, but I had my name intact.

So, what is the relationship between you and IBB now?

IBB was my boss and I regard him as my boss, still. He gave me the opportunity; he took the risk appointing me minister.

Why was it a risk?

(Dr. Tunji) Olagunju, who was his special adviser, invited me and said that I criticized governments and as a critic, I should analyse the IBB government. I analysed the government for him. He said if for instance I was asked to do the job, would I do it? I said, “Why do you want to take a risk on me? You can’t take that kind of risk.” And I was a bit shocked by what he said next. He told me: “there is nothing you wrote since 1962 that we have not read.” And believe me, since 1962, I have never stopped writing. So, he told me, “If we ask you to be minister, would you do it?” I said, “Why not! I just gave you the problems and there is nothing I’ve told you that I cannot tackle.” He said ok, and I left.

Later, I saw other names appearing and I said so this man just called me for an interview; did I tell him I wanted a job? So, I was in London when they called me and said they wanted me at Dodan Barracks. But at the gate, they didn’t even allow me entry because they didn’t know me; my face was not familiar there. I told them that I was invited, the senior officer said, “Where’s the invitation?” So, they called the ADC and that one said, “aaah, we are looking for him o, send him in.” I went in and they gave me coffee and I said I should sit down. I was just wearing a shirt, because I didn’t know why they called me. Not quite long they said they wanted me in Council Chamber, and I got there, they swore me in as minister.

Just like that?

Yes, with my shirt. That’s how it happened. So, I respect IBB, and I told them that appointing me minister is like taking a risk. I told them to tell me what to do, but not how to do it.

You demanded of them, ‘tell me what to do, but not how to do it?”

Yes.

And did they oblige you?

That’s what I mean. I said I thank IBB. For instance, when I was writing letters to my countrymen, one of the most explosive letters was corruption in high places and then many warned that I could be sacked. I said what do you mean sack me; I was addressing a problem in Nigeria. Those my letters to my countrymen as analysed by my biographers, go and read them again and you’d be shocked that, contrary to what most people thought, I was not writing to promote Babangida’s administration. I was writing to address issues.

You are a lawyer, journalist and politician; where’s the nexus?

As a human spirit, I wear many caps; only one person wearing all those caps. When I wear the politician’s cap, then I’m a politician, when I wear the lawyer’s cap, them I’m a lawyer, when I wear the author’s cap, then I’m an author, when I wear the journalist’s cap, then I am a journalist – that’s the thing. So, it is the same human person as a human spirit manifesting through the intellect.

Looking very closely, I can see your hair is very dark, did you apply dye or…

(Cuts in) of course, I dye my hair, and I have done it for a long, long time.

Well, even at that, you still look much younger…

(Cuts in) I’m always embarrassed when people say, ‘at this age.’ You see, the soul has no age. I am a human spirit; I vibrate from that inner being, outwards. I am the one that says my nose, head and my eyes. I try to use those eyes consciously in carrying my body here and there. I have a water-colour painting of me in my house. I was 35 when it was painted and people come to my house, I say, that is my age; that is my age. So, my spirit age is 35.

Does that justify the saying that age is in the mind?

It is correct to say that age is in the mind. I think when you say mind; you are looking at the surface, because mind is brain. There is no age in the spirit.

Your children have the same spiritual philosophy as you have?

Yes.

How many of them?

Four.

They are all here in Nigeria?

Yes, only the last one went abroad…

Your wife?

Aaaah!, you can’t believe how we started. When I saw her on television doing cultural dances from their school, I said I’m going to marry that girl. I knew her before, but the question of being interested was not there then. I went to her and said, “I came to marry you…”

Crudely, like that?

Yes, just like that. She asked: “How can a man just come to a woman and say he wants to marry her.” I said “yes, but that is what I have come for.” She then said: “well, me I don’t want to marry you.” I asked why and she said because I was too ugly. But I persisted, and can you imagine that I kept going to her house and any day I went and she was not there, I would query her, to explain to me where she went – I hadn’t married her o. Then her relatives went to consult a native doctor and the man told them that if she gets married to me, that she would have only two children if the marriage does not break up within two years. But I told her “In spite of all these things they are saying, you will be my wife and you will have four children – the first will be boy, the second will be boy, the third will be girl and the final one will be boy. When you are ready, send for me.” And I walked away.

So, the day she came to my house, I said, “fulfillment number one, are you not my wife today?” she started crying. And that’s what happened. And that was what happened, my four children between1970 and 1980, the order was boy, boy, girl, boy. So, the last one’s is Ibrahim, and in Islam means the ‘fulfillment of the prophesy.’

And lastly, if you were asked to write your tombstone, how would it read?

Here lies the body (not a man) of a man who had inspiration from silence.

Published in Saturday Sun of May 17, 2014.

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