THE SPECTATOR INTERVIEW by Shola Oshunkeye and Segun Fatuase, September 4-10, 2009, Page 2
On TONY MOMOH
‘He is a man of great character whom I respect. He is one of the great men who have come out of this nation’ – General Yakubu Gowon, Nigerian Head of State, 1966-1975.
Journalist, Lawyer, Author. National Bibliotherapist, Cultural engineer. First lawyer to edit Daily Times, in its glorious days.Former Information Minister. The 165th child in a family of 265 children and 45 mothers (wives, if you like). Raised in a family that could easily qualify as the world’s largest polygamous but closely knit family, yet he is an avowed monogamist, a loving husband of a virtuous woman.
You can go on and on to reel out the nuggets that make Prince Tony Momoh, who turned 70 recently, a biographers’ delight.And there may be no end to it. Which was why eminent Nigerians, from every area of life, converged at the National Arts Theatre, Lagos, (August 20, 2009), to celebrate this icon? The appointment was for 12 noon at his Anthony Village Law office.On the dot of 12, the door to the law library, where his secretary had earlier ushered the reporters to, swung open. And he walked in smilingly, stretching his hand to shake them. We felt like worshippers in the presence of a human deity. Yet, Prince Tony Momoh is as simple as truly great leaders come. By arriving at the appointed time, the comely man reminded the reporters of the life-blood of successful business-timeliness and effective time management. He would teach more lessons of life as the interview got underway.
“Im ready for you, gentlemen,” he said, kicking off the encounter that took the better part of three hours. Not once did he show any sign of weariness.
Welcome to the world of Prince Tony Momoh. Please, read on:
Congratulations on your 70th birthday, sir. We wish you more years of fruitful service to our fatherland.
Well, this might sound like a cliché now but as people often say, you look younger and stronger than 70. What really is the secret?
I am always embarrassed when they ask me about my age. You know this 70 thing, if it has to do with feeling, I don’t feel 70. The late Head of State, General Sani Abacha was asked about his age. They said ‘Congratulations, Your Excellency; you are 50.How do you feel at 50? He said he felt like 80, which means he felt older. But the fact is, I have a water colour painting in my house and that water colour painting was done by a water colour artist when I was a minister and I was about 54 then. I sat down and he painted the picture. That picture is what I see when I look at myself; and I can assure you it is age 35 that I see. I feel like 35 and I want to know any 35-year old person who puts in more hours at work than I do. I am always working, I love writing, and a great deal of the time, I go to bed about one or two o’clock in the morning, and I wake up at six o’clock.
In all, I have between five and six hours sleep everyday. But the beauty of the whole thing is that I don’t find sleep difficult. If, for instance, I sit down now, and we are talking, if I am not talking, I will doze off. It’s as easy as that. When I was minister, between Awolowo Road and Lugard Road (both in Ikoyi, Lagos), about seven minutes distance, I would enter the car and sleep for five minutes.
So sleep is not my problem. But the fact is, spiritually, only the body needs rest, not the soul that drives the body, nor the spirit that drives the soul. The soul is permanently at work. Psychologists will even tell you that when you are sound asleep, they monitor the movement of your eyes and discover that the eyes move faster than when you are awake. That is what they call the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. But involuntarily, for those who know, the soul is moving. Since it is connected with the body, the soul moves at such a speed that the eye is trying to monitor it and it moves so fast. Science does not even know why it moves that fast. When you are asleep, the soul is at permanent work. It goes to the next vicinity. If you have any problem, pray before you sleep. When you wake up and you discover an answer, it is simply because when the soul moves to the next vicinity, which people call the astral plane, it meets those who are helpers and it brings the answer, it downloads to this level. That is the reality.
We talk of reality here because it is the intellect that is moving here and manipulating things, which is okay. But the fact is, the real reality is the spirit, the soul, not the body. The body is a cloth. It is just a cloth you wear, which you put down at death. So, when you come, you must go.
You just cited the case of the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, who at 50 said he felt like 80. If I want to feel 35 while I am 70 what must I do consciously?
Look at the rhythm in creation. There is day, there is night. There is rain, there is sunshine. You breathe in, you breathe out.Your food digests in your stomach when you eat, you don’t know how it goes. Blood flows in your veins. You open your eyes and you see. But when you close your eyes and you think, you begin to see more than when you open your eyes. Look at your mind to know what is crossing it. Many people don’t even look at their mind to know what is crossing it. If you look at your mind, you will catch it unawares and if you see evil crossing it, pray that the hearth of your thought is pure. You see, keep the hearth of your thoughts pure, not keep your thoughts pure.
The origin of your thoughts is what you must keep pure. And the only way you can do so is to accept, one that you are not the creator of heaven and earth. The Holy Spirit that created heaven and earth has responsibility for heaven and earth. If you are a minister, you are a minister in charge of a particular ministry. Do not do the work of the Head of State. If you are a husband, you are the husband of a wife. Do the work of a husband. Do not do the work of husbands. Do not do the work of husbands all over the world. If you are a houseboy in charge of cleaning a room, clean the room, not the whole world.
You know, a great deal of the time, people want to do other people’s work. I was a minister. Once I left the work of a minister, I switched off completely from ministerial job. Today, I am not the Minister of Information, Dora Akunyili is, I pray for her. I can only help her if she asks me. But there is no way I can want to be Minister of Information because I am not. You see, lots of people just get concerned with areas that don’t concern them.
The second thing you must do is try to see what you can do about what God has done. God is always giving. God has never taken. So, how much do you give? He doesn’t say because you don’t pray this morning, I won’t let you see sunshine. He doesn’t say because you don’t pray this morning you won’t get rain. He relates to everybody the same way. So, as it is above, it should be below. Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven…”
Heaven is a place, so why not see what is done in heaven so that you want to do it on earth? And the only ones who can tell us are the prophets. And it is even given to us in the Bible. It is given to us in the Koran.
There are 6,000 religions on earth today. But the fact is, these 6,000 religions are embraced by thousands and millions of people. Our main religions are Islam and Christianity. There are more churches on earth today than at any other time in history. There are more Christians on earth today than any other time in history. There are more mosques on earth today than any other time in history. There are more Moslems on earth today than any other time in history. There is more trouble on earth today than any other time in history!
There is more evil than any other time…
Yes, there is more evil now than any other time in history. Truth is we are the church and the mosque? If I am a Christian, I am the church. If you are a Moslem, you are the mosque. So, the jihad people get involved in, trying to tell others how to run their lives, should be jihad on the self, on yourself, on myself. You must conquer your own problems. That is the other area: that recognition that it is better to give than to take. The Bible says so, the Koran says so.
The third area also has to do with life in the environment in which you find yourself. And that is in the area of how you relate to your neighbour. They say ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’ But the problem is that we don’t even know ourselves. When we talk of loving ourselves, if we love ourselves, we will not be drug addicts. If you love yourself, you will not be running from one woman to another. If you love yourself you will not be doing anything to destroy your body. If you love yourself, you will look at the food you eat, you will look at what you drink.
When you say, ‘love your neighbour as yourself’, you can’t do things you don’t want done to you, to your neighbour. You cannot cheat your neighbour, you cannot defraud your neighbour.
But there are people who celebrate when they go to a bank and collect other people’s money. They collect other people’s cars, even shoot people in the process. And they begin to celebrate!
These are levels of human manifestation. The whole of creation is structured, from the highest to the deepest. In most of it, the law of birds of a feather flock together operates. But at this level where we are on earth, the good, the bad and the ugly come together.
We must come to that recognition that it is not everybody who is in a human cloth that is good or bad or ugly. You must look at yourself; and by the time you look at your neighbour, what you find in your neighbour is what you are. If you say some people are evil, let me tell you, you are reading yourself in the mirror.
There is nobody who is not good. Always look for the good in the other person.
You speak very, very deeply to the soul. Does this come with age or…
No, it comes with knowledge and everybody knows, as a human spirit, you know everything. The only thing is that you are reminded of what you already know, through experiencing.
In the reminding, what is correct will touch your soul because everything is engraved in the soul. But a great deal of the time, we take what the intellect says. The intellect is material knowledge and may be derailed.
For instance, I was a Muslim, then later, when someone hurt me, asking a bribe when I wanted to be a teacher, I now refused to pay that bribe on principle. He was a Muslim and I said I was no longer going to be a Muslim. Then I went to the Anglican Church, and they said they only employed Christians. And I said I would be a Christian. Then, I started teaching for them.Then, they said I should be baptized and I agreed. My name is Sulaiman. That time, I was already answering Tony and I was answering Tony because of Tony Enahoro (the most popular politician in our area then), Tony Oseni (the first man in my town to have a degree), Tony Eden (who was the Prime Minister of Britain then and he bombed the Suez Canal), I said that’s a tough man. I said Tonys must be tough, so I said I am Tony.
So, you adopted the name Tony personally. It is not as if your parents gave you?
No, no. My name is Sulaiman. When they said I should be baptized, I said my name is Sulaiman. They said but you are Tony. I said if you want to baptize me, I am Sulaiman. You either baptize me as Sulaiman or no baptism. So they baptized me with Sulaiman in the Anglican Church.
There was a problem with teaching after teacher training. I went Abudu for Teacher Training, Grade 3. I taught for two years.Then I went to Abraka Teacher Training Grade 2. We had an opportunity to be on scholarship so that at the end of the training, you would sign a bond with the body that sponsored you.
The council in our area was ready to sponsor us, but we were asked to pay five pounds each! It seemed as if they had a fixation with five pounds. The scholarship I needed would give me five pounds every month for two years.
I said I was not going to pay the five pounds. We were paid fourteen pounds, ten shillings, as post-teacher training allowance.I paid five pounds from my fourteen pounds, ten shillings, for two years instead of paying the five pounds demanded… Looking back I believe I was so self-centred that …
Or so principled?
I will say self-centred because when I missed entrance to secondary school and since I was leading all through primary school, I how can my mates be ahead of me?. So, I said I would not go to secondary school because those I was leading would be ahead of me.
What I did then was I went to Teacher Training and in six years, I had earned the teachers grade 3 certificate, taught for two years and earned a salary, before proceeding to do the teachers grade two certificate during which time I earned a salary, too.In addition, through correspondence courses, I passed the general certificate of education ordinary level (school certificate equivalent) and the advanced level.
After teacher training, I refused to sign a bond to teach for the council because they did not sponsor my stay at Abraka. I signed a bond with the Anglican Church, and before long, we parted ways. They would not let me go for further studies until, they said, I finished serving the bond I signed.
But the daughter of the Anglican Education Secretary who also went to teacher training was sent abroad by the father to further her education. I accused the officials of discrimination. I said we are all Nigerians and why not let me go for further studies to return to serve my country? I told them, you did not pay my fees and you insist I must serve the bond. I said that’s injustice. I resigned from teaching and I resigned from the church.
So, you can now see, I resigned from Islam because of what one person did. I also resigned from the church because of what another person did. I always defended my action by saying that I judged institutions by those who ran them.
I later joined the Daily Times in 1962 and I was there till an opportunity to study arose. Meanwhile I was no longer a Muslim or a Christian. Early 1970s, I went to listen to a lecture by Chief Adeyemi Lawson in Lagos. He spoke on the Grail Message, on the responsibility you bear for the exercise of your God-given free will.
I left Iju Hills with shame, that I had been deceiving myself by claiming to judge institutions by those who ran them. I discovered that you are really on your own. If you read the Bible, do what the Bible says, not what the pastor says. If you read the Koran, do what the Koran says, not what the Imam says.
That was the time I refocused my life and I said now I am a Christian and a Muslim. So, when I was being sworn in as Minister of Information, and they said, Koran or the Bible? I said I would affirm. I affirmed, then at the end, I said, so save me God’.
They said those who affirm don’t believe in God but I told them I believe in God. They said if you truly believe in God, why didn’t you take the Bible or the Koran? I said I am both a Christian and a Muslim, when they are not quarrelling. When they are quarrelling, I am neither (laughs)
The summary is that when you come to recognition of the way the Almighty works, and the way His laws work, you will not depend on anybody. You will point to Him, and cry to Him when you are in need. And when you are not in need, praise him, with your breathing in and breathing out because it seems that we want Him only when we are in trouble.
By saying this now, I have no problems. The Bible and Koran say, whatever happens, thank Him. Armed robbers shot me and the Almighty said I should thank him. Tell me as a human being, why I should thank Him? But I do so because He says so.
One month after I had been shot, it came to me that if I had not been shot and grounded, I would have had stroke. Even if the leg had been cut off it would have been better than having stroke.