BY MOTUNRAYO JOEL –
Abdulrasheed, one of the sons of former Minister of Information and Culture and veteran journalist, Prince Tony Momoh, talks about his father’s life and career with MOTUNRAYO JOEL
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Abdulrasheed Momoh; I am the first son of Prince Tony Momoh. I am 45 years old; I was born on July 6, 1970. I have three siblings— two brothers and a sister, we are all married. I studied Painting at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State but I am currently a stockbroker. I joined the stock market to prove a point. I had a cousin who was always teasing me about my knowledge of issues. He said I had knowledge about fine arts only, so I decided to prove him wrong. He has about 10 degrees – he is a chartered accountant, a stockbroker, you name it. I decided to sit for the exam that qualifies one to be a stockbroker, but I didn’t pass. The second time I wrote it, I passed. I took the new challenge or profession as a bet. Now, I’m enjoying the work. I thought that as an artist, one begs to collect one’s money, but in the stock market, people want to see you face-to-face because their money is involved. Though things haven’t been the same since the market crashed.
Can you recall the schools you attended?
Yes, I attended Yewande Memorial School, Surulere; Command Children School, Ikeja and then Command Secondary School, Ipaja, Lagos.
How was it growing up with your father?
He wasn’t at home most of the time; being a journalist, he was always on the move. My siblings and I were closer to our mother. However, my father has really changed. Back then, he was very strict. Whenever he came home, we would all run into our rooms. We didn’t really have a good rapport with him but when it was time to pay our school fees, then we would go meet him.
How has your father’s name opened doors for you?
That is a big question I ask myself sometimes. I haven’t really mentioned his name to curry favour. When I was young, I loved to go to clubs. I remember him calling me aside and warning me about my ways. It wasn’t until the day armed robbers followed me home, shot my dad in the leg and took away things, before I retraced my steps. I kept asking myself, ‘What would have happened to me if my father had died?’ That incidence made me feel guilty and I still feel guilty to date. After that, I got my senses back and became more responsible. I guess that is why I don’t use his name to get things done. I even found it difficult using his name while growing up, he was just too strict and he didn’t train us to use his name to curry favours. My friends still ask me why I haven’t used his name to open doors.
Would he have loved you to use his name?
If I may ask, what is wrong with my own name? People think my father is super rich, they think the same of me, but things are not that way.
Some people may describe you as a silver spoon kid, what is your reaction to this?
This isn’t true; I worked for everything I have today. For many years, my mother was the one shouldering the responsibilities of the family, till my father was financially stabilised. When he was a minister, he used to tell us that the position was temporary and nothing changed in our way of life. When he was appointed the chairman of Nigerian Airways, nothing changed in our lives especially travelling by air. I still travelled by road. My family has gone through a lot, but I still thank God.
But some people refer to him as a rich man?
No, he is not, we are just comfortable.
What kind of father is he?
He is a jovial father who likes to crack jokes. We have a great relationship. Whenever he is in Lagos, we hang out together, he is a great father. There is no dull moment when one is with him.
Growing up, how did he discipline any child who erred?
He flogged us with the cane. He was very strict, my mother on the other hand used to shout. But now they have calmed down. Whenever any of us turned 21 years, he would write a letter to that child saying, “You are now old enough to make decisions on your own.” He would then relate with the child as a friend.
Do you have fond memories of your childhood, growing up with him?
My father used to like taking pictures. This made me remember happy moments. But for about 10 years, he didn’t take pictures and I felt I lost a part of my life. He was no longer into photography, he began writing. I still remember my birthdays; he made them memorable with all the gifts and love he showered on us.
Did any of his children take after his profession?
Yes, my sister did, she is studying Law. My father is the only one in the family who can’t draw. We all can draw including my mother, who is a fashion designer. He also is the only one who can’t speak Yoruba.
Did you convert to Christianity like your father did?
Yes, I did, though I would describe myself as a freethinker just like my father.
What challenges did he face while he was a journalist?
I wouldn’t know much about that, but I remember him complaining about Daily Times. He got tired of the way things were done there, and he lamented about the politics at the place. At one time, he travelled abroad and the late Dele Giwa told him that he had been appointed as a minister, he was shocked. He was made Minister of Information and Culture. He then became the overall head of those who used to give him stress. It was a miracle because he didn’t fight for the position.
He was the longest serving minister during Ibrahim Babangida’s regime. I think he spent four years but the only period I know he faced challenges was when he was appointed the Chairman of Nigeria Airways. He said there was much waste in the place and he desperately wanted to leave. He was the last chairman of Nigeria Airways. He said people kept making use of free air tickets which affected the airline. At a point, the airline couldn’t pay the salaries of its members of staff.
What is the most important advice he has given you?
Tough times don’t last but tough people last. He also says, ‘What is not yours isn’t yours, your time will come.’ The time he was shot in the leg was a blessing in disguise; he kept saying it happened for a reason. Prior to the incident, his blood pressure was high and his doctors had given him some drugs, but he refused to take them. After the robbery attack, he spent nine months at the hospital. He would have had a stroke but for the incidence. He says everything happens for a reason.
People describe him as someone who is hospitable …
Yes, there was a time we were about 38 in our house. The house was full of friends and relatives.
What are his likes and dislikes?
He doesn’t like when one soils his name or image. He is meticulous and likes to help people; he could give his last kobo to a stranger.
What are his hobbies?
He likes to play tennis and take walks.
What is the secret to his good health?
What one sows, one reaps, and what one eats will manifest. Though I think his secret is that he doesn’t worry himself about things. He has an understanding wife and a supportive family.
What does he say about Nigeria?
He prays for Nigeria to return to the way it was, when the system worked.
What is his best food?
Our general meal is pounded yam and groundnut soup.
Describe his daily schedule?
He wakes up at around five or six o’clock in the morning to study in his spiritual library and he reads for about two hours. Then, he reads newspapers. He dedicates his mornings to having a quiet time before he goes to work.
Describe his mode of dressing?
He likes to wear native attire. When he is home, he prefers to wear shorts. Almost all his native attire were sewn by my mother.
What time does he sleep?
If you call any of us around one or two o’clock in the morning, we would be awake. It is a tradition in my family, we don’t sleep early. My father sleeps late too. I guess it is a habit we got used to over the years.
Will you describe him as being sociable?
Yes, he is, though he doesn’t know how to dance. Wherever he is, he pulls crowd. He likes to crack jokes; he is fun to be with.
When did he experience his happiest moment and vice versa?
I think it is my mother who would know that, but the only thing I can say is that he is never sad. He is always happy. I can’t really tell what makes him happy, it is his nature. Even when things are rough, he is happy. Back then, when things were rough, he came back home with a movie to watch and he bought suya. He and my mother would sit down and enjoy themselves. He doesn’t let things get to him. My mother knows the kind of man she is married to. She is proud of him, even when things are rough. He suffered to achieve what he has achieved today, we just thank God for everything. When he was shot in the leg, he said he wished he saw the armed robbers again so he could pray for them and thank them for saving his life. He would have had a stroke.
Where does he see himself in the next three to five years?
That is for him to answer; I don’t know where he sees himself in future.
Did he advise you on marriage?
Yes, he did it indirectly though, he didn’t interfere in our private lives. He just used to tell us that birds of the same feather flock together. He advised us to move with the right people.
How does he handle misunderstandings with your mother?
What is the best answer for that question? When a woman is shouting, ignore her and let her shout. I think silence is golden. When a person is angry, let the person be. Generally, if my mother is upset, he doesn’t say anything, he lets her calm down.
Describe his temperament?
He hardly shouts, he doesn’t get angry easily.
Name three things Nigerians don’t know about him?
He can go an extra mile to help people. At a point, it could be so bad that he used to allow okada men sleep in our house. The house was always full. Some people may have seen this as a risk, but he didn’t. My father helps anybody. He also likes to explore latest gadgets.
If he could change things about himself what would they be?
I don’t know about him, but for me, it’s my stomach, though his is bigger than mine.
What is his philosophy?
He taught us to always tell the truth. He believes in telling the truth and being your brother’s keeper. For him, family comes first.
What kind of book does he read?
He reads a lot of spiritual books; he reads the Bible and Qur’an, he has a library for his spiritual books. He reads books on Law. He is a fast reader and he writes a lot too.
Who are his closest contemporaries?
I know Sam Amuka is one of them.
What does he splurge money on?
He doesn’t splurge money on anything, though he spends money on people’s problems. He doesn’t buy cars or spend cash extravagantly.
Does he read what people write about him on the pages of newspapers?
I don’t know if he does, but whenever I draw his attention to something that was written about him, he says it is normal and that people only write about persons that are alive.
In his view, how has the media changed compared to his time?
I remember him telling someone that journalists have become envelope journalists who write what they are told to write.
Does he talk about the state of things in some newspaper firms especially the late payment of salaries?
We don’t really talk about his journalism career.
He was one of founding members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, what does he say about the current state of the party?
He still says birds of the same feather flock together. I think he had an issue with the way the party was run. He said no party could defeat PDP except themselves. In his view, the party destroyed itself.
How did he get into politics?
He started as campaign manager; I guess he just wanted to join politics.
Describe his relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari.
They have a good relationship.
And what does he say about Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu?
He says he is digital and that he is one politician who thinks ahead. He says he has an answer for every question he is asked. He says he is one of the best politicians.
(Published by Punch Newspaper August 16, 2015.)