Only two things matter to Prince Sulaiman Anthony Momoh. These two have been his priority. They remain so today, as in
the beginning. At 70 years, these two things still propel his life. After interacting with Nigeria’s former Minister for Information and Culture, NSEOBONG OKON-EKONG came away with the impression that the essential Tony Momoh is held together by his scholarly and dogged search for knowledge and his spirituality.
With an insatiable hunger for education and a conscious attempt to be in true (?) with His Maker, at all times, every thing else around him has found its place. So from the most mundane of questions, it is interesting to note how Momoh brings back his summations squarely on a scholastic and religious plane. This must be one of the reasons he strikes an excellent balance with everything.
He is at once troubled about the least deprived Nigeria, while managing to maintain his sanity hinged on the hope that everything in nature is predetermined; and that we will reap what we sow. This leaning towards the spiritual goes back to his father who understands a certain science that accomplishes things.
Tony was the 165th of his 257 children from 47 women. The elder Momoh made a mockery of scientific and natural occurrences. For instance, he would only appear in photographs if he wants. If you took his picture without his consent, his image would not register on the negative. Academic minds may argue that the camera was faulty, but how do you explain the fact that he could walk in the rain with a retinue of chiefs and staff without getting wet himself.
Tony’s psychic potentials may not be as evident, but there have been many manifestations of his supernatural abilities over the years. Over 40 years ago, when he met the woman he fancied for a life, he told her so. The lady thought he was ugly and told him to his face. Convinced that the marriage would come to pass, he told her so repeatedly; then he added a clincher.They would not only become husband and wife, but would go on to have four children-three boys and one girl. He predicted also the order in which the children would come – two boys, the girl and that the last would be a boy. Everything turned out exactly the way he said they would be. He recalls dates with an amazing accuracy, the date in 1962 when his first story was published in Daily Times where he was a Trainee Reporter.
Many 70-year-old persons would count themselves lucky to enjoy the relative fame that he has. They will feel unfulfilled to have four children who are doing well in their choice careers. Their good health would be a source of joy. They would even be happier to live the remaining of their lives in relative comfort.
Prince Sulaiman Anthony Momoh, who holds the princely title (that means he can not be called a ‘chief’) of Yerima (spokesman) of Auchi Kingdom, enjoys all these and more. However, the communal spirit in him refuses to rejoice when there are Nigerians who cannot share the same level of material comfort. He feels so strongly about this that he considers it something of a personal failure.
This is how he explained it. “Man manifests life in the environment he finds himself. There are some things he must consider.He is not the only one in that environment. Other lives manifested in that environment and the environment itself are co-travelers. I will be economical with the truth by looking at fulfillments in isolation of other lives in that environment. My fulfillment is not to be looked at from my selfish ends and interest or those of my family and friends alone. One has to look at the Nigerian environment, the African environment and the global environment. There can be no personal fulfillment for me outside of others. If there is deprivation in any one of the 97,000 Nigerian communities, there can be no fulfillment for me. I am not the president of Nigeria to carry the load, but I simply believe we should leave Nigeria better than we met it. There is no way we can do that until we restructure this country, otherwise it cannot work.”
Momoh feels a personal sense of deprivation to the extent he is not celebrating the pedestrian achievements of some political office holders. “I am a deprived Nigerian. Government exists for the welfare and security of its citizens. That is taken.The so called dividends of democracy should not be about building a dispensary, providing a tarred road or constructing boreholes, otherwise we have missed the point. If a Governor does not provide boreholes or build hospitals what was he elected to do? These are things that should be taken for granted. It will mean therefore that socialism is more democratic than democracy. In socialist countries, you have free medical care, integrated rural development and full employment.”
Going way back in time to situate the beginning of the exploitation of the Nigerian masses as he perceives it. Momoh paints a picture of inconsistent government policies. “Since 1945 when we started some semblance of economic planning, through the rolling plans of the 60s, the Operation Feed the Nation of the 70s, Green revolution in the 80s, the coming of the Buhari Study Groups to look at every aspect of our national life, the institutions created by Babangida, Abacha’s liquidation work, Vision 2010 which is the greatest effort to address our problems globally; the ditching of Vision 2010 by Obasanjo because he did not believe anybody who has no sight can have a vision, his introduction of NEEDS and the dream he had to move it to the states as SEEDS and match later to the local councils as LEEDS; the promise that President Yar’Adua made to continue the reforms and what we have today as 7-Point agenda…
We have all these economic plans that have never brought any difference to the lives of people in a coordinated form. There are no hospitals, roads, electricity; it is a tale of massive deprivation. I share in this deprivation as a person. I use generator in the office. I have one in the house. Everybody around me has a generator. That is unacceptable.
What excuse do we have to ruin the health of our people through noise and exhaust fumes? I can’t be fulfilled where all these inadequacies and deprivations are there and those who are granted the mandate by the people to bring quality in the Nigerian polity don’t feel any guilt when they pocket our resources as salaries and allowances. I am not even talking of the ones that go down the drain through corrupt practices. There are just 17,500 political office holders spending about half of our yearly budget. But when teachers ask for N90,000 minimum wage, they say there is no money.
If I say I am fulfilled, then I am selfish to the extreme. The spiritual recognitions I stand in and by, tell me that what the Almighty has downloaded to me without discrimination which includes the rain, the sunshine and the air I breathe should be extended by me sideways to those I must call my neighbors, whether they are my brothers and sisters or parents.”
Very early in life, Momoh decided to do something to address the inadequacies around him. First as a teacher, he saw the opportunity to impact many generations. Teaching was his first love and he has since carried elements of teaching and training into the two professions of law and journalism that he is known by today.
He recalls his proactive. “That is what I have done all my life since 1962, when I previewed a film at Pen Cinema as a Daily Times reporter in training. The title of the film was ‘Arrow in the Head’. The article was published in the December 12, 1962 edition of the paper. I asked for special provision that will allow children to pay less than adults. From that little piece, I have written thousands of materials. I have spoken every where, locally and internationally. I have two volumes of Democracy Watch which we use to attend to the agenda setting role of the media. It is one thing to talk, it is another thing for people to listen”.
“Does he feel frustrated that no one seems to be paying attention to what he is saying? Does he not feel like he is hitting his head against a wall?”
“Not at all; there is nothing that goes unaccounted for. Every word uttered, every thought harboured in the mind, everything we do with our hands are seeds sown, that will bear fruits for reaping, in due time. I have just written a book, ‘Spiritual Essays’. I have sent copies to church leaders. There is a spiritual dimension to what I am saying. I want reactions. If anybody has anything to say about Nigeria they should say it now. They should not take it away with them. We have done a lot of harm to mankind and to our environment. I believe we should seek spiritual (not religious) solutions. Ninety-nine percent of Nigerians are unfocused and undisciplined. We have not sown the seeds that will make prayers heard.”
The gloomy picture painted by Momoh should not be a reason for heartbreak. There is hope still. “I believe that Nigeria does not just have a future but a mission and there is no mission from Light (Divine) that has not been fulfilled/”.
The next prophetic pronouncements from the Prince of Auchi Kingdom was unequivocal and direct. “Nigeria will be a world super power anchored on spiritual recognition within the next 25 years. There is nothing anybody can do about it. There is no Nigerian who is in any environment between four and five months without dominating that environment. Among all the federations packaged in the first quarter of the last century, Nigeria is the only one that has not broken up. If we who were given the mandate to move the country forward do not want to do it, we will be swept off the scene and those to do it will come. Vision 20-20-20 is sensing of the fact of what Nigeria can be.”
Is world recognition anchored spirituality something that Nigeria and Nigerians should be proud of at a time when the rest of the world is famous for scientific accomplishments? Again his answer is predicated on the spiritual. “Science deals with the material and even the beyond, but the spiritual is where we come from. If you look at the sky you see stars in their billions and they are the radiations of the next immediate earth which many refer to as the astral world. That is where you came from before you entered your mother’s womb and that is where you will go when you leave this earth. That is where we go when we sleep. That is where witches and wizards go to consciously and visit havoc on those who are open to receive.
“Imagine what will happen if Nigerians are focused spiritually. The result will be different types of discoveries and their downloading to the earth plane. What we have as technology today can be traced to the industrial revolution in Europe.Things became more refined when it got to America. They are even finer now that they got to Asia. The reason is simple.There are many Buddhists and Hindus who transcend the coarsest material environment. They know where the intellect registers all its activities. It is not a coincidence that you have the Japanese, Indians and Chinese making some outstanding discoveries. Before now, some of the world top scientists were Jews because they came to recognition of the worship of one God at the time Rome was still worshipping the sun and the heavenly bodies.”
This kind of reasoning canvassed by Momoh would normally be put down by the deeply religious whose spiritual path is clear-cut. While he claims not to adhere to a particular spiritual school of thought, he was unapologetic on the source of his convictions. “I have examined the Grail Message. It is the only work that gives a clear and unambiguous map of creation. It is the most complete source of knowledge of creation.
My background is Islam and I regard myself as a Muslim when Islam leads me to God, because that is what it should do. Now I am a Christian when the priest leads me to God and not to a church. The Bible should lead to God and it does. The Qur’an should lead to God and it does but Christians and Muslims are by and large constituting themselves into political armies leading to the Church and the Mosque. Otherwise why do you have more problems. I am not being critical of the religions. I stand confident that we must seek to do on earth as it is done above. The Grail Messages gives knowledge on where you came from and what you are doing here. There is no group journey to hell or to heaven. It is a personal journey.”
It is this conviction about individuality of thought and religious belief that guides the relationship with his children. “I know that children don’t come from you. They come through you. Everybody is from the Almighty and we are strangers on earth.We are here to do a specific thing and return to where we came from. The script of your life is there right from the day you are born.
There is no accident in nature. This is my fortieth year as a married man. When I approached my would-be wife back then, she said I was too ugly for her. For more than one year, I was going there. I told her she would be my wife. Not only that I told her the number of children we would have and the order they would come. I said the first of my children would be a boy, the second of the same sex, the third child a girl and the last of them another boy.
They came in that order, and I named the last Ibrahim, which in Islam means fulfillment of a prophecy. When each of my children attained the age of 21 years, I wrote them a personal letter, thanking them for the relationship of the past 21 years and giving them a chance for us to continue as friends. I let them know that they are independent of me. It is only a few years ago that I discovered that my first son and I could be friends. We are friends today.”
Momoh is not ever half as clairvoyant as his father whose image would not register on photographic negatives, if you did not seek his permission to have his photographic taken. That was not one of the only uncanny things he was capable of. He could mock nature. Walking under the rain with his retinue of aides and not getting wet was one of the jaw-dropping stunts he performed frequently. His virility was legendary. He fathered 257 children from 47 wives. The former information and culture minister thinks the capability to manifest the prodigious is in everyone. Anything I think of, when I mouth it, it comes to pass.If you look inwards there is that little voice that you should listen to, but we often don’t because of pontifications and claim to knowledge. You will find that if you don’t follow that voice you have derailed.”
Maintaining a seamless balance between the two professions–of law and journalism — that he has come to be known by is a thing of joy. “1 am in full legal practice but my own work has been in development of media law. I am excited by my knowledge of the law and I am channeling it to the development of the media. More than any other person in the practice of law in this country, I have been more concerned with moving Chapter Two, which identifies the duties of elected officials in the constitution, to the same pedestal as Chapter Four – which identifies the rights of the citizens.”
Lawyers seem to ignore Chap Two which contains duties the press is asked to monitor on behalf of the people, that is to hold those who are elected accountable to the people. My knowledge of law is what has helped me to pronounce very authoritatively on Chapter Two, especially on issues to do with the media.
An unusual politician, Momoh was a foundation member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Why did he quit to join the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP)? “Absence of internal democracy is what pushed me out. Nobody seems to be listening to ideas. My community donated me to Buhari. The people of Auchi thought they should support Buhari for what he did for us when he was Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF). He approved 23 roads to be tarred and also approved that water be supplied to three clans without knowing the place.
The Auchi people felt that if you have no godfather and that man is there, he was likely to listen to you. Before I agreed to work with him, I had to establish that he was a man I can work with. The litmus test I put before him was to have two journalists I knew did not like him to interview him. I was very impressed with the answers he gave and the way he comported himself. I belonged to the ‘Buhari Organization’ which is in the ANPP. The Buhari Organization comprises those who believe in the implementation of Project Nigeria which was a programme they believed could grow Nigeria holistically. Having said that, let me say clearly that I see myself as a professional in politics and not a professional politician. I was the National Media Director of the ANPP presidential campaign”
Unlike many of his contemporaries who served under the Babangida presidency. Momoh has demonstrated he has a mind of his own by going in an opposite direction from Babangida when necessary. “Babangida was my boss. He remains my boss. I have defended him and his programmes more thoroughly than any other person has done. When necessary, I have been critical of the lapses. I recorded all these reflections on ‘Letters to my Country Men’. The second of those letters was titled ‘Corruption in High Places’.
The decision to become corrupt is personal. There is nothing in Schedule Seven of the Oath of Public Office that encourages corruption. The fact is that I am ANPP and Babangida is PDP, so the question of prompting Babangida doesn’t arise because we are not in the same party. I have a mind of my own. When he appointed me minister, the first thing I told him was that I was ready to do the job if he tells me what to do and not how to do it. Throughout the four years I served as a minister, nobody ever interfered with what I did and how I ran the ministry.
Unfortunately my failure (and I take it personal) was not being able to professionalize journalism. We did the same for Public Relations and Advertising. We initiated the works on copyright, but our initiative on journalism was rejected by my own colleagues. If you present yourself as a journalist and you are not, you go to jail for three years. You don’t become an editor because you are a publisher. Journalists go on assignment, they see fake journalists but there is nothing they can do because the provision to deal with such situations was thrown out by my colleagues.”
Addressing one of the most talked about issues in the media today, the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill, Momoh expressed that the bill will find its way. ‘It is a question of time. It has become a yardstick for measuring the presence of democracy in any polity. In 1990 you had less than 30 countries that had the FOI Act in operation. That number has gone up to 70. People are likely to believe more what they read in the newspapers. Unknown to many, other people use the law more than journalists do. So the law has nothing to do with empowering journalists. On their own, journalists have their ways of getting access to information.
Is there a chance that he may become the Otaru of Auchi someday? “I am the Yerima (spokesman) of Auchi Kingdom. It is a princely title. Every male descendant of Ikelebe who was the first Otaru of Auchi and is 21 years old and is not otherwise disabled is qualified. The Otaruship is not from father to son. It is from one ruling house, and there are four branches of the ruling house (Ikelebe ruling house).”
Interview by Nseobong Okon-Ekong of Thisday published on Page 76 of the paper on May 10, 2009 and reproduced by AFENMAI NEWSMAGAZINE of JUNE 2009.