Bashorun Dele Momodu, the Publisher of OVATION is 60. He turned 60 Saturday, 16th May, 2020.
He has over the years proved to be an accomplished Journalist/Publisher, a businessman, a motivational speaker and politician. Many of his good deeds speak for him all over the world. Aside from being the CEO and Publisher of Ovation International, Ovation TV, The Boss Online Magazine he is the founding editor at Leaders and Company, the parent company of ThisDay Newspaper, started by Prince Nduka Obaigbena. His contributions in the society is unquantifiable. He’s one of the men who know their onions. He’s very close to the high and mighty in the society. There is none of the dignitaries that he doesn’t have a good rapport with.
Starting in life wasn’t a bed of rose for young Dele Momodu having born on the 16th of May 1960 in Ile-Ife, Osun State to a family of five. He lost his father when he was 13 yrs old and was raised by his mother who died on the 18th of May 2007. Young Dele Momodu had his early education at local authority primary school, Ile Ife in Osun State. He then proceeded to Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife for a degree in Yoruba. He furthered his education by going back to Obafemi Awolowo University for a Masters in English literature.
After graduating from the University, Dele Momodu was posted by the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in 1982 to 1983 to Oyo State College of Arts and Science in Ile-Ife as a library agent. He got a job as the private secretary to a former Deputy Governor of Ondo State, Chief Akin Omoboriowo after his service. He worked with the governor from 1983 to 1985.
After he stopped working with the deputy governor, he got a job as the manager of Motel Royal Limited. The Motel was owned by Oba Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse II, who was the Ooni of Ife at the time.
He left the job at the motel to pursue his masters in English Literature. While studying for his masters, he wrote articles for newspapers like The Guardian, Sunday Tribune and other Nigerian-based publications. At the conclusion of his course in May 1988, Dele Momodu got a job as a Staff Writer at African Concord magazine owned by late Chief M.K.O Abiola. After a while, he was promoted to the lead staff position for the weekend concord. As a weekend concord staff, he still wrote for other publications like the National Concord, Sunday Concord, Business Concord and “Isokan” – a Yoruba newspaper. Dele worked so hard and was good at what he did. As a result, he was promoted to the Literary Editor position of weekend concord in May 1989 and in six months he became the News Editor of the paper.
He emerged the highest paid editor in Nigeria in September 1991 after he edited late May Ellen Ezekiel’s Classique Magazine. Following this great feat, Dele Momodu left the magazine and went into business as a bread distributor with “Wonderloaf” owned by M.K.O Abiola.
After Dele’s venture as a bread distributor, he began a public relations business called ‘Celebrities-Goodwill Limited’. The firm handled the accounts of Chief Moshood Abiola, Dr Mike Adenuga, Mr Hakeem Belo-Osagie and other prominent Nigerians.
Dele Momodu was detained at the Alagbon Police Station by the Ibrahim Babangida regime for being part of the Moshood Abiola Presidential campaign. He was released on bail after 6 weeks of detention.
The injustice Dele experienced under the authority of the Babangida regime was just a tip of the iceberg when compared to what both he and M.K.O Abiola suffered under the rulership of Sani Abacha.
Dele was accused of trying to overthrow the Abacha regime, therefore was declared wanted. He knew a fire was on the mountain so, he ran for his life in disguise through Seme Border, Togo and Ghana and finally the UK. For 3 years, he could not return home.
London was his home for those three years until the death of Sani Abacha. It was his exile days in the UK that M.K.O Abiola was killed.
He ventured into politics at the age of 22. He started off as the campaign manager for Moshood Abiola under the Social Democratic Party (SDP). In 1999, he became the campaign manager for Olu Falae under the coalition of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and All People’s Party (APP). And in 2011, he unsuccessfully contested for the presidency under the National Conscience Party (NCP).
Chief Dele Momodu established Ovation International in 1996 during his exile in London, United Kingdom. The magazine was birthed with the intention of showcasing African culture, to promote Africa as a tourist centre and correct the negative views the world has about Africa.
Thus far, Ovation International has experienced tremendous growth and the magazine is now one of Africa’s most popular celebrity magazines with presence in over 60 countries. Editions of the magazine are available in both English and French. The magazine is recorded as the only Bi-lingual magazine in Africa. Building on the growth of Ovation Magazine, he decided to create a TV version of the magazine. Ovation TV has been a huge success. Ovation TV airs in Nigeria, Ghana, United Kingdom and the United States.
In celebrating his 60years birthday, we had a rare privilege of hosting him on our City People TV Instagram Live chat with Icons, host by City People Publisher, SEYE KEHINDE; a session which many refers to as a moment with 2 Elephants in journalism. And it turned out to be one of its best as many people all over joined the conversation. Chief Dele Momodu also revealed a lot on his humble beginning and many lessons life has taught him 60. Enjoy the interview.
You don’t look 60, what is the secret behind your youthful look?
It’s contentment. I manage myself very well, I manage my life very well. I work too hard, but I don’t give myself unnecessary stress. Whatever I can’t afford I just leave it and move on. So many people worry about too many things in life. But once I can’t have it I let it go. If I can have it trust me I would be the first person to get it.
I know you combine so many things in journalism. How do you cope with your schedule?
I came to Lagos at the age of 28 in 1988. And I was pursued to Lagos by poverty, by penury. My mother had taken care of me since my father died in 1973, so for 15 years I have been with a lone parent. So coming to Lagos I knew I must just make it. I was determined, I don’t sleep. I would just jump into bed for 2 to 3 hours and immediately, once I remember that I have bills to pay in Nigeria, Ghana, London and America I will wake up quickly. The fear of poverty is the beginning of wisdom.
What is the significance of you turning 60?
I am not the type that really worries so much about age but I count my days as recommended by the holy book. If you remember that for every new day you spend on earth, you have to minus or deduct one day from it then it forces you to plan ahead. A lot of people die like chicken, like fowl because they don’t plan. I can tell you I have a master plan about everything I do. I have planned my life in such a way that if you ask me what I am going to do next year or in 2 years time I can almost tell you, that if I retire or ever retire what would I do.
Turning 60 suddenly reminds me again that I am getting old, that if I am very lucky and to live up to 80 that means I have just 20 years, that means you have already lived a quarter of the youthful part of your life. Because at 80 trust me by then you are reaching the various stages of dilapidation, there is nothing you can do about it no matter how healthy you are. At 80 some things must pack up. It’s either you are having hand pain or arthritis and all that. So it’s good to be conscious of those things to live your life every day.
What are the other lessons you have learnt in life, considering the fact that you have been through so many challenges in life?
The commonest is that you must never give up. There must be trial and tribulation but you must never give up. One of the things I admire about you, Seye Kehinde as a Publisher is that our stories are almost similar, but you have never given up. City People has stood the test of time and you re-invent. So, that is the same strategy I used. I re-invent, I upgrade myself, I update myself, I read, fortunately, I am able to travel far and wide.
Every travel you make is an education on its own. There is no University greater than your ability to travel far and wide, because you are going to meet people. You are going to meet new friends. You are going to make contacts.
You are going to see new things, new inspiration. You are going to get new ideas, and this has really helped me.
How did your growing up shape your future?
I would answer that question in 2 ways. No 1, there is no way your childhood can prepare you for the challenges ahead or for the triumphs ahead. If we were to go by my background, then I will have no hope in life. Because in my background I lost my dad at age of 13 and I was left with a poor and unlettered mother.
After my father died we couldn’t afford to pay rent. We had to squat with our cousin in Modakeke. Later I went to stay with my sister whose husband was a teacher and later became Principal at St. John, my secondary school in Ile-Ife. After that I had to be an errand boy at a bookshop, the CSS bookshop very close to the palace in Ile-Ife.
After that I worked as a Village Teacher. It’s one remote village I can’t even remember the name of the village outside Ife, where we had to jump on cocoa tractor that was our mode of transportation to the village.
The day my mother visited the village she cried so much, because she couldn’t believe where I was living. A place where the Senior Teacher was sleeping on the bamboo bed while I slept on the mat, a very dusty place. Our cooking pot is in the same room, a bamboo bathroom somewhere at the back. The toilet is like a world bank where everybody deposits their things. In the evening you work around the village and the villagers are offering you Banana, Yam, Pawpaw and Co. The day my mum came she was not comfortable. I am the only child of my mum for my dad.
She was scared that I might die, so she took me away to Ife. On getting to Ife I started hustling, looking for job until I got one at University of Ife as a Library Attendant, and once you are a library attendant, you are just an errand boy picking book for students, scholars who came to use the library. But that was the place where my life turned around. I was able to come in contact with Wole Soyinka, Omotosho, Ogunbiyi, Akinwunmi Ishola e.t.c many of them were in Ife at the time. So, I spent 1 year doing that job.
Then we were the 1st set of Jambite in ‘78, so I came in as a student, as a Jambite. I spent 4 years studying Yoruba. So, if you look at my background, my tallest dream was to be a teacher, marry a teacher and live happily ever after. But I didn’t know that God had plans for me. After I left, I went to teach A’level in Yoruba at the Oyo State College of Art & Science. After that, fortunately I got a job with the then Deputy Governor of Ondo State, Chief Akin Omoboriowo in Akure and we used to shuttle between Akure and Ijero Ekiti. The Buhari government suddenly came at the end of 1983, my boss and other politicians were arrested. My boss was kept in Owo prison and I used to travel almost on daily basis from Ijero Ekiti to Owo from where he would give me an assignment to Lagos, Ilorin, Ibadan and I started meeting different personalities. Unknown to me, cummulatively these things would be useful in the future. So, I started gathering experience, gathering mentors. From there I worked for Oba Okunade Sijuade Olubushe II, the Ooni of Ife, I was managing Motel Royal Limited. It was from there I met Ojo who used to work for the Guadian Newspaper and then one day he came for the Olojo Festival. I wrote an article and it was published by African Guardian and that was how the idea of writing started. Then, Prince Damola Aderemi told me when I couldn’t get any job that “you have a 1st degree in Yoruba, now you have a master in Literature in English, why don’t you start writing”. Then I started writing for the Guardian Tribune, Sunday Tribune in Ibadan.
The Guardian was paying N25 per article and I would write 4 articles to make it N100 and I would travel from Ife to Lagos to collect my 100 and go back to Ife. One day I was invited to Lagos and I got the job with the Concord Newspaper and everything changed from there.
Why the choice of Yoruba out of all the courses?
I would say I have always been a rebel. I wanted a course that was uncommon. Ordinarily, English Literature was my favourite, but I realised that every year about 200/300 students were graduating from the so-called Funky courses, while only 2-4 were graduating from Yoruba, and I asked why, but they said Yoruba is tough. I said how can our everyday language be so tough, and if care is not taken the language will go into extinct and there will be nobody speaking it again.
So, I like Originality. I like to do what people say is difficult, just like when we started Ovation, many people said it can’t survive, the quality is too high and it was too expensive. The highest magazine then was selling for about N20 and we started at N150 and people told me there is no way, that I will not be able to sustain the quality but now we are 24 years old and almost 20 out of those 24 years we have been with the same partner in England.
What were the challenges you faced with Ovation 24 years down the line?
There is no challenge I will talk about that you are not aware of because it’s the same game. No 1, Publishing is like playing Casino and it’s only the business that even the Business School can not teach, because it’s a practical thing. I don’t even think a Professor of Journalism can write what I have gone through with Ovation. It’s part of the reason I am a Fellow at Oxford University, trying to put these things together. It’s very tough. Our business plans revealed that we needed 150,000 pounds, but we could barely raise 20,000 at the beginning.
In fact, one of my business partners then pulled out on the eve of starting Ovation, he said my ideas were too fantastic, too crazy and too unrealistic. Everybody says I am unrealistic. I am a risk-taker but I take a calculated risk. A lot of people don’t want to take any risk, they just wanted everything to be ready-made, but for me, I know life is not like that. So we have 20,000 pounds and I told the guy to go and get a beautiful office with 14,000 pounds in London, and the guy said how can you spend 14,000 pounds out of 20,000 pounds, you are going to be left with 6,000 pounds, how will you move forward? But my own idea was that a man who is down should fear no fall. You are already down. We couldn’t raise any finance. I went to my manager at the National West/Eastern Bank in London to see if we could get a loan but she said no because I was new in the business in England. I had no history of doing any business. I didn’t have any credit history and nobody will give me a loan. But what was my idea? My idea is, what is that one thing that we can buy with what we had that will catapult and galvanise us into the next level? Image. Let me tell you the first thing I learnt from all the people I worked for, from Chief Omoboriowo to Oba Sijuade, to Chief MKO Abiola, to Dr. Michael Adenuga to Mr. Hakeem Bello Osagie. I have been very fortunate at different times to work in one capacity or the other. So, cumulatively the experience was so humongous that I knew that nobody does business with a poor man. You cannot just go to a rich man’s house and tell him to come and invest in your business. He would just be looking at you like are you crazy, am I your father? But if you give the impression that you have the capacity for the business you want to do, you will see how people will rush at you. So that was my idea but my friend was not ready to take such risk and he pulled out. In fact, we had to register a new company, Ovation International Limited urgently for us to be able to get the office. We got the office and you won’t believe the day we got to that office a bomb exploded at the next door. I started running, I thought Abacha has traced me to London and they were going to kill me. We didn’t know there is an issue in that area before.
Irish Republican Army (IRA) used to strike in that area from time to time
That was our first major challenge fortunately the building didn’t collapse only for some glasses that were shattered and we were able to return to the office. So, that was my first indication of a loud ovation. When people also heard we are in Duklass which is very rear to see black opening business there they were surprised.
I remember we were like 3 or 4 black companies in that neighbourhood. And we had many prominent Nigerians who visited us. And people started recognising us, because it was not common to see a magazine of that quality and of that majesty. We are majestic in appearance.