The Publisher of Ovation magazine, Dele Momodu, speaks about the push by some people for President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election, how he made up with Nigerian pop star, David Adeleke, popularly known as Davido, and other issues, in this interview with GBENRO ADEOYE
Your feud with music artiste, David Adeleke, popularly known as Davido, lasted for about two years before you made up last December. How did that happen?
I will call it a misunderstanding. But despite the misunderstanding that existed between our families, I remained his biggest fan, even when they said he sang a song to abuse me. It was reported that I walked out of his concert in anger; that is not true. In fact, I waited till the end of that concert because of him. And his father, Dr. Adedeji Adeleke, is a perfect gentleman. I called him late last year. I had been calling him for some time but he went abroad because of the death of his brother. We are all saddened by it. You see, our families have a long history. David’s mum was like my sister before she died. They say that even the tongue and the mouth do quarrel. So, we had the misunderstanding but a child is involved, a little girl, Imade. She is a carbon copy of David. So I said I didn’t want to go into the New Year fighting anybody. I called his father and fortunately, he responded well to my suggestion to have David perform at the Ovation Carol, but the problem was now about logistics because David was very busy and was travelling everywhere because he is a global artiste. So he promised that he would check with David’s manager to see if they were available for that night in Nigeria. And a few days to the event, David’s dad called and said David’s manager had been trying to reach me. So I called him and he said David was travelling to Cote D’Ivoire but would return that night. I told him that I would not promote it because I wanted it to be a surprise, so nobody knew about it, including the members of my team. That was it and I am happy that it has had a domino effect. You saw Davido and Wizkid (Nigerian singer, Ayodeji Balogun) singing together. It was all in the spirit of what I exhibited and you saw D’banj (Oladapo Oyebanjo) and Don Jazzy (Michael Ajereh) together. That is what I have always prayed for. I ‘m a peacemaker and that is why I cannot abuse people like some people want me to do. Even when I criticise people, like when I criticised President Buhari, for instance, I did it with affection. I am not a ‘kill and go’ journalist. All the people that abuse others anyhow, give them half the opportunities given to those they abuse and they will mess up and do worse.
A part of the country has been thrown into mourning in the last few days over suspected herdsmen killings. Some people have accused President Buhari of not doing enough to stop the problem. What is your view about this?
I don’t know what the President is doing about any crisis or situation in the country so I would not want to say what I know little about – the security situation. But if you are talking in terms of public relations, I think the Presidency has failed to handle its PR very well. There is a lackadaisical approach to so many things. I am sure they are doing something but because they don’t care to inform people properly, people take it that they are not serious. But personally, I will not want to talk about the security situation. I believe that the security forces must be doing something about it, but maybe the situation is too delicate for them to handle and as such, they don’t want to put certain things in the public domain. But it will be very unfortunate if some people are covering up criminals.
Even before these recent killings, some Nigerians believe the President is sectional considering his alleged lopsided appointments and handling of suspected killings by herdsmen. Do you think that the President is sectional?
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I don’t know. He is a man of very few words and when you are like that, people can prejudge you, they can misconceive a lot of things about you. So there is a perception about the President and I believe it is borne out of the fact that he hardly talks to people. He doesn’t address the nation; you see the President of America talking almost on a daily basis. You see the press secretary at the White House talking to American journalists every day. And if one American is lost anywhere in the world, the White House will respond almost immediately. But we have a situation where even if 1,000 people die, nobody talks, so it is very bad. My advice to this government is that it is part of its duty to report back to those who pay their salaries and make them very comfortable.
In your open letter to the President recently, you warned him against contesting in 2019. Although, some governors and ministers have been insinuating it, he has not officially declared to contest in 2019.
I think the signs are there already that he wants to run. I have read somewhere that the Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, said he would lead his campaign. I read somewhere too that my good friend- the Minister of Transpotation, Rotimi Amaechi, is the director-general of his campaign team. I have not spoken to Amaechi in a while so I don’t know if that is true. From what I have read in the newspapers, people are already warming up. And from what I wrote in my article, I have no doubt in my mind that even if he does not want to run, some people are going to push him to run because their lives depend on it. If he goes, they are gone. But unfortunately, I don’t know what he is enjoying in power again; God has done everything for him. He will be at least 76 years by next year; at that age, I believe he would be too tired to run a nation as complex and as complicated as Nigeria. Right now, Nigeria needs a man with full stamina. That is why I have written consistently in the last two months that there are certain things we must do urgently to rescue Nigeria from total collapse.
One, we must not have anyone above 65 years old in power. That is the retirement age. I’m going to be 58 years old this year and I already feel like I am getting old. Now imagine what it is like for a man close to 80 years old. Two, I believe that we should forget about zoning because it is not part of our constitution, so any qualified Nigerian who is distinguished, accomplished, well educated and well exposed should be allowed to run. Why do we want to prevent our best brains from contesting for the most important office in the country? I think if Nigerians are serious, the time has come for them to kill zoning before it kills Nigeria. I believe that the next President must be very well exposed, educated and communicate in the language of today. That is why I said that the best legacy the President can give us is for him to search for a worthy successor; even though, it is his right to contest for a second term, but it is not every right that you must claim. Even if people are pushing you, you should know that they are pushing you because of their own selfish interest. I like the President; I’ve met him a couple of times, he is a likeable character and very jovial. But every time I leave him and on return to where I come from, what I see in newspapers and television is always different. When you meet Buhari, you will like him. He is a likeable character but I don’t know why he does not care about his image and what people say about him; if I were Buhari, I would be very worried because these things are recorded in history. If you say you don’t care, you have to also worry about your family. You have a family and you should leave a good name for them. If people are abusing you and you know the abuses are ill-conceived, then I expect you to do something about it. He needs to do something about his image. I think he must be a nightmare for his handlers. When you have a boss who doesn’t seem to care about what anyone says about him, it will make you look incompetent. They can only do what the man allows them to do.
Why do you really think Buhari should not contest in 2019? Is it because you think he is too old or has not performed well?
I have told you that it is not just about Buhari; I don’t think that anyone above 65 years of age should lead Nigeria again. That includes Buhari and even a former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar. I said in my article that this government has not performed up to expectation, it is almost three years now and all we are hearing are still excuses. As for me, I am tired of hearing excuses. We drove former President Goodluck Jonathan away because we felt that he could not perform. And the Yoruba people have a saying that is translated as: If the gods cannot make our lives better, it should at least leave us the way it met us. We have to buy $1 dollar with almost N400; that was not the situation about two years ago. I expected that even if you would not improve on it, you should have stabilised what you met. In nearly three years, this government has not been able to complete the Lagos-Ibadan Express Road. The airport that Jonathan left, the elevators are gone. Even the conveyors belts, some of them are packing up. Airports in Nigeria are among the worst in Africa and we are supposed to be the giant of Africa. People are hungry, dying and our hospitals are in a terrible shape. If you look at the index of performance, I will tell you that it is below average. I don’t want us to limit this to Buhari. It includes Atiku; I don’t think they should run.
Does that mean that you don’t believe the things this government has been saying that the previous government is responsible for our problems?
No! We all agree that the previous Peoples Democratic Party-led government was profligate and very reckless, but it is gone. Nigerians believe that the biggest problem of Nigeria is corruption and we should bring in a saint to do it. But what people forgot was that Buhari does not have the power he had when he was military head of state. There are institutions in place that you cannot ignore. You cannot ignore the judiciary and the National Assembly. We are in a democracy. We assume that it would be the same Buhari of the 1980s but we forgot that that was a military government. I pity him but I think his biggest problem is about his image.
Like you, Father Ejike Mbaka also supported Buhari to be President but recently warned him publicly. Are you also jumping on the bandwagon because it seems to be popular now for everyone to bash this government?
I am not against Buhari. Personally, when I supported him, it was for a few reasons. One, we wanted a father figure who would rescue us in the days of tribulations. But that father figure was supposed to be there for only one term like South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, who stabilised the polity and left. That is what I expected. I didn’t expect that a man would be approaching 80 years and still be our President. Two, I supported him because he is one of the most honest Nigerians that we believe we know. I’m sure there must be others but in terms of reputation, he is one of the most honest Nigerians alive. But you know he has been out of power for a very long time. In 2011, I went to visit him when I was contesting against him and Jonathan. He asked me what I had against him because I was always criticising him and I said it was about age. If in 2011, I was already complaining about his age, if I am complaining about his age again, then I am consistent. That night, I told him that he was a contemporary of Margaret Thatcher. There is nothing that can happen in Britain that will make Thatcher come back as Prime Minister.
I believe he has done his best so I won’t totally condemn him for all the problems of Nigeria, but to now overstay and return at the age of 80 will be asking for too much. And I have told him plainly that he is being used by people whose political careers depend on him.
At what point did you realise that Buhari would not be able to do the job?
I still support him and I will do that till his tenure expires; it is his reelection that I don’t support. I am hoping that a miracle will happen and his people will perform within the next one year. Why do you advise a man? You advise him out of love. So he doesn’t have to take it personally. You don’t advise a man that you hate. I feel for his family. Whatever we do, it is our family that suffers. There are families that have not recovered till today because of what the head of the family did when he was in power. I’m not a member of the All Progressives Congress or the PDP. People who don’t know think that I wanted a ministerial appointment when this government came in; that is stupidity. If you want an appointment, you will not criticise the government, you will move closer to those in power, lobby, join their party and attend their meetings. I’m not hungry; I love my job and whatever it gives me, I ‘m happy with it.
I saw danger signals very early in the life of this government and that was why I wrote him two memos in quick succession. And on one occasion, he invited me to the State House to see him after reading it. That was in 2015. I was alarmed that after six months, he could not assemble his cabinet; that was when he lost it. That sent a wrong signal. Then I was worried that there were some people who worked very well for him.
These were hardcore politicians. While people thought I was looking for appointment, I was actually looking for jobs for people like that. Then I started seeing the calibre of people that were being appointed, so I got very alarmed.
But isn’t the attitude of always repaying people with political appointments also part of the reason why we have round pegs in square holes?
It is not true, everywhere in the world, you reward people. If they are not competent, no. But if they are competent, they should get appointments. Why would you leave a competent person who worked for you and pick someone who worked against you and is not even competent? At least, you give those who worked for you the right of first refusal. And also, how does a government start its business by fighting among itself? That was another error that killed this government. So people who worked for you, you were saying they are corrupt, but when they were working for you and spending their money, they were not corrupt. That also got me worried.
Some people have said that you are doing a hatchet job for some people and the suspicion is that it is for Atiku as both you and Atiku are very close to Saraki. Is that what your open letter is about?
I have only interviewed Atiku once in my life. We specialise in conspiracy theories in Nigeria; people just say anything. When I interviewed Diezani Alison-Madueke, they said I was doing a hatchet job for her and that she was not ill; am I a doctor? I interviewed a woman who looked sick, I took all the pictures with my phone and I still have the raw pictures; we don’t use photoshopped pictures in my company. Instead of people to commend me that I got an interview with someone that everyone wanted, no, what they wanted me to do was ‘kill and go’ journalism, where I would abuse and attack her. But that is not my style. My style is to ask questions. I asked the woman, are you well? And she said she was not well. Am I a doctor, will I certify her well or not? I’m so proud of my job because reasonable people respect my professionalism, which is why they talk to me. They know that I would not embellish the interview. Some people are more interested in sensational stories. They expected me to say ‘Madam Rogue or Madam Thief’, but that is not journalism. What I asked her and the answers she gave, I published. And the ones she said were off the record, I did not publish. That is responsible journalism. And since I interviewed her, no other person has been able to interview her.
Do you know that some people could feel you were attacking Buhari now because of the way his government has treated Alison-Madueke, who is considered to be close to you?
That will be very stupid. I interviewed her two years ago. I don’t have her contact. People don’t know what it takes to get people to speak up, especially people like Diezani. People asked me how I got her. The secret of my success in journalism is that I have access to everybody. Nobody considers me as an enemy. People know I am too responsible to publish a reckless story about anybody. I will never judge anyone as guilty until the court says the person is guilty. Everything they say about Diezani today, I read it in the papers like every other person. I will never say somebody is a thief unless I have evidence. The best I could do was to ask: are you a thief and she said no. But they said this and that got missing under your care and she explained herself. I am not an investigative reporter; I’m a society reporter.
Do you know that people don’t take you and what you say seriously as you are considered to be too close to corrupt people?
Except if people don’t know the nature of journalism; any journalist without powerful contacts cannot go far, that is number one. Two, it takes courage for people to criticise their friends. Don’t I do that? Tell me any government that has come to power that I have not criticised when necessary. Amaechi is one of the people I’m closest to in power but if he misbehaves tomorrow, I will say it publicly. When Asiwaju Bola Tinubu (National Leader of the APC) and Saraki were fighting, I granted an interview in which I said that I was Tinubu’s boy but that on this matter, I believe he is wrong. People said Saraki had paid me to talk; it is an insult. How much will he pay me? This year, I will be 58 years old. In 1992, when I got married, Chief M.K.O. Abiola and Gani Fawehinmi were there. In 1992, I didn’t have Ovation Magazine and I was 32 years old. When I was 23 years old, I was private secretary to the then Deputy Governor of old Ondo State, Chief Akin Omoboriowo. I’m not a hungry lion. One of my favourite quotes on twitter is that leaders don’t fight; it is their supporters who break their own heads. I am not going to fight the battle of any leader. All the people that were accused of stealing money in PDP, are some of them not in APC now? Without Amaechi, Rabiu Kwankwaso (former Kano State governor), Atiku, and others, would Buhari have become the President? I do anything I do based on my personal conviction; I am too old to be anybody’s slave.
You always say that you worked for Buhari. What did you do? What did you sacrifice? Did you give him money?
I believe politically, I am one of the strongest leaders on social media today and at that time; I devoted all of my platforms to Buhari. Till today, despite my criticisms, I still post his pictures. When I support you, I support you. When Buhari was to give a lecture at the Chatham House; that was when Governor Ayo Fayose said he was sick and so on. I had just left London the previous day but I had to return there the following day, using my money. I got my photographer from Canterbury. We call him ‘Our Yugolav photographer’. His name is Vragal Mijki. We brought him in and got him to enter Chatham House. He was sending the pictures to me. I set up an office at Intercontinental Hotel on Park Lane in London. It was not for any personal ambition and I did not ask him for money or anything. When I am committed to a project, I am committed to it. How can I be working for Atiku and not come out boldly to talk about it? Didn’t I support and work for Buhari publicly?
So who are you supporting for 2019 presidential election?
On Saturday (today), I will announce the people I am supporting and will say why I am supporting them.
You are calling for a youthful president. Are you satisfied with the performance of the youths we have as governors, like in Kogi State, for instance?
I have laid down a lot of criteria for you now. I want a Barack Obama, an intelligent man, a charming and charismatic man. We can’t be talking about old men all the time. So it is not just about being young, there should be a combination of many factors. You can be young and not intelligent, you can be young and corrupt.
Have you given up on your ambition to become President then?
I don’t know the plan God has for me but come 2019, I will support the best candidate. I am not desperate; if I want to be a serial contester, I will continue to contest but we must get serious about our country. I have just about 22 years more to get to 80.
When you said in your letter that there was no discipline in the Buhari—led government, what did you mean?
It is the place where you see them almost exchanging blows and nothing happens. We see them on television screaming at each other- it is indiscipline.
Why do you think it is so?
It is because nobody is controlling them; that is the reason why some of them like Buhari because they know he doesn’t talk, he is hardly there. They will tell you that they are afraid of the man but if you are afraid of the man, you will not misbehave.
What do you think about the $1bn Excess Crude Account fund that this government plans to use to fight insurgency?
I would never believe that any of such funds should be released to anybody, including Buhari, in a year when we are preparing for elections. They said that they wanted $400m to complete the airport in Abuja. The amount will complete the airport in Abuja and Lagos; I have no doubt about that. The tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa, was built at a cost of $1.5bn. $400m is a lot of money, $1bn is a lot of money, I would never release that in a country where there are no good roads. After all, they told us that they had already defeated Boko Haram, so what do we need $1bn for? Nigerians are suffering. What are we using it for? It is a lot of money. And Jonathan invested heavily in security. Is that not the reason they arrested so many people for wasting part of the money? What guarantee do we have that these ones will also not waste the money?