The Toyin Falola Interviews: A Conversation with Chief Dele Momodu, Part 2

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(This is the first report on the interview with Chief Dele Momodu on October 10, 2021.  The lengthy interview drew over 6 million viewers on various platforms. For the transcript, see:







Dele Momodu: Mr. Ovation and His Iconic Cultural Politics



Toyin Falola

There is no aspect of contemporary Western civilization practices or politics that appears alien to African people, as anthropological studies have revealed in the current time. Differences exist in their systems and approaches to issues of social and political significance, but this does not underwrite the fact that similarities abound in areas of human interrelationship where groups of people use philosophy to construct their ideological and ethical identity. Take, for example, in academics, honors are conferred on individuals who have made substantial efforts for the advancement of scholarship and application of intellectual properties to improve their immediate environment and transform their spheres of influence. The honor conferred on them is an indication that the society is aware of their outstanding contributions to the betterment of the society and that they appreciate the simple fact that they are members of their particular socio-academic group. In essence, outstanding accomplishments are indirectly expected of all members of society to imbibe the culture of being useful for the collective transformation of their people.

Such practices have existed in the continent of Africa from time immemorial. Particular observation of how this is done reveals that such recognition does more than confer honor on individuals whose efforts have radically and rapidly revolutionized their society. Indeed, bestowing honor on outstanding individuals in the traditional, and maybe the contemporary African society is informed by the understanding that they are not only giving the society a befitting honor but also creating an environment that is essentially suitable for the enhancement of healthy competition, in which others are indirectly encouraged to consider better ways to contribute to the collective course of the society.

When accorded this social and cultural recognition, the ensuing social ceremony is a trademark that specializes the individuals recognized and the family that raised them. This is why relatives of individuals recognized for their exemplary importance in the advancement of society share from that honor within the socio-cultural geography of the place where they have been honored. This does not happen in the Western world, where someone with a Ph.D. gets the honor for themselves, not their family. In essence, the African honorary recognition builds a social fabric that would be important for the establishment and sustenance of good moral conduct that would help the people move beyond their current trajectory, rather than a decoration of the individual singled out.

For example, someone honored with the Jagun (warrior) chieftaincy title is given a social responsibility for the rejuvenation of the security architecture of the society so that the people of the community are protected from perennial challenges. Such recognition has placed positive pressure on the family members and associates of the honoree because their identity is inevitably tied to the individual’s success, and, naturally, no one would expect a negative image for themselves as that would give them an unbefitting image. From this, a generational responsibility is accepted by the individual’s family members, and they begin to develop the society through whatever help they can offer in that respect.




Photo: Chief Dele Momodu

Source: Oyo News

For Chief Dele Momodu, the conferment of chieftaincy titles on him serves to recognize his outstanding contributions to humanity and to remind others of the responsibility ahead of them. As the Oni Gege Ara of Ijogaland in Ogun State, a honor and professional title bestowed on him about 15 years ago that particularly recognizes his efforts in journalism; the Owanusi of Imeri Kingdom in Ondo State, a leadership title; the Onone Kura 1 of Abia State, which means the voice of the masses, among other things, connotes that the honoree is aa valued member of the society. Beyond the fanfare of celebrations that come with these titles is the social engineering system that it actually serves. Although from the surface of it, the chieftaincy titles appear to be recognition for the fantastic ways he continues to engage the society and encourage them to embrace a particular philosophical direction, this does not negate the fact that recognitions of this type are meant to play some cultural and political roles that would improve the conditions of the society. For example, where he was recognized as Onigege Ara, what remains sacrosanct is that through his profession as a journalist, Dele Momodu charges the society to understand the vast responsibility ahead of them and brazen up to rise to their social duties.

 Cultural politics is evident because the journalism profession has been awarded the grand recognition of its importance in building society. Without firing any bullet, Dele Momodu challenges the society in areas where they are not performing as expected. Consider, for example, the title conferred on him in Abia State as the voice of the voiceless is an indictment of the society that is notoriously antagonistic of contending perspectives. People who challenge the authority are seen as potential dissidents with hideous intents to accuse the community leaders or sabotage their actions, and that they deserve to be hacked down because of this evil mindset. Whereas such name-calling did not exist in the past African traditions, and because the people are evolving to accommodate current changes, they devised a means of combating rising political actions that wanted to undermine a democratic culture in which individuals would have a say in the political process of their community. The understanding that this could be achieved simply by recognizing courageous individuals who have defied such an undemocratic structure affirms the assumption that African iconic cultural politics still exists. Therefore, the recognition achieved two purposes: one, it praised the individuals who pulled off that fearless feat, and two, it told the society that is unaccommodating of plural views of the potential repercussions of its rigidity.

Consequently, the conferment of these titles to outstanding African individuals is a telltale sign that they consciously use that system to build their social identity. In contemporary times, they use it as a cultural instrument for negotiating their political space so that their indigenous epistemic foundation would not be ridiculed or destroyed. Although the system has been proven to be susceptible to manipulations and maneuvering, especially when corrupt minds seek to buy these recognitions to improve their sociopolitical profile, it does not change the fact that they all identify the practice as something important in the process of their social buildup. So when one comes across social practices in which individuals are given such recognition, it is evident that they are making substantive efforts to construct a social identity that preserves their cultural traditions while maintaining their moral evolution in the contemporary time.

However, we must remember that a person who has grown up to be a vibrant contributor to the activities of their environment will consistently achieve these goals not only because they are remarkably steadfast at that moment when they become the cynosure of all eyes, but also mainly because they have a record of great upbringing that has extensively changed their mindset and prepared them for the future right from their formative years. This conclusion is informed by the question posed to Dele Momodu in the recent Toyin Falola Interview Series by the first interviewer who asked if his childhood experience in Ile-Ife had any significant impact on his vast career paths. His response was not unexpected because it consolidated the assumption that children’s background, particularly in Africa, is always an admixture of varied experiences that range from extensive social interactions, integrated philosophical engagements, and a couple of other things that serve as the basis for their intellectual development. When exposed to all these, they will be rooted in various engagements that will bring them utmost success if pursued later in life.

Dele Momodu conceded that although the general assumption is that Western education was enough to submerge the indigenous knowledge systems because of its organization amidst other qualities it possessed, it, however, cannot beat the reality that people in their indigenous communities know different things which they have access to from their social interactions and networks from the beginning. This, therefore, means that the ascription of ignorance to individuals who did not attend Western school during the colonial and postcolonial periods is done by individuals who do not understand what education means in the true sense.


Photo: Dele Momodu in picture with late father

Source: TVC

This deduction is necessary, as demonstrated by Dele Momodu’s childhood experience. He lost his father at an early age, and his formative education was imposed on him by his mother, who took the responsibility with impressive competence. Contrary to the misconception that his mother, who did not have access to the Western education system, would be incapacitated by this condition and lack the necessary know-how to groom the young Dele in ways that would aid his intellectual development, she did exceptionally well and was able to provide a good education for him with the help of others.

As a buildup to this foundation, the University of Ile-Ife, renamed as Obafemi Awolowo University, significantly expanded on Dele Momodu’s formative education, as it provided not only the serene environment where such a feat could be achieved but also the availability of seasoned academics who had more than an academic relationship with the students. His teachers related well with the students and had personal interactions with them, which helped formulate ideas and recommendations of sources essential for their progress. This opened the students to broader academic perspectives and sources and helped them build an eclectic resource to better themselves. Additionally, having a mother who was culturally grounded in Yoruba knowledge systems, and being fortunate to grow in an environment where academic culture was very much modern, helped to build the man we know today as the founder of the internationally acclaimed newspaper, Ovation, a journalist par excellence, as well as an author, a philanthropist, and other amazing things he has come to be associated with.

Perhaps the best way to understand that his trajectory is a product of his education and cultural background is to interrogate the series or choices made during his growth. The first interviewer, Mrs. Yinka Adeboye, understood this, and it appears that this knowledge guided her question. She asked if there were anything Dele Momodu would have done differently during his formative development, perhaps to understand his response and see if cultural affiliations can be traced to his intellectual brilliance. As expected, the guest is not someone who would disappoint when questions like this come up. Apart from the fact that he was grounded in the epistemology of Yoruba by virtue of his environment and his academic engagement, he is also someone with an admirable understanding of how things work in the Yoruba world. Dele Momodu responded that one’s Orí has always been at the level where critical decisions must be taken, and spiritual choices must be made, even without conscious awareness. He answered this way because he believed that his trajectory encapsulated negative and positive experiences critical and cardinal to his personal development.

Although the Yoruba people are ardent believers in the concept or phenomenon of Orí, and because it was the cultural traditions of the environment from where they were raised and molded, it was never an impediment to drive them into visible actions. While they believed or perhaps imagined that the content of their destiny would be primarily positive, they never conceded to nature the ability to make things work magically, especially things that they could achieve themselves. They propel their destiny to work and, by so doing, they are conscious of their development as a people.


Photo: MKO Abiola

Source: KFilani

Meanwhile, Dele Momodu’s struggles pushed him to a different level at this point in his career development. He wanted to build a career in teaching because the profession had caught his interest from people he gained extensively well. However, during that period, the country’s situation was antagonistic to his dream career as it did not provide the necessary atmosphere for the actualization of his teaching career. During the military regime, and because they introduced policies that radically departed from the line of reasoning, struggling individuals who intended to be teachers were frustrated out of the system. Here, the cultural significance of Orí concerning the Yoruba’s ontological reality comes to mind.

Dele Momodu admitted that as a teacher, the unfavorable atmosphere in the academic community pushed him into writing and eventually exposed him to several activities that reshaped his journalism career. Of course, it would seem that his Orí had already provided for him all the needed materials to enhance his journalism career, but he could not connect it until he got a spark from people who were aware of his tireless academic excellence. Having a bachelor’s degree in Yoruba and a master’s degree in Literature was perhaps the necessary ingredients to facilitate his upward rise in the literary or journalism profession. He began to write for the Guardian Newspaper in Lagos, and in no distant time, he was making intimidating accomplishments. He was also freelancing for another known newspaper company. His engagements were giving him two important things at the same time–money to sustain himself and popularity that was growing beyond his imagination. Dele Momodu’s journey into journalism was accidental, spurred by his Orí, as believed in the Yoruba cultural tradition, because not only is he known widely as a versatile journalist in modern history, but he is also equally global in his popularity.

Although Dele Momodu’s fame and success can be linked internationally to Nigeria as that is the country of his birth, it does not preclude the possibility of knowing how culture intersects with colonialism and colonialism with nationhood. Perhaps this knowledge inspired the question that “Is Nigeria one?” by one of our interviewers. The respondent shed a resounding light on the question after categorically saying Nigeria is not one. He traced the beginning of the country to its creation in 1914, which witnessed the haphazard amalgamation of various nationalities and ethnic identities together by the expansionist West, who were more concerned about the need for group domination than the identity formation of their new colonies. Of course, this is understandable because such thinking usually occupies the mind of the colonialists, irrespective of their racial beginning. However, the negative consequences are felt by the society or the people who became the victims of that indiscriminate wedding of culturally incompatible people. The fact remains that the awareness of their differences would have naturally helped in the smooth administration of the country because philosophies would have been developed along that line.

Still, under the admission that cultural diversities and plural identities are the foundation of the country called Nigeria, Dele Momodu was firm in his position that the type of leadership required to transform the country has a front-liner who is not concerned about a particular ethnic group (most especially theirs), not highly affiliated to religious identities to the extent that they cannot differentiate between the issues of national concerns and that of their religious beliefs, not so uncivilized to the extent that they would treat political opponents like enemies at war front with whom they cannot seek ideas and philosophies for the development of the country. All these are important because the evolutionary stage of the Nigerian democracy is fragile, and anyone who does not have the above qualities would always drive the country to the primitive era when collaborative development appeared like rocket science. Ultimately, the awareness of the difference in the country would lead to the emergence of leaders who have these qualities. As such, everyone’s culture would be respected and not given some preferential treatment.


Photo: Prez Mahama felicitates with Chief Dele Momodu at UPSA

Source: GhanaWeb


Dele Momodu submitted that cultural plurality is a blessing, and thus multicultural engagements are a product of such an environment. In the development of any civilization in the contemporary time, there should be less concentration on where an individual comes from, but much attention should be focused on what these individuals can offer. Anyone who refuses to accept this obvious fact, any country or civilization that does not accommodate this reality, will constantly battle with retrogression because they would not have the advantage of sourcing from different knowledge backgrounds to develop themselves or improve the conditions of their people.

In concluding this conversation about the plural identities in Nigeria, Dele Momodu alluded to the development recorded in different human civilizations, especially in developed societies. He argued that these countries employ the services of great people regardless of their country of origin or nationalities. They harvested their intellectual property to develop themselves and attain a level of advancement that places them within the appropriate position of dominance which they are getting. Summarily, cultural traditions are important and should not be seen as a plague anywhere in the world. Rather than run divisive politics, the nation’s leaders should consider various ways to achieve sustainable growth and development.



Categories: Interview