Popular journalist and Publisher, Ovation Media Group, Chief Dele Momodu, shares with TUNDE AJAJA his thoughts on the recent closure of shops belonging to some Nigerians in Ghana and Nigeria’s diplomatic relations
Ghana is like your second home, could you share with us how your bond with Ghana started?
On July 22, 1995, some people came to my house in Ojodu, Lagos and alerted my wife to an imminent danger that awaited me. The government of the late General Sani Abacha decided that I should be declared wanted and arrested. I was accused of being one of the brains behind a private radio station initially known as Radio Freedom and later changed to Radio Kudirat. But the truth is that I didn’t know anything about it. However, you know that during Abacha’s regime, there was no room for argument and if you were in the country in such circumstances, anything could happen. If it was during Gen Ibrahim Babangida’s regime, I could have managed, after all, during his regime, I was put in detention briefly and that one was okay (laughs).
But with Abacha, anything could have happened, so I had to plan my escape. On July 25, I left Nigeria through the bush to Seme Border to Cotonou and then to Lome in Togo and from there to Accra, Ghana. That was my first time in Ghana, but instantly, I loved what I saw. I spent three days there and left for London on July 28, 1995. I landed at Gatwick Airport, London the following morning. Thus began my exile in London. I was able to prove that my life was in danger, so the British government protected me and my family; my wife and only son at that time managed to also escape. They were nearly arrested at the airport but were allowed to go. The British were good to me and it was there I started Ovation.
At what point did you return to Ghana?
I was there for three years as a refugee. By the time I was leaving England for Ghana, I was so excited because I never liked to live in Europe. Life there was routine; if you pay attention, the same bus you board today might be the same bus you would board in the next 20 to 30 years and many things would never change. I just couldn’t cope with such a cacophonous existence. Once I had the chance to go back to Ghana, I did and was very delighted to make Ghana part of my home. I decided to have an office in Ghana and we launched Ovation there
At what point did things go wrong again between Nigeria and Ghana?
Ghanaians are very sensitive about Nigerians, partly due to the skirmishes we had in the past. First, Ghanaians chased Nigerians out of their country in 1969. And in 1983, the late President Shehu Shagari sacked Ghanaians from Nigeria, in what was known then as ‘Ghana Must Go’. While Nigerians have forgotten that they were once chased out of Ghana, we only remember ‘Ghana Must Go’, so Ghanaians never forgave us and they never forgot. Till today, they are still very sensitive about that episode. Also, they find Nigerians to be very loud; we are like the Americans of Africa and so wherever we go, not just Ghana, people notice us, and we speak in loud voices and people would think you are quarrelling or fighting them. A Ghanaian can almost break down in tears if you shout at them; they don’t like it, but Nigerians are not like that.
I call Ghana little Europe because it’s a very organised, beautiful and peaceful society. I probably know Ghana more than Nigeria and I have travelled to every part of Ghana by road, up to Wa, which is probably the farthest part of Ghana. Ghana has been very blessed with good leaders; intelligent, brilliant and cerebral, but the biggest problem, which is the sore point, is always this unhealthy rivalry between them and Nigeria. Our students spend so much money to go to school in Ghana and yet Ghanaians always complain that they are too loud, boisterous, flamboyant and I always remind them that for anybody to bring dollars to spend in Ghana, they must be children of the elite and they should not use a few of them to judge the rest of us.
Since you have been close to almost all their leaders, were there times you raised some of these issues with them, maybe during your casual conversations?
Being friends with a leader does not mean you are both discussing countries, because I wasn’t there as a representative of the government, so our discussions would not go along those lines. The discussion would usually be in terms of business, tourism and such things, but nothing political. The closest to me has been John Mahama, whom I can discuss anything with and my attraction was because he was far advanced than most African leaders in terms of infrastructural development.