By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, the year 2020 started for most people on an upbeat note. It was the same for me. True, we had heard late in December 2019 into early January 2020 of the corona virus that was plaguing and affecting a small part of China, but we all paid virtually little or no heed to it. Little did we know that it would soon grow into a monstrously terrible scourge that would terrorise and terrify the entire planet and change the world we live in forever. I digress though from events that heralded the New Year, 2020, for me as for most of us. I vividly remember getting so many phone calls and text messages wishing me “Happy New Year”, a familiar refrain by now for this period in any year. It is always difficult knowing what would happen generally in the new year, especially in a country as complex and complicated as Nigeria. Nonetheless, as usual, it was a matter of hoping against hope. We were particularly optimistic because it was the double double year, twenty twenty after the miraculous four by four election of 2019! Surely Nigeria was entitled to dream of double good news and double miracles after the woeful years that had been the last decade.
The first three months were fast paced for me. Some trips crisscrossing Lagos, Accra, Istanbul, London, Lagos, Abuja, Lagos, Accra, Istanbul, London and Lagos, essentially on business. The next quarter was designed for trips to England, Nigeria, Portugal and Turkey. I started out from London to Lagos to attend the nuptials involving our niece, Dr Abisola Seriki, and Mr Abiodun Awojobi. Bisola is the daughter of Toyin Seriki, my wife Bolaji’s older sister. The first leg was the traditional engagement ceremony in Lagos and the climax was to be the glamorous white wedding in Vilamoura, Algarve, Portugal. Everything seemed set. My Friend and usual travel companion on trips like this, Damola Aderemi and I were booked to return to London after Bisola and Biodun’s wedding in the Algarve and then head to Istanbul for the 50th birthday ceremony of our younger friend and brother, Mr Ayo Animashaun, the Chairman of Hip TV. All flights and hotels were dutifully confirmed. In between, I had gone to Oxford to register for my Fellowship. I had dropped my luggage at the hotel where I stay whenever in Oxford. I must say that I live more in my suitcases than in my respective homes in Lagos, London and Accra as I hop around the world from one destination to another.
Anyway, like a thief in the night, although we had been forewarned by now, COVID-19 struck in all its might, glory and splendour. Powerful countries, government and Emperors were caught napping and not just made to bow before this superior unseen, invisible but deadly adversary and foe. They were left cowed, on their knees and, for the most times, supine in supplication as they scurried about searching for deliverance. Everyone had been visionless, blind and blind-sided to this ravaging, rampaging virus that was taking no prisoners. The seers had seen naught, nothing! The Prophets had not prophesied or predicted this pandemic, not even in uninterpretable tongues. It was all so sudden. Governments reacted in knee jerk uncoordinated and hurried fashion. They imposed lockdowns, shut down air spaces and the era of the palliatives began as the people began to feel the brunt and effect of the drastic measures various governments were putting in place to protect them from this faceless menace. Nigeria was no exception. First it shut down its international airspace and then it halted even its domestic flights. The lockdown was complete, and all travel plans were abandoned. The target was to ensure that one stayed safe. The prayer became simply that God should keep us alive. All my travel plans were aborted by the awesome ferocity of the corona virus pandemic. I had no choice in the matter. The joke now is that Dele Momodu, the erstwhile “Ajala Travel” has since March 2020 when I left England, been practically stranded in Nigeria by the force and might of COVID-19, apart from a few recent trips to Accra. I find it difficult to believe that I have not travelled beyond Ghana in almost ten months. But that is the gospel truth.
It has been a classic example of “man proposes, God disposes!” I find it hard to recollect when last I stayed one month at a stretch, talk less of ten months, and still counting in any one place. As I write this, new reports are coming in from different parts of the world about the resurgence of the pandemic which seems to be coming back with a renewed vigour and vengeance in new strains. Simply put, it seems I’m in Africa for the foreseeable future and until further notice. So be it.
I was seriously looking forward to my 60th birthday on May 16, 2020. I had booked a beautiful venue for the fantastic fun-filled celebration I had planned on Victoria Island. Turning 60 is a big deal in this part of the world. My friends and I were ready to boogie down and celebrate the extraordinary life that God has chosen to bless me with. Many had booked their flights to Lagos from all continents. Please, don’t forget that I’m in the entertainment business specialising in making people happy and so others had also planned to make my day so fantastic and special. So, we planned and expected it to be. But it wasn’t meant to be. A mean tiny invisible virus was going to change all that and ruin the rest of the year for mankind.
Thus, I stayed put in Lagos, stupefied by tale after tale of premature and sudden deaths. On a regular day, we lack good medical facilities in Nigeria. Now our shortcomings, incompetence and inexperience in dealing with disasters and disaster management were brought into the fore. Imagine that in the days of great tribulations, Nigerians had the least number of beds and ventilators in any country of our size and population. Emergency isolation centres were hurriedly built, a result of our short-sightedness and lack of planning. Since the new sickness in town was likely to affect the rich and famous faster than the poor, billions of Naira poured in like flood water. How I wished we had spent such on building world class hospitals instead of makeshift sheds! But anyway, many good people responded pronto to the clarion call. How Government utilised, by mismanagement, ineptitude and grand larceny, the funds provided in good faith, in a cavalier, shoddy and dastardly manner, so that the entire benefit was lost, is a story for another day.
The lockdown was devastating. It got so bad many people grumbled aloud that hunger was likely to kill faster than the demonic virus. Many lost their jobs, or salaries, or both. We had to learn new ways and tricks of doing business and staying relevant. We embraced body and soul the virtual meeting revolution. Everything became a matter of being done or achieved remotely.
My 60th birthday celebration was an eye opener. We had a one of its kind virtual party and it was a big bang. In retrospect, I’m happy the original party did not hold as planned. My very dear friends and Brothers, Ayo Animashaun, Iyiola Ayoade, Wale Oluwaleimu, Mike Effiong, Ben Osei, Adeyemi Asheperi and the crew from Hip TV and Ovation Media Group put in their collective wealth of expertise and experience and achieved a monumental success. The job was made easier by Pastor Ituah Ighodalo and his team who packaged a super service of praise and worship. They showed uncommon class. And the event was live for hours in over 40 countries, courtesy of Hip TV’s Ayo Animashaun and the giant broadcasting company DSTV. How can I ever forget the Spirit of Africa who does not like to be thanked but I read somewhere that ingratitude is a sin. I’m eternally grateful.
Oh my God! We lost many friends. Others survived but with scars of the deadly scourge etched on their souls. One of the biggest tragedies struck when my own adopted Sister, Mrs Ibidunni Ighodalo, died suddenly barely weeks after my birthday. The loss of a young person is always sad and devastating. When one is as ubiquitous, vibrant, generous of spirit and as faithful as Ibidun, then the sense of that loss is greatly multiplied. Her passing was one of my most unhappy and despondent moments this year.
For months, we remained at home. I was fortunate to put on my thinking cap and decided to join the new rave, the Instagram live sessions. My extensive contacts came in handy and my sessions were much sought after. This kept me going and we must be thankful to technology and my ability to adjust myself to situations and challenges.
I also buried myself in my library and read voraciously. As they often say, “every disappointment is a blessing” and I was determined to beg God to let me go through this unfortunate saga as smoothly as possible and with no pain or sadness.
What a year it has been for us all… That horrific year has passed, eventually. We pray never to experience anything as nearly bad ever again. If possible, we should just delete it and pretend it never existed. Happy new year.
GHANA AND ITS POST-ELECTION TROUBLES
I have tried to refrain from commenting directly on the recent general elections in Ghana for one major reason, my well-known friendship with the Leader of the Opposition, and Presidential candidate of the NDC, former President John Dramani Mahama. After nearly four weeks of keeping mute, I’m now ready to say a few things about one of my favourite countries on earth.
I first encountered Ghana in 1995, on my way to exile in England. Since then, I have been in endless love with the old Gold Coast. My love for Ghana can be explained as being primarily due to the general peace and tranquillity it offers residents and visitors alike.
That peace is now being threatened, and almost shattered, because of a voting exercise that was perfectly conducted, but a collation that seemed hurriedly and pathetically muddled up in order to satisfy nefarious ends. I won’t engage in the argument of who won or lost. I will simply limit myself to a few of the very obvious reasons the Opposition has refused to accept the final results as packaged and released by the Electoral Commission of Ghana, and now in court to seek justice.
The errors admitted to by the electoral body itself are incredibly pathetic, horrendous and disgraceful. They are schoolboy errors in this age of modernity and technology. The errors have been corrected several times, but it seems like the Electoral Commission has lost its senses of Arithmetic, not to mention Mathematics. The figures are simply refusing to add up and they are sinking deeper and deeper into the cesspit of ridiculousness and downright ignominy.
The problems now are these: how can you admit to your own mistakes and insist the victim of your poor judgment should go to court to rectify your own gross error and misdeeds? Is it not easier for you to sit down and iron out the grey areas and correctly fill in the gaps instead of sending the victims on wild goose chases? Why was the Electoral Commission in such a mad rush to declare and gazette some majorly flawed and loudly rejected results? Is the electoral body a victim of hypnotism and executive pressure that it prefers to ruin its own reputation after conducting a generally peaceful voting exercise? Why could it not add up the results of what was a good exercise until collation without resorting to the monumental errors that it now appears to admit but will do nothing about? Why are they refusing to meet with the opposition party to properly engage and deal with this matter? And why are the security forces being used to intimidate the opposition members in a country which guarantees free speech and peaceful protests? Where is democracy in Ghana headed?
There are far too many unanswered questions. The media has also been accused of gross complicity in the grand conspiracy to deny many Ghanaians of the dividends of their hard-earned Democracy. The Fourth Estate of the Realm which should defend the rights of the people, particularly their democratic freedoms have become partisan and caught up in political manoeuvring and machinations. What a pity!
It is distressing that barely four years after Ghana enjoyed a smooth transition and was hailed by the entire world as a beacon of hope for the solidification of democratic institutions, principles and norms in Africa, the same country is now embroiled in election brouhaha! Let us pray for peace because Ghana deserves our prayers at this sad moment…