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Times Heroes Award: Prince Tony Momoh

Early Life
He was born 27th April, 1939 is a Nigerian journalist and politician who was Nigerian Minister of Information and Culture (1986–1990) during the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida.

Birth and education
Momoh was born in Auchi, Edo State, of Edo origin. He was the 165th child of King Momoh I of Auchi. He attended Government School, Auchi (1949–1954) and Anglican School Okpe, 1954. Momoh was Pupil Teacher at the Anglican School, Auchi (January–December 1955) and Headmaster at the Anglican School, Ubuneke, Ivbiaro, Owan Local Government (January 1958 – December 1959).

He went to the Provincial Teachers Training College, Abudu, Edo State and Government Teachers College, Abraka in Western Region(1960–1961).

Later, while working at the Daily Times or on sabbatical, he attended the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (September 1964 – October 1966) where he earned a degree in Mass communication, and then the University of Lagos where he studied Law.

He attended the Nigerian Law School, Lagos (October 1974 – May 1975), and was called to the Bar in June 1975.

Journalist
Momoh started his journalism career as a sub-editor at the Daily Times in October 1962, rising steadily through the ranks to become Editor and deputy general manager (June 1976 – May 1980). In June 1979, during the lead-up to the transition from military to civilian rule at the start of the Second Nigerian Republic, Momoh said of the five presidential candidates: “They are all the same … It’s going to turn into a personality contest”.

In 1981 the Senate led by Joseph Wayas summoned Momoh for contempt. This caused a major legal battle in which Momoh successfully argued that as a journalist he was empowered by the Constitution to hold government accountable at all times.

In Tony Momoh v. Speaker, House of Representatives (1982) it was held that a person had the right to refuse to disclose his source of information.

However, in Senate v. Tony Momoh (1983) the Court of Appeal held that the press is not a fourth arm of government. A newspaper publisher has no special immunity and the press can be ordered to disclose its sources in some cases.

Momoh was general manager of the Times from June 1984 to Sept 1986.

Minister of Information and Culture
Momoh was appointed Minister of Information and Culture by General Ibrahim Babangida, holding this position from September 1986 until 1990. He was Chairman of the African Conference of Information Ministers from 1988 to 1990.

In 1983 the editor of Newswatch, Dele Giwa, was detained for a week by police for publishing what they called “classified material”. On 17 October 1986 Giwa was accused by Colonel A.K. Togun of the State Security Services (SSS) of anti-government activities including attempting to import arms to forment insurrection.

On 19 October 1986 Giwa was killed by a parcel bomb. At first, Momoh pledged that there would be a government probe of the incident. He soon backed down, saying “a special probe would serve no useful purpose”.

Speaking at a seminar in Lagos in 1987, Momoh said that radio, television and newspapers should be seen as tools “for the promotion of national unity and integration”.

In 1988 Momoh announced that the government was trying to find radio sets that could only receive approved broadcasts from the federal and state radio stations. This was “as a means of ensuring that information about the country was adequately disseminated”

In a February 1990 interview published in Ebony magazine Momoh talked about the rich and diverse Nigerian culture. He stated that British-style parliamentary democracy and the American-style presidential system had both failed in Nigeria because they were not compatible with these local cultures.

He said that Nigeria was now establishing a system of grass-roots democracy in a two-party system. In May 1990 party elections were held for local ward positions using an “open ballot”, where voters showed their preference by standing in front of a photograph of the candidate. Party elections were then scheduled for the state and national elections.

Momoh said the government would not interfere in the inner workings of parties. Soon after, all the National Republican Convention candidates for national offices were disqualified on the grounds that there were irregularities in their application forms.

Babangida followed a policy of donating money, vehicles, offices and so on to local governments, political parties and others on the basis that this would keep them free of influence by the rich and powerful.

As Minister for Information Momoh justified the practice, saying of Democracy “is not as expensive as people are thinking in relation to the alternative.

The alternative is allowing one man to dictate to the whole Nigeria because you don’t want it to be expensive. If money is not spent on democracy and a one-man dictatorship emerges … it is the same Nigerians who are talking of expensiveness now that will shout that one man is a dictator”.

Babangida was tough on the press at times, but tried to avoid open conflict. When the press began calling for Momoh’s dismissal he was slow to respond, since Momoh was intelligent and reflective, and had experience from his own days as a newspaper editor.

However, he finally dismissed Momoh and replaced him with Alex Akinyele, who had previously been in the customs services and had been a director at Newswatch.

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