Dele Momodu And The Mad Man At Charles De Gaulle

by Uche Nworah

I read Dele Momodu’s Pendulum column in This Day newspaper of Thursday September 6th 2007 and his subsequent addendum in the same newspaper on Thursday September 14th 2007 with interest. In the original piece titled The Mad Man at Charles De Gaulle, Mr Momodu attempted to paint a gloomy picture of the life of an African/Nigerian immigrant using the unfortunate black man wheeling a trolley of his belongings at Charles De Gaulle airport to drive home his point.

There is no denying that life abroad is not a bed of roses, and neither is life in the home country a garden of petals. Several commentators have indeed written extensively on the challenges of life in the diaspora but it would help the debate if such opinion pieces took into consideration the peculiar circumstances the average immigrant faced in his home country before deciding that taking that risky plunge into an unknown life abroad is a much better, desirable and appealing option than staying back in the home country where perhaps the person is faced with limited opportunities.

Perhaps Mr. Momodu would have been excused over his blanket condemnation of immigration if he is not an immigrant himself. If he tells himself the truth, he should acknowledge that he belonged to this ‘derided’ group in the 1990s having been driven away from Nigeria during the Abacha military junta over his pro-Abiola stance. Like several other immigrants, Mr. Momodu did not become an immigrant by choice but was pushed to flee his beloved country as a result of circumstances he could not control. He has on occasions acknowledged that he had to travel through third countries under various disguises to escape to the United Kingdom at the time from where his inspiration for Ovation magazine came. Perhaps if he had not travelled and had the opportunity to understudy Ok and Hello magazines, who knows? Maybe the world would not have known about Ovation magazine.

And so I really found it disheartening when Mr. Momodu asked in his opinion piece if it is “really worth it travelling abroad when you have no papers or jobs waiting for you?” Surely Mr. Momodu never bothered to answer this question himself before escaping from Nigeria. Just like the Igbos of Nigeria would say, Onye na agba osondu adiro ene anya n’azu (someone running for his life does not bother looking back).

Faced with desperate situations, one does not really need assurances before setting out on a journey abroad; no one can give you any because no one has the answer – onye ma echi? (Who knows tomorrow?). What has worked or has not worked for Tom may work or also not work for Jerry. It is every man to his own luck and fortunes, again something the Igbos describe as Onye na chi ya (each and his guardian spirit).

Mr Momodu’s premise is that immigration is something bad, but this is far from the truth. Perhaps he is not yet aware or rather chose to ignore some of the findings by several researchers in their studies who variously submit that if well managed, the funds remitted back to the home countries by diasporas can be used in the socio-economic development of these countries.

Nigeria’s former finance and Foreign Affairs Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was once quoted as stating that: “Remittances today are becoming an important source of income for many countries, and sometimes surpassing exports as the source of foreign exchange. The World Bank estimates that about $167 billion in remittances was sent to developing countries in 2004.”

Continuing, she also said that; “It is estimated that sub-Saharan Africa receives about $7.7 billion in inward remittances, with Nigeria accounting for nearly $3 billion. These are all; however, conservative estimates and economists agree that the actual values may be up to 50 percent higher. So in the case of Nigeria, we are looking at a total value of remittances of over $4 Billion! This is a valuable source of income for the country, and it is some thing we want to encourage.”

These funds come from diasporan professionals and non-professionals alike, including those Mr. Momodu allege “end up washing dead bodies or looking after old men and women who can no longer visit toilets or bathrooms on their own”.

Such jobs are called care work and the practitioners are well remunerated for their services. There is nothing wrong in being a social or care worker if we are to go by the mantra of dignity of labour. Unlike in Nigeria where the disabled and elderly people are left to die and rot away, the governments of these countries provide for the welfare of their citizens who can no longer care for themselves and of course somebody has got to do the job.

I don’t think that it matters if it is some of our brothers and sisters providing these services, at least they are getting paid doing it, and helping out their families back home with whatever wages and salaries they receive. That is still much preferable to some of the activities of their fellow citizens who rob others and those that steal government money, some of whom Mr Momodu celebrates in his magazine.

As a matter of fact, the governments of some of these western countries particularly UK and America have come to depend on immigrant labour and skills to run their health and social services. A common joke amongst health care workers in the UK is that the NHS will collapse if Nigerian and Brazilian workers decide to withdraw their services. In today’s knowledge economy, countries are increasingly depending on the talent and skills of their citizens which are exported to other countries as veritable sources of foreign exchange earnings.

While I accept that it is good for Nigerian immigrants to be ambitious, by striving to climb the socio-economic ladder in whatever society they find themselves, however the reality is that one has to pay his dues one way or the other to society as an immigrant. This may mean doing some odd jobs while the person concludes his or her professional training or education. Such phase may involve washing toilets or guarding buildings as a security guard just like I did while studying for a teaching qualification in the UK.

But still, immigrants should never forget their roots. Some do once they have found a little success in life and forget where they are coming from. Mr. Momodu failed to acknowledge in his pieces that hundreds of thousands of Nigerians in the diaspora have made good and are now living the so-called dream. These successful Nigerians may have at one point or the other gone through the motions of washing toilets, flipping burgers and cleaning Oyibo sh*t.

In a 2006 article aptly titled Confessions of an immigrant, I tried to narrate my own immigrant story as a way of encouraging and better informing those that would still come after us, perhaps that is a better approach rather than condemning and demeaning those working hard to make it through life in the diaspora.

Perhaps the biggest fallacy committed by Mr. Momodu in his first piece was his remarks that “statistics have shown that misfortune awaits more than 90 percent of illegal immigrants. They begin to shrink, or look very miserable. Our girls usually dry up like stockfish, and take to prostitution”.

I really wonder what oracle Mr. Momodu patronises, or how he arrived at his 90 percent ‘misfortune’ figure but surely such wide-off-the-mark and calamitous fortune telling have no relevance in contemporary thinking. Coming from him, this is rather surprising since he is a very active member of the social circuits in some of the countries where Nigerians have large immigrant population. The diaspora party pictures that he publishes in Ovation hardly support his premise, and to claim that Nigerian girls end up taking to prostitution will be stretching it too far, unless there is something he knows that we don’t.

As if to add insult to injury, in Mr Momodu’s second piece, rather than retrace his steps, he went on to claim that Nigerians misread his article, according to him; “The more I read some of the reactions to my last week’s column, The Mad Man At Charles De Gaulle, the more I get convinced that Nigeria is in desperate need of many brilliant literature teachers, and would even suggest to our beleaguered Ministry of Education that Literature be made compulsory at all levels in our educational system”

Mr Momodu should not be surprised at the negative reactions that have trailed his article because he adopted a pedestrian approach in his analysis. He should have used the opportunity to address the wider issues sorrounding global migration as a whole rather than make all Africans, and indeed Nigerian immigrants feel like wasters. Perhaps advocating for ways that Africa and Nigeria can tap into the skills and resource base of the diasporas towards the socio-economic development of the continent would have been well in order. We should see what we once referred to as ‘brain drain’ in Africa as ‘brain gain’.

Even the so-called ‘Whiteman’ that we live in their lands are making a volte-face having now realised that immigrants living in their lands could help boost their global competitiveness. Franco Frattini, the European Union’s justice commissioner warns that Europe must relax its immigration controls and open the door to an extra 20 million workers during the next two decades. He told EU immigration ministers at a meeting in Lisbon that the EU should stop erecting barriers and instead build safe pathways for Africans and Asians who risk their lives heading to the continent to find a job. According to him, “We have to look at immigration not as a threat but – when well-managed, and that is our new task – as an enrichment and as an inescapable phenomenon of today’s world”

Continuing he said that “Europe has to compete against Australia, Canada, the USA and the rising powers in Asia “suggesting that the word immigration and its “dark side” should be dropped in favour of “mobility”. Mr. Frattini concluded that “All skill levels are required. The challenge is to attract the workers needed to fill specific gaps,” This submission obviously runs counter to Mr. Momodu’s migration condemnations.

While the debate rages, I would like to remind Mr. Momodu that he is still an immigrant having since relocated his family to the United Kingdom and his businesses (House of Ovation and Ovation magazine) to neighbouring Ghana. This is global capital and skills mobility in practice rather than an act of ‘madness’ as he would want us all to believe judging by his premises.

As for the rest of the Nigerian and African diaspora, we may be immigrants but we are not all mad like Dele Momodu’s mad man at Charles de Gaulle. How sad and pathetic also for him to have concluded his piece by saying that the “the truth is most of these desperadoes always end up like the mad man at Charles De Gaulle!”


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BABS November 15, 2007 - 5:56 pm

Uche this is a waste of time. I reckon u r too intelligent to join issue with this…

This is a guy that glamourised corruption in Nigeria. Now condeming pple for seeking greener pastures outside our shore. Certainly there would be a judgement day.

Julius September 16, 2007 - 2:02 pm

Thanks Uche! I'm always alarmed at the rate people say Nigerians suffer when they migrate to foreign countries. I don't know why we never see the other side. I have friends who work as prison wardens, cab drivers, security guards. Guess what many of my other friends work as accountants, bank managers, doctors, professors in colleges in the same US. So it depends what article you are interested in writing, apparently, Dele was focused more on the negative aspects. I moved and I can certainly inform Dele that, that was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Were! September 15, 2007 - 10:41 pm

To Jude Arijaje: Dele Momodu's ladder is one that is painted with the blood of innocent and trusting Africans. Given a level playing ground (not having to brown nose Abiola etc), Dele would be a nobody. You and I know that we've paid our dues wherever we are to let idiotic bufoons like dele to rattle us on our way to ZION. I am a hardworking, succesful, millionaire, Naija man with kids and I feel blemished by the likes of dele, panhandlers that use their illegal "connections" to sur vive at the expense of the unknowing citizenry. Dele got his break through Abiola(IT Thief), dele would not have made anything of himself through the path I took to become a mega $millionaire. I think it is time to shut down Ovation Magazine, we can do better with magazies depicting the Nigerian-Americans fighting in Iraq etc. We can do better with showcasing the root of our problems(the latest generation that thinks the white knows better), WE CAN DO BETTER BY ENLIGTHENING THE NON AFRICAN BLACK TO APPRECIATE OUR PURPOSE IN LIFE!!! A purpose that got Jesus Killed!!!

Jude Arijaje September 15, 2007 - 12:58 am

I read both articles by Dele Momodu. Though he made some ridiculous statements in the name of facts, he also had brought the issue of illegal immigration to the fore. The lessons here though is that those who have used the ladder to get to the top should not take the ladder with them. Pls leave it for others to use.

Were! September 14, 2007 - 10:25 pm

Do a search for the likes of Dr. Ifepo Sofola, Dr. Sunday Fadulu etc and you would see the "narrow mindedness" of people like Dele Momodu, an idea-less fool that thrived on his brown nose contact with Abiola, another "Man with low mentality that sold us out!" Dele Momodu needs to be locked up with the keys thrown into the Delaware or Thames river!

War September 14, 2007 - 10:08 pm

Uche! Why on earth would you comment on a non-entity like Dele Momodu? I mean this is a buffoon that has been praised alongside the likes of Adedibu and Alao Akala by Yinka Ayefele. Has it ever occured to you that the sane Nigerians, those that really care about the nation, people like Soyinka, Ige, Awolowo, Yar'Adua, Ribadu etc. do not need anyone to sing their praises? dele momodu (note the lower case) is a liar,he is dishonest and a blatant sellout. Please do not waste your time responding to idiots like him for crying out loud. I mean what the hell has he done for Nigeria? Why does he have the Ovation headquarters in Ghana? Is he a Ghanaian? If he is then tell him "Ghana Must Go". I am sick of nonentities trying to be righteous!


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