Oji Onoko

He was meeting his boss, Fela Anikulapo Kuti for the first time. This was at the most unlikely place: a prison! The legendary musician had been locked away in Benin for falling foul of the Buhari/Idiagbon regime’s stringent foreign currency law on his way to an international engagement in 1984.

So here he was alongside Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti, Fela’s younger brother and Francis Kertekian, the musician’s US-based manager at the office of the Controller of Prisons that Saturday afternoon awaiting the arrival of Fela. The young business manager was introduced to Fela without any formality after which two of the top politicians then serving time in the same prison on conviction on charges of corruption by the regime walked in. They were the former governors, Alhaji Barkin Zuwo, of Kano State and Alhaji Lafiaji of Kwara State. He was surprised hearing Barkin Zuwo actually thanking Fela “for giving the Muslim community in the prison, money to type minutes of their meeting…”

For Dele Morakinyo, managing the affairs of Fela at such a testy time was onerous but his background came in handy. He attended Christ’s School, Ado-Ekiti which influenced his artistic inclination as the school provided the right environment for creativity. He was active in literary studies, drama and scouting. He taught briefly as a teacher in the primary school before he got admitted to the then University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife to read Dramatic Arts with specialization in Playwriting. He studied under renowned theatre scholars like Professor Wole Soyinka, the late Dr Carroll Dawes, Sumbo Marinho, Oba Segun Akinbola and Dr Olu Akomolafe among others. He was in the production troupe of the 1st Ondo State Festival of Arts and Culture in 1976 and has produced drama and documentaries for radio and television. He was Assistant director in Jaguar Nana’s Daughter (film), The Turning Wheel (TV) and Prince of the Savanna (film). His feature and opinion articles have been published in The Guardian, Lagos Life, Sunday Concord, The Entertainer and Tempo magazine among others. He had also won the first poetry prize in the professional category in the Oyo State Festival if Arts and Culture back in 1980. After graduation he freelanced on radio and newspapers before joining NTA, Ibadan. In Lagos, he featured in a popular soap on Lagos Television at the time tagged, Just a Wink …

Morakinyo who was introduced by Femi Falana, one of Fela’s lawyers to Beko Ransome-Kuti for the job settled in easily as Business Manager at the Kalakuta Organisation intent on proving his mettle. Some of his achievements while there include the registration of Kalakuta Organisation Ltd to take care of Fela’s business, signing of the contract for the release of Fela’s back catalogue by a recording company and participating actively in the dramatic activities which led to Fela’s release from prison and all the accompanying media hype that took place then. “I guess it was a worthy experience which had its own impact on my life,” he reminisces.

But his foothold in Lagos had been secured. Later he was to publish the Independent Broadcasting News, now rested and serve as National Secretary General, National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners, NANTAP for two years and ex-officio for three years. Then he joined Videolab/Audiolab Studios, the production arm of BatesCosse, an advertising agency in Ikeja, Lagos as Operations Manager… Before long the then governor of his home state in Ekiti, Dr. Segun Oni nominated him to the Presidency for appointment as Ekiti State Director of the National Orientation Agency (NOA) which was duly ratified.
Inevitably he relocated to Ado-Ekiti. NOA was a unique exposure to public service at the very high level for him. The similarity of the mandate of the office with his background in theatre, media, writing and creativity generally made it interesting but equally challenging. As he recalls: “I virtually walked into my role as a mobilizer in the establishment,” he says.

After the tour of duty which lasted four years, he did not bother to return to Lagos. Instead he launched his outfit, Diaspora Media, a multi- disciplinary creative hub engaged in concept, contents and production as well as in consultancy, training, event and promotion of ideas. He has thus been shuttling between Ado-Ekiti, Ibadan, Lagos and Abuja in pursuit of business opportunities. In 2015, he founded Niyi Osundare International Poetry Festival where he is the Chief Executive with Tunde Laniyan, a veteran theatre artiste and journalist as festival director to celebrate the peoples’ poet on an annual basis. . On what informed the setting up of the festival, Morakinyo says: “The idea was borne out of the inspiration that at a time when Nigeria was reeling under the burden of bad and dictatorial leadership, there was this Nigerian out there garnering literary honors in poetry across the globe. Prof. Osundare was, and still is the most decorated poet in Nigeria, and more instructively his poetry is deliberately made accessible to the people about whom he writes, and to whom he directs his message.”

So how does the restless thespian, TV producer, writer and publisher feel as he clocks 60 this September 3? “I feel good, thankful for what I have received and working and hopeful of what I still desire from life,” he replies.
On regrets, he says with philosophical calmness: “I don’t think it is right to regret while you are still alive. And who says your best is still not on the way? He queries. “I am learning to embrace what I have, overlook what I cannot no matter how well I strive, and work towards realistic goals for as long as I live…”

–Onoko, a veteran journalist writes from Abuja.