Still A Fraction of a Youth…

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femi Akintunde-Johnson

My sincerest gratitude to the avalanche of goodwill and kind messages that trailed my last article here; even as the big day is still two Saturdays away. Thank you all, and God bless your good thoughts. Meanwhile, the story of the ‘Fraction of a Youth Revisited” continues. The story of my blundering walk through the shaggy shadows of adulthood, and my entrance into the riotous world of the Nigerian media. Join me in the concluding part:

“Fast forward to 1987 when I landed at the NYSC camp of Ode-Aye, Ondo State. It was in Akure, Ondo’s capital city that I met Akin Ibisagba, a double degree holder in Drama and English Literature from University of Ilorin (who became a branch manager at Fidelity Bank, Lagos – he died a few years ago). Akin and I formed a successful creative and artistic “collabo” that produced ‘The Clarion Call’, a staged musical drama that won the Zonal and National drama competitions for all NYSC state drama troupes, in the 1987/88 season. Akin was the director and co-writer; I was the main actor, chief dancer, and co-writer (how – and why – I wangled myself into those roles will take a full chapter or two). We presented the final show at Hall 2 (my second home five years earlier) of the National Arts Theatre with federal ministers, permanent secretaries, and other dignitaries in attendance.

I remember the then Group Captain Bayo Lawal (a military officer who was in charge of the Sports and Youth Development ministry), Prof. Olikoye Ransome Kuti (Health), and his lovely wife; super permanent secretary (and thespian), Mrs. Francesca Emmanuel; then NYSC director-general, Brig. Edet Akpan, among others. Our ebullient state chief inspector, Chief Banjo Akinnigbagbe (he reportedly passed on recently) was visibly swollen with obvious pride at the superlative command performance we put up that day in 1987. I sang and danced so hard that I lost my voice, and the use of most of my limbs for three days! That performance fetched us (Akin and I) the State Governor’s Award…it confirmed my long-suffering belief that I could make it as an actor…in another life!

We also organized the first Miss NYSC Ondo State beauty pageant, in a great climax, and with great support from an ebullient NYSC staff member, Gbayode Somuyiwa (fondly called Show, later a director of corporate services at ThisDay newspapers). My experiences in Ondo State can fill another book…that service year (not the heinous maelstrom it has now been turned to) was pivotal in my single-minded attraction to the entertainment entrails of Nigeria.

Then, in September 1988, barely a month after our NYSC adventure ended, by the grace of God, I took a note from Mr. Ben Tomoloju (former Deputy Editor of The Guardian) to Punch’s long-standing and dashing daily editor, Mr. Demola Osinubi (later MD – PS: currently GMD). That was after missing a chance to get into The Guardian, my favourite destination… I started work in The Punch that same week… And there, I simply flew… And thus began my ponderous and sometimes meddlesome interventions in Nigerian entertainment.

Before you go deep into my recollections, I wish to salute those that have gone ahead of me, whom I have grunting regard for…I used to enjoy the write-ups of Chinaka Fynecountry… and I was delirious when I met him in the early ‘90s while doing business with the then-fast-fading Daily Times…he was like a demi-god at Lagos Weekend…for my generation then.

I have always admired the quiet dignity and dogged professionalism of Ladi Ayodeji, many years ahead of me as the anchor of Punch’s flagship entertainment pages (Saturday Highlife, SH), now I suspect it’s referred to as Life & Beats…how times fly). Even after Punch, Ayodeji refused to lie low… he flagged off his own publication, Beats, running on the streets for many years.

Perhaps the most influential in my prominence in entertainment reporting was Azuka Jebose-Molokwu, who is merely six months older than me, but carried himself around me like a very ‘senior’ brother. Azuka’s ebullience, his swanky, peripatetic lifestyle struck a chord with some moorings in me, and we hit it off spectacularly. I had always been an Arts person… And that was what I was at home with at the Features department of Punch – where I shared office space with good writers like Dele Adeosun, Joe Dudun, Tunde Kolawole, Jude Arijaje, Azu Ishiekwene, Peju Odelola, Patience Akpan, Mercy Ette (last two are now UK/US-based lecturers). Three smashing babes ruled the ‘hood at that point in time: Toyin Olafunmiloye, Iretunde Willoughby, and Joy Ofulie. I also remember the enigmatic “horoscopist”, Joshua ‘Astro’ Adeyemo. Our boss was the radical Bola Bolawole. There were other great colleagues scattered across different departments in The Punch – Uncle Ben, late Jide Kutelu, Pa Ajumobi, the lithe Linda, Funke Aboderin (Madam Library), Moses Ebong, Oga Chris Mammah, Victor Ifijie, Fidel Otuya, Lawal Ighienagbon, Bankole Falade, Saka (Paso Alhaji) Jimoh, Joshua Ogunsemi, Remi Ibitola, Uncle T (Tunde Aboderin) and so many more.

But Azuka was a different breed; he sapped the notorious adulation and fretful attention his presence and writings engendered, especially his column’s gossip strip, Whispers. 1988 was giddy…and then by the second month in 1989, Azuka simply vanished…to the United States of America… And no prize for guessing right who was asked to take over the great SH pages – less than four months as a bonafide Puncher… and as they say in movies…the rest is history.”