Arguably the most ubiquitous figure in the arts and culture community in Nigeria, Jahman Anikulapo recently turned 60, thus igniting tributes and a series of activities to celebrate his imprints on the media and of course, culture activism. Yinka Olatunbosun writes
A firebrand culture activist and arts connoisseur, Jahman Anikulapo was the highlight of the week as members of the arts and culture community gathered in multiple venues in Lagos to celebrate the legend at 60. The graduate of theatre arts at the University of Ibadan began his art journalism career at The Guardian as the arts and media editor in 1993. He would later work as the arts and media editor until 2003 and later, the Editor of The Guardian on Sunday and The GuardianLife Magazine from 2003 to 2013.
Born Eniolorunda Oladejo Anikulapo in Lagos, the earlier part of Jahman’s childhood was on the Lagos Island. His father- a businessman-was mostly working up north. Anikulapo was a child during the civil war. Later, his family moved to Agege, a part known as Capitol Road.
“We were one of the first families to settle in that area where all the characters in our turbulent past were residing,’’ he recalled in an interview. “New Banger, Ejire, Kosi Iya Were Leko, Alado and some from Mushin would come to our house then for one reason: my father was a distributor for Top Beer. In front of the house was a shop where he sold drinks and musicians and kinds of layabouts often came by. The Apala musician, Ayinla Omowura used to come. He was an uncle to my mother. Olowo Nyo, Oseni Ejire and many of them when they came to Lagos to perform would always end up in our house. The No banger character and Alado were always coming. In that kind of environment, it was easy for a child to lose orientation.’’
As a youth, he learnt skills like boxing and played football. His father ensured that holistic education was imparted in his children.
“He insisted that all of us must go to school,’’ he continued. He used his car to drop us off in school, reminding us that education was the only thing that he could give us. And he ensured that we got that. He also taught us the value of work. For instance, he ensured that we participated in the building of his houses. We worked with the bricklayers, we mixed the sand and cement and put the pan on our heads. I still have the mark on my head till today. He said ‘You cannot live in a house that you never participated in building it. You would never appreciate it.’
Though his father was well-to-do, boasting of four houses and some cars, Jahman and his brothers were made to take on jobs at the factories in the neighbourhood.
“I worked in WAHUM, Guinness, and other places where you would work overnight and when you get home in the morning, you are almost dead. My mum would fight for us but my father said we had to go and learn the value of work. He also taught us to be respectful of the dignity of others.”
Buoyed by his strong background, Anikulapo proceeded to study Theatre Arts at the University of Ibadan under the mentorship of late Prof Dapo Adelugba 1939-2014), a theatre critic and playwright who was the director of the university’s theatre troupe. Anikulapo was encouraged to write reviews of plays and films regularly. Whilst in his undergraduate days, he was known as an advocate for the art and culture community.
Jahman is perhaps one of the busiest persons known in the arts and culture sector. Working closely with the Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, Jahman is often seen promoting as well as directing art and culture events. He could be anchoring a panel discussion, hosting a festival or serving as a compere at a programme. Full of wit and smiles, he could throw banters at some members of the audience who are often his associates.
He is the programme director for Culture Advocates Caucus since 2009 and the Chairman, Committee for Relevant Art (CORA). In 1999, he founded the cultural picnic, the Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF) and teaches young European students media arts and culture.
At the 60th birthday colloquium anchored by the actor and theatre scholar, Dr. Tunji Sotimirin held at Freedom Park, Lagos, Soyinka acknowledged Jahman’s support through the year in executing his projects and other artistic engagements.
“In just a few words, the best expression I have for him is that of a ghost worker,’’ Soyinka said as laughter erupted. “You hear about the expression ghost worker in a negative sense. Some of them have never been anywhere near the establishment. But someone somewhere is collecting salary. I always think of Jahman as a ghost worker. By that I mean you don’t know how he achieves what he does. If you give him a task, you don’t ever see him at work on it. I think he’s an instinctive artistic facilitator. He promotes others without promoting himself. He has assisted me in theatrical production and worked behind the scenes.’’
In the same vein, the recently retired Professor of Theatre Arts at the University of Lagos, Duro Oni described Jahman as a literary legend in his keynote address titled “The Artman as Interventionist: Celebrating Jahman at 60.’’
“Jahman has celebrated so many people who are listed in the committee of friends for this programme. The fear of the critic is the beginning of wisdom. Jahman does not suffer fools. He can be very hard. Even at this gathering he is looking around.”
Expectedly, there was praise poetry accompanied by drums by Akeem Lasisi, a former Arts Editor at Punch Newspapers and poet in adulation of Jahman. The bi-linguist poet showered prayers on the celebrant with music accompaniment from Afrocentric musician, Eda Oto.
The award-winning writer and former Arts and Culture Editor, NEXT Newspapers Molara Wood also eulogised Jahman for his selfless spirit and willingness to help other colleagues grow in arts reporting. Citing her personal experience, she recalled that as a new entrant in the cultural scene in Nigeria after living and working in the UK for over a decade, she relied on Jahman to gain knowledge of the cultural context in her home country. She observed that through Jahman’s intervention over the years, many great artists that had fallen into oblivion were celebrated. Recalling her days as a contributor to The Guardian, she described herself as one of “Jahman’s girls”- that is a group of female journalists mentored by Jahman.
“He gave me the column to write on the broad range of arts. He shipped off all the Guardian Literary Series to me in London. He would always give me context. From there, I was able to build readership. He did a lot to encourage me. He truly believed in me,’’ she said.
Nobert Young, Nollywood’s veteran actor recalled how it was like to work with Jahman in theatre productions, attesting to his workaholic nature.
“Jahman was a stage manager for two plays. Jahman would be the last to sleep and the first to wake up. The natural flair for arts energises him,’’ he said.
On his part, the artistic director, Crown Troupe of Africa, Segun Adefila noted Jahman’s devotion to intellectualism even at leisure.
“With Jahman, you can’t be an artist and be relaxed. One day, we went to eat amala. And we were supposed to eat and take inspirational drinks and go. But not with Jahman. The topic of one book must come up,’’ he said.
The social media was also abuzz with congratulatory messages for the adire-wearing Jahman who was sporting a powder-blue outfit.
Okey Ogunjiofor described him in a post as a “champion of the arts. At 60, you have achieved what some 80 year olds only dream about.”
The Founder, Freedom Vibes, Ayo Ganiu expressed his gratitude in a heartfelt message:
“Thank you for the monumental contributions you have made in ensuring that other people excel in life.”