Kings of Lagos Nightlife

Kings of Lagos Nightlife

Femi Akintunde-Johnson

Few years ago, in our book ‘Fame: Untold Stories of its Fall and Rise’, we went “down memory lane” through the passages of Lagos nightlife, and the men that made the 90s a glistering decade of coordinated razzmatazz and strategic entertainment. In that chapter (‘Kings of The Night’) we briefly mentioned a few club owners whose personalities made some impact in our life as a young reporter. 

  “First was Jibola Shitta-Bey. We hit it off, as soon as we got to meet. He was a very quiet, shadowy figure…fleeting behind the flickering multi-colour lights, and booming sounds, making sure that all was going smoothly. Fast-talking and well-read, we tried to keep our friendship steady and intellectual, long after I stopped chasing the flickering nights. His father was a big-time politician who barely came around the club, but Jibola was competent, frugal and unobtrusive, so the old man didn’t have to fret about his investment. 

  The second person was the owner of Ace of Clubs, which became Ozone…and later, Party House. Here is my Facebook post of 21 August, 2021, on the former aviator turned club owner and businessman, Jerry James Anazia (68), when I found that he died a week earlier: “He was very quiet…very observant…and owned a slight tremor in his voice when chatting animatedly. From his ‘owner’s corner’, of no special design, in his Ozone Nite Club (formerly Ace), right in the middle of Allen Avenue, Ikeja… Jerry Anazia would shake his head gently in appreciation of the bubbly fact that all was moving on well, and patrons were enjoying themselves. Always well-dressed…nothing over the hill…and never tipsy or seen carousing babes…even when all were eyeing his handsome light-skinned frame.

  “When we got closer, and I could visit his home, it was a simple but well-furnished house…nothing outlandishly gaudy. Just trendy… a dash of class.

 “In business, I found him magnanimous. Once, at the height of FAME, he accepted to bankroll the post-production of the FMA ‘95 into well-edited VHS tapes, and advanced us about ₦450,000 (I believe). Then, the fracas that overwhelmed our management in 1996/97 provided a morbid opportunity for our so-called trusted production consultant to “swallow” the money, colluding with the other party to claim the money was from the proceeds of FMA. Thoroughly frustrated and saddened by the blackmail and blatant robbery, I met Jerry to explain what was going on, and our inability to continue the business as the man we contracted to produce/edit the video had switched allegiance – without remorse or scruples. 

  “Incredibly, he announced that he was al-right; he had read what was going on, and sympathised with us… ‘Some times, it happens in business like that…just forget and move on…na so life be sometimes.’

 That was Jerry Anazia. A great spirit. Though we had not seen much since the year 2000, that episode remains etched in my mind as exemplary and magnanimous. Even extraordinary!” He was buried on Friday, 17 September, 2021.

  The final person is the oldest, and still kicking well and sound (at 79 years old in May 2023). Though our beginning was rocky, we sailed on to become great friends, and he a redoubtable elder whose character and demeanour evoke trust, warmth and undisguised respect. He preferred to be referred to as Guv’nor (obviously the only one who could not be impeached, sacked nor elected). He was the lifelong spirit behind the social barometer of Lagos high society nightlife from the 80’s up to a decade and half into the new millennium. When he moved out of the 21, Opebi Road venue of NiteShift nightclub, it was to the uniquely appointed Niteshift Coliseum (built with obvious semblance to the ancient Roman amphitheatre) on Salvation Road, off the same prestigious Opebi Road, Ikeja.

  Ken-Calebs Olumese ran his club with painstaking devotion to style, pageantry, protocols and panache. He didn’t spare good cash to stock his club with the latest songs, the most exquisite drinks, and the most enchanting chattels that greatly enhanced drinking pleasure. He made his clientèle feel loved, respected and idolised – they came weekly, some two or three times a week, and spent quality time and cash – drinking, gisting, networking, and living the good life to the hilt. Nosy reporters like us used to argue amongst ourselves on who was spending the most between the Guv’nor and his high-heeled patrons he fondly called ‘SFG’ (Senior Fellows of the Gold sector). 

  It was not unusual for the Guv’nor to be on his feet hours before the opening song (Buggaloo) at 12 am, and up till 7 am, when the last posse of fatigued stragglers would stumble out of the cool dark recesses of the Nightshift, into a blistering new day. He was always in pain watching you leave in the morning without a steaming cup of tea or coffee, a shot of Cognac, or some other drinks…for the road. If you were strong enough to come the following club date (about three or four days a week), you’d meet the Esan (Edo State) man at his corner, with his gold cup in his steady left hand, the other hand in his pocket, shaking a friend, ordering his numerous staff to do this or that, and sundry other actions. I don’t think I ever saw him sitting down, enjoying the atmosphere – he was always alert, watching, willing, and monitoring his environment. I also never saw him drunk or uncontrollable; yet a cup, and a bottle of liquor, were never far from his side. When you were going early or late in the day, he would be near the door wishing you a safe journey – ‘see you next time, my friend’ – with a joke or some yabis, followed by warm guffaws.

  Outside of Niteshift… Ken-Calebs Olumese was a rock of support to many of my colleagues, including stubborn, troublesome reporters like me. I remember he didn’t bat an eyelid when we sought to hold the first Fame Music Awards, FMA 1991, in his club early in 1992. We basically shut his club down on a prime weekend day, and he didn’t squirm. Many of us have had to use his place, including the Coliseum, for all sorts of events, and he had borne most of the costs without complaints – at least, for those who had the leverage to seek and ask him. 

 I will never forget the day, after my first child was born at the highbrow Finnih Memorial Clinic (GRA, Ikeja), and it turned out my deposit and add-on were not sufficient to defray the total cost. We would have to pay the total to leave the hospital. It was the Guv’nor I ran to, at his then Ikeja home, around Oluwaleimu Street, Ikeja, for a rescue loan. I believe it was 15,000 or 25,000 – he gave without any delay, insisting that it was not a loan. And we walked out of the hospital that night with our blushes saved. The Guv’nor remains magnanimous and noble, giving of himself, even in retirement, to worthy causes in support of his community and beloved Nigerian entertainment industry.”

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