Once Upon A Night Duty

Femi Akintunde-Johnson

One of the simple pleasures of life is the opportunity to recline on the sofa, with a good book and a chilled bottle of wine trembling in the convivial environment as you luxuriate lavishly upon the glitter and glimmer of former escapades – moments of heartwarming reminiscences. Here is one from “The Night Shifters” – a chapter devoted to the night crawling aspect of entertainment journalism.

  “One of the perks of the business of reporting entertainment in Nigeria in the 1990s was a familiarity and patronage in many of the top clubs in Lagos, or any parts of the country we had the privilege of visiting – through band tours, regional concerts, and in pursuit of stories generally. Clubs that flourished, and were attractive for me as a “night reporter” included the sublime to the ordinary. I tried not to discriminate, but those in the seedy areas were prone to unexpected explosions of fracas and deadly fisticuffs. Usually, my weekend nightly tour would start from the Kodesoh area, Ikeja (what today’s street people call ‘Ikeja Under-Bridge’). There was a small nightclub, Princes, owned by one of Ebenezer Obey’s big-time fans, Prince Jide Oshinubi (died June, 2021 at 81). On the other side of the road was Pepple Street where Fela’s Kalakuta Republic was situated. I mostly avoided Baba’s place, I had no stomach for ‘weed’ nor the wide-eyed roughnecks.

  Then, to John Chukwu’s Klass Nite Club, almost at the beginning of Obafemi Awolowo Way, Ikeja. Often, Klass was the starting point, and the terminus of my midnight ‘excursions’. The Klass was managed by top DJ and entertainment guru, Eddie ‘Jay’ Omodiagbe. It was a simple black and white duplex that usually transformed at night to a kaleidoscope of colours, thumping sounds, frolicking patrons, scantily dressed damsels, and flood of drinks – all sorts. John Chukwu was a massive influence in Nigerian media – a great radio DJ, a wonderful master of ceremonies, a big screen actor (was in Ola Balogun’s Amadi, 1975 and Ladi Ladebo’s Bisi, Daughter of the River, 1977); an inspiring comic who could shuffle between ages and eras without any creases. Many journalists hung around Klass to catch a glimpse of JC, and some rib crackers. I remember accompanying his coffin in a military aircraft sometime in 1990 where every passenger in that funeral delegation thought we were going to die with JC – that was not funny, at all. If JC were alive, he would have cracked several jokes out of our frightened faces. 

  From Klass, we moved to the glistering spot at the top of Jabita Hotel, opposite the Airport Hotel on the same Awolowo Way. DeRoof nightclub was run by the fast-talking, warm-hearted Jibola Shitta-Bey. Next venue was the swanky layout on Allen Avenue, called Ozone Nite Club. The former Ace of Clubs was a nice hangout with pulsating music, and people minding their businesses. It was run by good-looking gentleman and ex-aviator, Jerry Anazia. 

  We usually stayed longest at the next spot – the same place where you have today’s Tastee Fried Chicken at 21, Opebi Road. The peculiar air and pageantry of Niteshift would need more space, as most of our discussions and quarrels were at the dizzying entrails of the Niteshift, and under the shadows of the enigmatic Guv’nor of the groove, Ken-Calebs Olumese. 

  Before I go further, there were detours preceding Opebi, and sometimes, beyond. Turning off at the end of Allen Avenue, into Toyin Street, on the right, we could spend a few minutes at the Climax Nite Club (not related to the magazine of the same name – learnt it was acquired in the 90s by Leo Stan Eke and master DJ, Stagger Lee, and renamed Silverbird) opposite the Customs offices. And a quick dash to the swanky layout at the mouth of Mende, under those buzzing power lines in Maryland – the Lord’s Club. That was only in the Ikeja area.

  Usually, Niteshift was the landing port to waste the night. The club was a great attraction, what with the razzmatazz and panache of the owner and chief conductor, Olumese. The ex-director at Swipha, a pharmaceutical company, Olumese poured himself completely, and sometimes dangerously, into that club for more than three decades. In the beginning, both of us often quarrelled. He would have something to complain about a gist I had written one week or the other which he felt was capable of jeopardizing his relationships with members of the ‘Gold Card’ section of his club. I didn’t understand why anyone should be sacred. Once or twice, he had me thrown out of the club. Some friends would intervene, and calm him down…then four hours later, he would be appealing to me to spend a few more minutes, after 6 am…to take some coffee or tea – for the road!

  A man of impeccable taste and flourish – he appointed every area of his club to pass some sort of class conscious message. His staff were dressed in attractive finery specially designed according to clearly demarcated sections…each with a peculiarly distinguishing appellation. Once you entered the club, you would see the cordoned section called the Gold Card Section, and its members addressed as “very very Senior Fellows of the Gold Card Section”. You turned left to enter further, and a slightly narrower section on your left was the ‘Glamour Section’ (GS) – for the upwardly mobile young folks (they used to call some of them ‘yuppies’). This was home to many of my friends in the media, fashion, movies, business, and so on. And further down, and to the largest section of the club was the Regular Section. Each section had its tumblers, service uniform epaulettes, cup covers, stools, and unique table covers. Woe betide the stewardess who would serve a guest in the Gold section, with a cup meant for the Regular, or the GS. It was a sacrilege deserving of immediate punishment. 

  The uniforms had names too. I was privileged to help him name the uniforms for the Glamour Boys Section… Oh, Guv’nor loved appellations, like me, so we called the uniform ‘Oriental Ornamental’ (basically, a gibberish, but it sounded apt and fitting, and it stuck).

  I wouldn’t know why we didn’t have a Glamour Girls section, perhaps because we didn’t have that many girls who could have complained, I suspect, apart from Omasan Buwa (ex-beauty queen), Gloria Anozie (then a journalist), and a couple other faces I can’t recollect. In any case, a few years later, Kenneth Nnebue, perhaps influenced by the noise of the Niteshift’s Glamour Boys’ escapades, released his blockbuster movie entitled Glamour Girls in 1995.

  A full-fledged advocate of glamour and charismatic articles, the Guv’nor had titles and signatures for major items of the business that others took for granted. Right from the main gate, he didn’t use ‘bouncers’, ‘guards’ or ‘gatemen’, the big dude at the entrance was called ‘First Man’. The lead DJ was ‘Music Captain’, his two assistants ‘Pilot’ and ‘Co-Pilot’. We assumed the DJ cubicle was the Cockpit, and it was built to suggest that. The toilets were not called conveniences or ‘gents/ladies’….they were the Vanity Section.

  The opening music was called the Niteshift Bugaloo, performed by the Coliseum Dancers. It was only after their routine, we all could assail the dance floor. Waitresses would start the night in black uniforms; and deep into the night, they would change to sparkling whites – for added effects. The girls, and some boys, were ranked according to the sections they manned: a group with one or two gold stripes served the Regular Section; a senior waitress with three stripes dealt with the Glamour Section; while a couple of seniors with four stripes waited on the Gold Section.”

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