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Jahman Anikulapo: 60 years of rare service to humanity

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WHEN President Muhammadu Buhari’s felicitation to Jahman Oladejo Anikulapo on his 60th birthday was released yesterday, members of Nigeria’s creativity and media industries heaved loud sigh of relief because, in the reasoning of many who know the sectors, if the ‘editor of many editors’ did not get the presidential hail, there is hardly any who would.

  While “warmly” sharing in the industries’ celebration of the advance in age of the renowned artist, journalist, newspaper editor and activist, President Buhari stated his appreciation of Mr. Anikulapo’s outstanding feats in his vocations.

  The statement issued by Special Adviser to the President (Media & Publicity), Femi Adesina, stated that the President “lauds the culture activist for his sustained advocacy and celebration of the traditional, iconic, and unique identity of Nigeria and Africa in writing, film, drama and discussions, intentionally documenting history, promoting culture tourism and inspiring generations.”

  Buhari further described Mr. Anikulapo as a man of high “dedication to creativity, especially in the narrative styles” as well as a  “journalist, director, actor, and critic (who) uses his creative talent to keep the spotlight on arts and culture as integral aspects of development.”

  Indeed, Jahman, who capped his sixth decade on Monday, portends much more. Hence the big gathering of the creme de la creme of Nigerian journalism, the arts and culture, academia and diplomatic sectors at two simultaneous events in Lagos to honour him.

When eulogies poured out from speaker after speaker some asked whether he was really just turning 60.

  The former Editor of The Guardian, Sunday, one time Deputy Editor of the newspaper and legacy-setting Arts Editor of the publication is a lot more than the scores of laurels he garnered as a journalist. He is an outstanding artist, activist, conceptualiser and co-ordinator of some of the most impactful initiatives in the creative industries among others. Among institutions Jahman leads or co-chairs with this non-biological twin brother, Toyin Akinoso are the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA), the Lagos   Book and Art Festival (LABAF), the Culture Advocates Caucus, and many more.

  Jahman is not just a phenomenon in his vocations, he is a rare breed with a demeanor that makes many who encounter him closely or remotely marvel and exhale: ‘what a man!’

  A tribute on him by the internationally renowned poet and university don, Niyi Osundare states as much of the Ogun State born celebrant.

  An expert from Prof. Osundare’s piece states thusly: “Nigeria’s Arts and Culture community has literally declared January 2013 as The Jahman Anikulapo Month. January 16 is his birthday, and we have decided to ensure that every bird in the tree, every speck of the roadside dust, and every drop of the teeming lagoon sing with us as we troop out to mark the first 50 years of one of the most committed culture activists in our country’s history. And the past sixteen days of the month have witnessed a real cornucopia of compliments: from writers and readers, play-writers and play-goers, drummers and dancers, song-composers and singers, creative artists and art connoisseurs, music hall stars and street crooners, culture-policy wonks and culture-practice wags, fervent dreamers and flat-out realists, friends and foes of the arts. When I look at the young man for whom the bell has chimed fifty memorable times, and for whom the drums rumble so thunderously from street to street; when I wade through the flood of gists, jests, anecdotes, reminiscences, fabus of Jahman’s colleagues and contemporaries in his Baba Confuse days at the Theatre Arts Department of the University of Ibadan in the 1980s; when I put all these side by side with the generous encomiums pouring forth from those whose cultural lives have been so vitally touched by this passionately engaged maverick of a man, I cannot help wondering what exactly must be going on in his mind right now.       

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  “For the Jahman (or Oladejo as I’ve grown accustomed to calling him, teasingly) we have come to know is a culture warrior – no, a warrior for culture – an intensely motivated, doggedly driven, relentlessly inventive, remorselessly tenacious fighter with, ironically, a sometimes self-deprecating, self-effacing disposition. A true man of the theatre with an uproariously humorous mien and gravely serious inclination mixed in equal proportions, he has learnt to make us laugh at some of our grievous flaws and get deadly serious about what we have come to  regard as mere trifles. Honesty of purpose; the readiness to serve without seeking immediate reward; humility – genuine, elevating humility; that refusal to take oneself too seriously, which is one of the hallmarks of virtue – these are some of the attributes that have endeared Jahman to his throng of admirers. I still remember the day I introduced him to one of my students at the University of Ibadan, and the way young man exclaimed with a jaw-dropping curiosity: “Waow, so this is the same Jahman Anikulapo of The Guardian ?!”

  “This admirer couldn’t believe that the editor of one of Nigeria’s leading Sunday papers could be so simple, so effortlessly accessible, so non-self-announcing.”

  The writer and former presidential aide, Molara Wood in her tribute entitled, ‘Jah-Baba, Quintessential Culture Person’ wrote: “Jahman Anikulapo is about Community. He is good people, as the African Americans say. He is a community builder, and he continues to help define and expand what that community means as seasons change. He always has you in his sights, he holds space for you. Even if you fight him – and we have had a few fights – it doesn’t linger, and he will still hold space for you. He sees your potential, and he makes room for you to realise that potential, for your benefit and the enrichment of the larger space. And he does it so effortlessly, it’s organic, it’s second nature.

  “He is a person of integrity; and he will not compromise his dignity or principles. In a sycophantic society, he will not deal with a top official he does not respect, not for anything. “His contributions to journalism and the arts are immeasurable. What he did for culture journalism in Nigeria, through the pages of The Guardian, is the stuff of a lasting legacy, and it’s a story waiting to be told.”

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  In my tribute, entitled ‘Bros Jahman: My Mentor, Editor, Friend’, I recalled the most formative 10 years in my journalism career, the period I worked under Jahman in the Arts Desk of The Guardian Newspaper, Lagos and it dawned on me that beyond being my boss, he was truly my friend and mentor.

Excerpt from my piece:

  “It was a bright evening with a soothing warmth of Lagos’ seldom harsh hamarttan breeze. Indeed, the brilliant and clement weather of that  Sunday, early in 2013, was fit and proper for the subject of the event as we rallied at the elite Sheraton Hotel, Ikeja to fete our boss, buddy and brother, Jahman Oladejo Anikulapo, the ‘editor of editors,’ who turned 50.

  “As expected, it was a gathering of “those Jahman’s boys”, an initially, denigrating appellation for some batik-wearing, arty, restless and unrelenting ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ who worked with or under the celebrant which later turned from a disdainful tag to a reference to a slim clan of very highly resourceful multi-tasking journalists that easily establish their quality in every newsroom they operate. The tag also described the phylum in Nigeria’s Arts journalism given the peculiar beat Jahman inherited from Uncle B (Ben Tomoloju) in ‘The Guardian’ newspaper, which he  improved upon and passed on to his boys.

  It was a well-attended, very merited celebration of the king of the clan and the ‘Editor’ Jahman himself, through whose desk or editorial title most of the big journalists in the hall evolved. Among the guests were editors, managing directors of newspapers, publishers, scholars  et al.

  “Tributes rained in the form of eulogies, aplomb, aphis and plain adoration. Talks on the rare breed of artist, art journalist, culture activist, editor and media manager, the celebrant  marked the event.

  When it was Jahman’s turn to talk, in his usual shy smile and wit, he appreciated his boys for the surprise meet and added punchline for others who are not among his boys in the audience.

  “I have told my people: if anything happens to me, it is these people (pointing at us) that killed me… The unending stress of their wahala; their big big grammar that I read every day, their bad English that bring headache and all of that… But truly, these are the best people one can ever be with.”

The hall erupted in laughter and applause.

  Later, one of my reporters who accompanied me to the event (then I had left the staff of ‘The Guardian’ newspaper where I worked under Jahman to become an editor in ‘The Nigerian Compass’) asked me: “Is this how all of you and your Oga (Jahman) interact? He is very friendly but what does he mean by you people killing him with your English and stress?

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  I laughed. My Editor, Jahman is a natural Editor. He is the editor of editors as much as he is the very competent coach of reporters. You need to encounter him at work. He would always find a missing dot in an ‘i’, no matter where it is hidden in a report. He reads every word you send. No matter how hard you work, he works harder than you. He would report for work earlier than you, and close several hours after everyone in the newsroom had gone. His attachment to duty and responsibility is unrivaled. The same way he has high sense of commitment to task, he related with passion to things that affect his fellow worker even when the colleague had left his stable. So, his joke on the stress we give is not out of place,” I told him.

  “Bros Jahman (as some of us call him) is unique in his competence in the field, capacity to sustain friendship and newsroom organisation. “Beyond his gift in leadership by example, he is a natural mentor that is always one or two brilliant ideas ahead of his colleague or reporter.

  But most marveling is how he brings out hidden endowments from his workers.

  “You cannot work, even for a short while, with Jahman without discovering one or two untapped skills you have. Even when you hide it, he will exhume it. Worse hit is any lazy hand that encounters him at work because when he gives you a task, you must deliver results.

  “Pray you do not meet him on a day you did not bring your best delivery to work. He is fire when berating you, and should you receive his query, the text would lurk in your head forever but the day after, both of you are laughing together, cracking jokes and enjoying newsroom. “Truly and totally, he has forgotten your folly of yesterday.”

  Tomorrow at Terrakulture in Victoria Island, Lagos, a program tagged, ‘Jahman is 60: Open Mic’ will kick off at 5pm. Toyin Akinoso and friends are behind it. There is no prize for guessing what the evening will be because without doubt, it will be a downpour of out-of-the-heart narratives on a man who devoted his life — talents, time and treasure — to helping others find vent for their endowments without bothering much about his lot. Jahman, thus far, has been 60 years of sacrifice to humanity through his sincerity to his mission.  No doubt, people will be brutally sincere when they hold the microphone and pour out praises. He deserves all of that and more.

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