Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Boy Who Walked for Miles To Learn from Taiwo Ajai-Lycett

The Boy Who Walked for Miles To Learn from Taiwo Ajai-Lycett

I won the first prize in the popular Pop magazine national essay competition for secondary schools with my essay "What I Liked Best About Nigeria" in 1976 when I was a junior student at the famous St. Gregory's College in Obalende- Ikoyi on the Lagos Island and that made me an instant national child celebrity. It was an outstanding achievement, because I was the son of a poor "Babalawo" IFA priest in Obalende who did not even know that I competed in the national essay contest and beat Elizabeth Banjo, the daughter of the famous Prof. Ayo Banjo of University of Ibadan. She won the second prize.

Two years later in 1978, I met the fast rising Pastor William Folorunso Kumuyi as he was starting the Deeper Christian Life Church from the University of Lagos. I spent the long school holidays at his free holiday classes for secondary school students in Lagos state at the Baptist Academy in Obanikoro along the Ikorodu Road on the mainland of Lagos city. The popular secondary school was established in 1855 by the American Baptist Missionaries. I was the best in the English classes scoring A+ in the tests. After the holidays, I did not join Deeper Life. I preferred being a Roman Catholic since attending St. Matthias Catholic Primary School in Lafiaji on the Lagos Island and was already a  Catehist since when I was only 12 and wanted to be a Romantic Catholic priest before my father stopped me. So, I turned my passions to the arts and privileged to be learning fine arts from our art teacher, the famous Prof. Bruce Onobraekpeya of the Zaria Rebels' fame when he was a student at the popular Ahmadu Bello University (ABU).

Then that same 1978, I met the famous Nigerian actress Taiwo Ajai- Lycett who had recently returned to Nigeria with her handsome White husband, Mr. Thomas Aldridge Lycett who adored her.
They founded and established Partnership Advertising Limited (PAL) and Taiwo Ajai Communications (Public Relations) in their residence and office in Ire Akari Estate in Isolo, Lagos. Her illustrious achievements in the arts and news media as the
pioneer editor of Africa Woman magazine, a women's magazine for Africans in the diaspora and intellectual erudition attracted me to go and see her when I was only a 15 year old boy. And she welcomed me. I spent my pocket money for transport fares on "Danfo" minibuses from  Shomolu to Mushin to Isolo. And when I did not have any money, I walked all the way to and fro for more than 60 kilometres or 36 miles. But I never told her.
She mentored me gratis and I ended up as the youngest participant in the Acting and Playwriting workshop of the famous Nigerian actor and playwright Yemi Ajibade of blessed memory ( organized by Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) Lagos in 1980. She also participated in the workshop.  She became a household name in Nigeria for her unforgettable lead roles in Laolu Ogunniyi’s TV soap opera, "Winds Against My Soul"; Jab Adu’s "The Young Ones"; "The Honourable"; "For Better for Worse", "Eyo Fancy" and other productions with her impeccable Signature British accent millions mimicked in Nigerian homes. I acted and directed my first play "The Prodigal" for the National Museum Education Unit in Onikan on Lagos Island during the Arts and Drama programme for the long school holidays. The success of that play gave me a full page interview by Henry Atenaga in the Times International news magazine of Daily Times of Nigeria. And I became a  professional scriptwriter for NTA Channel 10's Puppet Drama series from 1981, earning N100 weekly and could afford to travel by air to any country in the world and buy a car and rent a flat.

In 1982, I was included in the UNESCO Book Development Workshop to develop the Book Printing curriculum for the famous Yaba College of Technology (YABATECH) and in 1983, I was the only Nigerian and youngest book illustrator exhibited at two international book fairs in Japan and all my works were insured. Then in 1984, I went for an interview at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and was commissioned as a public health illustrator for the Johns Hopkins University's Population Communication Services (JHU/PCS) to produce fully illustrated family planning booklets in Hausa, Yoruba,  Igbo and pidgin English. They were distributed to all states in Nigeria by Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria (PPFN). That sane year, I was featured as the author and illustrator of "Captain Santana" comics (published by the Kiddie Times children's magazine) in the popular West Africa news magazine edited by Ben Okri who later became famous as the youngest winner of the Booker Prize in 1991. Okri and Atenaga have been friends since Okri's first novel "Flowers and Shadows" published when he was in his teens.
Before the end of 1984, I recorded my song "Hardway To Broadway" in Hollywood and registered it in the Library of Congress.
In 1985, the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) of Seattle, USA employed me for the production of fully illustrated booklets for the National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives (NANNM) under Dr. Christine Badejo. I met some of the most outstanding American and Nigerian women during the course of my work and almost got hooked by one young American beauty who was the same age of 21 with me.

In 1987, I became the Art/Features Editor of the Kiddies World magazine published by Hon. Babatunde Ereola from Ede in Osun State. He introduced me to Corporate Nigeria.
In 1988, I left to become a national program consultant at UNICEF Nigeria for Child Survival and Development programme on Radio Nigeria with thanks to Mr. Stanislaw Czaplicki, the Chief Communication Officer and his colleague, Mrs. Rosemary Wellington, the mother of famous Nigerian singer Banky W.
Krystal Publications Limited published my first book, "Children of Heaven" and I launched it at the prestigious Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) on Kofo Abayomi Street, Victoria Island, Lagos.
The news was in The Guardian, Punch and on Radio Nigeria and the celebrated newscaster, Siene Allwell-Brown read the news on the nationwide 7pm NTA News.

In 1990, I moved on to work as the PA of Hon. Babatunde Ereola who was Director of Publicity for Alhaji Bamanga Tukur's Presidential Campaign. I saw the bad handwriting on the wall even before the cancellation of the presidential primaries led by the late retired Nigerian Army general, Shehu Musa Yar'Adua whose younger brother Umaru Musa Yar'Adua was elected the 13th President of Nigeria in 2007, but unfortunately passed away in 2010.

I became a studio artist and met my blonde German muse, Nicole Walter, fondly called "Nikky" in 1992. We were both deep thinkers and vegetarians. I participated in group art exhibitions by Mydrim Art Gallery of Mrs. Simidele Adeniran-Ogunsanya in 1990 and Friedrich Ebert Foundation at the University of Lagos in 1992.
In 1993, I became the National Coordinator and Curator of the World AIDS Day Art Exhibitions at the National Museum and National Theatre in Lagos. It was successfully organized by the Nigerian Network of Non-Governmental Organizations (NNNGO) founded and headed by Mrs. Yemisi Ransome-Kuti. And in 1995, I became the IEC Field Officer of Center for Education on Population, AIDS and Drug Abuse (CEPADA) of Alhaja (Mrs). H.O Shitta-Bey, who and her USAID colleague, Mrs. Keyes MacManus interviewed me at the US Consulate on Victoria Island, Lagos in 1984 for JHU/PCS. I met my long time friend, Tolu Oladipo at CEPADA.

From CEPADA, I became the Editor of Affections International magazine published by Mr. Bon Azubike Oyem  in 1997, who brought Linda Ikeji to me as an aspiring model. She was a black and beautiful 17 year old shy girl who was from a poor family in the ghetto of Mushin. We became instantly close and I took her with me to different events. Her first buffet was at a seminar by Chevron Nigeria held at the NIIA on Victoria Island,  where she attracted the interest of the white American MD of Chevron Nigeria, but she did not fall for the juicy temptation. Then in 1998, her modeling career took off with thanks to  Silverbird Communications Limited of  Silverbird Group of the famous Murray-Bruce dynasty in Lagos, founded and headed by Senator Ben Murray-Bruce. I moved to an independent TV production company as Production Manager of "Money Wise" on DBN TV and also worked as HIV/AIDS counselor for Redemption Light, the official magazine of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) in the office of the famous General Overseer, Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye. The magazine was edited by Mrs. Josephine Dirionyemma. She and her husband, Mr. Vitalis Dirionyemma founded and coproduced "Money Wise". Vitalis and I have been childhood friends. I left in 2000 to start my King of Kings Books International publishing company with the support of Bishop Mike Okonkwo, General Overseer of the Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM).
In 2002, I produced and directed "Sleepless Night" on the June 12 political crisis featuring the Crown Troupe of Nigeria led by the famous Segun Adefila of Femi Odugbemi's award winning documentary film " Bariga Boy" and the late great actor Funso Alabi played the lead role of the lamenting narrator. It was cosponsored by my United Artists for Human Development (UAHD), Otunba Dele Momodu's OVATION International magazine and the French Cultural Centre at the Maison De France on Kings Way Road (now Alfred Rewane Road) in Ikoyi, Lagos. Thanks to Pascal Letellier, who was the famous Director of the French Cultural Centre at the time. And in 2003, I had the first King of Kings Books International Essay Competition for all Secondary Schools in Nigeria at the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies of the University of Lagos, supported by Fortune Bank of Nigeria and  the famous Nigerian novelist and intellectual scholar, Dr. Eddie Iroh who was the Director-General of Radio Nigeria in 2003.
In 2004, I left Lagos for Bonny Island in Rivers State on the recce for a documentary film on conflict resolution of the Niger Delta crisis supported by Mr. Bisi Daniels who was the Head of Corporate Communications at Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria. But, later Shell changed the decision to support the film production. I dropped it and turned my attention on producing a romantic thriller on the Niger Delta. I wrote the story of "Naked Beauty" and invited the accomplished multiple award winning Nollywood director. Chika Christian Onu to where I was staying in the RAs of the Nigeria LNG Limited on Bonny Island and we collaborated as coauthors of the "Naked Beauty" screenplay which I published in 2006, because of the outstanding literary value. The same year, I also published "The Language of True Love" collection of quotes on love by famous people and included my sayings and contributions of my beautiful Malaysian friend, Kye Lee Koi. The book was printed by Flonnal Limited of Mr. Hope Obioma Opara in Shomolu, Lagos.
The book was launched during the 2006 Valentine's Day party of the Nigerian LNG Limited in RA1 where the dutch Manager, Mr. Wilmer Bliek noted that majority of the buyers of the book were the white expatriates, even though he invited more than 2, 000 of the Nigerian staff. The white people said blacks prefer drinking and gossiping to reading.

Whilst on Bonny Island, I became popular online for my Nigerian Times Blog and was a member of Global Voices. I wrote and published more books, including "Scarlet Tears of London" in English and Spanish on the tragic terrorist bomb attacks in  London in 2005.

I returned back to Lagos in 2008 with the intention of joining Dubai Writers in UAE who invited me to join them. But I lost some of my funds and Mr. Opara asked me to help him as a Media Consultant for his Supple magazine. When he could not get any Nollywood star for the cover, I asked the popular award winning Nigerian writer, Mr. Sola Osofisan (who is based in America) to give us his published interview of the famous Ghanaian actress, Nadia Buari and he agreed. This was how she became the first celebrity on the cover of the Supple magazine.

I got an invitation to the popular Festival of 3 Continents in France as a film writer since I have written articles on movies and film festivals for the Black Film Maker magazine of UK, Naijarules, on my popular blogs, Nigerian Times and Kisses 'n' Roses. But I was not very excited about going to France, so I requested that the invitation should be given to Mr. Opara who was more anxious to travel overseas for the first time. The Festival Director agreed and provided free four days accommodation. Mr. Opara had a good first trip outside Africa in Winter.
Then later in 2009, we went to the annual Lagos International Film Festival of Mr. Madu Chikwendu at the National Theatre and I was so disappointed by the poor organization that I wrote a report on it that started a debate on Nairaland.
"Two Thumbs Down For Lagos International Film Festival"- TV/Movies - Nigeria and also published on my Nigerians Report Online: "Two Thumbs Down For Lagos International Film Festival"

I decided to create the Eko International Film Festival to promote Nollywood and tourism and represent the international image of Lagos State. I wanted to inform the major stakeholders in Nollywood to organize it, but Mr. Opara said he would be able to run it. So, I drafted the constitution and then registered it on the Pro Film Festivals community |  I was officially publicised as Founder and Festival Director from the inaugural edition in 2010 held at the Genesis Deluxe Cinemas at The Palms Shopping Mall in Lekki to the 2012 edition cosponsored by Heineken to promote "Skyfall", the 23rd film of the James Bond 007.
I got Mr. Bruno Chatelin, the founder and owner of Film Festivals. Com to become the European Media Partner.  But he later terminated the partnership, because of a contractual disagreement with Mr. Opara after two years. He shut down the official website and removed the details from his network. To manage the crisis, I quickly designed a new official website for Eko international Film Festival before I left the organization of Supple Communication Limited.

I published more of my books, including  "Bye, Bye Mugabe" that I had to withdraw from bookshops, because of 21 typos, "The Prophet Lied", "Diary of the Memory Keeper" and "In the House of Dogs".

I started publishing my NOLLYWOOD MIRROR® Series in 2013 when I launched my Screen Outdoor Open Air Cinema (SOOAC) with the support of the Bank of Industry. Dame Taiwo Ajai-Lycett came to the event with her long time colleague and friend, the famous actor and performance artist,  Jimi Solanke. They entertained the large audience gratis.

I succeeded in bringing the famous IMAX Corporation to Nigeria in July 2014 when Mr. Giovanni Dolci, the Vice President for Theater Development at IMAX came to Lagos to meet with me and the Bank of Industry. Later, I convinced him to visit Festac Town in the Amuwo Odofin Local Government Area of Lagos State and he was impressed by the huge prospects for an IMAX cinema in Festac Town. Therefore, IMAX signed an agreement with my International Digital Post Network Limited for the establishment of our IMAX FESTAC Plaza which will be on 10 acres. I engaged an architect who has already completed the architectural design for it.  And we have attracted two major banks as coinvestors. The IMAX FESTAC Plaza project is projected to make more than US$2Billion annually.

I thank Almighty God JEHOVAH for giving me the grace of knowing and meeting Dame Taiwo Ajai-Lycett 38 years ago to inspire my creative genius to run with the awesome vision God has given me for my great destiny as an artist and a writer for human development. That is why I featured her prominently in the bestselling second edition of the NOLLYWOOD MIRROR® and also highlighted in the "Lagos in Motion: Photo Album of Africa's Largest Megacity" of my documentary film distributed worldwide by Amazon.

Looking back now to that skinny boy who walked for miles to learn from a famous diva, I smile in admiration of his faith and strength. And enscapulated in my saying:
From one acorn sown, the mighty oak has grown.

~ By Ekenyerengozi Michael Chima, Publisher/Editor of NOLLYWOOD MIRROR® series.

LAGOS in MOTION: A Photo Album of Africa's Largest Megacity: Volume 1 (LAGOS: Africa's Largest Megacity).