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Peace Anyiam-Osigwe: So long, my publisher

By Oji Onoko
29 January 2023   |   3:50 am
The tears welled up. And then dropped. I did not bother to dab or wipe off. The same way it happened when I lost my junior brother, Gideon, three years ago. I had just confirmed her passing. “She was rushed to St. Nicholas Hospital, slipped into coma and unfortunately could not make it.”

The tears welled up. And then dropped. I did not bother to dab or wipe off. The same way it happened when I lost my junior brother, Gideon, three years ago. I had just confirmed her passing. “She was rushed to St. Nicholas Hospital, slipped into coma and unfortunately could not make it.”
Was he talking about the ebullient, boisterous and resilient Peace Maria Ogechi Anyiam-Osigwe who I call ‘My Publisher’? It was so surreal, so unnerving. Is that how it ends? I ask no one in particular. In such a circumstance, she would have said in her halting pidgin English, “Yawa don gas.”

Nothing could have better described what just happened. Ha, my publisher, always oscillating from Etonian English, the real English English to our original Naija Pidgin. It was from her I learned of “I pass my neighbour,” as the ubiquitous noisy small generator and many other things. We had our testy moments though, like when I decided to pull out of AMAA in the middle of the 4th edition. I wish I had listened to her…

Suddenly my mind did somersault, taking me right to the first day we met. There she was, sitting under a tree in front of the family home in GRA, Ikeja, Lagos, eyes vacant. With a flourish, my guide and editor of Ovation magazine, Mike Effiong introduced me: “This is Oji Onoko, Arts editor, THISDAY newspapers.”

“Please sit,” she said, her melodic voice reminding me of legendary folk singer, Nelly Uchendu (it is called Agbala voice, she had told me in Abakiliki on the sidelines of PMAN annual conference)). “You should be in broadcasting,” I teased my host now. But she was in no mood for banters. Her father just passed and she was in deep mourning.

For the next two hours, she regaled me with the life story of Chief Emmanuel Onyechere Osigwe Anyiam Osigwe: doting father to an only daughter; caring to his seven sons and wife; respectful to women who he called, “Salt of the earth”; business magnate; philanthropist; politician where he had his fingers burnt and community leader.” As she spoke, the man loomed large before me even though I never met him. The resultant story recreated by me and titled; Exit of the Silent Worker was so well received by her and the brothers that it became my passport to the family which I dubbed the “Anyiam-Osigwe commune.” (Story for another day)…

Willy-nilly, the doors of media jobs with the family which augmented my income in THISDAY was thrown open, facilitated of by Peace including the high-profile annual Osigwe Anyiam-Osigwe Foundation Lecture series when it kicked off; exposing me to VIP media coverage. (It had mainly past presidents as keynote speakers and once, a sitting Vice President of the United States!

But my bond with her was more than transactional. It was fueled by her passion for the Nigerian film industry popularly called Nollywood, and my abiding interest in the culture industry as participant/observer. (Story for another day). She had returned to Nigeria, armed with a degree in Law and certification in Accounting and I must add, some cash, to contribute her quota to Nollywood. She ventured into production right away and produced or served as executive producer in such films, drama series and talk shows as: Fear of the Unknown which starred Olu Jacobs; Mess Na Disease (quite scatological if you ask me); GRA Women; Daughter of Africa and Timbuk2. Her most successful outing however, was the talk show hosted by her: A Piece Off My Mind which aired on NTA network and Africa Magic simultaneously for about three years…

Yet, when the typescript of my encounter with leading Nigerian artists ranging from Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Ben Enwonwu, James Iroha (Gringory), Steve Rhodes, Ambassador Segun Olusola, Sam Loco, Femi Osofisan, RMD, etc. titled, Glimpses of Our Stars was ready for publishing, I did not reach out to her. In retrospect, I guess, I felt she had so much on her plate to be burdened with the project. How wrong I was? Once the deal with the initial industry player I approached fell through, I went to her office with the materials. She had flipped through and asked me to leave them with her, assuring me that she would get back to me. By the time we met two days later it was obvious she had gone through the stories. Bubbling with excitement, she explained that she was not only publishing the book but handling the public presentation at MUSON Centre and would bestow awards on the artists featured. “These guys went through stuff and should be recognized for their backbreaking efforts,” she said. And that was exactly what played out with many of the artists present in person, some like James Iroha and Davis Ofor (Clarus) had their flight and accommodation paid by her! From then on, I called her my publisher, a title she truly deserved. The culture industry took notice of a young woman desirous of making a change. Year, 1999…

In 2004, I voluntarily resigned from Sun newspapers where I served as member, Editorial Board for 18 months. She graciously gave me a space at her GRA, Ikeja office to use as my base alongside, my ad-hoc staff, Rachael Nwose. It was cool having my business card with that contact address!

And then one afternoon in 2005, she walked into the office clutching a document, face glowing. Of course, you would hardly see her with a scowl or frown; a real jolly good fellow she was. But there was more to her sweet smile that day. It did not take long for her to break the news. “Bayelsa State government under the able leadership of Chief DSP Alamieyesiegha had agreed to sponsor AMAA!” We could not decipher what the acronym stood for. We did not have long to wait. “AMAA is Africa Movie Academy Awards,” she explained. She went to great lengths to expound on the concept of the awards, its continental nature and how it would be modeled after United States’ iconic Academy Awards. Congratulations rend the air from all present including her PMO Global staff. She dug into her bag and brought a bottle of champagne…

AMAA took Nollywood by storm from the moment the announcement of Call for Entries was made; screening of the films; release of the nominated films and the categories. The film industry was abuzz especially when it was made known that airfares and accommodation cost will be borne by the organisers. Nothing like that had ever happened before in Nollywood. And working behind the scene to ensure everything went smoothly was AMAA management team led by Peace, Production director, Tony Anih, Programmes director, Sony Mcdon, Technical director, Greg Fiberesima (then husband of Peace before their separation) and my humble self, Media director. Yenagoa, Bayelsa State capital was agog when the stars arrived. A festive mood pervaded the entire city. Unsurprisingly, the State sponsored the second edition of AMAA and the third (2006 and 2007 when winners got cash prizes ranging from N300,000 to N1million. By then, AMAA had fully adorned a continental hue with participants drawn from other African countries.

And the founder had become a big player in the film industry in Nigeria, Africa and beyond. This year, the continental awards will mark the 17th edition; one of the longest running movie awards in Africa. Sadly, the founder will this time not be around to host. However, it is a measure of her acceptance in the film industry that she was elected President, Association of Movie Producers (AMP), the most influential association in Nollywood, a position she held till her transition…
Still, I am at pains to accept that my publisher is gone. But who am I to question the Almighty when He calls? This is the way of all flesh.

So long, my publisher, confidant, boss, mentor…

Onoko, former media director, AMAA, is Deputy Director, Information Services, National Gallery of Art

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