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60 hearty cheers to Jahman Anikulapo, ‘Nigeria’s culture ambassador’

By Ehi Braimah
16 January 2023   |   3:40 am
When you clock 60 years just like Jahman Oladejo Anikulapo, actor, art connoisseur, culture activist, journalist and man-of-the-people, it calls for celebration and thanksgiving.

Jahman Oladejo Eniolorunda Anikulapo

When you clock 60 years just like Jahman Oladejo Anikulapo, actor, art connoisseur, culture activist, journalist and man-of-the-people, it calls for celebration and thanksgiving. It’s Jahman’s Diamond Jubilee and you know what, 60 years look so good on him and he is wearing it graciously – like his trademark “Adire” outfits, reminding one of his stage production costumes.

COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc, claiming over six million lives globally since 2020. Clocking 60 years is therefore a rare gift and every day that we live is a bonus. Nigeria’s current life expectancy is 55.75 years, up from 53 years in 2020, according to World Bank sources.

Under the mentorship of the late Prof Dapo Adelugba (1939 – 2014), theatre critic and playwright at the University of Ibadan, where he was director of the university’s theatre troupe, Jahman was encouraged to write reviews of plays and films regularly which clearly influenced his career as a journalist.

Jahman always knew what he wanted to be right from his undergraduate days at the University of Ibadan: an advocate for the art and culture community and defender of the public interest. It was his own way of expressing himself and achieving a higher purpose in life.

The intersection of art and society fascinates Jahman during panel discussions. It is why he uses his prodigious intellect to explore diverse art and culture themes for robust engagements. For example, music and visual arts have enabled a thriving cultural diplomacy across borders for the creative industry with bountiful harvests.

But on the flip side of the same coin, Jahman wants practitioners in the art and culture sector to be the voices of the oppressed people, fighting for their rights and insisting on a better society where government is held accountable. Is Jahman a rebel with a cause?

Through writing, television appearances, seminars, conferences and festivals, our “birthday boy” continues to communicate the values of a decent society in the midst of contrived chaos around us.

Going into the general election season, Jahman is clearly not impressed with our political leaders and their shenanigans. He believes strongly that nothing will change because politicians are selfish people who have only one goal in mind: Primitive accumulation of wealth.

In speaking truth to power, Jahman is always fearless in much the same way as his mentor, Prof. Wole Soyinka. Jahman has shared an enduring relationship with the Nobel Laureate over many seasons. Like Soyinka, he cannot stand people who are not true to their convictions.

Jahman also expresses himself fully in directing, dramatic theories and literary criticisms. Having bagged a degree in Theatre Arts, this should not come as a surprise. He has performed in several plays and acted in Tade Ogidan’s film, Hostages.

He could easily have continued on that path as an actor but he opted to be a journalist after his encounter with another mentor, Ben Tomoloju, who had moved from The Punch to The Guardian and established the only Art Desk of any newspaper in Nigeria at the time.

That was how our “birthday boy” joined The Guardian as a news reporter, rising through the ranks to become Art Editor, Deputy Editor and Editor of The Guardian on Sunday at Rutam House. Jahman spent close to 29 years at The Guardian before retiring in January 2013 when he was 50 years old. His birthday is January 16.

Since then, Jahman has been promoting and directing art and culture events with a busy schedule. If he is not directing a shoot or screening a film, you can be sure he is at a panel discussion or anchoring a programme.

Whether it is the Culture Advocates Caucus where he has been programme director since 2009 or the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) which he chairs or the Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF) which he founded in 1999, Jahman is permanently in work mode. He also finds time to teach young European students media arts and culture.

His combined roles in culture advocacy groups cut across literature, film, theatre, visual arts and music, and he uses every opportunity to promote cultural diversity. Over the years, Jahman drew artistic inspiration from a distinguished list of academics, scholars and theatre practitioners who are fond of him. They include Prof. Femi Osofisan, Prof. Toyin Falola, Prof. Duro Oni, Prof. Tunde Babawale, Benson Idonije, Odia Ofeimun, Taiwo Ajayi-Lycett and Newton Jibunoh.

Jahman’s role as a mentor is widely acknowledged and his mentees are forever grateful to him. “Jahman Anikulapo is a great man who sees greatness in people, and then goes out of his way to ensure that his mentees achieve their goals,” says Armsfree Ajanaku, Programmes and Communications Manager, Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education and journalist who also worked at The Guardian with Jahman.

“He is an energetic mentor,” Armsfree adds. Jahman gave Armsfree the opportunity to cut his teeth in journalism as an undergraduate. Award-winning investigative reporter, Fisayo Soyombo, tells the same story, praising Jahman for his excellent mentorship.

Andrew Iro Okungbowa who also worked at The Guardian says Jahman is highly regarded because of his immense contribution to art and culture journalism. “He is well connected, yet he is humble and shy from claiming the podium,” Okungbowa, Tourism and Travel Editor of the New Telegraph, says in admiration of the birthday celebrant.

In Jahman’s art and culture corner, you will also find contemporaries such as Toyin Akinosho, his long-time friend who is a geologist, journalist and publisher of Africa Oil & Gas Report; Femi Odugbemi, writer, filmmaker and television producer; Dr Shaibu Husseini, journalist, culture administrator and film curator; Dr Yinka Oyegbile, journalist, academic and author; Dr Wale Okediran, medical doctor, author and Secretary General, Pan African Writers Association (PAWA) and so on.

I have known Jahman for close to three decades and we relate as brothers. He is reliable and dependable with unimpeachable integrity.

When I wanted to float Naija Times, our online newspaper in 2020, I contacted Jahman and dragged him out of his self-imposed “retirement” from journalism. Once Jahman agrees to work on a project, his commitment is unassailable. I can attest to his humility, hard work and resourcefulness.

Although lashing out at sloppy reporters is a way of life for Jahman, he also cares for their well-being because he believes in the humanity that spreads success and happiness.

Jahman was the one who took on the responsibility of recruiting the team and creating the different sections of Naija Times in line with the strategic positioning of the newspaper: journalism in the service of society.

When I contacted Prof. Darren Kew, an American and director of the Centre of Peace, Democracy and Development of the University of Massachusetts, Boston, USA, to reflect on his relationship with Jahman, he told me Jahman is the elder brother he always wanted to have.

“Jahman is larger than life,” says Darren, a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of Naija Times, in a glowing tribute.

“He is like one of the archetypical characters he plays on stage except that he is real: full of energy and enthusiasm, charismatic, and a powerful intellect that is only surpassed by his love for people around him,’’ he continues.

“Like a director, he works behind the scenes, helping people left and right, opening doors when they need them, applauding when they do well, and taking them out for pounded yam, palm wine and good music when their spirits are down.

“He holds great influence, but you will never know it if you see him, since he won’t talk about his efforts unless you ask him, and he will always downplay his own role. He is always in his car working, so you are lucky to catch him when you do.

“But when you do meet him, he will smile and make you feel like an Oba (King), make you laugh and share good ideas to help you solve your problems. He will call you brother and even tell this ‘oyinbo’ that he is ‘Omowale’, and remind you that all of our efforts to do some good in this world are not in vain.

“I can never repay his many kindnesses and friendship, but if someone will teach me the talking drum, I will sing his praises.”

Family and friends continuously sing Jahman’s praises because he is a great mind and good man. For all his outstanding service in the arts and culture community, Jahman deserves national recognition. But I know he is not craving for one neither is he looking forward to such honour because he will reject it.

On the occasion of his 60th birthday, it gives me great pleasure to nickname him as “Nigeria’s culture ambassador.”

Jahman’s son, Oluwaseunrere who was also born in January, told me his father treats everyone around him with care and love. “My dad is a great man and he cares for his family in a special way,” Seun says. “He does not give up easily on any assignment, no matter how challenging.”

Seun is a graduate of computer science but he wants to become a cyber-security expert. His sister, Toluwalase, is based in Germany and they are excited to see their father move up to the sixth floor of his life.
Congratulations Jahman on your Diamond Jubilee. May your days be long!

• Braimah is a public relations strategist and publisher/editor-in-chief of Naija Times.