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Light dims on veteran actor, Jimoh Aliu

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Nollywood and the theatre industry in Nigeria have again been thrown into deep morning with the death of iconic actor Chief Jimoh Aliu. The veteran actor, who is popular as Baba Aworo, reportedly died on Thursday.

The news of his death was confirmed by Actress Foluke Daramola, who took to her social media to pay tribute to the Ado Ekiti High Chief, Justice of Peace and recipient of the national honours of Member of the Federal Republic (MFR). Until his death, he was roundly hailed as a living legend, versatile actor, accomplished producer, director, singer, dancer and make-up artist.

In her tribute, Daramola who had celebrated the actor last year through her SOS Project 2019, an offshoot of Passion Against Rape and Abuse in Africa Foundation (PARA), wrote: “We have lost another veteran again. Baba Aworo (Chief Jimoh Aliu) is dead. We thank God that he was one of the veterans we celebrated last year, but for COVID-19, we haven’t been able to do much this year. But we thank God that when Baba was alive, we contributed our little quota. May God grant him eternal peace.”

Notable actor and producer Kunle Afod described Chief Aliu as a thoroughbred professional and a role model to many.

“A lot of us looked up to him in the industry. He will be sorely missed,” Afod wrote.

Culture and Tourism Minister Alhaji Lai Mohammed has also commiserated with the family and friends of the actor and pioneer President of the Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (ANTP).

Alhaji Mohammed described Chief Aliu as a veteran who “left an indelible mark in the sands of time.”

The Minister also condoled with the entire Nollywood family over the loss of the renowned thespian noting that Chief Aliu devoted his life promoting professional theatre practice and contributing to the development of theatre in Nigeria.

An accomplished motion picture practitioner of robust talent, Chief Aliu has in an interview to mark his 85th birthday last year, consistently remarked that he could not have been happier in any other profession excepted acting. A legend by every standard, he was born in Okemesi, Ekiti State in 1939, to a father, Aliu Fakoya who was a notable Muslim cleric and Ifa Priest.

As son of an itinerant Ifa priest and diviner, young Aliu, most times after school hours and on holidays, accompanied his father around and about town. Together, they traveled to Ijebu-Ode, Ifo, Sagamu, Iresi, Odogbolu and major parts of Lagos state. It was during this time that the deep actor and self-proclaimed firm believer in the culture and tradition of the Okemisi people learnt the art of divination. Pa Fakoya also taught young Aliu how to use herbs.

But Jimoh on his own broke out during one of their very long stay in Lagos to acquire skills in three vocations; bricklaying, tailoring and driving, which he said he found useful in his later days as a motion picture practitioner.

But it was in 1959 that Jimoh felt the urge to embrace the theatre vocation full time. Even though he enjoyed traveling with his father and had been grounded in the Ifa worship tradition, he hinted that he needed to do something else.

While on those tours, he came face to face with some itinerant performers; this was where the interest grew. And as it grew, young Aliu said he felt something from inside constantly urging him to give theatre a shot. It took that push for Jimoh to finally make up his mind. But to prepare him, he had to join a theatre company. According to him, it was the only ‘training school’ as it were then for those interested in the acting vocation.

Soon as he was ready to walk the talk, Jimoh joined the famous Ogungbe Theatre group, led by the late dramatist Akin Ogungbe. The group was reputed as one of the most prolific theatre companies in the old Western Region. With the Ogungbe Theatre group, Jimoh traveled extensively, performing with the group in major towns of the Old Western region including Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti.

Once married to the actress Folake Aremu, who is popular as Orisabunmi, Chief Aliu’s relationship with the Ogungbe theatre spanned seven years. Satisfied that he has sipped enough from the creative kettle of the dramatist, Jimoh felt that it was time to move on. He left the group in 1966 to start up his own group, which he called The Jimoh Aliu Concert Party. But in 1967, Jimoh took leave of his concert party, which was at that time based in Ikare Akoko in Ondo State. He startled members of his group when he announced to them that he had been recruited into the Nigerian Army.

“It was a decision that me myself cannot explain; I just found myself falling in love with the Khaki. I always like their smartness. But the real urge for me was to go in there and entertain them and make them feel relaxed. So, when I enlisted into the Army, the first request I made was to be allowed to entertain my colleagues and their families.”

The request was not only granted by the authorities, they mobilised Aliu to tour and entertain people in most of the war liberated and affected areas.

Aliu recalled that the performance tour took him to places like Enugu, Eket, Uyo, Aba, Onitsha, Benin, Port Harcourt and some states in Northern Nigeria.

“That was one great and enjoyable experience for me and it is one experience that I will live to remember. We moved around and performed in all of these places. I think we touched lives with our shows,” he noted.

After the war, Chief Aliu continued his acting run. He led a group of performers that thrilled soldiers at different formations across the country. But by 1975, Chief Aliu thought it was time to move on. He moved on, returned to the theatre space, reconstituted his theatre company and renamed it Jimoh Aliu Cultural Group. They launched out, featured in and produced countless stage, television and movie productions. Ajalu, Igbo Eleje, Irinkirindo, and Fopomoyo starring Orisabunmi and King Sunny Ade are some of his many notable works as producer.

A devotee of the theatre profession, Chief Jimoh Aliu said in response to a question on his staying power that it is his determination that has cleared the way for him to remain relevant even at over 80.

“It is the interest and determination to succeed at all cost. I will also say that unlike most people who just came in and next day they became stars, we had to be trained and groomed by mentors. But the devotion and determination and grace of the Almighty did it for me. Once you are determined, you are sure you will get to the height that you desire. It might take long but you will definitely get there. The other thing is devotion. Since I have decided that theatre is all I wanted to do, the best thing I told myself was that I was going to devote all my energies to make sure I succeed and I have no regret at all,” he said.

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