Our meeting this Thursday afternoon is scheduled for Goethe Institut on Catholic Mission Street, Lagos Island. That will be a perfect place to meet a cultural enthusiast like Jahman Oladejo Anikulapo. But he has to attend an event first before our interview will commence. Unexpectedly, the media briefing for the musical show, ‘Ten Cities’, drags late into the afternoon and so Jahman suggests we have the interview over lunch at the Freedom Park.
“Go to the lady first,” he tells the waiter who is standing by him to take his orders first. “And you never stop saying you are romantic.”
Jahman is known to everyone at the Freedom Park. His name alone gains me an entrance into the place as I had gone there ahead of him; he had to make a stop at the bank. It is not a surprise therefore that he pokes fun at the waiter whom he had had a conversation with about being romantic.
We place our orders. Lunch is served. His phone rings. “I have to answer this call,” he tells me, “or else we won’t enjoy this interview.” The great poet J.P Clark is on the phone.
After answering Clark, his phone rings again. “I had gone to withdraw the last coins I have,” he tells the person on phone jokingly. If he has withdrawn his last penny, I won’t be surprised because he is a man who is said to have spent all he has promoting the arts, in particular organising ‘Wordslam’, an evening of performance poetry, ‘Under the Samarkand Tree’, a poetry reading session, and other cultural events in the past.
Art is Jahman’s passion. He has lived it, written it, and produced it daily as a reporter and later Arts Editor at The Guardian newspaper. Penultimate Sunday, he signed off the last edition of the The Guardian on Sunday, which he has edited for many years. However, he did not end his 25-year career in Arts journalism without publishing his view on the Cultural Policy that has been his pain for many years.
“They don’t even need any more conference in the culture sector,” he tells me bitterly. “All they need to do is go into their shelf and carry out all the documents that have been produced and check them. I have worked on cultural policy all through my career. The cultural policy conferences that they organise are now a jeunjeun. Every year they will call you to come and sit down in their meeting. Frank Aig-Imokhuode just called me talking about the joke that is the minister of culture that even UNESCO blacklisted us because the money given to the ministry by UNESCO for the Cultural Policy was whacked.”
Jahman has left the newsroom now. But what becomes of this cultural activism? What will happen to the Cultural Policy and the various campaigns about the advancement of the book? Jahman will never stop fighting even though his stance against the Federal Government on the creative industry may have cost him some friends.
“If they have been my friends, then let them cease being so from now on. Yes, I like to have friends but I like to have friends who add value to my life because when I go into something, I don’t just want to be one of them. I want to contribute something that will make them say Jahman was here. So, if you have friends who are not adding value to you, what do you do?”
True, Jahman has added value to those close to and far from him. His newsroom principle was any artist who walks into the newsroom must not leave there without a story. Yet he is angry about a government that is not interested in the welfare and growth of the creative industry.
“For an artist to leave whatever they are doing and come to the newsroom? The way we know artists in other places, you go to meet them. Artists don’t come and meet people. That’s the time he should spend creating. I can get bitter about it because I am very irritated by politics, I like my environment to be free. I don’t like environments full of politics and mischief, where people pretend they are your friend. We can sit down and drink together but there must be something we are sharing before we go drink.”
Jahman grew up in the civil war years in a very wealthy middle class family at Agege, where his father built a big house, the only storey building in the area at the time. It was a big family. His father did some contract job and later dabbled into selling of cows and was a distributor of Top Beer, the most popular beer in those days.
He also operated a mini bar on the ground floor of their home where the top musicians of those days would converge in the evenings to share a drink. “I can’t remember seeing Yusuf Olatunji there,” he recalls, “but there was Oseni Ejire, who was sakara maestro, Ligali Mukaiba, Ayinla Omowura, who actually happened to be an uncle to me. He was like an older brother to my mum because they grew up in the same area in Itoko. There were people like Fatai Olowoyo; people like Barrister were just coming up and they were coming around. Shina Peters used to be the little boy among them, Love Shobiye, SF Olowokere.”
These encounters registered in Jahman’s subconscious will later lay the foundation for his interest in the arts and, eventually, arts journalism. He sees his exit in The Guardian as a paving way for the young to grow up and aspire.
“There is a statement I made where I said I want to leave the newsroom as a sacrificial lamb; I wanted to make myself a sacrificial lamb. If you read Strong Breed by Wole Soyinka, the guy who carried all the dirt. I don’t know whether I’m being idealistic, I just know that my exit will probably pave way for some new leaves to grow. It’s not that I have left arts journalism, I have left the newsroom. And, as I said, I would want to be involved in the area of training. If any media organisation thinks that my contribution to arts journalism has been that tremendous, and they think I can be of help, one of the things I would want to tell them is how to set up a proper arts desk.”
I cannot help but ask what he will miss most in the newsroom. He tells me: “I will miss the camaraderie, especially in The Guardian. I look forward to being in the newsroom every day. I think I am going to miss that. I will miss mentoring young people. That I was doing in the newsroom.”