On air with Danielle

NIGERIA WILL RULE THE WORLD; JUST WAIT, WATCH… AND SEE

(Interview conducted in 2004 for the Radio Nigeria by Danielle Badagri in 2004)

Danielle: It is my pleasure to bring to you Jahman Anikulapo, the editor of The Guardian on Sunday. He is an artiste extraordinary, a culture activist par excellence; a journalist of hhigh repute… How are you?

Jahman: I’m fine, but … eh… . that was very heavy.

Danielle: Well, having you here with me defies monetary quantification, I can tell you that. How has it been since you took over the helm of affairs of The Guardian on Sunday. What are the challenges and prospects?

Jahman: Well, it’s indeed a challenge. It was offered to me a long time ago but I didn’t want to take it because I thought I was just made to write on arts and culture. But when it was represented -- always by my M.D.-- I decided to take it up; and I think it has been very challenging in many dimensions. The first one is the fact that on the Arts desk, while I was Arts Editor, I was used to training my own reporters. I used to mould my reporters in line with the kind of vision I had for my department. At the Sunday unit now, for the first time, I had to work with reporters that had been cast. But this time around, I’ve had to work with several visions that had been cast already. It’s working out and we’re grateful to God almighty.

Danielle: Okay. So far, would you say it has been a successful journey?

Jahman : Well, I think the public should be left to decide. But when you go out and you meet some elderly fellow in the society and they tell you that you are doing a good job but you can do this and this better, I think it is a measure of some acknowledgement, and for me, it goes a long way.

Danielle: Yeah, it’s a lot of praises when people above you tell you what you are doing right and what they want you to do better. You were at the Book fair held a couple of months ago in Lagos where some of the participants complained of low attendance, which they of course attributed to the decline in our reading culture. What do you think can be done to stimulate good reading habits among Nigerian populace considering our literacy level?

Jahman: I think the 5th Lagos Book and Arts festival organised by the Committee for Relevant Arts in September to mark the National Creativity Day, for this year, was a lucky one because there was a larger participation by the public… that is considering the fact that low attendance had been the bane of the festival since its inception five years ago.
I think that the reading culture in Nigeria is a very complex situation. I would not say that people don’t read. People read, but I think what we should ask ourselves is: what are they reading?

Danielle: (chuckles). That’s a good one. What are they reading? So, what would you like to see Nigerians read?

Jahman: I said that people read considering the volume of religious tracts that come into the country and the fact that virtually everybody that goes to church reads a Bible and virtually everybody that goes to the mosque reads a Q’uran. If you take a good look at these, you will agree with me that people actually read. But the extent to which you read and apply this information is what we are talking about because if you are so committed to the holy books and read them religiously, you are expected to learn some lessons from them. But I keep on wondering why the society, in spite of all these readings, continues to go down in terms of crime, immorality, and even leadership questions and the rest of them. We are just insisting that creative books and writings have a way of elevating the mind. That is the argument that we are on now; that people should endeavour to read creative books. Many of us were students of Herbert Lawrence, John Keats, John Don, and the rest of them, and some of the things we learnt from those classics are what we are applying today in our private and professional lives. We are very afraid for the younger generations that are not reading these books. Where do you begin to form your own philosophy of life if you have not read other peoples’ experiences?

Danielle: So, what kind of music do you love?

Jahman: If I’m permitted, I’ll say that I’m crazy about jazz, especially trado-modern jazz. I don’t mind the classical jazz. I am also very much impassioned by classical music. Then I’m in love with highlife and I check out the beat of reggae.

Danielle: In modern times, there has been a growing relationship between science and culture, and I hear that in countries like India, China, and even the U.S., they are exploring ways of expanding this relationship to the maximum, bringing the two together. One begins to wonder why Nigeria, with her large cultural menu, is failing in this regard. Or is it that our culture cannot be propagated through the medium of science?

Jahman: I’ll tell you that we missed the chance to behave like an intelligent society in 1988 when the UNESCO launched the World Decade for Cultural Development (WDCD). The objective of the WDCD then was to use culture as the basis for development. What they were saying was that we should look at the examples of societies that have moved from near derelict state to admirable states in terms of development. If you look at the way the Asian countries, Japan in particular, have progressed over the years, you’ll discover that they used culture – what they had. They faced this war situation and they decided that ‘okay, we’ll start from where we are, and that’s our culture’. They were not dreaming of transferring technology, but they were thinking of building technology from its base.
And when UNESCO came with that ten-tear package, 1988 to 1997, Nigeria was actively participating. That was when we started the craft development policy and the rest of them. But in Nigeria, there is this culture of inability to sustain dreams… everything would start and drop, start again and also drop again… so we missed that chance.
It’s very sad when you’re discussing this bit; because you’ll then begin to wonder if we have people who are capable of intelligent reasoning in terms of development in running the our affairs in this country, because when technology is not transferable, then it’s going to be useless. That is why so many facilities are abandoned no sooner they had been built. You know the case of incinerators, and even cars that have been brought into this country only to stop functioning after just one month and so on.
Everybody is adapting technology to his/her environment, but we are bringing technology from other places. We just plant them there and they mess up the whole system.
It is not as if our culture is non-compliant with technology, it is the fact that management has always been our problem; and management comes even with planning. So I am talking about planning and its application. After all, when you talk about arts, you talk about "fine" and how it is applied to arts. So what do you apply from your cultural resources?

Danielle: So how do you think we can get to the place where your vision is going? What do you think we can do? Get the people who know how, in the right offices, or change our orientation totally?

Jahman: Well, I will say it will take a blend of all. We need to change our orientation, then we need to get the right people. You see, there is no need going to look for materials anymore because all these things have been studied and packaged. All they need to do is to open up the shelves, take those materials, and change the orientation of the civil servants who are applying these developmental projections and will manage it … all the documents have been prepared and stored up in dusty shelves in the various ministries.
In 1989, immediately after the launch of the cultural policy, there was a seminar that was held at the ASCON in Badagry. All the experts, scientists, culture workers, artists, and everybody were brought together in a hall to decide how to use the letters of the cultural policy to develop a development model; and they did a very comprehensive report that is still there. Up till now, I don’t know what happened. Copyright is the only thing that we brought out of that place because copyright was re-engineered in terms of ideas from that workshop. I was just starting my journalism around that time and exciting to me that we could bring culture and science into the same pot and get very delicious soup.

Danielle: There is problem with journalism in Nigeria. The brown envelope issue has assumed a large proportion almost to the point of eroding the credibility of journalists who are in turn complaining of either low wages or unpaid salaries. As an editor, how do you think that our standards can be elevated? How can we uphold the essence of journalism in journalists to push this allegation aside?

Jahman: I think you are a troublemaker, you want me to offend a lot of my friends.

Danielle: (Laughs). No, definitely not.

Jahman: But I’ll do. I don’t mind stepping on toes, especially if it will get all of us on the right track. Brown envelope? I think I have said it somewhere before that brown envelope is not peculiar to journalism; but that does not mean that it is accepted. I am just saying that the society is in a state of flux, and there are so many impurities that have come into the system, and everybody seems to be going into that room where we have impurities and just take his own share. So when you talk about bribery, you have to remember the case of bribery in our parliament, you know. So it is a general societal thing. But for journalists, it is very dangerous because they are the people who influence and shape public opinions, and who make certain decisions for the public. The public relies on them before making its resolutions on issues.
The brown envelope syndrome became more pronounced, I’d say, from about 1985 after the Structural Adjustment Policy. Actually, most of our problems are usually dated back to that policy. That was when some people came into the media profession and started media houses without a plan of even how to pay the salaries of their workers five years ahead. And somebody came up, Ben Tomoloju, when he was still at The Guardian, and said that anybody who was coming in to start a newspaper or broadcast house should be made to deposit the salary of his workers for five years ahead.

Danielle: (Chuckles)

Jahman: Yeah. So that the reporter is sure that at least there is something at the end of the month. Now you have media houses that are not paying their reporters for 10 months, one year, and so on. How do you expect such reporters to cope? Of course, they will be looking for ‘Communique’... you know what they call ‘Communique?’

Danielle: Of course, last paragraph and the rest of them.

Jahman: It is not just last paragraphs alone, when they come to your event, they ask for ‘Communique’. You know, it used to be " oga, we wan deh go o", and they will say it so many times, until you dip hand in the pocket or as they say: ‘settle’ them. But now, it’s ‘we are waiting for Communique’. And if you don’t ‘communique’ them, the story will die. I think it is first of all the responsibility of media owners to decide if they really want to run a media house or not. I saw an advert recently in one of the national dailies. They owed their workers for almost two years, and they were yet advertising for new reporters, and I asked why. It means that you bring in young people, you use them, and waste them; then when you see that they begin to ask for their salaries, you quickly send them off and get new people to replace them. There is a newspaper house too that is trying to expand internationally, but their workers are not being paid and are complaining all the time. When such reporters go out there, why won’t they collect bribes; after all they have families to feed. So, you see, it is a moral question. But I’m very happy that I work in a place where it is strongly discouraged. If you are caught, or even if there is a sign of it, you are gone. I am not saying that people will not try to cut corners, but at least, every media should make laws that would prohibit such acts.

Danielle: Yes, I think that if the law is promulgated that reporters’ salaries should be in the bank five years ahead…

Jahman: (Cuts in). It is only a suggestion.

Daniella: It is a good suggestion, yes, but I think we should take it to the National Assembly where we can make it work so that those journalism ethical and moral standards can be upheld.
Have you always wanted to be a journalist or was it something you found yourself doing and decided to stick to it?

Jahman: Well, I was rescued from being a lay-about -- an "area boy" –- by a character called Ben Tomoloju. He came to my secondary school to conclude his youth service. In school then, I was one of the people who disturbed the dramatic society. He called me one day while I was playing pranks and said ‘you come in and play that role’. I did and he said ‘there is some kind of talent there’. So against my will, he pushed me into joining the dramatic society and from there to the literary and debating society. There, his own dramatic society was such that one had to write a review every week as a member.
Then when we left school he recruited some of us from different schools around Lagos then, and we founded the "Kakaaki" in 1978/1980. So we kept on writing. When I got to the university, I studied theatre and directing, but I made sure I specialised in dramatic theory and literary criticisms. So I had to be writing constantly under Professor Dapo Adelugba. We were made to write reviews everyday, so there was virtually no day I never held a pen. That was why I went into journalism. If not, I could probably have been at Obalende now, harassing people or snatching vehicles.

Danielle: People wonder for instance when I said that my guest is Jahman Anikulapo. People must have stopped in their tracks to say "Anikulapo", is he Fela’s cousin or where did he get that name from? Where were you born? Where did you school? Just tell me about yourself.

Jahman: Well, there is a joker I always give that: "Jahman takes this thing, Anikulapo takes the other". Anikulapo is my family name. I know from a story that my Dad told me that the Anikulapos were like warriors from Abeokuta, and that the real Anikulapo man was the chief warrior. And you know that in the Yoruba culture, when you have gone to war and saw so much blood, you are banished from the city so that you don’t threaten the stability of the state by confronting the king. So he was pushed out and he moved to a place called Temidire, that’s on the outskirts of Lafenwa in Abeokuta, and that was where he formed his own clan. I tried to make a research into Fela Anikulapo because I believe that he didn’t just pick the name; and once, he told me that its actually a name from his mother’s lineage. So I reckoned that his mother must have come from that lineage. "Jahman" is just one of the names I was given, because I have up to twenty names.

Danielle: Are some of them "orikis"? (Chuckles).

Jahman: I was named Oladejo, Olasubomi, Olaiya, Oyindamola and a host of others. There is a place where I wrote them down. But Eniolorunda is one of the names, and if you shorten it, it means "man of God’. So when we formed the Kakaaki in1979, we were kind of trying to live in an Utopia. I mean we were saying that we didn’t belong to this society, we wanted to create a cult for ourselves and in fact, we called it the Kakaaki Arts Kult. So we gave ourselves names. But we gave one of us who seemed to be prophetic in terms of his projections the task of giving us the names. And called himself "Spark". I don’t know what he means by that. You know Antar Laniyan, he had been Antar, but was reinforced as "Antar or fire order" or so; then he just looked at me and said: "you are Jahman". I had never used that name "Eniolorun" anywhere before, and I just told one of them that I have a name called "Eniolorun" which means "man of God". I have always told myself that I don’t want to be called man of God, or Godman, or Godson. I don’t want those English names. So when he said "Jahman", well, everybody started calling me the Jahman.

Danielle: (Interrupts) quite unique.

Jahman: And it really defines my person. The two names "Jahman Anikulapo", I’ll say define my person. I’ve got death in my pocket… (laugh)

Danielle: Let’s talk about your life now. Where did you grow up? Where did you school?

Jahman: We started in Lagos Island. My dad decided that we were getting too much into the Island culture. You know what I mean by that. So he moved us to Agege. But I think it was a further mistake on his part because Agege turned out to be the worst of it all. So, I was brought up in Agege area, but I left home early, at about 14 because I was playing football and then into theatre arts. So I kept on returning, you know the way women are, my mum... she always made sure you returned home whenever you strayed off… So I was brought up there deep in Agege.
But one significant note for me about my upbringing is the fact that many of the people I grew up with in that environment have turned out to be what I said I could have been if I had not encountered the man who rescued me. They’ve not really gone further in their education and they have been more of lay-abouts. And that is some note recurring in my system; so I am working, fighting and struggling so that no young person will ever get into that kind of trap. I’ll rather do something to bring them out. And that is probably what defines my involvement with the arts so deeply. That is why my work in journalism embraces developmental programmes that would bring young people out of that kind of situation. This is because anytime I see what we call "area boys"; I look at myself and say I could have been there.
I went to school, of course, in Agege. I started with St Peter's Primary School and then an Anglican college that is United City College in Agege area towards Ota; on of the best equipped schools in Lagos then. Then when Obasanjo’s Government took over the private schools, we were transferred to a Muslim School, Saka Tinubu Memorial School which is the second arm of Ahmmadiya College because the school had to be broken down into two. For my H.S.C., I went to Ahmmadiya College, and then the University of Ibadan. I have done courses in German culture and language. I have undergone so many training in journalism and... that’s all.

Danielle: In the days of Lade Bonuola, Femi Kusa, and Sully Abu at The Guardian, the paper was generally regarded as the flagship of the Nigerian press. But these days, some people are declaming that assertion. In your own estimation, do you think The Guardian is still the flagship of the Nigerian press?

Jahman:Do you have any other one?

Daniella: (Cuts in with laughter).
Jahman: I think The Guardian still remains the flagship. You will see that it has suffered the same problems that many institutions have suffered in Nigeria. You know there has been a decimation and devaluation of the intellectual class in the Nigerian society. The society has gone anti-intellectual. It is more of how big your car is, or how flamboyant your dress is. So The Guardian itself had had to go through that. Don’t forget that the more you change your workers, the more you bring in new influences. So some of the young people who eventually came into The Guardian did not probably come with the kind of intention that the earlier reporters or the people you mentioned (some of them are still there) and so many others came with. They did not come with the intention of really coming to work in an intellectual institution. They came to make a living, and there is a difference between art and merchandising. Coming to make a living is different from really coming to make a statement; to express yourself. Those who came earlier came to express themselves. But you’ll still find out that it is still a good training ground. Go to any media house now, most of the editors, line editors, and even reporters have been trained by The Guardian. And The Guardian keeps on regenerating itself. And of course, they are still winning the awards – newspaper of the decade, newspaper of the year and so on, so which one is the flagship?

Danielle: But would you say that the quality of reporters that come in now is a fall out of the kind of education we have in the country right now?

Jahman: Of course, of course Danielle. I mean, you can’t imagine that there were students who once came to me for a research on their final year projects… and were asking me for the questions… they didn’t have questions! Somebody came to talk to Mr Benson Idonije recently from a Nigeria university. She wanted to do something on Fela and Idonije asked her what have you learnt about Fela that you want us to help you develop, and she had nothing to offer. Look, she was writing a project on Fela and she had never heard of the words "quintet" and "quartet". I am not castigating her here, but that is just an example.
Sometimes, you read write-ups of some graduates and you know… I mean, it is a function of the present quality of education. And as I said, the educational institution too is not insulated from the rot that has come into the system. But I can assure you that we are cleaning up the system. The fact that we are discussing it means that we want a change. Supposing we aren’t discussing it at all, then there is a problem.

Danielle: In the next ten years, where would you like to be? What would you be doing? You want to be a minister, senator, or publisher? How do you view yourself in the next ten years.

Jahman: I want to run a little Repertory theatre with a Library, okay. I want to run a place where young people can come and express themselves. Where I cannot force them to read, but where I can engineer them in order to produce some models that can then go out to spread the gospel and teach other people. I am not too ambitious about making money, but I just want to run a place where I can sit down, relax over drink, and watch young people express themselves, the way I had been opportuned to.

Danielle; In essence, you want to make a difference, a very positive difference.

Jahman: If God assists me, that is exactly what I want to do.
Danielle: I pray your dreams work; because we need more of you. Well, aside from the vast issues of arts, music, and culture, what other interests do you have?

Jahman; I enjoy being on stage; that is performing, and I enjoy watching other people perform to my delight. That was the first time I’ll be on holidays in the 16 years I’ve spent at The Guardian; that I’ll sit down and watch other people perform. I had been used to performing for others. I was at a dance festival in Madagascar. I sat down and people were dancing and I said so this is what it takes to just sit down and watch others sweat it out… that’s the passion. Then reading of course. I don’t get to read as much as I used to, but I love to read even though I am not doing enough of that at the moment. Again, I’ll like to work, not in an N.G.O. situation now, but a situation where I am just doing programmes and bringing people together.
Yoruba people will say "ako’ yan jo", just bringing people together and watching them have fun, that’s what we do with the Committee for Relevant Arts. Let them bring their families and all have fun. Heaven will fall, but it won’t fall on only one person’s head, so I just like everybody to have fun

Danielle: That’s great. What we seem to be having in the Nigerian music industry right now is music hastily concocted in the computer while leaving out the experience of seasoned men. Do you think that is good for our music industry or would you rather call for an equal blend?

Jahman: In fact, it’s really very dangerous. When we read the thing about the death of philosophy, some of us were screaming that it isn’t possible. But with what we have seen coming from some of our artistes, you may tend to believe that philosophy may actually have died. Maybe we are just trying to bring it back. If you look at the lyrics of the musicians of old and look at what musicians of today are doing, you’ll ask yourself what happened to Thinking. Why should you think you could just rush into a studio and produce a work. They call it Afro-hip hop, rap, and all those stuffs, although some of them have actually come up… I was surprised about what Baba Fryo did in "Notice me" and "Denge Pose", because it is capturing the philosophy of the current times. He might not have expressed it in such depths as you might want, but he has captured the soul of it. And I think what an artiste like Seyi Solagbade is trying to do is okay. There are so many young others like Seun Olota, and they are bringing in new ideas. But my greatest disappointment is in my friend, who is the musician I thought would be the voice of my generation. He left that and started doing "show your colour". I have not been able to reconcile myself to it. We’ve not been as close as we used to be. I am talking about Lagbaja, because he is an icon. Whether we like it or not, Lagbaja is an icon. He is the major artistic musical character that has come unto our stage in the last 10 years. But I think we will need to (I am being selfish now) get him to go back to what he did in 1993 and just review it against what is going on now. Are you an entertainer or are you an artist? They are two different things.

Danielle: Well, I believe that if anybody can get him to do that, you’ll be one of those people who can. I know your modest nature would not want this, but I have seen you a lot of times and you always come to me as a study in humility – something you will not find in other practitioners who probably have not even been as successful as you are. Tell me, what keeps you on the ground?

Jahman I think it is the willingness to respect and serve man, because I believe that you cannot respect and serve God if you cannot respect and serve man. It’s in my upbringing that you must give respect to that next person because you have no choice, because if you don’t respect him, you cannot respect yourself. That is it. It’s just willingness to show maximum respect for the other person’s interest.

Danielle: It’s a been a pleasure having you for this interview. But before we go, do you have any word for Nigerians? Just a word!

Jahman: As my president told us, I see hope. I believe that no matter the problems we are currently facing, no matter how darkly the lane seems to look, there is light out there for us at the end of the tunnel. We are going to get there, this country will rule the world, I believe that.

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