The Perpetual Pain: 10 years after Hakeem Shitta)

A Season Wed. Text 28/8/2002
A season for distressed artistes
By Jahman Anikulapo

(It was 10 years ago in June that Hakeem Died)

Only the Festac Town access bridge separates the two distressed men. The one lives in a black of flats in the Amuwo Estate, which he won in 1973 through a ballot. The other lives in a type-8 house 'loaned' to him in 1994 by his in-law.
But the men created a coincidence on February 10. They rode the news in culture town. While the one in Amuwo was formally presenting his latest novel publication to his colleagues and friends at the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos, the Festac Towner was on the airwaves, as guest on the afternoon belt magazine programme of Radio Lagos, The Beat.
The coincidence however testifies to a season of distress, not only for the two men, but for the artist.
While the National Theatre's heart palpitated to the appliances and backpating that heralded the ingenuity of Hakeem in producing perhaps, the first ever compendium of names, professional specialities and addresses of artistes, a sad song played underground impressing itself on the souls of the guests, composed largely of a few of the expected notable artistes, reporters and photographers, and less of Hakeem's colleagues and friends who are part of the 1,671 artists listed in the Handbook of Nigerian Artistes.
Hakeem, to use the humorous description by geologist, art critic Toyin Akinosho spotted an unintended "cap twisted disjointedly at bad angles" He actually looked like a character from a horror movie. "People think I am a ghost, and they look at me as something from out of this world," Hakeem later told a reporter, Presently, Hakeem still wears his bizare "headstyle", badly sculpted from the surgeon’s knife or what he himself calls 'Mack the knife'.
A recurring tumour at the back of his head, had had to be continuously scooped out; six times already; three of which was at the University Teaching College Hospital Ibadan. The last operation has left him in the present distasteful shape; and dangerously hanging in the precint of the unwelcome ultimate opinion- death.
The surgeons, while scooping out the returnee outgrowth at the back of Hakeem's scalp reportedly met a sensitive blood vessel, which they suspected might be the last link to the brain cavity to hold on, while they referred him to a test at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, to determine the function of the vessel, and the likely conseqlkuence of its being touched.
But Lagos holds no tangible answer, because though the hospital has part o f the necessary equipment, they are not functioning. Thus, the usual scaring option had to be recommended....
Hakeem's head like he joked recently "would have to be examined overseas. They have to conduct a survey of the affected area, through what is called 'Angiographic' test before they sculpt my head further."
For that, N3.5 million is needed to cover travelling expenses, hospital bills (#20,000) hospital welfare and other expenses.
The reality of the sad tale was what was decolouring the modest event at which Hakeem's books was being presented. Infact, exphasis soon shifted from the main event, as words of sympathy flowed ceaselessly from the house, including Chief Segun Olusola, Mrs. Ajoke Murtala-Muhammed, Kolade Osinowo, Naiwu Osahon, Gbenga Sonuga, Yinka Craig, Duro Oni, among other notable and patrons of the arts.
An expansive committee dedicated to sensitising the public to the need to save Hakeem Shitta and consequently raise the N3.5 million from compassionate public pure has since been working, but obviously with very little success. A proposed programme of concert and a mini-film festival are yet to hold because the committee is even yet to raise what could serve as working money; to facilitate the two programmes. Networks to Hakeem's artistes colleagues overseas are yet to yield results too although graver moves are being made by influential members and sympathisers of the committee to connect certain institutions within and outside the country.
But "save Hakeem Shitta" still remains a dream unfulfiled. The photographer, painter, documentarist and cultural activist has an awesome credentials of having photographed 837 events at which he expended at least three rolls and at most 15 rolls, of film, in his photographic history, he has recorded 180 play titles (some plays recorded in as much as 10 times); 81 concerts, 67 exhibitions and 326 other human interest events.
Interestingly, but for his colleague on the other side of the Festac Town access bridge - Pa Benjamin Aderounmu aka Kokoro, who is presently the next most distressed artiste.
Kokoro's neck is now noosed by a tough request by his landlord to vacate the House No 8, B Close residence which he has occupied, with his wife and two daughters since 1994, at no cost by the grace of one of his in-laws.
Infact, the "ultimatum" has since expired and Kokoro only hoping that his in-law, the landlord, would find cause to say awhile at his Abuja base before coming to Lagos. But the landlord, who had given the house to the septuagenarian bind minstrel out of compassion, while he was on transfer to Abuja, has insisted he wanted his house back, having retired and desirous of resettling himself and family back in their only house, the duplex in Festac Town.
Kokoro has since been making frantic calls to the public to come to his aid. "I don't want to live under bridge," he told a reporter recently adding but "I have no choice if my landlord returned and I haven't still found a home; myself and my family will be in danger."
The old man's cry may however be going unheard. Except succour comes from a recent initiative the publishers of Festac News, the community paper serving the interest of residents in Ojo local governmdent area of Lagos.
Festac News has launched a 'Shelter for Kokoro' campaign which it hopes to take first to (as specific targets) the homes of the big-purse residents of First Avenue (otherwise called Cocaine Avenue) in Festac Town. The paper's publisher Mr. Toyin Akinosho told the Guardian on Saturday "we hope that these men of means and power who have much money to build those beautiful mansions on First Avenue Festac estate, would not watch as their equally influential neighbour, the internationally known Kokoro is thrown onto the street. All it takes is a little compassion."
And to the target first Avenue friends Akinosho said: "Rent a place for him, or just give him your boys quarters which presently is most probably unoccupied or serving to house disuse furniture and other properties."
Same day that Hakeem's Handbook of Nigeria Artist was drawing attention to his tragic plight, Kokoro was in the studio of Radio Lagos, relating his bitter predicament, but acknowledging an initiative by actor, video producer Dele Odule.
Odule, who played King Alapatira of Apatira in Mainfrance's video hit 77 Oluwa Nile I,II,III and has played leads and sub-leads in over 60 home videos recently produced and released a video work, titled Lakunle Alagbe, the story of a blind artiste who lives at the mercy of bitter fates and consequences.
The actor, said that the work was a ctually inspired by the saga of Kokoro, the old dexterous singer, drummer who is dertimined to triumph above his fatalistic handicap condition to sing of hope for humanity.
Odule told listeners of The Beat that he intends to pay a regular stipend to the old man, from the proceeds of Lakunle Alagbe. Aside from this, Odule announced that he was commencing work on a new video wholesomely designed to permanently rehabilitate Kokoro."
"The proceed, from the film will go wholesomely to Pa Aderounmu. But I need a sponsor to be able to do the film," said Odule who equally proposed a weekly programme to Radio Lagos, in which Kokoro would perform as a forum to provide regular income for the old man and thus discourage him from his risky engagement of straddling the streets of Lagos to perform to earn money. Kokoro has often defended that his street beat was not to beg for alms, but to give him avenue to perform regularly.
The radio programme proposal would have the management of Lagos State Broadcasting Corporation providing free air time on Radio Lagos while the Dele Odule Organisation pays the artiste's fee to the blind minstrel.
Yet Kokoro is on his way to the street as no concrete help has surfaced to provide him an alternative accommodation, when his philantropic landlord arrived to reclaim his house in Festac Town.
Few months back actor Julius Duateme was stranded in the Eko Hospital, Lagos, after he accumulated about half a million naira hopsital bill for treatment of a strange nervous disorder.
When the popular humorous houseboy, J.B in the rested network television soap opera, Supple Blues collapsed and was rushed to the Eko Hospital, the humanitarian trio doctors, proprietors of the hospital on Mobolaji Bank-Anthony way, Ikeja conceded to treat him without even asking for the usual scaring deposit. They had hoped that after tr eatment they would be able to recoup their money.
But Julius stayed so long in the hospital and accumulated an almost half a million Naira expenses, including his general welfare lbill. When he got well, it dawned on the generous doctors, that there was no point holding him because he definitely would not be able to pay the bill; too soon.
They released him and requested that he should clear the bill gradually. That decision was buoyed by the fact that a 'Help for Julius Duateme campaign had been launched by a very few of his friends and colleagues led by actor Nobert Akpojeraro Young. The friends had reportedly pleaded with the hospital management that whatever money was realised from the campaign would be passed on to the hospital to clear the huge bill.
Only trickles of donations have however come in, and even now the donations have dried up, leaving Julius still heavily indebted to the hospital.
Hulius Duateme by all exidences is not fully healed of the ailment. He still talks with a droo! and walks in funny short steps. He is unable to quickly recognise even his friends and has worrisome antics that suggest that his nervous system is still uncoordinated.
He needs to go back to the hospital for reexamination or a resumption of treatment but he has no money. He has not been able to work as no producer or director would hire an actor in Julius state of mind. He has been living on the meager income of his wife, a civil servant staffer of NTA, with whom he now goes everywhere, including to the office.
There is no hope for Julius, none perhaps in a near future.
And the song of distress continues... Yinka Davies the petit, multi-talented artiste, who dominated the news late 1994 to early last year would soon return to public attention.
A mtor accident she had while on break from an afternoon a rehearsal of Tempo Productions' Mekunu Melody in early 1994 had left one of her legs broken. She needed an operation that was to cost about N400,000.
Six months of pains and helplessness, Yinka Davies was going to sink in distress when a horde of her colleagues and sympathisers decided to launch a 'Yinka Davies Fund" with the institutional backing of the FAME weekly magazine. There was a concert, a night of drama skits and public appeal. The money was raised, Yinka made the operation and was resettled, as the fund provided her with an accommodation and a little bit of welfare package.
Now, Yinka's broken leg has supposedly healed. There is the need to remove a metal sheet inserted in her to hold the bones together. Money is needed; estimated at numerous thousands of Naira. Yinka is broke. As she has never been able to work full time since the operation mid last year, she has never really made much money.
She has to raise the money. And the bank account opened for the Yinka Davies Fund has since dried up, since some members of the giving public have failed to redeem their pledges, lrunning into about N100,000.
Functionaries of the Yinka Davies Funds have since wound up their operation; distracted by some other exigent distressed calls. This leaves Yinka almost dumped and back on her own.
Presently, Yinka Davies has proposed to go out there on the live stage and risk a public concert to at least "raise something." But that is riddled in danger. Her surgeons had advised that she should not risk any rigorous activity such as dancing or any stressful engagement of the healing leg. But if there is no other means, Yinka has no other option - she has to endanger herself for a tokenist thousands of Naira.
Yinka Davies' case throws the issue back into history. A past riddled with tragic innuendoes of neglect and hopelessness.
* Poet, actor, art and culture journalist Kolosa Kargbo suffered Tuberculosis, was ill and emaciated even as he pounded the streets of Lagos for little means to survive for over a year. He died.
* Segun Ayo Taiwo, actor, founder of Ayota Arts centre, the first private artiste-owned arts complex was a fflicted by a problem in his abdominal cavity. He could only seek medical attention in a local clinic in Ajegunle. He died.
* Sesan Ajayi author, poet, critic and teacher suffered jaundice for almost three years. He died.
* Authur Modupe - Alade elder entertainer, musician suffered paralysis. He was at LUTH for several months. He died.
* John Chukwu, entertainer, nite dubber had a prolonged case of paralysis of brain. He died.
* Wale Olomu, entertainment writer, capitulated to a prolonged case of typhoid fever.
* Demos Deniran, musician, band leader, Kim Lawani showbiz organiser and promoter, and Jelili Sorungbe, band manager, all died after one ailment or the other.
* Lately Apostle I.K. Dairo, the juju highlife macstro died after a serious bout with diabetes.
* Dr. Bayo Ogunjimi, literary critic, teacher was inflicted by typhoid fever, he did not leave The Baptist Hospital Ogbomosho alive.
* Dr. Femi Johnson and Prof Ayo Mamudu both poets and University Teachers were both victims of a deplorable health care system.
These and many more have crowded the graveyard but not failing to leave behind one constant song - the artiste. More daunting is the fact that the children wives and relatives they live behind continually sink into hopelessness and despair.
From the government, there is no endownment fund though the first official promise to institute one is over a decade now.
It had been possible, at the instances of some of the cases to commit the various culture parastatals and agencies to donate to any of the "Save the Artiste" campaigns. But that was when the agencies themselves had good fortune.
Now, the agencies are partially distressed. The 1996 budget allocated only a little above N600 million to the entire information and culture ministry, which got over N1 billion last year. Thus, the extras with which the agences normally assist distressed artistes cannot be expected.
Infact the hopes placed on the agencies to boost the Save Hakeem Shitta campaign has since crash-landed, by the reality of the 1996 budget released shortly after the campaign was launched.
From the artistes, it is the old song of helplessness, occasioned by an orchestrated inability to moved and act.
The artistes organisations that had dreamt up launching individual welfare funds, never really acted beyond the dream stages. The National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practioners inspired to life by the trialsome experience of the 'Save Becky Musa' campaign of 1989, had proposed launching a Performers Endownment Trust Fund; but the dream has glowed onbly on the tongues of the assocaition's executives.
In the heat of the 'Save Julius Duateme' campaign the Lagos chapter of the assocaition sought to revisit the fund project, but it could not even hold the Night of Stars programme it had proposed to herald the launching. The project remains a pet drawn living buoyantly in executive files.
Worried by the recurring case of distressed musicians, the Tony Okonji-led executive council of the Performing Musicians Employers Association of Nigeria (PMEAN) decided to launch a musician trust fund to provide welfare hope for the members in need. After having earned more that N15 million from federal goernment purse, and several millions of Naira more from a music-friendly public, the fund has only registered a minimalist impact. More musicians and music makers have been distressed and unable to benefit from the fund.
The songs have grown ever more desperate as the socio-economic onslaught against the artistes begins to manifest itself in another dimension.
Play performances, recorded songs, concerts and even visual arts exhibitions are being critically studied and sometimes censored by state security apparatus. To wit, the works of some famous artistes, potential big money earners, and providers of reasonable means of livelihood for the remaining un-distressed artistes cannot be performed.
And there is no one to protect the Artistes. No succour from the government, nor a disinterested public. No home for the Artiste to run into, as certain sections of the artistes themselves have of recent risen, for still inexplicable reasons, to hack down foundations being laid to build any Home at all.

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