Monday, 4 May 2009

From newsroom to pushing the rhythm

My encounter with Anenih, Osumbor the armed robbers...


He had come around to see a friend, but he was soon trapped into a chat. I mean this is the well notable Abdul Okwechime, a journalist, who has seen many ‘battles’ and earned a place among the rare breed of reporters of the eighties through early nineties fondly called the golden boys of the press.
He had little time to spend but I ended up tricking him to hitch a ride to his next destination, his office at the the Murtala Mohammed Airport; while we chatted.
“I was a journalist; I’ve been everywhere. I worked with Sunday Times while I was in the university,” Abdul retorted as we drove to his office.
Were you combining the job with academics?
“Yes, they gave me the job; I didn’t apply for it.”
“In those days, I used to do some freelance job with Ophelia Magazine when I was in the University of Lagos. At some point, I interviewed Peter Tosh, when he came to Nigeria; but the story was not published because Ophelia folded up.”
Determined to let the story see the light of the day, Abdul headed for the Daily Times newspapers, where he met the late Andy Akporugo, then editor of Sunday Times.
“I gave him the story and he asked if I had a picture for it, I said, no. He asked me not to worry that they would source for the picture in their library. The following Sunday, I saw the promo in the front page of Sunday Times saying, ‘watch out next week, Peter Tosh speaks to Sunday Times.’
“I knew I had won; I wasn’t a staff, just a student in UNILAG. They ran the story in parts — part one and part two. I was satisfied; my lecturers saw it too, and that was for me the icing,” he beamed with smiles.
You were paid for the story?
“I wasn’t thinking of money then or even thinking of working as a full time journalist. I was just freelancing and enjoying myself.”
Akporugo was so impressed with Abdul’s copy to the extent that he personally traced him to UNILAG.
“I was in the class when Apkorugo came for me. He said, ‘my friend, you write very well, come and work with us; that’s how I got the job. I worked with them as a student, and also did my youth service there.”

AFTER a stint at The Guardian, Abdul got a PR job with Leventis Group together with Victor Oladokun, the popular presenter of Turning Point.
“He was the PR manager, and I was offered PR manager (Media). As I was going to take the job, I met Nduka Obaigbena of Thisday (then This Week). He showed me a copy of what he was planning to do and I joined them. I left the paper as an assistant editor, before I completely left journalism.”
Meanwhile, right from his school days, Abdul had always shown interest in music, which actually spurred him to conduct an interview with Peter Tosh.
“I love writing music. In King’s College, we were paid to learn music. So, you can listen to music and tell if it’s good or nonsense; music is something I do without stressing myself. I take up my pen and talk music; I didn’t talk about their person, but their music.”
But it’s not easy telling artistes the truth
“Yes, but at some point, some of them realised I was telling them the truth. I told them what they were doing right and where they were going wrong.”

ANOTHER area Abdul excelled in journalism was crime reporting, where he won various awards.
“I reported crime not police, I opened up places. Like when they were going for anti-robbery raid, I rode with them in their van to report the story. Sometimes, I followed them when they went to attack armed robbers; it was very risky.”
Have you ever experienced shootouts between the police and robbers?
“Ah, I’ve had many,” he retorted. “But that wasn’t what I will consider it a risk because, anytime I went with them, they always ensured that I was safe. They were always conscious that I was with them and would protect me.”
For Abdul, his most risky assignment on the beat was trailing the notorious armed group led by Anenih, who was rampaging the whole of then Bendel State.
“One day, my editor said, ‘look, this Anenih case, we have to break into it’; and I said, ‘why not?’ Then, there was curfew in the whole of Bendel as it was called then.”
Notwithstanding, Abdul took off from Lagos at about 8 pm and entered Benin in darkness, in search of Anenih for an interview.
“I stayed in Iyaro, then to Ekpoba slope, just to feel the city; I was almost like This Week Bendel correspondent. I was there until I got a link to Anenih; I had an interview with him before he was caught. The police were surprised when they saw the interview and asked me how I managed to get him. I told them I was not a police informant and just described the place for them.”
But you didn’t disclose the exact place?
“Of course, they went there, but did not find him; he wasn’t that stupid to stay in one place; that’s why they couldn’t catch him.”
Did he know you were recording the conversation?
“No, when we got there, everybody was smoking…you have to do the things they were doing just to get information. You talk as if you were interested in what they were doing because those guys were very smart. I even had to go and interview Anenih’s mother when the police were torturing her, piercing her body with broken bottle just to make her disclose her son’s whereabouts; the story was not published.”

WHAT kind of man was Anenih?
“ He was the product of that society. In Benin at that time, you could see anger on the faces of all the youths; what angered them, I didn’t know, but you could feel it. So, Anenih was just a manifestation of the Benin kid. As he said to me then, ‘I dey work for police; if I thief 10 naira and I give police eight naira, no be police I dey work for? So, you see he knew what he was doing.”
For Abdul, Anenih was more compassionate than Monday Osunbor, his second in command.
“He was very ruthless. There was this story they told me about their doctor. The doctor all of sudden, said he wasn’t going to treat them again. Monday said to Anenih, ‘dis man don see we face oh! If he no wan work with us, we go kill am.’ But Anenih said, ‘no, this guy has been very good to us, treating all our wounds… he had been very nice.’ So, he said, ‘we should go to his house if he saw us in his compound, that will send fear of the lord into him; even if he had the intention of betraying us, he would swallow that.” That was Anenih’s plan.
“They first snatched a man’s Santana car and Monday wanted to kill the man and Anenih objected to it.’ So, they took everything from him, leaving him with just his pants.”
He continued: “They drove the car into the doctor’s apartment in GRA, Benin. As soon as he saw them, he escaped through the window. Acting on impulse, Monday ran after him and shot him dead, that wasn’t their original plan. So, you could see the difference between these two men; Anenih was more passionate.”

...My Person-to-Person affair with Femi Kuti
Abdul’s relationship with the Anikulapo Kutis dates back to his university days, when he lived in Fela’s Kalakuta Republic in Ikeja.
“I was in my first year then and I was going to the campus from there; music got into me then.”
However, in between his reporting career, Abdul was into music promotion, though not everyone knew about that.
“I was doing it, but the only thing I wasn’t doing was making money out of it. I worked for a group called Harmatan Records as an operations director for free. Harmatan Records then was Sunny Ade’s international managers; they were part of the team that took Ade to Island Records.”
Abdul was instrumental to the formation of Femi Kuti’s band, the Positive Force, when Fela was still in prison.
“We took boys from his father’s band, because they were the only ones strong enough to play Afrobeat the way we wanted it and the way Femi wants it. They rehearsed and we paid them with Femi leading the band.”
The arrangement did not go down well with some of Fela’s men, who went to Maiduguri to tell Fela that Abdul had scattered his band.
“Even when I went there to see Fela, his countenance changed, but I wasn’t bothered because I was convinced, I was doing the right thing. So, I just let him be. When he came out of jail, we had lined up shows for Femi; one of them was in Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, where he was invited as the special guest.”

TODAY, Abdul has resolved to do fulltime music promotion with his outfit, Person to Person Ltd. He recently entered into an agreement with Femi to promote his music within and outside the country.
“If you look around the world, you will see that people are scratching every corner to re-create Fela’s Afrobeat; it’s a shame that it was when he died that they started taking him seriously. Jay Z has done a remix of Water No Get Enemy; I heard Alicia Keys and co are working on their own remix.
“When Fela was alive, I complained to him that his songs were getting too long. He replied that, he was playing what he felt and that the next generation of Afrobeat musicians could cut it into dance hall the way they feel, which is what Femi is doing.”
Meanwhile, Femi is at the verge of releasing his latest work, which Abdul described as ‘awesome.’ “You need to listen to the songs. Everything that Fela never did in his music career, Femi has done them in the new work. I won’t tell you much about it now, but soon, you will hear from us. I’ve watched him play in Monaco, France, during the World Music Day. After his performance, Carlos Santana said to him, ‘some people have it, some don’t. You, you have it.”
Continued Abdul: “We intend to do a lot of things for Femi. We are going to put him where he rightly belongs; we are not going to compromise our own stars for any other. People pay foreign artistes millions of dollars to perform here and then look at Nigerian stars and say, ‘take 5000 or so.’ All the big artistes, who had played in Nigeria, always ask of Femi.

FOR Abdul, it’s high time Nigerian artistes started making their own rhythm.
“People say that if you go to parties today, what you hear is Nigerian music. But if you look at it deeply, they are just sinking; if you remove the songs, they all sound alike. It is the song of one person that differentiates him from another musician. Here it will sell, but you can’t take it out; can you take those songs to America where they have good singers? We need to build our own rhythm; rhythm is plenty here and we can feel it.”
By Abdul’s judgement, “Femi is an artiste we think is doing what musicians should do. If eventually things go as planned, we have a studio, you come with money you will be recorded. But if we have to record you and promote you, then you have to play the kind of music that we want.”

1 comment:

  1. His name is Anini...not Anenih. Anenih is the politician.