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Tribute to Victor Uwaifo @ 80

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Sir Victor Uwaifo

By Azuka Jebose

The Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria, PMAN scheduled a press conference mid-noon that humid day in 1987. As a young entertainment editor, PMAN office, located inside the dirty alley of mid-town bustling Ikeja district, where the train tracks snaked through the neighborhoods of daily activities of hustlers, small business operators and hangers-on to life,  was always a happening place for entertainment reporters. Most days, I anchored my end day’s musings and runnings at the PMAN office, free-styling with Tony Okoroji, Late Okomeise, or just loitering: man, the place buzzed with orishirishi activities,  calibrated happenstances. Tony Okoroji made it even livelier with his affectionate open door policy and embrace of entertainment journalists. Journalists and musicians, singers mingled daily: Emma Ogosi, Late Okomesie Okomesi, my friend, late Maliki Showman, one of Africa’s greatest Alto-saxophonists, Late Sonny Okosuns, Chief Ebenezer Obey, King Sunny Ade, Dele Abiodun, Sir Shina Peters, Segun Adewale, Stella Monye, Jide Obi, Mike Okri, Late Tyna Onwudiwe ( Onwu-dey vex… African oyibo), the “secessionist”, late Aigbe lebarty, who later seceded to form a splinter outfit known as PMEAN (Performing Musicians Employers Association of Nigeria). Aigbe was a brutal Benin neo-soul and traditional musician. He infused his Edo rhythms into highlife: his beats were curious rhythms, he was known to the scene as a rabble-rouser than a stingray music maker. But he was a hybrid performer. Aigbe was the older brother of Felix Lebarty.

Tony Okoroji invited me to the scheduled press conference at the PMAN Secretariat. He informed me that Sir Victor Uwaifo would be attending, together with other superstars of that era.  The press conference was scheduled to be addressed by its President. Majek was blazing and steaming the music charts with his debut album, PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE, and he had been in complicated challenges with Sir Victor Uwaifo (read the book for this). I wanted to interview Uwaifo. He was a creative maestro, but because he was based in Benin City, a five-hour drive from Lagos. But he occasionally visited Lagos. It was hard to track him down for an interview. So imagine how I felt when Tony said the “guitar boy” was attending that mega-media meet with journalists.

I met with Sir Victor Uwaifo during the media conference. Honestly, I don’t remember whatever was discussed at the conference because Uwaifo and I  just sat together throughout and chatted. By the end of the session, he invited me to his place in Benin. I promised I would visit Benin within the month. Who would turn down an invitation from Nigeria’s legend and mega star? Kings, Obis and our leaders begged for such privileges with him. And there he was, extending an iconic invitation to me, a careless bohemian?.

 I had not seen my parents at Onicha Ugbo for six months.  I needed to visit my hometown, to reassure them that I was still living and loving. So on a Saturday early morning, I rode in Bendel Line 504 Station wagon inter-state public transportation from Jibowu Bus stop to Benin. By 1.30 p.m, I was at the gates of Sir Victor Uwaifo one of Nigeria’s brilliant creative artistes and music makers, the pride of Edo and a superstar worshipped by his own people and country. Soon, his secretary reported to him that, “sir, there is a skinny young man at the office. He says he is from the Punch and his name is Azuka Jebose Molokwu.” From his hallway, I heard his voice:” You mean Azuka Jebose came all the way from Lagos to see me? Let him come o…” I walked into the embrace of a native “god” of his people. Unbelievable! For three hours, I was a “special guest’ of Nigeria’s legendary high-life music superstar, a prolific guitarist. He took me on a tour of his museum, his indented airplane, a 767 size, which he sculptured, sat in the middle of his compound. “Jebose, I am a genius”, he said during lunch. I was like a kid at a new play station park. Wow. I saw beyond Victor Uwaifo, explored his genius minds with visual arts, sculpture, outside his guitar and music. He was truly a genius. By the time the sun began to dim on the skylines of Benin City, I informed him I was not going to spend the night. I had to visit my parents. He volunteered to take me to the Taxi station. We rode in this two-door mini red coupe convertible vehicle. As we navigated through traffic, indigenes were generous with the worship of their hero. They chased us as he drove through the city’s traffic, slowly but steadily, waving and appreciating the crowd. A line of fans and fanatics formed along that road, obstructing traffic. There was a mini chaotic celebration and I relished the front row privilege. I was amazed, young and in the middle of hero-worshipping rituals. Soon, we pulled into the Taxi stand at Ikpoba Slope and he ordered a cab driver to make sure I got to my father’s compound. He paid for my transportation, a charter; before I left he handed me a folded envelope and whispered: “Give this to your father for me, Jebose”.

Being excerpts from Azuka Jebose’s well-anticipated autobiography, ‘My Scattered Life’.