An apology is in order; for readers who have been following the series on the ‘Three Hunchbacks’, there is an urgent need to digress, this week, and bring up a matter of national, in fact, of international interest. Kindly indulge us. The recognition and annunciation of a global ambassador of Nigeria’s art and culture: the inimitable actor, director, producer and mentor to multitude, Olu Jacobs, in the week he turned 80!
I met the Jacobs a little over 30 years ago as a reporter with The Punch Newspapers. They were barely four years old as a married couple, and I was intrigued about the disparity in their ages, and yet the strange courtesy and mutual respectful affection flowing in their Ikeja, Lagos home. The spark of their home was the angelic Dayo, their first child, a beautiful and inquisitive girl. She had a magnetic appeal in her childlike penchant for knowledge, her natural proclivity for warm and wondrous conversations. She held a lovely admiration for life and the interactions with interesting strangers that infrequently crossed her path.
Dayo was a star performer at my children’s party, in March 1996, when she came with her parents to our humble home. She danced, pranced about and thoroughly soaked in the ambience and chaos of the celebration – not for her the reticent watchfulness of going to a stranger’s party. She was up, front and wherever else she chose as she further gladdened our hearts with her cherubic openness and joie de vivre.
Shortly after, July 18,1996 precisely, she left us abruptly while undergoing a medical attempt to correct a bandy leg. Dayo died – at 10 years old…and for some time the Jacobs wavered and wobbled, expectedly, by the great loss. My family were so distressed that I dedicated an edition of Counterpoint (in Fame Weekly of August 6-12, 1996) to memorialise this exceptional child. A brief recall of the article’s concluding paragraph: “For her 10 years, she was lucky to meet good parents – few of those who believe in filial negotiations: for Dayo was a consummate negotiator, an irrepressible conversationalist and a consistent sunlight in a gloomy world. If all I remember is her ever-ready smile, if all I remember is her innocent probings, if all I remember is her pleasant matronly effusiveness; if all I remember is her mother-hen disposition; if all I remember is her Go-for-gold-but-stay-with-fold attitude; Dayo is indeed a living child; a child that inspires her parents to stay with the fold and go for gold – for more sun and more joys. Certainly, she will continue to win gold, more hearts and stay within whatever fold she now finds herself: the ultimate consolation.”
But the Jacobs sauntered and soared back to life with the grace of God, and their immeasurable shared love and understanding…with Soji, the second child and first son… Soon, Pamilerin came, and the house of Jacobs regained its full shine and sheen. Thereafter, they moved to their own house in Ajah area, and we were subsequently divided by distance, and the rigours of Lagos living – but we never entirely cut off the mutual link of regard and admiration.
On Sunday, 10 July, 2022 a deeply memorable party was held to mark his 80th birthday inside the innards of the iconic and restored Glover Hall – of course, the oldest cinema in Nigeria. Symbolic. It was a resplendent display of Joke’s love and strength of character in standing stoically beside her immensely famous and affable husband, business partner and co-thespian. And the social media world hollered in admiration.
Well, in further celebration of a man of the arts whose entire occupation and investments are principally on the business and vagaries of entertainment, we present this excerpt from my book on the 100-year trajectory of the Nigerian movie industry (1920 to 2020 – ‘Reflections: Anthology of Thoughts…’ – 2021).
“Big in all ramifications. Nigeria’s most regarded active actor (male or female) is an icon on stage, film, television and video. Oludotun Bayewu Jacobs has passed the great portals of the British National Theatre; has worked with some of the fathers of British post-modern feature films and television adventure dramas. With credits in Ashanti, Dogs of War, Pirates and Vigilante, few if any, can measure up to the pearly acting skills of this Ogun State-born thespian. Let’s look up some of his big-screen credits for clarity – Movies: Customs Officer in The Dogs of War (1980), Col. Nsogbu in Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend (1985); Boomako in Pirates (1986), and the crime celluloid, Vigilante (1988).
Longevity doesn’t necessarily bestow prestige; it’s deep in his haystacks of creative credits. Look and see his bulging TV series portfolio: The Goodies (1971), Spyder’s Web (1972), Till Death Us Do Part (1974 and 1981), The Venturers, Barlow (both 1975), Centre Play, The Crezz (both 1976); Musa Ladipo in Angels (1976-1983), 1990, The Tomorrow People, Storyteller in Jackanory (all 1978), Ashanti, Sylvester in The Professionals, Not the Nine O’Clock News (all 1979); President Gadin in Squadron (1982), African Doctor in The Mad Death (1983), Rumpole of the Bailey, Mr. Alabaster in The Witches and the Grinnygog (both 1983); Play for Today (1984); and Inspector Best Idafa in The Third Eye (1990–1993).
OJ-Naija, as pals of yore were fond of calling him, is married to the talented veteran actress, Joke Silva since 1985, and has consistently worked hard at his craft to amaze his audiences in every of his performances – irrespective of the locale or the culture.
When he deigned to check out what all the fuss about Nollywood was, he got sucked in…to the tune of no less than 500 flips! He had an uncanny capacity to morph into the Igbo cosmology, and typecast a troubled or somnolent Eze (king) effectively… helped by his imposing gait and big tremulous voice. Here is another shortlist: Iva (1993), Another Love (1996), Obstacles (1998), Twins of the Rain Forest (short), Endtime, Oganigwe, Aba Riot (all 1999); Private Sin, The Kingmaker, Ago Kan Oru, Mission to Africa (all 2003); Eye of the Gods, Turn Table (both 2004); Soul on Fire,To Love a Stranger, Ultimate Crisis, Women in Power, A Time to Die, Omaliko, One God One Nation, Opin Irin Ajo (all 2005); The Prince and Me, One-Bullet, Royal Doom (all 2006); A Can of Worms, Beauty and the Beast, Chief Obielum in Perfect, Alhaji Sanni in Smoke & Mirrors, The Return of Ogidi, Throne of Tears (all 2008); Chief Kolade in Last Mogul of the League, League of Gentlemen, Forest of Tears, and A Weeping Soul (all 2009).
The phrase “home alone” was non-existent for Jacob in 2007 with almost 40 videos shot that year alone! Here’s a deep cut: Mirror of Beauty, African Soldier, Burning Kingdom, Eewo Orisa, Kingdom Apart, Lost in the Jungle, Mountains of Evil, Odudu Kingdom, Royal Destiny, Show Me Heaven, Slave to Lust, The Prince and Me, and Warrior’s Heart.
About 12 years ago, getting close to 70, the chief-incarnate began to slow down, a little; but he still gave us a handful: Bent Arrows, Bitter Generation, Power of a Kiss (all 2010); Sacred Lies (all 2011), Potomanto, Covert Operation (both 2013); Oba Ekpen in The Antique (2014), Oloibiri (2015), as Richard in The Royal Hibiscus Hotel (2017).
It is therefore not out of place that most of today’s budding (and established) stars gaze at O. J. as a beacon, an inspirational fire-fly whose influence on the acting world is phenomenal. It feels really great to have an Olu Jacobs amongst us.
He would be 80 on July 11, 2022.”
Belated Happy birthday, OJ-Naija!