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NIGERIA AT 50: I GOT A HANDSHAKE AFTER SINGING FOR NIGERIA – OLUFEMI OJO

By NBF News

On October 1, 1960, Chief Olufemi Ojo led of musicians to perform on stage in celebration of Nigeria's independence. But today, the 75-year-old man is unhappy, despite the excitement of the forthcoming golden independence anniversary celebration in October. Ojo lamented that those who danced their hearts out for the nation have been relegated to the dustbin of history.

The septuagenarian, who was only 25 years old at independence, was at that time the leader of Johnny Bogart band, a musical group that was popular among night clubs in Lagos, Ibadan, Kano, Port-Harcourt and Enugu. He was then popularly called Johnny Bogart, a name he adopted after a Western mentor and also revered by his mates for his entertainment prowess and spine-chilling stage performances.

Ojo recounted to Daily Sun how the Nigerian Union of Musicians and Performing Artistes (NUMA) vigorously protested an attempt by the organising committee to foist a western band on the country in 1960. According to him, many indigenous musicians, aggrieved by their non-inclusion in the independence celebration trooped to the National Assembly where they registered their protest before the Prime Minister, the late Tafawa Balewa.

Respite came their way when a Nigerian band led by Victor Olaiya and a host of other group dancers got an invitation few days later. Recalling his golden moment on the national stage, Ojo said: 'I had about six performances for the night, including dancing, comedy and magical displays. Many people were surprised with the kind of dances we put up because there were no training schools of dancing and comedy in those days. There were no schools to teach foreign entertainment in those days but we displayed such creativity that marvelled every one. We were paid peanuts but we were all happy celebrating our own independence', he said.

Chief Ojo's eyes dimmed in despair as he spoke in a depressed tone of how their performances were rewarded later with a handshake. According to him, foreign dignitaries at the event squealed with delight throughout the performance but their counterparts at home went about in penury. 'Over the years, the country has been celebrating the nation's anniversary without remembering those who ignited the light of this celebration. That is quite unfortunate. They neither consulted us nor sought our advice on how to make these celebrations memorable', he lamented.

Chief Ojo, a former governorship aspirant in Lagos State, decried the attitude of robbing Peter to pay Paul. He said people who contributed nothing to the nation were pampered while the diligent labourers live in hunger and desolation. Ojo advised the organising committee of the 50th independence anniversary to avoid the mistakes of the past by returning to the roots to seek the counsel of the elders.

'They have set billions of naira for the celebration. It is not a waste of resources as some people argue. But, the organisers must ensure that this fund is properly utilised. The organisers should look back on what happened on the first day, and tap the experience of the key players. Let them consult us because we controlled the entertainment stage during the celebration', he advised.

On post-independence expectations, Chief Ojo said many Nigerians nursed the dream for a great country but were disappointed that the dream has not been translated to reality. 'Kidnapping as we have it today is a new language. Night life in those days kept Lagos and other cities bubbling from dawn to dusk. We travelled to many places without fears for our variety shows and there was no case of ethnic or religious hostility. Today, one marvels at the high rate of accidents on our roads, armed robbery and so on. We never expected this to happen. It is a disappointment', explained Ojo.

On the agitation by some groups for a loose federation in Nigeria, Chief Ojo said divine intervention is necessary to rebuild the land.