By Adegboyega Arulogun
When I first heard people called him ‘uncle JAB’, I thought it was a nickname from the boxing ring. But I was wrong. The three letters were the initials of his personal names: Joseph (the dreamer or the biblical father of Jesus); Abiodun (a child born during a festival celebration — in his case, three days after Xmas and three days before the New Year) — he was born in Calabar, capital city of Cross River State on the December 28, 1932; and Babajide (the departed father has arrived early in the morning). That Baba was likely according to Yoruba’s personal names to be his grandfather from whom he picked Adu, his surname.
Of the three names, Joseph seems to be a pointer to his future career – creativity. He is into creative writing as a screen and radio script writer who dreams to create stories that educate, entertain, inform and relax the viewers and listeners.
However, the story of JAB Adu did not start in creativity but in banking.
JAB started his educational career at the primary section of Baptist Academy then situated at Oil Mill Street, Lagos, after returning from Calabar at the age of five to his Popo Aguda, Brazilian Quarters of Lagos. His parents being of the Catholic faith, insisted he had to go to St. Gregory’s College, Obalende, also in Lagos. While at St. Gregory’s, he tasted some acting. On graduating, his father wanted him to work in the bank and he landed a job at the British Bank for West Africa, the B.B.W.A, now the First Bank, PLC.
He later travelled to Britain where he studied Banking at the Westminster City College, London and graduated as an Associate of the Institute of Bankers (A.I.B) UK. His brief stint at St. Gregory’s as an actor moved him to Morley College of Drama, also in London. On his return to Nigeria, he worked with the Central Bank of Nigeria between 1964 and 1970.
While in the Central Bank, he participated as an actor and writer in the popular Nigerian Television Drama series titled ‘The Village Headmaster’ in which he played the role of Bassey Okon, the doctor, dispenser and pharmacist of Oja village. Remember he was born in Calabar and now in Village Headmaster he played the role of an Efik in the junction town of Oja. Remember him and Sisi Clara (Elsie Olusola) and Amebo (Ibidun Allison)? He left banking in 1970 and went into full acting, writing and production.]
He is more renowned in acting but his creative pedigree transcends not just acting that he is very well known for on the screen. He is a film producer whose production credits include Bisi, Daughter of the River and Adio’s Family in co-production with NTA.
JAB Adu wrote, co-produced and directed the full length film – ‘Bisi, Daughter of the River’, a film that was one of the pioneering efforts that followed Kongi’s Harvest and ‘Things Fall Apart.’ Based upon the Yoruba legend of Olurombi and shot on 35min on celluloid on location both in Lagos and Badagry. The film threw a challenge to the American and Indian films in the Nigerian cinema circuit because of its production quality and Nigerians’ thirst to see their own people on the cinema screens in the theatres. One of the lessons of Bisi was that like ‘Kongi’s Harvest ‘and ‘Things Fall Apart’, the crew was both Nigerian and foreign film technicians — an avenue for learning by the local crew members. Bisi, Daughter of the River had a success story in the cinema theatres.
One other feature film producer who, with courage, turned out films was Eddie Ugbomah in ‘The Death of a Black President’ (reminding us of General Murtala Muhammed’s assassination), Oyenusi (the armed robber), Apalara (the murder of an Islamic preacher at Oko Awo in Lagos by the Awo Opa cult and many others. Chief Ugbomah later became chairman of the Nigerian Film Corporation, NFC. I was always amazed at the pace he produced his films, especially considering the state of film financing in Nigeria at that time.
When you write or talk about the growth and development of feature film production in Nigeria, you cannot forget the Adesanya Brothers in Vigilante, shot on 16mm film.
Afolabi Adesanya remains solidly in the profession of film making as the Managing Director of the NFC while his brother who remains in Sagamu managing the family business still finds time to teach in one of the film schools in Lagos.
The adaptation of Bayo Faleti’s book ‘Idaamu Padi Minkailu’ (The Dilemma of Father Michael) by Lola Fani-Kayode as ‘Iwa’ shot on 16mm seemed to close the first chapter of celluloid (film) in Nigeria.
After the production of the TV series ‘Winds Against My Soul’, by Laolu Ogunniyi, which featured the ageless Taiwo Ajai-Lycett, NTA encouraged co-production with independent producers. One of such co-productions was Jab Adu’s Adio Family, shot on 16mm reversal stock processed at the NTA Victoria Island’s film laboratory by Dolapo Okubanjo and Wale Fanu. The Camera Operator and Director of Photography was Asani Folawiyo. The 52 episodes of the programme were edited by Ben Olisha, who himself later became an international documentary film award winner with the first episode of Land Preparation of NTA’s Food Basket.
JAB Adu wrote, produced and acted in the TV social drama series, the Adio Family, which dealt with family life. It focused on the effort of a typical middle-class family in coping with and maintaining a value oriented upbringing for their children and striving for a happy married life between husband and wife.
After acting in the first production of the play “The Boat “by J.P. Clark, JAB was invited by Professors J. P. Clark and Ebun Clark to be the Director of Plays at their Pec Repertory Theatre at the J.K. Randle Hall, Onikan. JAB Adu kept the Pec Repertory productive with ‘Our Dear Native Lord,’ ‘Parcel Post,’ ‘The Opportunity,’ ‘Schools Out’ and the maiden public performance of Clark’s ‘Wives Revolt. When the BBC TV/NTA co-production of Nigeria: A Squandering of Riches was shot on location in Nigeria, all the sketches were written by JAB and performed at the PEC Repertory.
JAB was lucky about the sketches in the ‘Nigeria: A Squandering of Riches; I wasn’t as co-producer with Richard Taylor of the BBC, I was a friend of the State Security Service at 15, Awolowo Road, Ikoyi. Please do not insinuate about my friendship if you want to know ask Onyeka Onwenu who anchored the programme.
JAB’S acting credits are enormous, particularly with the advent of Nollywood and the Yoruba movies. He adapted late Bode Osanyin’s stage play ‘Aiyetale’ for a one how population control drama, directed and produced for UNFPA/Federal Ministry of Health.
He is one of the Script writers of the African Radio Drama Association (ARDA) that wrote the radio series titled ‘Rainbow City’, which dealt with issues of good governance and democracy, accountability and transparency, reproductive health issues and HIV/AIDS.
His international radio contribution was with the BBC World Service as a script-writer and actor on their award winning radio drama series — ‘Story Story’– Voices from the Market. This programme is popular in Nigeria and in many Africa English speaking countries.
JAB served on a Ministerial Committee to harmonise the functions of the Nigerian Film Corporation and the Nigeria Films and Video Censors Board. He also participated in the development and writing of a BBC WST TV drama series ‘Wetin dey’ and also acted in it.
The Zuma Film Festival, in 2008 gave the Lifetime Achievement Award to JAB Adu for his contributions to acting, film production and leadership in the creative world of the country.
In 1978, JAB was awarded the Member of the Order of Niger (M.O.N.) – (without them, ‘ey’ — which is the craze of today’s Nigeria) for his contributions to the arts and creativity.
As uncle JAB has moved to Abeokuta for his retirement, he breathes the unpolluted air from Olumo rock that will enhance his good health and make him live longer than if he stays in his home in Lagos. We are sure to join him in the next decade to celebrate him at 90! So 80 “gbosas” and cheers to JAB Adu, a creative man at 80!
Alhaji Arulogun, filmamaker, ex-General Manager NTA, and former Commissioner for information in Oyo State, writes from Ibadan.
Culled from The Guardian.
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