Four deaths and no funeral – Toni Kan

…remembering Reginald Ebere, Pita Okute, Zinno Orara and Tam Fiofori

The day we are born is the day we begin our march to our death.

I have been reminded of this fact times over in the past month or so by the death of people I knew, people in the arts who impacted my life in different ways.

First was Reginald Ebere, journalist, scriptwriter, and award-winning filmmaker who passed on Sunday, May 23, 2024.

I am not sure I met Reginald more than three times while he was alive but he had a personality and pedigree that loomed large and which, as those coming behind him, we tried to emulate and live up to.

Reginald and Peter Okwoche, lately of the BBC, were the first graduates of the University of Jos to work at Hints before I joined and pulled in a whole cavalry from Unijos in my time as editor of the magazine.

At a point we had me, Helon Habila, David Njoku and Terh Agbedeh all from Unijos writing for Hints.

It was at Hints that our paths first crossed. He had risen to Deputy Editor before I joined the magazine. Reginald was a talented writer who, after Hints magazine went into the movie business first with When the Sun Sets and then Millionaires are Saints, pivoted to filmmaking in the nascent Nollywood where he excelled as a script writer and director.

He became famous for Isakabba, founded The Script Factory and was instrumental, many say, to the launching of many movie careers in Nollywood

He is survived by his wife, Ebere, and three children.

I met Pita Okute in 1991. I was a first year undergraduate at the University of Jos and as part of our “News Writing and Reporting” assignment, we had been asked to interview a prominent journalist.

Heading home to Lagos on holiday, I knew who I was going to interview; Richard Mofe-Damijo. Known today as one of Africa’s biggest movie stars, RMD as he is famously known published a magazine back then. Mister Magazine was way ahead of its time; it was like Cosmopolitan for men and they operated out of an office in Adeniji Jones, Ikeja.

I remember arriving at the well-appointed office early one morning and asking to see RMD. I was surprised at how quickly he saw me once I had told them why I needed to see him.

“Your course mate was here yesterday and I already gave him an interview,” RMD told me. That course mate was Damian.

Noticing the disappointment on my face, RMD suggested I interview his editor so my journey would not have been in vain.

The editor was a man named Pita Okute full name Pita Okute Iwuofor. The first thing that struck me was his red lips and prominent head. I greeted him and settling into the seat he offered me told him why I had been asked to see him.

I didn’t know the name but Pita Okute was already a legend in the literary and media circles thanks to the writer Ken Saro Wiwa whose novel Pita Okute had reviewed. In his review of Saro Wiwa’s Sozaboy, Pita Okute had described the novel as having a “silly plot.”

Saro-Wiwa was so offended by his critique that he wrote another novel which he called Prisoners of Jebs. In the new novel, he created a character called Peter Dumbrock (note the play and slur on Okute’s name). He was journalist who had been tortured in detention. The trauma of his torture had left him unable to speak except to keep repeating the words – silly plot.

Ken Saro-Wiwa had gotten his revenge but Pita Okute had been made a star.

He was gracious and patient as the 20 year old me fumbled through the questions and interview. But he must have been impressed because when I rose to leave, he gave me three past editions of the magazine.

“Read, and write something for us.”

I thanked him and left for home floating on air. I read the magazines noting its focus on interviews and profiles, health and hygiene, fashion and relationships plus gadgets and decided to write something.

I remember writing a piece, which thinking back now must have been inspired by When Harry Met Sally, the 1989 Nora Ephron romantic comedy which starred Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. The piece was called – Can men and women be just friends?

Pita Okute received it and published it. It was the first time my work would appear in a magazine before Jahman Anikulapo published a book review of mine in The Guardian a few months later. So, in many ways, Pita Okute was the man who opened the doors for me as a writer.

In an ironic twist, I would receive an email from him in 2019 asking to write for our newly launched online magazine,

Pita Okute died on June 3rd 2024 and his friend, Uzor Maxim Uzoatu penned a fitting and moving tribute in which he described Peter Okute as his “soul mate” who distinguished himself in life “as an insightful journalist, an award-winning novelist, and a sublime poet.”

Zinno Akpoghene Orara aka Zinno Orara was someone I had known and read about for years as I did many of his contemporaries like Jerry Buhari who taught my late brother at ABU, Sam Ovraiti and Duke Asidire.

But I did not get to meet him until 2019 when PR executive, Ayeni Adekunle introduced us and asked me to review Zinno’s forthcoming solo exhibition at Terra Kulture. Proceeding under the banner, Still Standing, it was a return and celebration of sorts for one of Nigeria’s most accomplished visual artists who had not exhibited in years.

Born on November 17, 1965, Zinno who graduated from Auchi polytechnic in 1989 at the top of his class was distinguished by the fact that while his contemporaries went it no advertising or the media as cartoonists, he embraced full time studio practice when it was not the norm. The exhibition at Terra Kulture was to mark his 30th anniversary as an artist.

Meeting him for our interview, I found him to be soft spoken with a warm and disarming smile, self-assuming and passionate about his craft. His work was eclectic and defined by a clearly defined iconography. They were mostly mixed media pieces, painting over textured surfaces laid over with jute bags.

Commenting on his textured surfaces, Zinno told me “I love textures. They give me a texture that tickles my fancy. The textures I get from jute bags take me to realms that canvases will never reach.”

After that encounter, I began collecting his works and one of his paintings sits above the head board in my bedroom in Lagos.

Zinno Orara, master artists and prophet departed this world on Tuesday June 25, 2023.

Uncle Tam was an amazing character.  Calm on the surface, he was quick to “blast” you if you put a foot wrong. I was on the receiving end of that blasting once, when at Freedom Park, I had mistakenly introduced him as Uncle Tom.

Tam Fiofori, who hailed from Okrika was born in 1942 and would go on to distinguish himself as a polymath; photographer, writer, journalist, artist manager and raconteur who could hold you spell bound for hours with riveting tales of escapades and encounters around the world.

His photgraphs from FESTAC 77, remain some of the most iconic and indelible from the festival and he would go on to manage Sun Ra, one of the most socially conscious black musicians to come from America and proponent of Afrofuturism.

His time with Sun Ra is captured in his book, Sun Ra: Space Music Myth and according to Chimurenga, “though Sun Ra introduced the Moog synthesizer to the jazz world. The person who introduced Sun Ra to the Moog is Tam Fiofori.”

Tam Fiofori considered himself a Lagos boy, a city he first came to as an 11 year old to study at Kings College. He would call Lagos home until his passing on Tuesday June 25, 2024.

A glowing tribute from iREP captured his essence and contribution to the culture:  “His work transcended mere documentation; it was a profound commentary on society, culture, and history. As a storyteller, his lens and pen brought to life the vibrant and often overlooked stories of his homeland.”

As we pour libations to these men who have become ancestors, we will mourn and grieve quietly unable as we are to attend their funerals because of distance engendered by migration.

It is well!


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