Wafi boy comes to Lagos: Annotations on RMD’s “Portrait of a Warri boy” – Toni Kan
Williams Evans Richard Wedson Enagwalor Mofe Damijo aka Richard Mofe Damijo aka RMD was born on July 6, 1961 to a mother who had waited for many years to have a child.
This is the reason why many contributors to his book, “Portrait of a Warri Boy” note that he was a spoilt child. But he was also a shy and intelligent boy who became the king of boys in his Warri neighbourhood as a means of overcoming his shyness.
The book is a compilation of 25 recollections around the birthday boy. The book opens with a short prologue penned by RMD himself who in a past life had worked as a teacher, admin officer, journalist, publisher before finding fame and fortune as one of Nigeria’s most recognizable and bankable stars of stage and screen
A trained theatre arts practitioner active in NUTASA and NUTAF as an undergraduate and a life time achievement awardee at AMAA, RMD found fame on television as lead in beloved series like SPACS, Ripples, Checkmate as well as in Legacy and lately Hush and Castle and Castle. But it was as Segun Kadiri on the Amaka Igwe directed Checkmate that RMD, playing Anne Haastrup’s (Ego Boyo) nemesis and love interest that he got the whole of Nigeria to fall in love with him.
And when Nollywood dawned, RMD did not thumb his nose at the phenomenon but embraced it as actor in movies like Violated and producer in others like Out of Bounds. With each incarnation, his fame grew and at 60, RMD has settled comfortably into a well-earned niche as a great of Nigeria’s stage and screen.
It is that trajectory and unique ascent from the backwaters of Okpara waterside through UNIBEN and the days of living rough in Lagos to the gilded stages of the new Nollywood with its blockbusters and Netflix that this book attempts to capture.
How did RMD, as Azuh Arinze writes, achieve his longevity and relevance? How did he manage to, despite forks in the road and a dalliance with politics retain his top spot in an industry redolent with talent and hunger and ambition?
RMD’s life reads like a fairy tale but to insist on that is to discount what many have described as his talent, his perseverance, his grit, his dedication and above all his generosity of spirit.
As John Nwaobi writes, when RMD came to squat with him in room M17 at UNIBEN, the squatter brought along another squatter. Nwaobi writes that his action did not stem from audacity or indifference but from benevolence.
Commenting on his ability to navigate and transition through epochs, Ego Boyo writes that RMD’s success secret is that “he has remained teachable and open to new ideas.”
Let me pause to note that RMD’s life has been punctuated by many forks in the road and I wish he was here to clarify a few.
If there had been a significant enough fork in the road, Evans Damijo who did his A level’s at my alma mater, St Patrick’s College, Asaba would not have been an actor but an Olympian or world class athlete leading the pack as a long jumper.
If there hadn’t been a fork in the road, RMD would have ended up with a degree in History instead of Theatre Arts and if he hadn’t been so spoilt enough to argue with an elder, Uncle London would have triumphed and convinced RMD’s mum not to let him study theatre arts which was for people “wey no serious.” His preference, as RMD argued him under the table, was for history or law.
If there hadn’t been a fork in the road with Kings College not employing him full time because there was an employment embargo, RMD might have made a career as a teacher who dabbled in acting instead of the uber talented and garlanded actor we know him to be.
The book is full of anecdotes. Stories of youthful exuberance and daring, of times spent drinking and chasing girls and also of a young man with a commendable work ethic who is described as “seldom ever late” and who despite his “fine boy, no pimple” image as Gloria Rhodes writes, was among the first actor of his generation to build himself a house in the upscale Omole estate in Lagos.
Oluwatoyin Kole-Odutola borrowing a template from Ali Mazrui’s The Trial of Christopher Okigbo describes RMD’s journey as that of a man playing a “noble role as an artiste in a post-colonial society.”
A super star who has managed to transition from the analogue to the digital age, RMD is a digital migrant with 2.5m followers on Instagram, the face of Schweppes in which he says that “change is inevitable”, a Glo Ambassador, fashinionista and uber celebrity.
But like the elephant and the blind men, he is also many more things. Former husband to May Ellen Ezekiel, his marriage to MEE gave Nigeria what can actually be described as its first Celebrity Couple.
Today, he is the husband of Jumobi, father to Nicole and Mena as well as Brume and Tega and also a grandfather. A public figure with one of the most recognizable faces in Nigeria, RMD is described as an intensely private family man as well as a genial and generous friend with a forgiving and loyal spirit.
The roll call of contributors is testament to the man they say he is; one who is age and class agnostic. We glean these from the recollections from former roommates to fellow actors, friends from NUTAF and NYSC, former staff and journalist colleagues as well as younger journalists and comedians whose paths crossed with RMD’s as mentor to mentee.
But as with all things there are errors in the rendering. The book could have been better edited since it is a cocktail of reminiscences and contributions from people with varying facility with the language.
There are also a few issues that require clarification.
Was RMD admitted to study history at Uniben or did he change thanks to Dr. Atiboroko Uyovbukherhi? Also was dance his major as Joke Silva writes or did he specialize in acting as we learn from the lips of Dr. Gore with Mr. Kole Odutola as ventriloquist? I wish RMD was here to clarify.
As I wrote in my novel The Carnivorous City, Lagos always demands a transformation. For Williams Evans Richard Wedson Enagwalor Mofe Damijo it was first to Richard Mofe Damijo and then to RMD which is believed to have been coined by the inimitable Femi Akintunde Johnson (FAJ). The transformation was so complete that when his friend visited his home in Warri and asked for Richie or Richard no one knew who he was until a boy asked “Do you mean Brother Evans?”
This book is the story of Brother Evans aka RMD and it is the story of talent forged into skill, of perseverance and diligence presenting him before kings. But it is above all a story of loss and rebirth, of miles gone and promises kept but above all it is the story of a man, grateful to live up to age 60 unlike his mother and father.
This is the story of the Warri boy who came to Lagos and made it his.