SATURDAY BREAKFAST with TONY OKOROJI
WORKING WITH PAT NEBO, THE CREATIVE Genius, WE USED THE NMA TO CHANGE THE FACE OF ENTERTAINMENT IN NIGERIA
Two days ago, I was in Ota, Ogun State at the 50th birthday anniversary celebration of Nike Izebe, the beautiful wife of Razaq Izebe, the very practiced video editor and production mastermind with whom I have done many entertainment projects. To me, the Izebes are family.
Sitting on the same table with me was my guy, Patrick Harry Doyle, who came to the event with his wife, Funmi. I was hoping to unwind a bit after a heavy week in which I had presided over a four day intellectually sapping retreat over some important legislative matters. In the same week, I had chaired a meeting of the COSON Board which requires that I dedicate every leadership skill I possess. Unknown to most of my colleagues, in between, I was grieving over the back – to – back losses of three close family members: my sister in Baltimore Maryland, my cousin in Lagos and my favourite in-law in Ibusa Delta State.
The last thing I wanted to hear was the news of another death of a close person. I was not so lucky. I had barely sat down to appreciate the nicely decorated environment, when my guy Peedee announced the crazy news, “Pat Nebo has passed on!”. I froze. It just could not be true. I was planning to call Pat Nebo during the week.
Yes, I knew that Pat Nebo was ill. He told me so himself on the phone. He was undergoing chemotherapy and needed some help. I had extended whatever help I could and had resolved to call him to find out how he was doing. My desire to speak with Pat was accentuated by calls from my buddies, Cally Ikpe and Alozie Uzoukwu, both wanting some historical details of the unforgettable Nigerian Music Awards (NMA), which I had conceived and executed several years ago. With all humility, the NMA redefined entertainment in Nigeria and Pat Nebo was a critical element of the story of the NMA. Cally had begged me to write about the NMA this week in Saturday Breakfast. According to him, there were ongoing arguments about the NMA that I had to clarify.
Before Pat Nebo became a fixture of Nollywood, I had heard about him from his elder sister, Chioma, while he was away in Italy where he had studied Production Designs. Once he arrived Nigeria, he came to see me and you may call it love at first sight and work so soon after.
In 1989. as a young President of PMAN, I had launched an idea of a very ambitious and futuristic event, the Nigerian Music Awards. At that time, many people in Nigerian considered Nigerian musicians the dregs of society. While we sold some music on records, our image as serious professionals was absent. I wanted a conversation with the Nigerian nation to change that image. That conversation was going to be held with sights and sounds.
I was determined that everything about the Nigerian Music Awards; its conception, promotion and execution was going to be world class and that we would make a big statement that entertainment in Nigeria had arrived at a new level.
And so, we produced different sassy commercials for the NMA and had the commercials running non-stop on radio and television. Our print media activity was also second to none. Every detail of the preparation for the NMA was made interesting news: the stars, the fashion; the gossip and the glitz. For instance, the Punch newspaper published an entertainment center-spread twice a week with many scintillating titbits on the NMA. Other newspapers followed and the hype was infectious and everybody in Nigeria wanted to be at the NMA.. My supporting staff at PMAN at the time included the young Edi Lawani and the beautiful Iyabo Lawani (no relations). I drove them crazy.
We did not have a lot of money but we had tremendous camaraderie and zeal and were able to assemble Nigeria’s best, tried and tested professionals to work on the NMA. While I was Chairman of the Organizing Committee, the Awards Committee had the indomitable and most respected Steve Rhodes as Chairman with celebrated broadcasters, writers and deejays, such as the great Benson Idonije, Ben Tomoloju, Soni Irabor, Sylver Oforgu, Eric Danian (Stagger Lee), Moji Danisa, etc.
Before the NMA, most shows in Nigeria were done on bare stages which were just platforms with musical instruments on them. For most of the editions of the NMA, the very creative Pat Nebo interpreted my ideas of an alluring set that was picturesque, dazzling and with a story to tell. We would spend nights drawing and designing, adding this and taking out that until we captured the essence of what we thought would wow Nigerians. Then it was time for Nebo to bring his team, go shopping for timber, paints, nails and construction accessories to bring to life our dreams. Sometimes, construction would take weeks and I would seek amendments upon amendments. Pat Nebo understood my desire for the unusual and sometimes, the ridiculous. Not once did Pat and I have a dispute. When we worked at the National Theatre, we spent many nights and days at the Theatre and snatched a little bit of sleep here and there on the floor.
The show had to match the hype. To bring life to the stage, we needed a master of stage lights. At several editions of the NMA, Duro Oni who later became a professor and Deputy Vice Chancellor at the University of Lagos, was our lighting director. On the audio control was mostly the late sound engineer, Osy Denobis. To bring the visuals in living colour to millions of Nigerians at home, we had to have a crack video team. That team was led by the incomparable Tunde Kelani and when the event was over, I had to spend nights and nights in the editing suite with Tunde Alabi Hundeyin, better known to many as Dudu. Nothing was left to chance at the NMA. If it was normal or usual, we did not do it at the NMA.
One of the things that made the NMA special was that nobody could buy a ticket to the event; not at any price. By design, we never sold tickets. The special invitation package known as the ”Treasure Box” was crafted by master graphic designer, Ghariokwu Lemi and only dispatched to persons we believed had made serious contributions to the progress of the Nigerian nation. The demand for the NMA Treasure Box was insane. Governors, Ambassadors and big businessmen deployed every subterfuge to try and get an NMA treasure box.
For four years running, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was either personally present at the NMA or represented by a topmost official of the government. The NMA had become a “Class A” national event defining Nigeria positively across the continent.
Today, as Nigerian entertainment spreads, I pay tribute to all those who made the NMA fly and give birth to the many other events and ideas that without question have drawn inspiration from the NMA. I particularly pay tribute to Pat Nebo who passed on during the week. This iconic production designer worked with me on many different productions and took Nigerian music and movies to another level. Journey well Pat Nebo.
There are many stories to tell about the NMA and they will be told. Thank you, Cally for urging me to start the story.
See you next week.