One goes into a tizzy anytime Lagos is accurately captured in a good book.
I have before me now such a captivating book, a very enthralling read entitled A Lifetime of Friendships by Muritala Sule, the creator and producer of the hugely successful 1990s television programme “Lagbo Video”. The book which also deals with the author’s career in television and Nollywood showcases the pivotal friendship of Muritala Sule and Godwin Rolands Igharo, the 14-year-old street boy who ended up living with the family.
For me, the heroine of the book is Muritala Sule’s doting mother, Alhaja Raliat Sunmbola Kareem, who “believed that people should be fed and housed by anyone who could afford to, irrespective of people’s colour, racial or religious affiliations, irrespective of their origins.”
A Lifetime of Friendships throbs with characters such as the ace musician King Sunny Ade, novelist Kalu Okpi, filmmaker Mahmood Ali-Balogun, broadcasting mogul Raymond Dokpesi, Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, comedian Baba Sala, and the irrepressible bandit Mighty Joe who was executed for armed robbery at Bar Beach on June 6, 1973.
According to Victor Lodato, as quoted in the book, “Friendship, like its flashier cousin, love, can be wildly chemical and, like love, can happen in an instant.”
It was on Monday, September 5, 1994 that Muritala Sule, in the company of his hunger-companion Godwin Igharo, had the Eureka moment of coming up with the idea that led to the creation of the TV programme Lagbo Video, directed by Mahmood Ali-Balogun.
Muritala Sule who is fondly called MS had already in 1987 published a novel, Shadows of Hunger, with the esteemed Longman Publishers.
The boom in video productions that came to be known as Nollywood following the 1992 success of the Kenneth Nnebue-funded Igbo language film Living in Bondage, directed by Chris Obi-Rapu and produced by Okechukwu Ogunjiofor, led to the idea of Lagbo Video on NTA Channel 7 “to tell the story of this new movement to the public, bring the stars and the technicians and artists on TV screen to meet the audience.”
It was an instant hit from its debut on Sunday, October 24, 1994. Muritala Sule’s disarming calmness in presentation even while replying insult-driven callers endeared him to the wide audience.
A Lifetime of Friendships brings the suburbia of Mushin (spelt as Musin in the book) into engaging life. There was Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and his residence and club known as “Kalakuta Republic” and “Afrika Shrine” respectively. Anything could happen in those places, like waking up to find the corpse of a prostitute thrown down from a hotel’s third-floor overnight!
The underworld kingpin Mighty Joe was the king of the territory. A native of Kwara State originally named Isiaka Busari, Mighty Joe was raw power in overdrive, as Muritala Sule narrates: “Joe’s influence extended from Moshalashi, near Ojuelegba, to Challenge bus stop on the road to Oshodi. His word was law in that territory. If he said no pick-pocket should operate anywhere there, nobody dared violate the order.”
All toughies took refuge in Mighty Joe’s den which was fashionably named Texas. He rode about town in a posh 504 saloon car.
Mighty Joe was the boyfriend of the then Miss Nigeria, and was a jealous lover, thusly: “Beauty Queen went to see a boxing contest in company with a justice of the Lagos State judiciary at the King George V Stadium, Onikan, Lagos. They sat in the State Box. But Joe suddenly appeared on the scene, apparently apprised by a spy, and saw Beauty Queen snuggling close to Justice. He simply walked up to the State Box and ordered Beauty Queen to come away with him. When she seemed hesitant, Joe just lifted her off the seat and hung her over his shoulder Tarzan-style and walked away with her while Mr Justice merely watched in astonishment.”
Lending a very endearing roundedness to the story, Muritala Sule recounts how Mighty Joe was one day floored in a fight by an “unknown man”, a defeat which the hard man’s acolytes attributed to the Ramadan fast!
Mighty Joe met his final comeuppance in an apparent set-up, and he had to perforce face the firing squad with his sidekick Bashiru.
“I arrived late at the execution scene that day in June 1973, having had to walk kilometres because of the scarcity of transportation, while it drizzled,” Muritala Sule writes about Mighty Joe and his tout Bashiru facing the firing squad. “It seemed that the whole of Lagos was headed for the Bar Beach.”
The frankness of Muritala Sule in A Lifetime of Friendships shines forth in scenes such as the evil flogging of Teacher Ladipo, being demoted as class prefect, playing football, and forging friendships across board especially with the cinema-crazy street kid Goddy Igharo.
Muritala Sule holds nothing back as reflected in the depiction of his love and loss in an affair with the 17-year-old girl, GAB, whom he met at age 24 while undertaking his NYSC year at Ibadan. The love affair spanned from 1981 to 1990 until the poor writer Muritala Sule “shook with cold and wept for several days and nights… when she walked out on me and was going away with another man while I watched and called her and she acted as though I’d never meant a thing to her.”