Celebrating art writer, critic, Steve Ayorinde
THERE is considerable buzz in Nigeria’s art community with the recent appointment of art writer, critic and former editor, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, as Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy. And, he was merrily claimed by his clan last weekend at Freedom Park, Lagos, in a celebratory gathering put together by Art and Culture Writers Association of Nigeria (ACWAN).
The gathering had Mr. Ben Tomoloju, Mr. Jahman Anikulapo, Dr. Tunji Sotimirin, Mr. Olu Amoda, Mr. Muyiwa Majekodunmi, Mr. Kabir Garba, Mr. Akeem Lasisi, Mr. Yinka Akanbi, Mrs. Funke Treasure-Durodola and a host of others.
Perhaps, the happiest man at the upper room lounge was notable journalist, pioneer art critic and culture producer, Tomoloju. He said he felt vindicated on the need to create robust Arts desks in newspapers in spite of economic and political considerations that always overrode the need for the arts. For him, Ayorinde is a shinning light just as he took pride as the man who saw in Ayorinde the star in the making when he hired him to join the Arts desk in The Guardian.
According to Tomoloju, “I don’t want to tell much of history but I’m aware you are from a very humble beginning; the youngest member of the arts desk; shuttling between Lagos and Ibadan as test candidate and I saw that spirit of determination. He broke new grounds on that beat; he started with music. I don’t know how Jahman connected him or he connected himself and broke into the movie world, broke into international reckoning and he’s become like a quasi-consultant to the major film festivals in the world.
A team player. He became the second person to be elevated from the Arts desk. The Arts desk were producing thoroughbred journalists. While I peaked at Deputy Editor, my younger brother, Jahman shot up to become title editor. Because the establishment did not trust that somebody from the Arts desk could edit a newspaper; there was so much politics there that an alternative Deputy Editor was created inside the newsroom. ‘This guy has a mind of his own; we don’t need people with minds of their own so let him be Deputy Editor receiving guests.’ Meanwhile, I had four potential Arts Editors lined up on the Arts desk. But then Anikulapo vindicated us; the corporate industry absorbed a number of arts writers. Chevron picked Layiwola Adeniji, etc.
Ayorinde, I’ll say this. You have been given a portfolio where you can even decide to pretend that you never had anything to do with arts in your life. I’m sure you are not a pretender; surely, you will remember your constituency. In your participation in the Lagos State executive council, you will try to proffer ideas that can help the structure of this land. The foundation that has no cultural foundation is empty; you will help to teach but be an obedient servant that you should be. You are very calculating and I’m sure you will calculate in the direction of God’s righteousness. All of us here, please don’t forget the child of whom you are!”
Another member of The Guardian’s famous Arts desk who went on to become a title editor, Anikulapo, praised Ayorinde for his strides and recounted the emotional bond that existed amongst the desk members and how that emotion over-spilled when Ayorinde and others decided to leave The Guardian and seek their fortunes elsewhere. And, Anikulapo wept on that account.
According to him, “Today, I’m emotional. Ayorinde was brought in to report music, but he was reporting jazz. Ayorinde singlehandedly wrote MUSON Centre into limelight. Tomoloju made him report on MUSON Centre to be on the front page of The Guardian as Deputy Editor. Ayorinde was the one who started making girls acting in Nollywood films stars in 1992 when he started featuring them. He was reporting on the substance of the artists and placing value in them. As arts journalists, we confer status on artistes; that was what Tomoloju always told us.
It was a close-knit family at the Arts desk in The Guardian. But when these brilliant fellows started leaving, it was emotional for me. I sat down in my office and wept. People have moved on, but we’ve been star-makers. We’ve done a great job and Ayorinde will do a great job. You will succeed!”
Founder of Jazzville, now Praiseville, Majekodunmi, expressed mild surprise that Ayorinde studied music, saying, “He used to write critically about jazz; he was critical and very reflective. His reviews of jazz were very stimulating and edutaining. This night belongs to Tomoloju, Anikulapo, Adeniji, Ayorinde and Benson Idonije. Ayorinde, may you not lose your humility! May you not be influenced by the negativity of the period!”
General Manager, Radio One, Treasure-Durodola, congratulated Ayorinde, noting, “It’s always a great thing to have a journalist take charge of any part of society. We’re always asking government to do the right thing, but we seldom celebrate ourselves or aspire to be in positions. Having Ayorinde in government is heartwarming for me. Today, I celebrate a man of excellence, my brother. He’s the man to manage information. With Lagos State government being bashed here and there, you have a responsibility to do the right thing”.
Also, a staff of Punch whom Ayorinde recruited while he was editor, Mr. Dayo Oketola, praised the new commissioner for having an eye for talent, and said, “He has capacity to identify talent”.
Performances also spiced up the celebration, as art writer and oral performance poet, Lasisi, lent his usual poetic flare to the event when he referred to Ayorinde as ‘Jinx breaker,’ a poetic piece he also framed as a present to Ayorinde. Edaotor also did his bit for the man of letters in government just as there was a jazz band stand that serenaded Mr. Commissioner Ayorinde.
EARLIER, Ayorinde’s former colleague at The Guardian’s Arts desk who also moved on, Adeniji, spoke on ‘The Journalist, Artist and Government – An Overview.’ Adeniji called on fellow journalists and artists in the house not only to see the event as a celebratory one, but a moment to set up landmarks, particularly for their newly honoured friend, Ayorinde.
According to him, “When we gather like this rather than celebrating, we’re setting up landmarks. People will send him proposals, not because they want them to work, but because of the bottom line, what’s in it for them. I don’t envy you at all, Steve. We need to make a commitment to hold him committed to his job. If he succeeds, it means all of us have succeeded. He’s going to up the ante if he manages to survive the antics of government. It’s my own interest for him to succeed. We have to make a commitment for one of our own to succeed”.
AYORINDE declared, “Without Tomoloju, there won’t be me!” and recalled his days in journalism, particularly at The Guardian and the inevitable transition he’d had to make and how such decision probably led to where he is today. For him, The Guardian’s Arts desk would continue to evoke fond memories he would always relish as they turned seemingly impossible moments into challenges they had had to surmount.
This means so much to me because this is my constituency. The place to return to is here after my service. Because we shape the soul of the discourse, we won’t give up easily; we will give it our best shot. The story of Steve starts in arts journalism in 1991 at The Guardian. Tomoloju discovered me, nurtured and mentored me. I’m grateful for the two years I worked with him.
The issue of principle we got from him. When the argument arose in The Guardian on how to address the Arts, whether Living Arts or just Arts, Tomoloju’s argument prevailed over he editor’s and we felt proud we had a leader, a principled man, who also left honourably. It would later guide the decisions we had to take. We all had to take that decision; we acknowledged Tomoloju for taking that decision.
Jahman was part of the story. After The Guardian was proscribed and we returned, Jahman came with a lot of walaha. ThisDay had just started and Jahman said we would be doing daily Arts. We all said ‘no’ to one man, that it was impossible! But we started it and it became a defining factor. We thank him for pushing us to the limit, for believing in us. And then everybody wanted to do the best thing that is better than The Guardian. The story of doing better is having to dare. When additional responsibility is being added to you, never reject, and the thing about position is that you never know what you are capable of doing”.
After this initial euphoric recollection, then Ayorinde fully assumed his new role as he served notice on the nature of his job and how governance is a collective and the need for the people’s input to make things work for the greater good of Lagos.
According to him, “Now, it’s different for a start. It’s a pay cut for me. But nothing is better than public service, the opportunity to serve, never to criticize, but to get things done. For the first time, I believe there is a ministry that is catering to our community, Art and Culture Ministry; it’s standing alone apart from tourism and information.
“There are ideas to project, market to move the state forward. It’s important to communicate change. For the first time, many states can’t pay salaries and the president is saying the country is broke. These things are happening so we can manage expectations. Lagos is the only state working.
When we complain about traffic, about armed robbery, it means the pressure on facilities is massive. We must acknowledge that things have changed and we will need to manage, mediate our expectation. Governor Ambode will not shy away from his responsibilities of managing an alternate country; the challenges are diverse. The present government will continue to pay paramount attention to matters of security of lives and property. We will welcome your ideas on how to move the state forward”.
Garba gave the vote of thanks. But first, he urged the new information commissioner to work hard to dispel a certain ignoble past that still trails his ministry when it was renamed ‘misinformation and tragedy ministry’ on account of the poor showing of the man in charge at the time. He then presented Ayorinde with a card gift inscribed with the indelible words from a father of Nigerian journalism, Chief Lateef Jakande.