Saturday, 5 March 2016

TRIBUTE TO ALI BABA ATUNYOTA AKPOBOME AT 50 (50TH BIRTHDAY WAS IN 2015)

It is no secret to my family and friends that I am a big fan of Ali Baba. Last year, Ali Baba was 50years. For me and many others, he is a great Nigerian that deserves all the accolades. This is because of the role he played in the entertainment industry, in inspiring the youths and in giving a sense of direction to many people who otherwise would have been groping in the dark; one of whom was me.
Sometime in 2002/3, I was a member of the planning committee of my bank organizing a party at the Lagoon. We decided to invite Ali Baba to anchor it. That day was my first time of physically meeting him. We paid him a whooping N150,000 higher than some people’s many months’ salary. Till date, his services are sought for by prominent Nigerians and corporations. That night he came with two rookies - Teju Babyface and Basket mouth. They were not just rookies in training but even in looks, ‘small and not so impressive looking.’ As organizers we were embarrassed as we hired Ali Baba and not these two small boys. Worse still, Ali Baba allowed them to do most of the talking. As time went on, we relaxed when the boys began to impress us and give good account of themselves. I still have lodged in my brain two of the jokes from these two boys who have grown from being rookies to ‘big boys.’ All thanks to Ali Baba.
In the late 90s, as lawyer who had to stop at CMS to take a bus going to the courts, I used to see his signboard advertising his business. I loved the phone number because they were so easy to memorize. I remember thinking what a sensible man to get this kind of beautiful number. People like us then, just bought Sims whose numbers appear to be at war with each other. I did not have anything to do with him ever again until I began to write my book EVEN WITH TALENT. This book took me over ten years to write. While I was writing the book, Ali Baba featured prominently in the book as one talented person who followed his instincts. It dawned on me what this singular young man had done for this country. I got him to write a foreword for me and this was part of what he graciously wrote, ‘Chinyere, you just wrote your name in the corridors of life's journey to success and generations after you will be blessed by this, your single effort.’ Ali grew the comedy industry. It was not like there were no comedians before him but he consciously and selflessly groomed young men and women to also flourish in the industry. The next encounter I had with him was via facebook. I had decided to go into the business of all manners of speaking; MC, Comedy, Public Speaking etc and which better mentor should I have than Ali Baba. I became his friend and I began to contribute to his write ups and soon some of my comments received up to 20 likes and instinctively I knew he was taking notice.
On Christmas day of 2013, I was sitting dejected because I was sick to my stomach with my bank job and nobody supported my move to leave. I reached out to him. I said please can you employ me to understudy you and his instant response was yes. I took a trip to his office with my second daughter and my son and after watching Chukwuemeka perform poetry for him, he told us that my son was going to go places and gave him money. For someone who only knew you through your write ups on facebook and your comments on his post, Ali took time to explain to me EVERY SINGLE PROJECT he was working on. He took me to his training room where he trains upcoming comedians. He listened patiently to my career story and empathized. Let me tell you a secret about Ali, he is a man of few words, a wonderful listener with the ‘highest’ sense of humour I have ever encountered. I left his office satisfied that I was going to have an understanding boss. However I am yet to resume and not clear whether I ever will! Despite my not resuming, he helps me out regularly. Whenever, I have a job and it is a bit complicated, I call him on the phone and via Whatsapp, he dishes out instructions to me. One of the things I learnt from him was ‘focus on the theme of whatever event I was anchoring. So you keep as MC going back to always remind the audience why they had gathered. Of course this tutelage is at no cost. He still listens to the jokes I send to him over Whatsapp, laughs and makes comments. At his 2015 January 1st show, he accorded every artiste respect. We had our special seats and including the beginner like me were all feeling like we have arrived. After the show, he lodged me in Eko Hotel and next morning I had breakfast with him, his lovely wife, Okey Bakassi and other wonderful comedians.
I consider Ali Baba an enigma. I have anchored programs with people who snatch the microphone and want to be the only lone voices. I have reached out to people one way or the other who have refused to help me when it was in their power to do so. I have said to a few people I am out of formal work, I am available and what do I get? A big cold shoulder. It is not only in comedy we would have seen this revolution. There are many other industries that ought to explode but for the selfishness of the earlier practitioners. Today the industry Ali created is going to live after him. Let me ask you, how far will you go to train anyone? Or do you want to be the lone tree in the wilderness?
Ali the second part of your journey will record more successes and most importantly good health. To one of those you have given bragging rights, I say thank you. You are yet to see your best days yet.

1 comment:

Chiomah said...

Inspiring story of a man who has revolutionised stand up comedy and indeed the while entertainment industry in Nigeria. I'm especially touched that he is a mentor to you and many. Many more years to him.