All that glitters is not gold. But at the golden age of 50, bespectacled Steve Ayorinde, former Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture in Lagos State, glistens with confidence and happiness as he reflects on his life’s five-decade roller-coaster. Demola Ojo presents excerpts
You just clocked 50. How does it feel?
Well, I will have to get used to life on the 5th Floor. I’m just getting there. No previous experience (laughs). But I imagine that it will be a golden era. Gold does not come cheap, you have to cherish it and handle it with care. So my expectation is that this age and the decade that commences with it will come with the caveat: handle with care (laughs) in terms of attention to one’s health, lifestyle and general responsibility. But more important, I’m grateful to have been permitted to come this far.
Are you disappointed that the pandemic must have disrupted your grand plans for this day?
There were no grand plans actually. I’m not a birthday person. If it’s not a milestone like this, I wouldn’t even bother. The Holy Book enjoins us to learn how to count our days, not how to rock our birthdays. My 40th was a bit big. But for this, what I had intended was to unveil my latest book in the morning and then have a small cocktail dinner with close friends later in an arty way. So yes, you are right, Covid-19 has disrupted that. The book unveiling has been postponed till much later in the year, God willing. And physical distancing protocols plus common sense won’t allow a 100-people dinner again. But I’m very happy at the show of love and camaraderie by friends and associates in planning a pan-African zoom webinar in my honour to discuss the way forward for African Tourism. I also got to know about the special publication of tributes put together by a committee of friends. I couldn’t have wished for a better celebration. So I do not see covid as a kill-joy. There is more than one way to be shown love and be celebrated.
Do you subscribe to the Biblical injunction to count your blessings and which are you most grateful for?
I’m a child of grace and therefore I’m obliged to be grateful to my creator for every single blessing he has bestowed on me. When I want to be cheeky as a father, I say ‘my greatest blessings call me Dad.’ That’s a father in me talking; being emotive. But great blessings indeed they are, which wouldn’t have been possible without their mother, my wife who happens to be my best friend. But then blessings come in various packages and the Almighty has been kind to me. From being born into a great family with a pedigree to attending good schools at home and abroad, to encountering journalism and rising to the peak of my career at a relatively young age and to having the opportunity to serve Lagos State for four years. All these are blessings that I’m thankful for and speaking about them once in a while will never be to gloat but to encourage others, especially the younger generation who require role models and genuine inspirations.
Looking at your CV and career as editor of Nigeria’s biggest newspaper, MD of a newspaper, consultant to a conglomerate and a commissioner in Lagos State, would you admit you’ve had things relatively easier?
I’m a child of grace like I said earlier, for which gratitude must be ceaseless. But you can’t appreciate a man’s trajectory by only reading his CV. To every grace, there’s always a plague lurking round the corner. It is one’s Ori (Head/Destiny) that protects one. It was Zik of Africa that started his autobiography with the words: my life has been from the unknown to the unknown. That’s pretty similar to my trajectory too. Each time I listen to that song by Tope Alabi and TY Bello titled, ‘Logan Ti o De’ I thought they had me in mind in composing the song. My eyes have seen oh! But isn’t that what makes a man?
So to every great achievement, there will always be adversity?
Definitely. Maybe there would be a few exceptions, but on a general note the road to success, as Tai Solarin said, is always rough. Gold must go through fire to get purified. It can’t be worthwhile if it’s too easy or too smooth. There will always be rough edges. There will be disappointments. You will sometimes be betrayed by allies. You wiĺl be envied. Some will hate your guts. Many will become entitled and make impossible demands. But that’s life. It does not always run on a straight course.
Which of life’s challenges has been most impactful on you?
All. There is no little challenge in my opinion. What others may take in their stride might send some towards the lagoon. We deal with issues differently. In 2005 when I was going to the UK for my master’s, armed robbers burst into our home with only my wife and baby in. There was no money to assuage them until they saw my passport about three or four layers. That’s what saved my family. They took mine and my wife’s. That was few weeks before our trip. You can imagine the trauma and stress of procuring new passports and visas to travel. Then we got to the UK only for my scholarship to experience hiccups. My wife was pregnant with our daughter. Serious wahala. But the never-say-die Nigerian spirit plus good friends and benefactors came to our rescue. And it all ended in praise with a distinction. But not without various stints at menial jobs many of which my friends still tease me with to date.
Then, of course, there were the one or two cases when you’ve had to move on from a particular job at a time you probably thought you were not ready. But look closely, with the benefit of hindsight, we only see in part while God knows his design for us. If you had not left or forced to leave a position that means a lot to you at a particular point in time, you won’t know that you were being taken to higher grounds. That’s how life usually works. This is why I tell people, don’t force anything. Don’t die fighting over temporal positions. Relax, maybe what is on the other side is far better than what you are struggling to keep. Even if it doesn’t look like an alternative may appear better, God sometimes takes us out of harm’s way so that we can live to witness other opportunities. Not all that glitters is gold.
Is this the philosophy you recommend and will live by too?
I’m not a philosopher. I’m only sharing insights based on my own experience and understanding of life. We all learn differently and life has a way of passing its messages across. What is more important though, which is what I’m adopting on this 5th Floor of life is to take things easy. Compete with no one. Be more family-oriented and live a more healthy lifestyle and trust my maker to direct my steps. I will gladly recommend this to anyone.
Tell us about your latest book.
Oh, it’s called ‘30: Three Decades of the New Nigerian Cinema.’ It’s a book I’d started six years ago in 2014, with the wish to have it published in 2015 to celebrate the 25 years of the new Nigerian cinema otherwise called Nollywood. But the electioneering of 2014 and appointment as a Commissioner in 2015 didn’t allow that happen. Hey, here we are now.
But isn’t 1992 often credited with the beginning of Nollywood and if that is true, will this year be ideal to celebrate its 30 years?
That’s the popular narrative in a section of the film industry. But it’s not an accurate account. 1992 is always mentioned because of Living in Bondage, which was the first home video in Igbo. But it was not the first home video in Nigeria. The like of Muyideen Aromire and Big Abass had shot home videos from 1988 and 1989 while the first Hausa home video was in 1990. Ishola Ogunsola’s Aje ni iya mi was shot in 1991 and marketed by Keneth Nnebue’s NEK Videos before Living in Bondage. Asewo to re Mecca was shot in 1991 and directed by Afolabi Adesanya and that’s an important figure in the history of the Nigerian film industry.
So your book is to correct the erroneous impression that it all started in 1992?
No, Not necessarily. Scholars can always have a field day to debate dates and signification. I’m more interested in celebrating the outstanding movies, directors and actors who have put us on the world map in the last 30 years. My argument is that we had 20 years of golden era between 1969 and 1989. And then a new era began in 1990, for Kannywood, Nollywood and other latter-day woods. In all these, I’m focusing on 30 each that I consider the most outstanding – for movies, directors, actors and actresses, while also remembering 30 of those legends that have departed as well as 30 of the most outstanding landmarks that have shaped the Nigerian film industry in the last 30 years.
Is this is your fourth book?
Yes, those that I personally authored. But I also edited a compilation while I was MD at National Mirror Newspapers.
So books are important to you?
Absolutely so. Book is life. Life is literature. May we never get to a point where we shall stop reading.
A journalist or an art aficionado, which one best describes you?
Both. A media man and an arts man. Those are the two pillars I lean on and where I find fulfilment.
It must have pleased you then that you had an opportunity to serve in the two ministries that both represent your core interests.
Yes, in a way. You know if it were in other states and even at the federal level, Information Tourism and Culture would be under the same roof. But it’s different in Lagos. Strategies are driven by the information machinery in the state since 1999 and I’m happy to have had the opportunity to serve there first before moving to Tourism Arts and Culture, which Governor Ambode created in 2015 and which Governor Sanwo-Olu has retained as an important ministry that has a direct bearing on the lives of Lagosians and on the image of the state.
You granted an interview recently in which you canvassed a consolidation in the media. Is this really doable?
It worked in the banks and the corporate sector. I don’t see why it shouldn’t work in the media. Our profession is shrinking and it calls for a different survival strategy. Consolidation may be one of the options that can be considered so that rather than have 15 so-called national newspapers, we can have only four or five or six that can withstand turbulence with regional offices in all the six geo-political zones and large online departments. Maybe that can save us the trouble of all these one-man one-smartphone blogs mushrooming about, feasting on social media misinformation. Yes, our future is digital and the future is here. But the preponderance of blogs and online platforms we have at the moment is a mockery of our profession, truth be told.
Do you have icons or shall we say did your former bosses play important roles in the man you have become?
Oh yes, definitely. All my bosses are icons and role models to me. All of them. And I don’t refer to them as former but as bosses. From Mr. Lade Bonuola, Mr. Emeka Izeze, Mr. Ben Tomoloju, Mr. Debo Adesina, Jahman Anikulapo and Mr. Gbenga Omotosho at the Guardian and The Comet; to Chief Ajibola Ogunshola, Mr. Ademola Osinubi and Mr. Azu Ishiekwene at The Punch. Barrister Jimoh Ibrahim, OFR (Araba Nla) at National Mirror to Dr. Wale Babalakin, SAN (Okunrin Meta) at Resort International and to His Excellency, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, FCA (Omo Akin, Agba Akin) I am exceedingly grateful to have been tutored by these great men. In different ways, the Almighty has used them at different times to fulfil a purpose in my life. My heart holds nothing but prayers and gratitude for each and every one of them.
Lastly, considering the turbulence and its unpredictable nature, would public service ever appeal to you again?
Hmmmm. Turbulence is a fact of life but it doesn’t last forever. It will always subside at some point. Nothing is perfectly predictable in life either. So we won’t because of the heat in the kitchen stay away from making our meals. Public service is the highest form of service. It’s not the same thing as politics, as such. We are all political animals and we can’t always stay away if we desire good governance and true development. What shouldn’t be encouraged though is to continue to create a large pool of rent-seekers and leeches on the common wealth of the nation. We sure can do a lot better and the best of our men and women are needed to engender true change for the benefit of our children and the coming generation.