I was rung out of sleep, and on the phone I could have let out peals of laughter to relish the cruel joke told, if the caller were a professional colleague of the subject. He’s not an actor, and not a friend likely to start a conversation with a joke as dry as death. I ended the call without a meaningful response. He didn’t call back. As what he’d said sank in, I made my first frantic calls to mutual friends, some of whom were aware, others already ruined by the news. Sadisu Mohammed is dead? On my to-do list for that Friday, June 26, was a meeting at 3:30 PM, but the news meant the triumph of God’s opposition over our proposals. I got my things and headed the way to Minna, still unable to overcome the rippling emotions growing within me, every remembrance of his time and acts an increase in the amplitude of my pain.
He had already been buried by the time I got to Minna, buried with his burden of dreams and ambitions, his humour and conviviality so that describing his existence in past tense now seems like a vulgar expression.
In my effort to join his mourners, my memory took me to the first time he told me about his medical condition. He was my guest, staying with me for the night on his visit to Abuja for an appointment at the National Hospital. I attempted to play down his worry the way he would if I were the worried, teasing that he’s become a Big Man now that he’s acquired their disease. He wasn’t tricked into laughter, which was not typical of his nature so I sought to fix my blunder by boring him with stories of friends who had successfully undergone such surgery. He was my friend and I had to try to mitigate the unfamiliar dourness that had accompanied him to Abuja. He returned from the hospital the next day with a report of rescheduled appointment, and that coming and going, which ended with a referral to Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, became his routine until his last day.
But I was impressed to see him eventually overpowering his condition, returning to his jovial self. He even took part in political causes in the last elections, not afraid to pitch tent with an unpopular party. He still vended his skills as a sought-after compere after the elections. But, of all his achievements, his struggles as a social entrepreneur in a society of economically dependent and less enterprising members were the most remarkable.
Sadisu Mohammed was an industry. He was the filmmaking industry in Niger State, and as the state’s pioneer Chairman of Actors Guild of Nigeria, he dug the foundation for, and built, what became the Nupe film industry. This all at a time the youth were going berserk from frustrated pursuits of academic goals. Before appearing on the screen, he had authored a book of short stories, Inaudible Noise, and also participated in stage plays, becoming an energising figure in the evolving arts scene of Minna, a place that’s earned an unofficial praise as the headquarters of literary activities in the northern Nigeria. This period was from the late 1990s to the early 2000s.
It was his creative spirit as a writer imagining a world that ought to be that guided him to the screen, forming alliances with actors above and below the Niger. He not only partnered with the A-list actors of the Hausa-speaking Kannywood and the English-speaking Nollywood, but got them to act alongside him in Nupe films, introducing Nupe culture to those insulated against it while restating its potentials to the informed.
At the peak of his acting career, which exploded into glory with the pace-setting “Teacher Yekondunu”, a drama loosely based on Wole Soyinka’s “The Lion and the Jewel”, we all teased that he was the most popular Nupe man alive, with his fanbase comprising kids and adults alike. Nobody, not even our politicians, commanded such popularity, especially in the Nupe-dominated hinterlands. Despite the klieglights that turned him into a cult figure, his humility was astonishing. Every outing with him was an interaction with his widespread supporters, either asking odd questions about the wicked character in this movie or the funny remark in that. The kids were even his worst tormentors, and my niece was one of them. Before I moved to Abuja, he was a regular at my place in Tunga, Minna. He was the house clown, always acting in the house for my niece. And whenever he wasn’t seen in days, she would ask, “Babo Chicha Yekondunu dan’o” – where’s Teacher Yekondunu? I’d comfort the young lady that he was at a movie location and that he would visit whenever he is done.
The perfect word to attribute to Sadisu’s venture as an actor and filmmaker is buccaneering. This is for offering the disenfranchised in a society dependent on certificates, petty trading and farming, an option to fend for themselves, boosting both commercial, social and even political engagements from the same society that had not given them a chance. Today, the Nupe film has bred numerous self-employed dreamers who have become social entrepreneurs in society. The same industry paved the way for previously unknown music artistes to access international eyes, making anthems of Nupe songs like Sibombo. This alone justified the turbaning of Sadisu as “Sarkin Wasan Nupe” – the king of Nupe Entertainment – by the Etsu Nupe, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar Kusodu.
Our Teacher Yekondunu will be remembered for many things, and missed for being what many feared to attempt, but I’m still grappling with the reality of Yekondunu gone, the very hopeful mind who, only last February, on reading my tribute to novelist Abubakar Gimba, said, “I can’t believe we’re discussing Abubakar Gimba in past tense. I can’t remember he is gone forever!”
In Life with a cast of all comers, all freely auditioned, and with indeterminable duration, it’s devastating coming to terms with Sadisu’s last role as a strong-willed husband, political mobiliser and serial entrepreneur, gone to be judged by its impartial Director. Ours now is a prayer, a prayer for his soul at the premiere of Life and redemption in his next role in afterlife.
By Gimba Kakanda
@gimbakakanda On Twitter