Final farewell for veteran actor, Jimi Johnson: His life and times

August 29, 2020
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<!– Jimmy Johnson In Village Headmaster Okoro Costume 1980’s (3) –>

Jimmy Johnson in WNBC Studios 1960s

Jimmy Johnson, veteran actor, artiste , broadcaster and retired senior civil servant will be buried at Gudu Cemetry Abuja on Saturday August 29 2020 in line with COVID19 Protocols.

Johnson, who wowed Nigeria in the 70s and 80s while he played Okoro, the inimitable character in Village Headmaster, the television drama series passed on at 80 on 8 July after suffering complications from surgery in an Abuja Hospital.

A man of many parts, Johnson’s involvement in drama and theatre arts began in Ibadan in the early 60’s working with Professor Wole Soyinka in the Orisun Theatre Company and the Mbari Artistes and Writers Club a diverse group of University lecturers, writers, visual artists, musicians and actors that also included Soyinka, Ulli Beier, Chinua Achebe, Christopher Okigbo, Mabel Segun, J.P Clark, Christopher Kolade, Lindsay Barrett, Demas Nwoko, Tunji Oyelana, Jimi Solanke and Bruce Onobrakpeya amongst others.  Mbari was described as a magnet for artistes and writers of African descent from all over Africa, America’s and the Caribbean

The Nigeria Biafra civil war of 1967-70 disrupted Mbari with many members opposing the war, but some forced into different sides by circumstance.

Post Civil War 1970s

After the war Jimmy Johnson threw himself into reconstruction of Nigeria as an Information and Culture Officer in the Civil Service – working first from Enugu, capital of the then East Central State, then in Lagos Nigeria’s former capital – while also working alongside colleagues to rebuild a national identity for radio, television, film and theatre.

Alongside his day job in government in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s he worked with colleagues in Radio Nigeria, Nigerian Television, former associates from Mbari Club and a new crop of film makers and dramatists to build the bedrock of Nigeria’s current arts and entertainment industry. His generation saw FESTAC 77 – The Second World, Black & African Festival of Arts & Culture – as an opportunity to try and rekindle the spirit of Mbari, and invited Black artistes from across Africa, North and South America, Europe and the Caribbean to Nigeria. However some associates, most prominent being Fela Anikulapo Kuti fell out with the Obasanjo government over what was described as military intervention in FESTAC.

With Prof Wole Soyinka from the 1960’s (WS 1st left / JJ on extreme right)

1980s: TV and Film

While still working as a Senior Civil Servant he was later best known for the role of Entrepreneur and Shop Owner “Okoro” which he played for about a decade in Nigeria’s and Nigerian Television Authority’s (NTA) longest running TV drama The Village Headmaster (1968 – 1988)

His Village Headmaster colleagues include: Justus Esiri (Headmaster) Dejumo Lewis (Oloja), Clara Olushola (Sisi Clara), Ibidun Allison (Amebo), Funso Adeolu (Chief Elenyimi) Joe Layode (Mr Garuba) Albert Kosemasi (Gorimapa), Tunde Oloyode Producer / Director of 364 episodes and many others.

Alongside his TV roles, he collaborated with pre Nollywood film Directors such as Ola Balogun, Eddie Ugboma Jab Adu, and worked further with Wole Soyinka.

Some Pre Nollywood Celluloid Films He Featured In Include:  Ola Balogun’s 1981 Cry Freedom, an African Freedom Fighters Revolutionary War Drama with Olu Jacobs, Larry Williams and a host of international actors including: Prunella Gee from James Bond classic Never Say Never Again; and Albert Hall known for his roles in Hollywood Director Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 classic Apocalypse Now, Spike Lee’s Malcolm X movie, and the Science Fiction movie and TV series Star Trek.

Ola Balogun’s 1984 Money Power/Owo Lagba – With then young stars Shina Peters and Clarion Chukwura.

Also Wole Soyinka 1985 Political film,  Blues for a Prodigal with, Femi Johnson, Felix Okolo, Jimi Solanke, Tunji Oyelana and Yomi Obileye.

Jimmy Johnson In Village Headmaster Okoro Costume 1980’s (3)

Caught Up In Politics and Military Take Over

In 1984 along with many politicians, and senior civil servants he was locked up in Ikoyi Prison and tried, but acquitted by the Buhari/Idiagbon military regime after the overthrow of President Shagari’s civilian elected government in December 1983.

Retirement Years

In twist of fate, President Buhari said of him decades later on a recent birthday that “As one of the pioneers of TV drama in Nigeria and a respected thespian” his “contribution to the movie industry, which ranks second in the world, remains indelible” commending his “sacrifice, patriotism and loyalty to his country and his calling, starting out early on stage and the screen when rewards were very minimal, but pursuing his career with relentless passion and vigour”.

Jimmy Johnson

Until his death, Jimmy Johnson or Jimi J as he was known by his peers spent his time in semi-retirement in Abuja contributing occasionally to various artistic productions – including his Ambassadorial role for the Glo Telecom network alongside fellow Village Headmaster Star Amebo (Ibidun Allison)

He is survived by his spouse Flora, several children, grand-children and a great grandchild.

His children include first son late Tunde Johnson (passed away two years before his death); Second son Journalist, development and policy expert Rotimi Sankore, Isika Johnson and Yomi Johnson.

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