A Genius Has No Successor: Reflections On Sir Victor Uwaifo, The Arts Maestro – By Anthony Oha

As the editor of a softsell magazine, “The Otherside” in 1994, I had the opportunity of interviewing Sir Victor Uwaifo in Benin City. It was the closest encounter I had with him until we became colleagues in the Faculty of Arts of the University of Benin. He was a solemn fellow always trying to make a difference in whatever he got himself to do. He was completely multidimensional in his approach to the arts and multidisciplinary in his academic exploits.

He told me in the course of the interview that his music tracks came from spirit essences which he couldn’t fathom. His popular tracks, “Guitar Boy” and “Joromi” latter became his nicknames because the tracks were evergreen. His musical career spanned over five decades of non-stop production of original musical tracks. He was a national music star who played in the state house to entertain many past presidents and heads of state.

I encountered Sir Victor Uwaifo closely again when I strolled into his arts gallery at the university. He was a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Fine and Applied Arts at the Ekenwa Campus of University of Benin. His sculptural outputs were second to none in the university. Even the lecturers in the department were amazed at his creative outputs which were more spiritual than artistic. He became an intellectual colossus of sort in the arts. I observed then that most evenings he would be busy doing his craft and that was when I decided to pay him a visit once again.

Walking up to him, he never removed his face from the sculpture he was creating. His deep concentration in his crafts coupled with his stylistic manipulations of clay and cement to form a wholistic pantheon was captivating. I stood there engrossed for almost an hour as I watched him trying to become a creator of sort to his model of creativity. Suddenly, he spoke to me.

“My gentleman, you seem pleased with my craft,” he never even looked up to see who was there but he was aware of a human presence in the mien for some time.

“Yes sir, I admire what you’re doing but it seems too abstract for me to understand but it looks good,” I quickly responded. It was then he raised his face to look at me.

“I think I can recognize your face. Are you by chance a journalist? You look like the journalist who interviewed me some years ago. I’m I right? I don’t usually forget faces,” he was sure of his perception.

“Yes sir. I interviewed you some ten years ago but I am presently your colleague in the same faculty. Your interview then was one of the best the magazine ever published because you opened many issues in the area of arts and entertainment.” I quickly responded

“Have you come to interview me again? My dear I am now more engrossed in sculptural arts and intellectualism more than music. I love true arts. I don’t imitate. I create. I imagine. I express my philosophy in arts. Now, as a lecturer in this department, I wish to express my worldview in arts and ideology,” he said as he continued his work.

I watched him a little and told him that I was leaving. He told me that my interview was the best he had in the 90s and that he framed the magazine since he was used for the cover page. He said that the publication truly revealed his belief because none of his children had ever towed his line of arts and lifestyle. He explained that his offsprings decided to be the best of what they chose to be but none was into music or fine arts. He ended by saying, “Honestly, my dear Tony, a genius has no successor.”

“Make time to visit me in my office or house. I owe you a bottle of red wine. I also have a CD with all my golden tracks entitled, “Joromi”. You deserve a copy.” He laughed and wished me well.

“Thank you sir. I will surely come and see you in a few weeks’ time.”

“No problem. You’re welcome any day. Take care.” He waved me as I left his gallery.

But, I never went back to see him then as I had lots of research works to accomplish with time. I was truly perplexed and confounded at his ingenuity. I was truly shocked and wondered at the source of his creative inspiration.

Many people are unaware that he designed his own guitar himself. They never knew that he was the architect who designed his “Ship House.” That architectural masterpiece is, till date, one of the 20 wonders of the world. He designed and built a car, which body was made with fibre and the engine akin to that of Chevrolet. It was an open roof car with superb glamour and beauty.

He told me that he had presented the blueprint of his car’s model to the relevant departments in the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology but he never got the attention he desired to push the work into mass production. The United Kingdom and the United States of America wanted to buy off the patent but he never agreed because of his pan-Afrianist ideologies.

So many things about him made me marvel at his person. He was assertive and impulsive, quick to short anger but friendly and social. I could recall one day at Sam Ogbemudia Stadium, when he slugged it out with a ticket seller, during a match between Bendel Insurance and Kano Pillars. Just imagine the scene as I saw it from a crowded standing:

“Mr. Man open this gate. I need not pay to watch any match in this stadium. I am MON, Member of the Order of the Niger.” He told the busy ticket seller

“Epa domo. Who doesn’t know you? Are you not Joromi? But, we’re not allowed to admit anyone free. I have instructions to keep, sir.” The ticket seller respectfully told him

“My friend, I am bigger than most of those people inside the state box. Open the gate for me now.”

The ticket seller had to comply after confirming from the Director of Sports. Sir Victor Uwaifo moved into the state box where Governor Lucky Igbinedion welcomed and hugged him. He was quintessentially excellent in his engagements. He ensured that his artistic engagements enjoyed global accolade. Governor Lucky Igbinedion later appointed him the first ever Commissioner for Arts, Tourism and Culture in Edo State and in Nigeria generally.

He was the last of the strong ones in the nation’s music industry. His music made waves at the same time that Chief Stephen Osadebay, Chief Oliver de Coque, Ebenezer Obey, Bongos Ikwue, etc. were holding the musical sway in the country. But, Sir Victor Uwaifo’s art was all-embracing and totally engrossing as he was also a fine artist, architect, automobile designer, musical instrument designer and a respected musician with captivating live performances. More so, he was a creative writer with many titles to his credit.

He died as a Professor of Fine Arts at the age of 80. He was truly a genius in his time and was unsurpassed in his crafts and arts. He got to the apogee of all his chosen careers. Through his existence, I can truly attest that a genius has no successor! Adieu, Sir Victor Uwaifo, the great arts’ maestro!

© professoroha@outlook.com

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