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Give Us Art This Day, Our Father

Josy Ajiboye caricature
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January 09, (THEWILL) – That may or may not have been the prayer of the four children of Josy Ajiboye, veteran cartoonist, graphic artist, painter and sculptor. If it ever was, their prayer request was answered as all of them have followed father’s professional footstep, thus making them the first single nuclear family in Nigeria in the same métier. Michael Jimoh reports…

It is rare to have members of the same family in the same profession, that is, father, mother and their wards becoming doctors, say, engineers or teachers. True, there is the Dafinones, a family of qualified accountants who entered the Guinness Book of Record in 1999.

Starting with the patriarch, David Omueya Dafinone, businessman and onetime senator from 1979 – 83, all his five children read accounting in university and qualified as members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in London. That was how they made the Guinness Book of Record as a single family – sans their mother though – with the highest number of accountants anywhere in the world.

With the Ajiboyes however, father, mother and their four children are all professional artists. All of them went to Yaba College of Technology, Lagos. The sibs (Olusegun, Oluwayemisi, Rotimi and Oluronke) also attended Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, where they obtained degrees in Fine & Applied Art up to Masters. Their mother Christiana Aduni is a tie-dye and batik designer.

But the most famous of them, of course, is the patriarch, Josy Ajiboye, veteran cartoonist, graphic artist, painter and sculptor, whose cartoon strips ran for decades mostly in Sunday Times, a title of Daily Times Publications.

Nigerians of a certain generation remember very well the must-see strips on the cover of ST. Bylined Josy Ajiboye on Sunday, thousands of pairs of eyes followed his drawings religiously from the seventies through the eighties to the nineties. At the time, ST alone circulated more than half a million copies. So, even without the advantage of the internet/ social media, Ajiboye reached hundreds of thousands of readers every week.

Early Beginning

At about five or so when he started to draw, Ajiboye had no idea he was laying the foundation of what would become a family profession. In his words, the veteran cartoonist, graphic artist, painter and sculptor began to draw “from the time I knew how to write alphabets.”

Born to Chief Obanla of Erinmope Ekiti in Moba Local Council in Ekiti state, the youngster had human and non-human models to perfect his drawing skills: masquerades. Like one who has discovered his sweet spot, Ajiboye limned more as he grew older. His métier was pretty much carved out for him from then on. It was no surprise when he proceeded to Yaba College of Technology to study Art. By the time he joined Daily Times as Editorial Artist in 1971, no one was surprised, least of all himself.

“Cartooning is just a fraction of my artistic ability,” Ajiboye told THEWILL via WhatsApp recently. “I am a general artist apart from sculpture.” For him, his strong attraction to drawing has not waned over the years, insisting that “even now when I am writing, I feel I am drawing.”

He would remain with the Daily Times Group of Companies for nearly three decades and his cartoons were constant features on the cover page of the newspaper. Between 1971 and 2000 when he finally retired, he let it be known twice he would quit his job. His request was denied on both occasions.

The first, as he recounted it to this paper, was when Alhaji Babatunde Jose was MD. “I worked for one month and resigned,” he said of his botched resignation. “Alhaji Babatunde Jose is somebody I respected so much. After he spoke to me he said I should withdraw my resignation if I respected him and I did.”

The second came much later when Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo helmed the establishment. It wasn’t a resignation as such but retirement. “I never resigned when Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo came on board. It was after his first meeting with the Editorial. I was introduced to him and he said he was very happy to meet me personally and asked me to see him in his office. He said he was informed that I would soon go on retirement. He said: ‘You are not going anywhere yet.’ The following week I received two letters from the personnel office. One congratulated me on retirement with full benefits and the second one a contract appointment.”

But after two years as a contract staff, Ajiboye finally quit in 2000 “because I was eager to go back to my easel to paint.”

And that is what he has done ever since, working assiduously in his studio, painting and drawing despite his advanced years. (Ajiboye is in his late seventies.)

Has he had a good run as an artist? Yes, of course, Ajiboye told THEWILL. “I had a good time as an artist not as a cartoonist alone at Daily Times of Nigeria limited.”

Younger artists these days avail themselves of modern gadgets like sketch pads and even laptops to help their creative process. There was nothing of such when Ajiboye began his career at Daily Times. He is not against using them, though. “Sketch pads and laptops are material aids for creative productions,” he said. But for him, “I still use my heart, my head for the creative work I do whether painting, illustrating or graphic art.”

Many a Sunday mornings, devotees of the Sunday Times saw many of those works. A typical Ajiboye cartoon could be just about anything – serious or not. Most often, they lampoon overbearing and unconscionable bosses. One, for example, shows the horrifying spectacle of a superior scolding a subordinate who came late to work. It didn’t matter to the unconcerned Oga that the junior staff just had an accident, blindingly obvious from the bandages swaddling almost half his body.

Another is remarkable for its gallows humour. In this cartoon, a robber is lassoed to the stake ready for execution. The condemned criminal tells the priest administering the last rites that he has no complaint except that census people will miss him.

On their own, most of the cartoons are risible enough even without the accompanying texts. But the texts drive home the message more. A particular one has a waiter offering a client a tray-full of coins – the diner’s change – balanced on one hand, with the text: “Here is your change sir, we are shot of notes.”

They could also be commentaries on social issues. One of the most risible is of a local taking off at the sight of a postman whom he mistakes for a tax collector. “I am a postman not a tax collector,” the startled postman tells the fleeing tax dodger. The cartoon itself is a subtle dig at people in rural communities who routinely mistake uniformed government officials for tax collectors. Each time they sight any, they take to their heels.

Working for a government-owned newspaper like DT would have gotten the artist into trouble, especially with military regimes. He sure did get into one, on account of which he was denied a passport to travel to Europe for the first time because of a cartoon he drew. Ajiboye admitted as much to THEWILL but wouldn’t give the details of what really happened. “It was an interesting story,” he recalled, “but that is not for immediate comment. That will be done later, not now.”

For sure, we may never know under what circumstances he was denied or who even ordered it. What we do know for now about his family of artists is certainly more interesting. Marrying Aduni, a woman in the same profession is something to marvel at. His first child, Segun, born in 1968, attended Methodist Primary School, Mushin and Eko Boys High School both in Mushin. He then proceeded to Yaba Tech for a National Diploma General Arts before obtaining a BA Painting from OAU in 1993 and an MFA from the same institution in 2000.

His younger sib, Rotimi, followed the same educational trajectory, starting off at Methodist Primary School through Eko Boys High Yaba Tech and then OAU. Their sisters, Yemisi and Ronke, found their way to  Yaba Tech and Ife, as well, graduating in the same department as if driven by the secret hand of fate in their career choices.

Did father in any way influence their course of study? It is doubtful. But what is clearly not in doubt any more is that the Ajiboyes remain the only single nuclear family in Nigeria with the highest number of artists in one household, perhaps, rivalling, if not surpassing, the Dafinones.

Does that qualify them for the Guinness Book of Record? Time will tell.