Veteran actor and “Okoro’ of popular series Village Headmaster, Mr Jimmy Johnson died on July 8, 2020 after complications from a surgery in an Abuja hospital, the family has revealed.
The family also went ahead to state that funeral of the 80 year old will be announced soon in line with COVID-19 protocols.
According to the statement “Jimmy 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.
After the war, Jimmy Johnson threw himself into reconstruction of the country 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 today’s entertainment industry in Nigeria.
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.
While still working as a Senior Civil Servant he was later best known for the role of “Okoro” which he played for about a decade in NTA’s longest running TV drama The Village Headmaster.
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 government.
In a 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”.
Until his death this week, 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.
He is survived by his spouse, children, and grand-children including his second child, journalist, development and policy expert, Rotimi Sankore. His first son, Tunde Johnson passed on two years ago.