Family of the late veteran actor and broadcaster, Jimmy Johnson, popularly known as Okoro, in Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) longest-running TV drama, The Village Headmaster, has confirmed that the actor passed on at 80 following complications from surgery conducted on him.
Until his death, the late Jimi J, as he was also known by his peers, spent his time in semi-retirement in Federal Capital Territory (FCT)Abuja and contributed occasionally to various artistic productions.
The actor, who passed on July 8, two years after his first son, Tunde Johnson, died, was survived by his spouse, children, and grand-children including his second child journalist, Rotimi Sankore.
In a statement made available to The Guild, the family hinted that burial arrangements would be announced soon in line with COVID-19 protocols announced by National Center for Disease Control (NCDC).
The octogenarian’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
Years after the group had won the hearts of Nigerians, 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, the late Johnson threw himself into reconstruction of the country as an Information and Culture Officer in the Civil Service, first from Enugu, capital of the then East Central State, before been transferred to Lagos Nigeria’s former capital, where he worked with other colleagues to rebuild a national identity for radio, television, film, and theatre.
While still in active service to motherland, he worked with colleagues in Radio Nigeria, Nigerian Television, former associates from Mbari Club, and a new crop of filmmakers and dramatists to build the bedrock of today’s entertainment industry in Nigeria.
And this generation saw FESTAC 77, the Second World, Black & African Festival of Arts and Culture, a platform that was seen 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.
Some associates, meanwhile, most prominent being Fela Anikulapo Kuti fell out with the Obasanjo government over what was described as military intervention in FESTAC.
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 Muhammadu Buhari, decades later on a recent birthday, described him as “one of the pioneers of Television (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”.