In August 2011, I wrote this piece for my mentor and teacher Sam Loco Efe who passed away on Saturday, August 7, 2011.
Sam Loco is dead. King Odewale is dead. The gods are not to blame. It is what it is. Sam Loco was my mentor and teacher. My friends and I were impressionable teenagers when we first met him in the late 70s at the Nigerian Television (NTV) Benin City in the then Bendel State. Sam Loco raised us and we studied drama under him for close to a year. With the professional theatre company he formed, we travelled the entire State with Ola Rotimi’s epic play ‘The Gods Are Not To Blame’. He was a fine actor, producer, and director. He was funny, brilliant and just plain fun. He spoke like a thespian – and in all the major languages of Nigeria.
His lifestyle seemed glamorous; the alcohol, the cigarettes, and the women. Many of us took to wearing berets and mimicking the lifestyle of the artists of his generation. He led a Bohemian existence and in today’s era, his attitude to women would be viewed as sexist, perhaps misogynistic. It is interesting, very few of that generation of artists are alive today. Sam Loco has gone to join many legends gone to the final pantheon before him: Ray O’Slater, Emmanuel Oni, Matt Imerion, Pat “Finn” Okonjo, etc. Given the absence of a robust medical infrastructure in Nigeria, it is a miracle Sam Loco lived this long.
In our youth, we were drawn to acting by a mysterious force. There was this compulsive need for self-expression, for connecting with kindred spirits. As students at Edo College in Benin City, we studied Drama and Acting under Segun Bankole, a colourful, mercurial, hard-charging, hard-living, brilliant director, producer and dramatist. I don’t remember much of my classes at the time; I do remember trailing Bankole everywhere he went, along with several other boys. We learnt a lot about Yoruba and Benin mythology in the plays that Bankole brought with him, written by playwrights like Jimi Solanke, Zulu Sofola and Wole Soyinka.
Being apprenticed to Sam Loco after Bankole was a treat. We were in awe of Sam Loco. We would hang around the TV station watching him and all the other stars and beg for parts. Every now and then, they would reward us with a bit part. We soon became regulars on television. We relished the attention we were getting from appearing on NTV Playhouse and Youth Forum. We fell in love with him from simply watching him strut his stuff in Jonathan Ihonde’s classic TV programme ‘Hotel De Jordan’. We were mesmerised by the ease with which he dominated the stage. Before ‘Hotel De Jordan’, Sam Loco had gained lasting fame by playing the lead character in the late Wale Ogunyemi’s award-winning ‘Langbodo’, the play that stole the show during FESTAC 77.
Sam Loco always walked into a room like he owned it. When you walked into his space, you sensed that he was the master. As I remember him, he was of slight build but he managed to tower over everyone. He also had the gift of the gab; he could charm the pants off anyone he desired. The ingredients he used to placate his demons were kolanuts, cigarettes, beer and sex. Whenever we were with him, those accompanied him everywhere. Our parents worried incessantly about what they saw as the unwholesome influence of the older men and they had every reason to be concerned. But young men need men in their lives also. I understand now that he recently swore off cigarettes and alcohol as a result of a death scare.
Sam Loco did not have much formal education but he ended up bagging a diploma in Theatre Arts from the University of Ibadan. His life was a hard scrabble story of survival on the rough streets of penury, clawing his way up to success. In the process, he taught himself to the equivalent of any of the most learned dramatists out there. And he had guts. He walked away from ‘Hotel De Jordan’ when he was at the top of his game and at a time when the series was the rage of the land. We wanted to be on television, but he convinced us youngsters that the bigger world out there was a better place to play big.
We are witnessing a renaissance in the arts despite the disgraceful conduct of successive rogue governments. We see the bright promises, the possibilities today because of the vision and the resilience of warriors like Sam Loco willing to ride the waves of change to push things to the next level while at the same time battling their demons. Sam Loco is the visual face for the fate of those who did what they had to do for our world with all the passion, brains and brawns in them. Every day as they pass away from preventable diseases, an indifferent nation is diminished. We love you, Sam Loco. Good night.