Guitar Boy

During one live performance, Uwaifo was doing his thing with the guitar and the atmosphere was electrifying

By Emeka Obasi

Professor Victor Efosa Uwaifo is indeed out of this world. He is a Professor of Arts, a Platinum winner, business tycoon,administrator and a proud Bini man. As the Guitar Boy turned 80 on March 1, 2021, one man that must not be forgotten is Sonny Okosun.

I watched Sir Uwaifo perform at the University of Benin auditorium during my undergraduate days in the 1980s. Sure, he is a special one, a real entertainer not just a guitarist. He would have exited Planet Earth long before his 80th birthday. And that would have been on stage during a performance.

While the crowd got turned on as Epa Joromi dished out one hit after another, the legend told us a story that touched everyone. During one live performance, Uwaifo was doing his thing with the guitar and the atmosphere was electrifying.

What the audience did not realise was that Guitar Boy was acting on charged wire and was being electrocuted. The whole thing seemed like normal. Only Sonny Okosun who at the time was part of the band, Melody Maestros, understood what was going on.

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Okosun jumped from behind, pulled his master out of danger and the show continued. That was significant because it exposed the well known tie between the Bini and the Esan. Okosun hailed from Esan land. It is a common saying that Esangbedo (Esan does not hurt Bini).

Okosun grew up in Enugu and was only forced out of the Eastern Region by the Civil War. Son of a Railway worker, he took a trip to Lagos in search of daily bread. That was how he found Victor Uwaifo in 1969. Learning from a superstar was good.

Uwaifo had become popular in Ghana following a second military coup codenamed ‘Operation Guitar Boy’  in April 1967. The mutiny by subalterns and other ranks was led by Lt. Samuel Benjamin Arthur. He was backed by Lt. Moses Yeboah and Second Lieutenant Ebenezer Osei-Poku.

Lt. Arthur marched into Broadcasting House Accra and slotted in Uwaifo’s hit track, Guitar Boy. Satisfied that the coup was a success, the young officer dashed to his girlfriend’s house to find out if she heard his voice on Radio announcing the take over.

Lt. Yeboah went for the head of Chief of Defence Staff, Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Kwasi Kotoka.  It was bloody at the Accra Airport as Kotoka and his orderly, Sgt.Osei Gunshie were gunned down. Elsewhere, Captains A.K. Avevor and C.Y. Borkloe were murdered.

Loyal soldiers put down the mutiny and Arthur and Yeboah were sentenced to death by firing squad. The military tribunal was chaired by Air Marshal Mike Otu. They were executed on May 9, 1967.  Osei-Poku got lucky. He was sent to jail for 30 years, with hard labour. Guitar Boy was banned in Ghana.

Accra Airport was named after Kotoka. It was laughable that Guitar Boy was blamed for the coup by the government under the leadership of Lt. Gen Joseph Arthur Ankrah. Uwaifo must have wondered why his efforts drew blood and ban at the same time.

Those who banned Guitar Boy apparently did not realise that another of  Uwaifo’s tracks, Joromi,  had in 1966, won a Gold Disc, the first by an African musician. It did not occur to Gen. Ankrah that he did not know History for he was dealing with a man from his roots.

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Ankrah was Ga. The people were said to have left Bini Kingdom during the reign of Oba Udegbedo (1299-1334). Historically, it would be recorded that a Bini man could not help his brother in Accra in 1967. Okosun, an Esan man did better when he saved his brother in 1969.

Lt. Arthur died at Labadi Beach, Accra at the Teshie Shooting Range.  Lt. Yeboah refused to die. It took so much of firing to silence him. That was 10 years after Samuel Ogbemudia left the Teshie Military Academy. Ogbemudia had a Bini mother.

A few months after Arthur’s death, Ogbemudia was appointed Military Governor of Mid – Western State. Uwaifo continued to enjoy all the respect at home and abroad. He moved to Benin City. And the state benefited from all the attention.

More hit tracks followed. Arabade, Ayubele, Ekassa and the evolution continued to Akwete. Ankrah faded away. He had to resign on April 2, 1969. The man who did him in was a Nigerian, Arthur Nzeribe. It was over a Public Relations job that was tainted with fraud.

It was later revealed that Lt. Arthur was not out to topple those who ousted Kwame Nkrumah but boasted that he wanted to be the first subaltern in Africa to stage a successful coup. Ten years later in 1979, John Jerry Rawlings, a junior Air Force officer became Head of State of Ghana.

The first thing he did was to order the execution of Gen.  Akwasi Okatakye Afrifa, one of those who banned Victor Uwaifo’s Guitar Boy. Rawlings frequented Nigeria and was once honoured by Niteshift, an elite hang out in Lagos owned by Ken Caleb Olumehse, an Esan man who continued to play Guitar Boy.

Okosun is not around today to celebrate Prof. Uwaifo at 80, having departed earlier. The last time I saw Ozzidi was in 1990 when Maltonic engaged him in a countrywide cycling tour. I remember how he came to the Modotel bar in search of Sir Warrior of Oriental Brothers asking in Igbo : “ Warrior olala? ( Has Warrior left?).

Okosun will be happy that his boss, Sir Victor Uwaifo, is still very much around with us and is not in any hurry to leave the stage. Guitar Boy cannot be banned. I played the track at La Palm Royal Beach Hotel, Labadi, Accra. We can even play Joromi and Guitar Boy at Osu Castle.

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