Sunday 17 April 2022


When I first read the news of Lari Williams' demise, it hit me like a thunderbolt, not least because, at 81 years old myself, I was rudely reminded of my mortality. A shudderingly frightening and sobering awareness. Numb and catatonic with shock, with evident knowledge of the presence of my seat, awaiting in the departure lounge, I was inconsolable. 

Tributes and anecdotes poured in from many bereaved, who particularly appreciated his body of work. He was a beacon of commitment and sheer unadulterated professionalism. That surely was the man I knew - my friend and colleague in showbusiness - ALAGBA LARI WILLIAMS! The ancient philosopher Heraclitus said: "Day by day, what you choose, what you think, and what you do, is what you become."  I mourn him most deeply. He was an indelible part of my notoriously exciting, colourful, eventful and memorable past.

Today, when there is so much uncertainty and turmoil in our country, and the world, and the Entertainment Industry is jammed, packed full of impostors, poseurs, wannabes, and crass amateurs, Gentlemanly Lari Williams, will remain a beacon of true professionalism, stability and positivity. This wise, charming and inspiring man's humility, simplicity, and down-to-earth, and commitment to his art, were further evidence of why he had long been considered one of the most beloved and respected figures in Nigerian entertainment. He lived and died his Art. Martin Luther King Jr said, "The mind is a standard of the man." He was my friend. 

Going way back when we were both fledgling actors. I joined him in the launching, and performance of his Drum Call, which I believe was his first book, amongst other works, at the AFRICA CENTRE, which was then the watering hole of most African, and Caribbean students in London in the late 60's and early 1970's. We were a part of a group of budding actors, writers, fine artists, and musicians who were the mainstay of African and West Indian entertainment in London in those day. 

If there was one thing Lari and I got excited about, even then, as we bantered and giggled together, it was witnessing the brilliance of the Continental and other Africans in the Diaspora, forming for culture! We were rising up together! We were yearning to be a part of like-minded Africans - and we were beyond excited seeing the calibre of young men and women coming together for the AFRICA CENTRE cohorts. The Centre's ability to unify the brightest, most brilliant Africans from around the Continent and the Diaspora, was unparalleled.

At that stage of our professional growth, being part of a supportive, like-minded community that could help you more quickly and easily catalyse your dreams was worth far more than the tuition at any school, or institution. Just imagine. There we all were, a diverse community of creative, gifted, powerful, caring, passionate young people, with so much support to offer one another, coming together from more than sixty countries... Awesome.

We were undoubtedly, a community of trailblazers, game-changers, activators, and change-makers; actors, filmmakers, artists, copywriters, students, and so many more, committed to igniting our own divine spark of greatness and amplifying one another's brilliance. Some were working on developing their gifts, others on having a greater impact, improving their skills, strengthening their tenuous professional hold and standing in a foreign covertly hostile land. But what united us most of all, I guess, was a desire to reach higher, and unleash our gifts and greatness. You must forgive this crass self regarding pomposity! After all, it is the prerogative of the young to reinvent the wheel, and change the World narrative! Or, as Ignatius Layola admonished... " Set the world on fire!!!

It was while there, at the AFRICA CENTRE, working with the amazing gentlemanly Lari Williams, and others, while frollicking and roistering around at the Centre, that Ambassador Chief Ralph Uwechue, who had a suite of offices at the AFRICA Centre at that time, and who had heard me presenting every week, a radio magazine programme on BBC's CALLING NIGERIA, first got sight, and hold, of me. He invited me to join his organisation Jeune Afrique, and his publication, AFRICA JOURNAL, a social, economic, and political journal for Black and African Men and Women, in Africa and the Diaspora, as an Associate Editor. Subsequently I was appointed the founding Editor of AFRICA WOMAN, a companion magazine to Africa Journal. It was in this capacity, and as a photo-journalist, I covered the  United Nations' 1975 first International Women's Year, in Mexico City, and then behind the Iron Curtain in East Berlin, before the unification of Germany and the dismantling of The Berlin Wall, by Mr Gorbachev!

My benefactor the late lamented Ambassador Chief Ralph Uwechue was an accomplished Diplomat, an epitome of class and breeding; a quiet, and erudite man, a man of ideas, an elegant sartorial dresser, and a perfect gentleman. He was the Ambassador for Biafra in Paris during the Nigerian Civil War, and was a good friend of the late Chief Bola Ige, AKA Cicero. I had the good fortune to meet Cicero myself once, when he visited our Africa Magazine offices in London, at the AFRICA CENTRE, in 1975. It is our totally singular tragedy, that we are not blessed with people such as these gentlemen, to lead this Nation.

Memorably, I last worked with Lari Williams in 1976, on the Granada Television Crown Court Soap 'Juju Landlord' written by the late Buchi Emecheta. Lari played the witch doctor, to my lead character, the petrified young housewife. It was a smash hit!

In JuJu Landlord the late novelist, Buchi Emecheta, in her first script for television, presented a case offering a rare insight into aspects of Nigerian culture and community. The tale of black magic and harassment was no more sensationalist than other Crown Court stories; what was remarkable was that the producers managed to cast the show with black barristers, witnesses and a mixed jury which must have raised a few eyebrows in the UK of 1976! We made waves, Lari, Old Boy!! Way to go!!!

Twinkle, twinkle, Little Star. 

Now I wonder where you are. 

Up above the sky so high. 

Like a Diamond in the Sky!

Sparkle away, LARI WILLIAMS. Just like the STAR that you are. But, just so you know Lari: I sourced out the secret behind that mischievous twinkle that's always lurking behind those eyes whenever you saw me, you old rogue!

Sleep well, my friend. Know that you're Loved. You're Missed. Our Loss. Heaven's gain. Sun re Oo!


Dame Taiwo Ajai-Lycett, OON, FSONTA, FU3A

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