...we can only be human together...
...we can only be human together...
...we can only be human together...

I grew up an avid listener of Mazi Ukonu's radio show, and became years later 'Sylver Shadow', an idol of many radio/TV fans and disco lovers in Lagos

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26 June 2022
26 minutes read
I grew up an avid listener of Mazi Ukonu's radio show, and became years later 'Sylver Shadow', an idol of many radio/TV fans and disco lovers in Lagos

I was christened Sylvester Adinma Oforgu. And, at some point, I became simply Sylver Oforgu, and when I got into show business, I became Sylver Shadow.

Although I am a native of Asaba, from Umuaji Quarters, I was born in Igboanugo Hospital, Enugu on 26 June 1957, the last of my parents' children. I was baptised at the Holy Ghost Cathedral, near Ogbete Market.

My father, James Nwanze Oforgu, had been in the West African Frontier Force (WAFF) and left as a sergeant. He then went to work with the Public Works Department (PWD) in Enugu. We lived then at Richard Street in Asata. Next building to ours was where Uncle Sonny Okosun, the late "Ozzidi" music exponent, lived. He was then known by almost everyone as Sunday.  He was like a brother to my older brother from my mother, Tony Nduka Oforgu, my senior by eleven years, and they used to go around in their trousers known as "Pencil" with guitars slung on their shoulders. Uncle Sonny's younger brother, Okojie, was my own mate. 

I attended St Brigid's Primary School in Asata, and I was in Class Three when the Nigerian Civil War started in 1967.

The last place we lived in Enugu was 66 Owerri Road. The house was owned by a wonderful woman who worked in the health sector, taking care of leprosy patients. 

My father had not believed that Enugu would fall. So, while most people left the town as the war raged, we remained. I remember that my now-late-much-older-cousin - my mother's sister's son - and I always stayed outside to count the number of cars. One day, we counted only five cars, from six O'clock in the morning to noon, on a busy Owerri Road. Five. It was then that my mum, who had never challenged my father on anything, became adamant and told my father, who was much older than her, that it was time to leave. He agreed. We cramped ourselves in a hired Morris Minor car and headed for Asaba, passing through the undulating Milliken Hill Road. That was in July 1967.

When we crossed the bridge into Asaba, my mum told the driver, actually my father's relation, to park. Happy that we arrived safely, she prayed, prayed and prayed. We had two not-modern bungalows in Asaba and we settled in until the federal troops came into town. There was a town crier's announcement that people should come out and welcome them. There was a dance in the afternoon which my father had attended with his cousin, the grandfather of the actress, Stella Damasus. The family dropped its original name, Ojukwu, for Damasus, because of the war. 

We waited for my father to return from the party. 

We did not see him. 

Then we started hearing gun shots. We thought that it was an invasion of the party held at Ogbeke Square. What we heard later was that the men were separated from the party and taken out to Ogbeosowa where they were massacred. A few managed to escape.  

So, while we kept watch in front of the house, we did not know that my dad had come in from the back, through the fence made of palm fronds, and sat on the bench.

It was the first time I saw my father, whom we knew as a rugged, tough man, cry. 

It was the seventh day of October 1967. According to my father, the troops whom they were supposed to be welcoming, pointed the nozzles of their guns at the dancers instead. He said he told them that it was against military ethics. He said they told him that if he went to Burma to fight, that practice was outdated. He insisted that they ought to have held their guns on their shoulders, pointed down or up. He said that there was no commander to address the people. At that point, he sensed danger, called on those he could among the dancers and as a soldier, he found a way for them to get out of the arena. They practically dissolved into the bush which Asaba then was largely. They took leaves, covered themselves, laid low. He said that it was about twenty minutes later that the guns bellowed. They stayed in the bush until late before they escaped.

He decided that we must leave for the swampy, deep forest of Mgbor, a rubber plantation, crossing many farmlands. But my mother insisted that we were from Asaba and if anything we would die there. 

The killings continued the following day. We went outside of our house on the ninth and we saw dead bodies.

We were saved by my aunty, Mrs Cecilia Nwachukwu Onyia, who recently died in her nineties, spoke many languages including Fulfude, Hausa, Birom, Yoruba, Tiv, apart from our language. She, a trader, learnt the languages, because her husband, Chief Uwachomadu Onyia, a prominent labour leader, moved around a lot. Chief Onyia was first chairman of Mighty Jets Football Club of Jos and later hired by old Anambra State Governor Jim Nwobodo to manage Rangers International Football Club. The soldiers were moving from house to house, on the eighth of October, picking men to be killed. She spoke different languages to the men, but it was when she spoke Fulfude that she got a response. Whatever she told them, we were spared.

There was another call for the people to gather at St Patrick's College, Asaba, because Biafran vandals were attacking soldiers in the town. They felt Asaba people were culpable.

My father said we would not answer that call. So, we headed to the bush.

We ended up in a Refugees' Settlement in an agrarian and fishing community called Akpako.

My father was occupied with ferrying people across the villages. One day, he ferried some soldiers and an officer who said they were going to the village in search of the Oforgu family. He did not reveal his identity because he was not sure of their mission. What he did not know was the officer was his son - my older brother, Tony.

We did not know where he was. He had left us in Enugu for Port Harcourt, and later joined the Biafran Army in Orlu. 

It was sheer fate that brought us together again.

He took us to Atani which was the headquarters of the Biafran Navy, commanded by Navy Captain Wilfred Anuku, a native of Agbor. We ended up in Umuahia. We stayed at 40 Agulu Street. This was in 1968.

One thing that scared me the most during the war was "air raid" when federal troops threw bombs from the air into targeted areas. It had a way of taking the wind out of one.

Something happened one day.

My cousin and I went to Government College Umuahia to sell ukpo ogede -  a type of moimoi made with plantain and banana - for my mum. 

It was salary payment day. We had done two or three trips, selling and restocking. On our last trip, my cousin had two wraps left, while I had finished selling  I told him to let us return home because I felt there would be an air raid. He mockingly asked if I was the one who would bring the air raiders. I was not comfortable but I could not leave without him. I suggested that we should eat the remaining two and I would pay him. He rebuffed me saying that we were looking for money to buy salt particularly and I was thinking about wasting our little income. He was about five years older so I could not protest much.

All of a sudden, I saw two objects. It was like an illusion. I shouted 'air raid, air raid' and everybody dodged. They got up and did not see anything. I was mobbed. They called me a saboteur. One man said they should not touch me. But, within seconds, the objects, like twin brother and sister, had come close to the venue. I jumped inside a big gutter and used my tray to cover my head. In less than three minutes the earth shook. All I knew was that things were flying over that drainage. I was hearing whistling sounds.  After about twenty-five minutes, someone screamed, 'boy, get out.' Someone jumped in and helped me out. When I looked around, I saw mayhem. Human parts here and there. It was devastating. Like the massacre in Asaba.

The road to our house was clearer. It meant that some buildings had disappeared but I did not bother. I got home and there was nobody there. They had gone to take cover elsewhere. Eventually we all got back together. 

There are other experiences….

Umuahia fell. 

We moved to Nnewi but there was no space to accommodate us and we slept on an open field.  The following day, we left for Ozubulu and we were quartered in a big hall at St Barth's School, opposite a graveyard. 

Luckily for us, my older brother showed up. He was now a lieutenant and Personal Assistant to Col Chukwuka Ochei of Biafra's Army's 4th Infantry Brigade in Oraifite, the next town to Ozubulu. 

I went to stay with him for a while.

He gave us a house to stay in Ozubulu where my mum began to make what was called "dry pack" - a pack of unripe plantain chips and yam for the soldiers and yam soaked in egg yolk for the ailing soldiers and officers. It was prepared by first frying the yam, then dipping it in egg powder and fried again. It offered a combination of carbohydrate and protein.  

When the war was over, Col Ochei surrendered himself to federal troops at Osomala.

My brother was allowed to go. He left for Lagos.

We returned to Asaba and found that we had lost everything.

Our two houses had been burnt.

We stayed in houses of relatives until we were able to build a small bungalow in the village - Umuaji. 

In Lagos, my brother was helped to find a job as a clerk at UAC by the same Chief Onyia. He was sending money home and that helped in the erection of our house, apart from taking care of our welfare.

In 1970, I went back to finish primary school at St Joseph's Primary School, Asaba. They always add "established in 1864."

Thereafter, I went to join my brother in Lagos and we lived in a single room on Oduduwa Street, Ikate, Surulere.

I took entrance examinations into King's College, St Gregory's, I think, and Maryland Comprehensive Secondary School (MCSS), which was where I was admitted in 1972. Our principal then was Fr McGovern, an Irishman. He had two pairs of boxing gloves in his office.

In my third year, I had a nasal surgery at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH). There was a growth in my nose and I had difficulty in breathing. The surgery was carried out by ten surgeons led by the famous Prof Akintunde Cole Onitiri. On admission at LUTH then, it was like you were in a five-star hotel. I was away from school for about six months. 

I would become friends later with Prof Onitiri. I was presenting a show on Radio Nigeria 2, better known as RN 2 - more on this later - when someone made a music request for Prof Onitiri. When the person said Prof Onitiri of LUTH, I said I was also going to dedicate a song to him. He sought me out and that was how we began a relationship, he like a big daddy to me. 

At MCSS, we had standard facilities for basketball, cricket, athletics, squash racket…

We had two pitches, a major one and a small one down at St Agnes Primary School. 

Kola Abiola (son of Chief Moshood Kasimawo Abiola and now presidential candidate of the People's Redemption Party) was my junior by about three years. Because he was an ajebutter, he was always being bullied by the likes of Buky, who later became his close friend and a pilot in his dad's defunct Concord Airlines. I saved him from bullying once or twice.

In 1977, I was in Kaduna to play a football tournament as a "mercenary" and one day, a friend, Abdul Ibrahim, brought the admission form for  Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) and I filled it. When we went for the interview, I told them that I was interested in the Army, not Navy not Air Force, and I wanted to drive the armoured tank. They took us for training. We were four in number.  One day, we went shopping in town and an uncle of mine saw me and asked what I was doing in Kaduna. I told him. He found a way to pull me out before I could get deep into the training. But Ibrahim carried on and retired as a brigadier, I think.

I had loved radio from when I was young. I used to listen avidly to Ukonu's Club - Teenagers Playtime, a variety show hosted by Mazi Anyaogu Elekwachi Ukonu, more popularly known as Mazi Ukonu, which aired on Saturday and Sunday on Nigerian Broadcasting Service, Enugu. Mazi Ukonu was a great and complete entertainer. If you were sad, he would make you happy. He had jokes that were really funny. He was profoundly entertaining. He moved the show to television and it was on the show that Sonny Okosun started performing from.

In 1978, I was at Auchi Polytechnic to read fine art. I was there for two years and bagged an ordinary national diploma. 

The opportunity to be on radio came when I used to go from Auchi, when we did not have lectures, to Benin City and stayed with my friend, Tunde Ebozoje, who was then in the engineering department; he later became general manager of Edo Broadcasting Service and much later a barrister and lecturer in the department of mass communication at Benson Idahosa University.  I got a chance to feature as an artiste on Emma Egharevba's programmes on Radio Bendel on sports and youths. 

Although I had started disc jockeying even while at MCSS, I got more into it in Asaba, it was in Benin that I became a professional and got my exposure.

Whatever I did on radio got noticed by the owner of Lisa Mona, a night club in the city.

In 1978 I also won the Nigerian DJ competition organised by Skylark Records, a sister company of Punch Newspapers Limited, held at King Sunny Ade's Ariya nightclub. It was coordinated by Austin Izagbo, who was then Skylark's managing director and years later became a commissioner for sports, youth and social development in Delta State and is now the Ide of Ibusa and a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress Party (APC) in the State.

I was invited to be a DJ at Lisa Mona.  I remember that Benson Idonije and Alex Conde came in to the club as guest DJs. Alex Conde was one DJ who influenced me a lot. His presentation was massive. 

From Lisa Mona, I moved to New Langa in GRA, Benin, owned by Chief Ogbebor, and which had more advanced equipment, and it was there that I introduced mixing of songs. I had a feeling that I could join two sounds, using my hands to control the records. So, one night I joined a K C & the Sunshine Band song with that of Jimmy "Bo" Horne and the clubbers stayed dancing on the floor. 

I used to borrow most of the records from Sam & Sam Records. In fact, I used to go and mix songs for him which he sold and made more money. I would also do some mixes for myself.

In 1980, I moved to join my brother, Tony, in Lagos, seeking to get into Yaba College of Technology to continue schooling.

But that did not happen.

Instead, I joined Nigerian Television Authority as a production assistant and I was sent to Bayero University Kano (BUK) for a course on TV production. It was at BUK that what later became TV College, based in Jos, started. We were the second batch of trainees. Tar Ukoh was one of the persons on the course. I got a diploma in TV production, and excelled in illustration and drama.

I returned to Lagos and while still a staff of NTA, I was presenting Pops on Parade, every Wednesday, on RN 2, (which started transmission in 1977) courtesy of Benson Idonije, who, remember, was our guest DJ at Lisa Mona in Benin. The programme was recorded. Speaking of Idonije, in terms of voice, presentation, scripting of music programmes, I don't think he has an equal. I have not met anyone in my life with knowledge of music as he does. Ose Awosika, whom I have tremendous respect for regarding his knowledge of music, was not a match.

I soon got Friday Dance Hour added to my repertoire.

In 1981, I  took over Pop Round the World from Patrick Oke. I presented the show up until 1993, winning many awards along the way.

I became Sylver Shadow around 1983. The Silver Shadow song by American R & B group, Atlantic Starr was, however, released in 1985. It was just a coincidence. But, the song helped, no doubt, as I started to use it as my sig tune on Pop Round the World. It was an icing on the cake for me. It was Joe Best Okoye, who was a big-time cosmetics merchant and had Joe Best Perfection soap, who gave me the record to play at Lord's Club. When I first heard it in 1986, I decided it was going to be my sig tune. It just clicked. It worked for me perfectly. I never met the group. I missed their show at the Silver Shadow. I got into New York two days after their performance. But I exchanged correspondence with them.

You know what? Many at NTA where I was a full time staff did not know I was the one on radio because I never used Sylver Oforgu but Sylver Shadow. So much so that my boss, the Director of News, Mr Patrick Ityohegh, was one of the favourite fans of my show but he did not know I was the presenter. By the way, he did not like me personally, because of the Jheri curl hairstyle I then had, wearing Paco Rabane perfume and  driving a Mazda 626 car. He felt I was arrogant. But I was in showbiz and I worked my whatever off for all I had.

I was the DJ and manager at the exclusive Lord's Nite Club, Maryland. It was a part time job. It was my cousin, Dili Biosah - we called him Captain - who told me about the opening at the club. I performed one night at a party held there and the people danced away for about three hours without returning to their seats. Awed by what happened, Biyi Olafisoye came to spray me money inside the helicopter-like DJ cubicle. I did not know then that he was the club owner. Other things followed.

I worked mornings on NTA. I was in the Sports Department of NTA News. We covered all the matches. I was the cameraman at the  African Cup of Nations in 1980. Nigeria v. Algeria.

I had a records shop/video rental club behind my residence in Oduduwa Street, Surulere, also called Sylver Shadow.

I sold perfumes.

I managed Orits Wiliki. I was his manager when he released the Conqueror album.

I presented Video Vibes and Sunday Rendesvous on NTA Channel 10, both of which were sponsored. Elopee was the DJ and I was the presenter.

I did Youth Scene.

I invested my time and talent into everything.  I bought magazines such as Soul & Jazz and Billboard. I spent time researching on artistes and their works.

Mr Ityohegh eventually knew I was Sylver Shadow and our relationship also changed.

I was in the newsroom for production one day when Pops on Parade was to be aired. It was a recorded programme. So, Mr Ityohegh said, 'It's time for my guy, Sylver Shadow. Oh, that Sylver Shadow guy is baadd.' Newscasters Ruth Benamasia and Siene Allwell-Brown, who knew I was the Sylver Shadow, were there, but they kept mute. I sneaked out of the newsroom….The person who eventually told him was Timawus Mathias. I had recorded some jams on two Maxell 2 XL 2 tapes for him. Then Mr Ityohegh asked him who did them for him. He responded: 'Sylver Shadow now.'  Who is that? Timawus said, 'One of your workers.' He did not know that the boss did not know I was the same person. When I appeared, Timawus said I should please do two tapes for our oga (Ityohegh). So, I packaged two tapes and dedicated it with a voice over 'To My Boss, Patrick Ityohegh, My Big Boss, Dickie Do, A TengeTenge…..' When he took the tapes home and listened to the music, he started loving me….He became like a father to me.

My schedule took a toll on my health. I was sleeping for like three or four hours a day. At some point I nearly broke down. But, I managed to be still standing.

I am glad I survived: guys were into all sorts of drugs, but God saved me, I refused to touch any. I give kudos to my parents. They impressed it on me from early to remember the son of whom I am.

I am glad that Lagos State recognised me during its fiftieth year celebrations as one of the people who made Lagos an entertainment hub. That is one of my greatest joys. But, indeed, Lagos showed me love, it made me who I am and I will not hesitate to appreciate Lagos and Lagosians for giving me the opportunity to excel.

I left NTA after my brother's death. They stole his Peugeot 505 car and shot him on 16 March 1991 in Surulere. It was daytime. I came back from my Pop Round the World show and his wife said she had not seen him. He was not the outgoing type; he hardly stayed out beyond eight p.m. I was the one who went nightclubbing.

He was the Technical Manager Nigeria Motors Industries, a subsidiary of UAC of Nigeria.

That became my personal crisis. I could not just focus on anything.

My father too could not take it. It hastened his death. But he was an old man. It was not a problem for me.

I continued to do stuff for Lord's till 1992.

I then came to Asaba, to sort of put my acts together.

I have remained here since then.

In 1994, during the rule of Group Captain Ibrahim Kefas as Delta State's military administrator, I got a contract to produce a documentary for the State. I went to Lagos to edit it at Gboyega Adelaja's Solar Productions in Ilupeju. 

I also had a stint at Minaj in Obosi. I did sports presentation and Jazz Alive on their radio station. The jazz show became hugely popular because I went haywire on that jazz. I was part of Minaj TV's coverage of the 1996 Olympics. 

I had always loved golf from my days in NTA through Mike Enahoro but I never played it until I got to Asaba. I followed Kefas to Abuja where he went to play golf yet I still did not play. I only started playing in 2000. In 2001 I was rated as a worst player in a tournament but I am a different golfer now, winning  trophies in various tournaments across Nigeria and even in Ghana.

Trophies are cool but what I cherish most about playing golf is the participation, networking and exercising. 

Come 2 July, the Ibori Golf & Country Club, Asaba will hold a sixty-fifth birthday kitty for me at the club. Tee-off will be at noon. Inquiries should be directed to +2348037243168.

My father was from 1982 to 1991 the traditional head, Diokpa Okpalakeze of Ajaji Quarters, made up of seven villages in Asaba. Ajaji was the fourth child of Nnebisi, the founder of Asaba. To become the head, one had to be Diokpa of Afeke village. Afeke was the first child of Ajaji.

Now, by the grace of God, I am the Diokpa of Afeke. 

So, I am Okpalakeze Sylver Adinma Oforgu.

I thank God for everything. 

 

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