Still a beautiful song for TV man, Tony Ogunlana

by Femi Odugbemi

1988-90 found me as a TV/Radio Producer at Lintas Lagos (now Lowe Lintas), then at the iconic 202 Awolowo Road Ikoyi offices, working directly under a larger than life character named Tony Ogunlana. And it was an incredibly formative experience. Lintas was the biggest advertising agency of its time at the time. It had the biggest brands in its portfolio and legends of Nigerian advertising like Uche Almona, Felix Ofulue, Ottah Kalu, Yori Folarin, Stevie Laoye, Ngozi Caulcrick, Godson Odita, Ted Mukoro, Ron Mgbatogu, Dele Adetiba, the late Eskor Mfon, Chris Doghudje and many others. It also had a disciplined system that taught me creativity with accountability where I had to understand and process client briefs well before creative execution. It was the ultimate school of advertising. But it was beyond that. For me, it was also about forming character. I saw great men working in a complex pressure-cooker with deadlines constantly looming but all focused and alert to getting done what needed to be done. They were humble and accessible in the work space. They were giving and ready to teach if you were ready to learn. There was a lot of laughter but everybody understood that getting the work done was the holy grail of surviving the tsunami of briefs that flowed in daily. The nearest model of what the Lintas spirit exemplified was my boss Tony Ogunlana. We all called him ‘Uncle T.’ He was a laugh a minute when you did your work. He was also the meanest face in the universe if you slacked off or missed your deadlines. He was highly professional as a Producer and had won all kinds of awards as the celebrated Producer of Youth Scene on the NTA Network. I had just returned to Lagos after my early stint at NTA Kaduna and figured I knew what I was doing. I was so wrong. My first assignment was a TVC for Asepso soap. It didn’t end well. By the time Tony finished analyzing what I came back with, I was humbled. His language was coarse. His demeanor unfriendly. I knew I would be fired. And I was utterly depressed. Same evening, Tony looked at me and asked where I lived. It was with my mom. He squeezed his face and said ‘no wonder.’ By the following Monday, he had found me an apartment within a walking distance of his home in Ketu. And paid. As far as he was concerned there was zero chance of me taking responsibility for my life if I lived at home with my parents at my age. And that’s how He literally forced me into a mentoring relationship that would shape me forever. He would drive up to my little flat at 6am every morning in his rickety Volkswagen Beetle and give me a ride to Ikoyi. And in that trip was a lot of talking and conversations that gave me insight and courage to aspire to bigger ideas and many life lessons. Tony introduced me to life-long friends like Sharafa Abagun and many other creative giants of the day. He demanded to know who I was dating and would simply insert himself into my plans regardless of if I wanted him to be a part of it or not. His after-work plans became my schedule. His beautiful family became mine. He bought me suits and brought me music from Quintessence simply because he decided I needed them. Of course I responded by working harder than ever and always being careful never to upset or disappoint him. That encounter would shape forever how I relate to young people. The lesson being if you can build the person and mentor them in the messy details of their lives you would give them confidence and trust to aspire, to strive harder and to recognize how much bigger and better they could be because your actions told them in no uncertain terms that you believed in their possibilities. It’s been a few decades since those early days and there’s nothing that I am or will become that does not owe much to that early influence. Love does amazing things to the human spirit. And I am so so grateful that God used Tony so powerfully in my life. Tony Ogunlana passed away quietly almost 2weeks ago and I have struggled to put into words what a colossus his influence on many young lives were, especially mine. The legacy of a life well-lived is really in what you give to lives that have encountered you. It still feels a bit unreal because somehow ‘Uncle T’ was that brand of humanity you hoped would never die. All I am left with is a deep sense of loss but an overwhelming fullness of gratitude. And a commitment to do for others what Tony Ogunlana did for me – to simply believe in the possibilities of every young spirit and to sow in them a seed of myself in the faith that I would have made the world a better place, one life at a time. Sleep easy Uncle T. I appreciate and love you. Forever.

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