Femi Ogunrombi: The Man, The Thespian, And The Legend As Papa Ajasco
It is often said that legends are not born, they are created. Though gone too soon, their impact span many generations, and the footprints they leave in the sand are often too big to fill. Try as you might to replace them but there would never be a replica. Cherish these legends while they are here, praise them when they are gone, and celebrate the life that they lived, for it was a good one filled with love, laughter, and happiness.
Among the many irreplaceable legends is Femi Ogunrombi, fondly known by his stage name, Papa Ajasco. He was a renowned thespian and musicologist that passed away in mid-January after a brief battle with an undisclosed illness. Ogunrombi embodied the character Papa Ajasco, transforming it from the lead character in the Wale Adenuga Production (WAP) sitcom to a household name loved by millions of Nigerians.
“The Ajasco Family,” now known as “Papa Ajasco and Company,” is a Nigerian family sitcom created by Wale Adenuga Productions (WAP) in 1996. It is a spin-off of a feature film of the same title also produced by WAP in 1984, which in turn is based on the comic show Ikebe Super. Wale Adenuga revealed that the lead character in “Ikebe Super” inspired the character Papa Ajasco.
The plot of “Papa Ajasco and Company” revolves around the Ajasco family and their comic interpretations of everyday struggles. Their satirical takes on significant problems facing society are at the center of this narrative. The primary characters consist of the womanizing patriarch Papa Ajasco, his long-suffering wife Mama Ajasco, their mischievous son Bobo Ajasco, a local playboy named Boy Alinco, a promiscuous gold-digger named Miss Pepeiye, and two ignorant scoundrels named Pa James and Pa Jimoh.
In its prime, Papa Ajasco was widely considered Nigeria’s most-watched comedy series, viewed weekly in over twelve African countries including Guinea, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.
Ogunrombi Through the Eyes of a Bosom Friend
Before his shot to stardom, Ogunrombi had served under the Ministry of Information and Culture as a music instructor. Despite rising to the position of Director of Music at the ministry, he resigned to pursue his acting and music career.
A musicologist for over three decades, he was the first music instructor in the esteemed National Troupe of Nigeria before he was elevated to the position of Director. He was also the Director of Studies at the Pencil Film and Television Institute (PEFTI).
TNR sat down with Osezua Stephen-Imobhio, an intimate friend of the late actor, who gave us an insight into the jovial man behind the mustache and archaic suspenders. Their friendship spanned over three decades and it was not without its challenges.
Stephen-Imobhio is the immediate Past President of the Independent Film Producers Association of Nigeria.
“Ogunrombi started the National Choir after serving as Director of the National Troupe of Nigeria. Before that, he launched his music band as a student at the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University.
“He was both a keyboardist and a bassist. He was also the church organist for his Seventh Day Adventist Church. He was a deeply religious man. I am also an Orthodox Christian. I used to join them for choir festival then in his church.”
Ogunrombi as Nurse and Caregiver
Stephen-Imobhio relived being a bachelor during his early years with the late Papa Ajasco in the 90s.
“Whenever I was down with malaria, the moment I got a message across to him, even without mobile communication, he would drive down from his workplace, which was Five Star Textile Company along Festac Road, Lagos, where he was in charge of their clinic.”
“You have no wife nor children yet and you’re not feeling fine. I can’t just leave you alone,” he would lovingly tell him as he, along with his wife, would nurse him back to health.
He also maintained a strong relationship with Ogunrombi’s three daughters whom he treats like his own. “They’re my daughters as well.”
Ogunrombi The Mediator
Stephen-Imobhio further disclosed to TNR that Ogunrombi was not only a talented actor and caregiver, but he was also an expert mediator. He successfully managed a rift between Biodun Ayoyinka, the current Papa Ajasco, and the show’s producer.
“Crisis, you know, from time to time is a common thing between producers and actors.
“I think they had this misunderstanding that made them look out for another Papa Ajasco. Funny enough, I’ve been referring to Ogunrombi as Papa Ajasco, because of his baldness, his size, and his trim. I called him Papa Ajasco long before the show aired and as it so happens, he worked with Wale Adenuga at PEFTI Film Institute as the Director of Studies.”
He explained that there was eventually a resolve between the current Papa Ajasco and management, thanks to Ogunrombi’s intervention.
“So he (Ogunrombi) came back to hold the mantle as Papa Ajasco while the crisis was ongoing. When it was resolved, he had to step aside and went back to the teaching and running of PEFTI Film Institute at that time as the Director of Studies. Apart from Papa Ajasco, he did several movies. He was featured in the popular sitcom “Super Story” and some other productions. He was both a stage actor and a screen actor till his demise. He was also a lecturer and Music Lecturer at 10 Strings Music School in Ikeja.”
Apart from the above, Ogunrombi lent his voice to the soundtrack of films. He notably sang the theme song for Stephen-Imobhio ‘s TV soap “The Household.”
In a note of finality on the late actor’s works, Stephen-Imobhio said he was involved in the soundtrack of a yet-to-be-released film.
“That’s one thing Nollywood as an industry is lacking. Few well-trained musicians handle those beats. Some just walk into the studio without a full grasp of musical theories and their intricacies. Ogunrombi understood all these. When the film is out, people will see what he did there.”
News of His Demise
“I recall a week before last Christmas, I just thought I had not seen him for a while. I went to visit and found out he had been sick. He could not even go to the classroom for three weeks before that time,” Stephen-Imobhio began.
“He told me he was feeling sick and tired and he was later taken to the Teaching Hospital at Babcock University. He passed on there. It was quite a rude shock to me.
“I told the second daughter who was the closest to him that her father had gone to join their late mother. She asked, ‘Who will now take care of us?’ It was a very sad moment indeed.”
Ogunrombi The Selfless Teacher
Lucky Alex, a Nollywood actor and former pioneer member of the National Troupe of Nigeria had this to say about the late actor.
“Femi reached out to everyone selflessly. As an ethnomusicologist who studied different genres of music, he was a master music arranger, both in the secular world and gospel.
“He was a dramatist, a singer, a music teacher, and a multi-instrumentalist but majored in piano. He was the first music instructor for the National Troupe of Nigeria, and the first Nigerian to sing in the North Korean language-Pyongyang. He had taught both young and old during his time. He formed Ayoro Voice, a choral group at the University of Ife; it was known and talked about by all. Shola Fosudo was a member.”
Commenting on the rift that Ogunrombi mediated, Alex stated:
“When he was called to take over the character when Biodun Ayoyinka, the present papa Ajasco was sacked, he rejected it until Wale Adenuga called him personally. The advertisers couldn’t relate to him because he was too refined for the character, so he decided to help run PEFTI school instead and Biodun was reinstated.”
“The late Papa Ajasco was a recipient of many local and international awards, most notably a gold plaque and a Diploma in Creative Composition in North Korea for performing a song in that language in 1995,” he said in his closing remarks about the late actor.
A thespian, a musicologist, a selfless teacher, a caregiver, and an inspiration to many who admired him are all but a few words to describe Ogunrombi whose life was modeled by the principles of hard work and dedication to your craft. He would forever live on in the hearts of those who knew him and would forever be loved by the general public. “Papa Ajasco and Company/ Manufactured by Wale Adenuga Productions/ Nigeria’s number one…” was the soundtrack to their childhood after all.