Events manager cum showbiz promoter, Edi Lawani, has shared his most terrifying experience with TS Weekend. In an exclusive chat at his office located in highbrow Opebi, Ikeja, Lagos, Lawani revealed that his worst moment was the day he was ambushed along Warri/Port Harcourt Road, on his way to seal a business deal in Rivers State. Why was he ambushed? Who did it? Please read on.
Child of necessityFor years, Edi Lawani has been sporting overgrown but neat beard, even before stars like Rick Ross started wearing theirs. Unlike the popular impression in the media that he grew the beard to make a fashion statement, Lawani says wearing the beard was born out of necessity.
“For almost 20 years, I have been wearing this beard and now it’s become fashionable and I am happy that a lot of people are following the trend. I suffered severe bumps whenever I shaved in those days, and the bumps could be really irritating, so I just left it to grow and before I knew it, I’ve fallen in love with it and ever since I have never looked back,” he says while caressing his beard and taking a sip of coffee.
In lion’s den
Lawani had formed the habit of travelling late by road as he used to gallivant between Lagos, Benin City, Abuja and Port Harcourt. “I used to travel a lot by night. I could leave Lagos by 6pm driving and travelling all night to Abuja. I enjoyed driving a lot at night and nothing could stop me in those days,” he recalls.
Was it because of the nature of his job as an events manager? “No, I was just rascally,” Lawani confesses beaming with smiles. “I could leave Benin by 7pm for Port Harcourt; the fact was that I was just carefree and enjoyed taking risks. I guess I just wanted to prove a point.”
Recounting his close brush with death, Lawani continued: “On this day, the journey started from Lagos around 6pm. I had just seen my daughter in Benin; she was six- months old then. My wife tried to discourage me; she told me not to make the trip. My late father in-law also gave me the same advice but I rejected it. I said ‘don’t worry, I am cool’ and hopped into my car and zoomed off after bidding them farewell.
“And that was the day I ran into the ambush of militants. It was at about 10 pm on December 1997. They dragged me out of the car and my life was hanging in the balance. They were debating, ‘should we shoot this guy or let him go? He neither looks innocent nor guilty’. They had to make a decision and time was running out for me, and my heart was slamming against my ribs; I was scared!
“The issue was so crucial they had to invite the gang leader to make a final pronouncement. He walked from across the road and held a cocked gun to my face; rubbing its nuzzle against my cheeks. My heart stopped beating. I held my breath, waiting for the end to come as I said my last prayers.”
When the cold nuzzle of the gun touched his cheeks, what went through his mind? “I was thinking about my daughter because I did not marry early and my daughter was about six-months-old. I had just seen her an hour earlier in Benin and here I was in the middle of nowhere, staring up the barrel of a gun; I was terrified!”
It was then Lawani remembered a prayer he always said. Hear him: “I used to pray that if I was going to die before my kids were old enough to survive on their own, I would rather die before I had kids because I had seen what became of such orphans. I was like ‘oh my God, by my own hands I have brought this upon my head! I have made my wife a widow and my daughter an orphan.’
“I kept thinking, ‘what would happen to my six-months-old child?’ I said my last prayers and thanked God for my life. I begged for forgiveness and asked God to take care of my wife and kid.
“That moment seemed to last forever. But after a while, the leader looked at me, rubbed the nuzzle of his gun on my cheeks and beard and said, ‘I like his beard, let him go!’ That was how my life was spared.”
Setting the pace
When the history of events management is written in Nigeria, Lawani would no doubt share an important space due to his contributions to the sector. But has it always been his dream to be an events manager?
“I won’t say it was always my dream. Growing up I had one or two things on mind in terms of what I wanted to be, but as it turned out, I found myself in this industry, so I knew I had no choice but to excel at what I was doing. And for me, there are no short cuts; you have to give it your best; 110 per cent or there is no point going into it at all,” he says.
Lawani continues: “I wouldn’t say I set out wanting to be an events manager or production person per se, at a point I wanted to be a doctor and at another point I wanted to be a Catholic priest, and for many years I wanted to be a soldier. But I ended up in journalism and from journalism I moved into show business full time. It never occurred to me I would be doing this full time.”
Today, Lawani has revolutionalised events management in Nigeria and groomed a lot of youths. What is the secret to his success? He quips: “Well, the guiding principles for me were the need to always see things to the end. I don’t believe in mediocrity or half measures. So, I bring to my work the passion to succeed because I don’t want to fail. I give 110 per cent dedication to anything I do because you have to lead by example. And then it turned out that the kind of service I was rendering was different and unique from what people were used to, so people began to notice and the rest is history.”
My acid test
Beginning in the 1990s, Lawani has managed and produced some of the biggest shows in the country. In fact, he is one of the most sought after event managers in the country. What has been his most challenging job to date? A look of excitement envelopes his visage as he responds thus: “It was Rothmans Groove 1997. Over 65, 000 people on a cricket stage, all equipment flown in from Europe, show set to role and suddenly it started raining and everything began falling apart, and the crowd was not moving an inch.
“There were two options, shut down the show and disappoint the crowd or do whatever you can to make the show run. We had a team of experts from all over the world. We had done our job but the rain was tearing it apart. The roof was almost caving in because of the weight of water that had accumulated there, so we had to drain that away. People were standing in ankle-deep water and there was fear of people getting electrocuted because electric cables were strewn all over the place.
“When I look back, I think the wisest thing to do was to shut down the show. But then, how do we disperse so many people at that midnight. I took every risk in the book, as soon as I was able to ascertain that cables had been secured and the risk of electrocution was minimized to less than five per cent, which was still high, I decided to roll. There is a saying in showbiz that ‘whatever happens, the show must go on.’ That was my acid test. Since that show succeeded, I knew I could survive anything.”