P.M. News (Lagos)

10 May 2002

Nigeria: The Life And Times of Funmi Martins


Lagos — The death of Funmi Martins last Monday has sent shock waves into the acting profession, especially in Lagos where majority of the high profile artistes are based. The reason is not far-fetched.

For the fact that the late Funmi Martins was a young woman, (she will be 39 in September), nobody expected her to die so soon. At least, she had scaled an apparent difficult task over a month earlier while giving birth to her third child.

Also, she had been involved in series of works lately, the last being Antar Laniyan's Aduro Ti Oluwa shot in Ikorodu, a suburb of Lagos. "She returned from location of the film about two weeks ago," a sympathiser told Entertainment Cafe.

But in the afternoon of last Sunday, Funmi was relaxing in her Iju-Ishaga home when she suddenly felt dizzy. Her complaint of dizziness was heeded by relations and she was immediately taken to Oshuntuyi Medial Hospital, Iju, her usual medical "fortress".

Nobody thought much of the sickness as she was reported to have even breast-fed her infant baby boy that evening at the hospital. However, death was lurking around the corner for the Ilesa-born mother of three.

Exactly 11.48 p.m. on Monday, Funmi breathed her last.

Her death certificate stated that she died of cardiac arrest, arising from congestive heart failure. The certificate explained further that the arrest was caused by rheumatic heart disease.

Since then, the artistes' family in Lagos has been mourning. Funmi was popular among her colleagues because she belonged to the rare class of artistes who possessed the intellectual and professional ability to star in both English and Yoruba home videos.

"She was an ever-smiling woman, the best a woman can be and I'll miss her smiling face," was the comment of Antar Laniyan, a big brother and confidant of the late artiste.

For Bukky Wright, another popular actress, Funmi was a big sister, a nice woman who was so pleasant. "I saw her last about two weeks ago on location of Antar Laniyan's film in Ikorodu, so hale and hearty and not betraying any sign of illness, not to talk of death.

We just discussed generally," Bukky noted.

Perhaps, most traumatised by Funmi's death is Alhaji Adebayo Salami (Oga Bello) under whom Funmi first starred in a Yoruba film. But for the fact that invitation cards for the 50th birthday of Oga Bello had been sent out, the anniversary which took place yesterday (Thursday) would have been postponed. In spite of this, the anniversary was low-keyed, devoid of the big celebration and party earlier planned by artistes.

An 8-member burial committee headed by Funmi's bossom friend, Lola Afolayan (a.k.a. Lola Idije) has been set up. A burial programme has also been released. A Christian wake-cum-artistes' night took place last night while the late artiste is billed for interment this afternoon.

She was born Funmi Oguntomi in Ilesa, Osun State but lived her life in Lagos, Abeokuta and Ibadan. She had both her primary and secondary education in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital at Oke-Ona Primary and Grammar School, Abeokuta, respectively.

Funmi proceeded to Ibadan, the Oyo State capital where she attended Beepo Secretarial Institute for a Diploma in Secretarial Studies. She later ventured into modelling where she modelled a product like Daravite and then into acting.

In 1992, a friend, Kola Idowu, tried to get an acting job for her. Though this did not materialise, a "messiah" in the person of film producer, Fidelis Duker, came late 1993 and Funmi was thrust into the acting world. She first featured in an English home video produced and directed by Duker and entitled "Nemesis". Having honed her skills, Funmi later featured in Not My Will and Scandals directed and produced by Ducker before she featured in Millionaires Are Saints directed by Madu Chikwendu.

In the Yoruba genre, Oga Bello featured her first and she went ahead to feature in Ija Omode, Iyan Ogun Odun, Segilola, Obiri-Oloja, Abere Alhaja, Oko Irese, Oro-Inu, Ibale, Edun Gbalanja and the latest wave-making, Abulesowo among others.

Funmi also featured in soap operas running on many television stations. She was a constant feature of Super Story series on Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) network just as she was also a star performer in Tajudeen Adepetu's highly revered family soap, Everyday People.

Funmi had her own productions outfit called FLEM Productions. The outfit produced her first major work, Pelumi I & II and the film was highly successive.

However, her second film, Idi Oluwa did not record much success.

Like most artistes, Funmi was not without controversy surrounding her love life. When she produced Pelumi I & II featuring famous fuji musician, Dr. Sikiru Ayinde Barrister, there were rumours then that Funmi was dating the famous Fuji musician. Rumour mongers claimed that Barrister contributed so much financially to the project because of the affair between them.

Funmi and her close allies debunked the rumour, saying Barrister merely assisted her in making her breakthrough in film production.

Perhaps, the greatest of the controversy surrounding her love life was her close liaison with equally popular Juju musician, Sir Shina Peters. They were reported to be lovers and reports had it that she had her last baby boy for Peters. The child was even said to be named Akanbi Ayomipo Peters. Sir Shina reportedly entertained guests for free at the christening ceremony with his( full) band on display.

The love between Funmi and Peters was said to be so strong that the late actress left her abode on 308, Agege Motor Road, Challenge Bus-stop, Mushin where she lived for many years and relocated to Iju-Ishaga, for what an observer described as her desire to be closer to Sir Shina Peters. Consequently, the Afro-juju crooner was her last known lover before her death.

Funmi's last public outing was the marriage ceremony of Ayo Animasaun three weeks ago at All Seasons Plaza, Ikeja. Looking radiant and chatting animatedly with a young colleague, Foluke Daramola, Funmi never looked like a person whose death was near.

Her death has also sparked controversy. Though the medical report stated that she died of cardiac arrest, blood stains were reportedly found in her mouth, raising questions on the efficiency of the medical centre where she died in determining the cause of her death.

This has elicited negative reactions from her colleagues who are now calling for a probe to unravel the real cause of her death.

"Her death is more than the ordinary eyes can see.

There is need for a deeper look into the cause of her death," one of the artistes told Entertainment Cafe.

For now, the theatre practitioners are still too numbed to institute a probe as Funmi's death is still haunting them.

Funmi left behind her aged mother and her three children: Olumide 18, Ayo 16 and Akanbi Ayomipo Peters just over 40 days.

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