I was destined to have many wives -Oga Bello
Since the death of Ojo Ladiipo (Baba Mero), his boss and mentor, some 32 years ago, he has been saddled with the responsibility of leading the Awada Kerikeri Theatre Group. This, he did for many years until the latest fad of home movies took the better of him and his group members. Today, his name has not only become an household one but some of his children's too. Adebayo Salami, otherwise called Oga Bello, spoke with CHIOMA AGALI in this interview of his journey into the make- believe world, his childhood, the pains and the gains of the career so far. Excerpts:
What has your personal and educational background been like?
I was born in Lagos 59 years ago but I am from Kwara state, Ilorin. My parents are both from Ilorin. I had my primary education in Lagos at Ansarudeen, Oke-Ejigbo and my secondary at Adebo commercial school in Lagos. I later went to Lagos drama school created by Christoper Olude. I had all other educational certificates by sandwich and workshops both home and abroad. I got my experience in the industry the practical way and through some books that I read on film production and also also by lectures on the knitty-gritty of the job. I am married and I have wonderful children.
Where did you grow up and what fond memories of those years can remember?
I grew up on Lagos Island in the midst of many other children but I'm very used to my home town very much. My father died there and my mother is still alive and living there. I love traveling. Growing up in those days was fun because you have a lot of children around.
Have you always desire to be in the entertainment industry?
I think right from my youth, I have always love anything that has to do with acting. I have been involved in so many activities relating to that on the Island then whenever there were festivals such as Ramadan, Eid-el Fitri and Kabir, Easter and Christmas. Then, we would perform many plays just to entertain and keep people busy. There was a group called Young Stars Concert Party at the back of my school when I was in the elementary school then. Once I heard them rehearsing then, I would peep out of curiosity and longed to be part of what they were doing. Eventually in 1964, I decided to join them and since then, I have been acting. It was this group that later metamorphosed into the Ojo Ladiipo Theartre and Awada Kerikeri Theatre Group respectively. It was led by the late Ojo Ladiipo(Baba Mero).
Is the group still functioning?
Yes it is but not as a television series as it used to be. I have been in the group all my life and I am still a member till date.
What is your relationship with other members of the group?
We are all together and whenever there is anything we need to do to represent the group, we, the leaders, will call other members together and we will get things done.
How many of your children are in the industry with you now?
Five of them are in the industry presently. All of them are graduates. My wife is also into film distribution.
Was it your wish that they be with you or their own decision?
Well, I think is their wish, ways and interest but they got the trait from me. As a parent, I don't force my children to do what I know is not their wish or what they don't like. Even while they were in school, they choose what ever they want to study that they know they are good in doing. Strangely, none of them studied Theatre Arts. 14 of my children are graduates. Femi my son studied law and was called to bar since 2003. He had his masters and he is the only one trying to study Theatre Arts now. The second one is a geologist and is also in the industry working. Two are computer scientists while I have a girl who studied business administration,but is in the marketing section in the industry.
How would you describe yourself?
I don't like to describe myself. I prefer people describing me. All I know is that God has been so kind to me. Everything that has been happening to me is by God's grace. I thank God and all my fans out there who has been supporting me. I started acting at age 12 and all the way, it has been success, I am strong and healthy, I give God all the glory. It is all God's doing. I am humble and gentle. I am accommodating and I have people around me. There are so many people in my house that I don't even know where they are from not to talk of who their parents are but they are happy living with me. It has been like that since when I was a bachelor.
What were your achievement when you were the President of ANTP?
I thank God. First and foremost I remember that it was when I was the President that ANTP gained more recognition than ever. I took ANTP to highest level. It was recognised right from the national level. I took my executives to Aso Rock and we were warmly welcome by the president then-Olusegun Obasanjo. Everything was on the newspaper and he made a promise because during my speech I told him that ANTP should not be sold and he endorsed it. I injected discipline, it was during my tenure that actors and actresses were traveling in and out of the industry through the recommendation I gave to the embassy and with the rapport I had with the embassy then. I was able to make people work and have their money, films were sold and we were recognised all over the world. As at then, we were using the highest technical format of film. I was the one that found the ANTP London chapter. I inaugurated the American chapter. I started working on the acquisition of a film village then, wrote a proposal to the government and they gave us ten acres of land along Badagry express road. I pleaded with the president then and he gave us a letter that he is ready to assist us in building the film village. All these were my achievement from 2001- 2004.
What's the latest on the said village now?
I don't know the exact stage it is now but I think it is under construction, let me put it that way.
There is this tussle going on in the movie industry over who the next president will be. What is your take on this?
The next president, I believe, is going to be by the choice of God and not anybody. Although we will have those people who will cast their votes and at the same time, people who will make their choice, what we need is somebody who can move the association forward to a better level. What is happening to ANTP now is not peculiar to ANTP alone it also happens in all other organisations and as the issues keep coming, we will be settling it and moving on.
What can you say about the Yoruba movie industry now and in future?
The Yoruba movie industry as at today is the acceptable film industry in Nigeria at least with the qualities of the movies and with what I injected during my tenure. We have sorted for good location and we are able to produce decent films. We are bent on ensuring that in the industry, there is no junk. If you look inward and trace the history of movies in Nigeria to its origin, you will discover that the Yoruba movie industry kicked it off. Right from the time of Alarinjo, the first Nigerian Yoruba movie, a celluloid, we have started movies. It was the first Nigerian movie in Yoruba. Wole Soyinka produced Kongi Harvest although it was not a commercial film. Ola Balogun produced the first Yoruba movie Ajani Ogun, it is a commercial film. Ija ominira followed, by Dr Balogun's idea and co-ordinated by late Duro-Ladipo. This was also followed by Taxi driver, Aye and then my own films; Ogun Ajaye, produced in 1985 and Ija Orogun. Which were all in celluloid. So if you start tracing the history of movie industry it all started from Alarinjo- the traveling theatre. I have taken my stage plays round the country and all these was made possible through the traveling theatre. We own it and that is why we are improving on it, we carry our audience along. The situation I am looking at is the standard of Hollywood. All what we are doing is our own efforts, no support from the government, government is still looking at the film industry as an unserious industry. I must confess to you that if we are well handled and looked into, it is going to be second to the oil resource in the country. In India, what do they have? It is the film industry they depend on. Even the American government won't put aside the film industry. So, if the government can support us, we will go places.
Haven't you approached them on this?
We do seek for their help time after time, but like you and I know, there are always delay in government arrangement. They inaugurated a committee so that all of us will be able to speak from one voice but you see this has posed a problem as we don't speak from one voice and that is what is affecting us. We have the Hausa section, the Igbo section and the Yoruba section and they want all of us to come together and speak from one voice, who will the government to listen to? They created a body called Motion Pictures National Committee(MOPICON), to work out the mortality on how it can work and I was opportuned to be a member of the committee.
And how has the committee fared?
They are trying to see that everything works out well. We have done the recommendations and administrative part of it and all that we think can make the the body move on well. It is left for them now to pass it to the House of Assembly. Since we don't have much here and we are rated number three that means that if we have all the facilities needed, we will move on.
Who is Adebayo salami outside the screen?
I don't like noise because I am a very quiet person, easy going. I don't like any thing flamboyant, I like a very simple life.
How do you cope with the enormous task of being an actor and a father of a large home?
It depends on how you are able to organise yourself. You have to organise your life, I have been a leader in my community, leader in the industry and even in the country in a way and in my family. So, all I do is to organise it in a way that it will be convenient for me. I love my children and my children love me. I have a lot of them, all grown up now to the glory of God.
You said you have a lot of children, how many wives do you have?
Laughing! I have wives. Don't worry about that.
What got you attracted to those your wives?
What I wanted in my life was one wife but when everything happened I knew It was destined to be so. All my life and as at the time this was happening, I was asking myself whether I was going out of my senses. But somehow, everything kept moving well and I realised that it was destined to be so. I have been in this for years now and I have no regret or any form of disappointment from any of my children. Education or character wise, they are all calm and religious. I thank almighty Allah and that is why I believe it was nothing but destiny.
Who are your mentors?
Well, coming to the film industry I already have the passion for acting which was the basic urge that I need to go on with my choice. I watched a programme on the television once by the late Hubert Ogunde titled The foolish doctor and it gave me the inspiration to become an actor. There was also Ayinla Olumegbon, who is late now, they used to rehearse at a place Jekerando compound near our place. I have another mentor who is a lawyer. I worked with him in the Federal Ministry of Works when I finished my education between 1970-1974. I joined them as a library attendant, from there, I was transferred to the office of the minister, Alhaji Femi Okunnu who made me his personal assistant. He is one of my mentors.
What are the challenges you face in the industry?
I can not count them,but I thank God that I have been able to overcome them. I don't need to recall them. It is a thing of the past because I have faced a lot of challenges.
Do you have any new project that you are working on now?
I have a lot that I'm working on now. Emi-Abata is now on the stage of post production and will be premiered during the Ileya festival at the National Theatre.
There is a rumour going on that Femi Adebayo is going out with Funke Akindele. How true is it?
I don't want to talk about that because my son is old enough to know what is good for him and both of them are grown up. They can speak for themselves.
Is it true that in the Yoruba movie industry that rob my back, I rob your back is the order of practice?
Yes, it is true. That is the Yoruba style.
Don't you think this has posed a kind of set back for many actors and actresses|?
It is not true because by every judgment, the Yoruba movie industry is even growing. Yes, I will tell you how. We have this culture of unity among ourselves, it is a culture of love and assistance among ourselves. We do the rob- my- back, I- rob- your- back business but with some payment. It is not as if we don't pay at all. The idea is all about standing in for a brother and a sister in time of need and this, you tend to reap when your own time comes. The money might not be much but you gain more experience. It has been in existence for a long while now and we do it once or twice and not really all the time.
As an actor how fulfilled are you?
I thank God I am very fulfilled?
Do you have any regret being an actor?
No regret at all. I am an actor, producer and a director. I have every cause to thank Almighty Allah because I am 46 years old in the industry.
What has kept you going?
Honesty, hard work, patience and lots more. If God gives you work to do, he will give you all what you need to complete the work.
What are the things you would love that acting has denied you?
A lot, I can't go to the market to buy anything. I can't work on the street any more. If I go to party I have to sneak in because if I don't, I will have to greet everybody. I can't go shopping for myself except I send somebody.
What advice do you have for the upcoming ones?
I will just tell them to make sure they go to school because education is the key. They should join a group to actually learn practically and be focused.