Ogogo wept!

Source: Samuel Olatunji - Nigeriafilms.com
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•The painful story of his sickness
•Those who abandoned him
•How he was poisoned

It is not every day you conduct an interview that makes you cry. SAMUEL OLATUNJI got more than he bargained for when accomplished actor, Alhaji Taiwo Al-Hassan (popularlu known as Ogogo) shared his pathetic story.

From a family of twins
My grandfather was a twin, my father was a twin and my mother gave birth to twins four times. So there are many Taiwos in my family and this is why I prefer my Muslim name, Alhaji Taiwo Al-Hassan.

I was born in Ilaro in 1959. I started primary school at Christ Church School, Ilaro. I later moved to Lagos where I finished my primary education. Due to financial constraints I could not complete secondary school, so I went to a technical college where I trained as an automobile mechanic. I worked with the Lagos State Water Corporation for 13 years.

How acting career started
I did not study theatre arts. While I was with the water corporation, I started toeing the theatre line under the tutelage of my boss then, Awo Ademola Fagbemi. This was between 1981 and 1982. Then we went to work in the morning and in the evening we went for theatre practise. Till the late 80s, we concentrated on stage plays until the late Muyideen Aromire took the lead into video films.
In 1994 I retired from government work to concentrate on acting because by 1991/1992 I was already getting some recognition and my fan base was considerably big. I could no longer go to work in public buses and my salary was not so buoyant to afford a cab. So with counsel from one of my brothers I made up my mind and resigned.

My first personal film was the Wicked Boy. I did another one Prisoner and then Merciful God, which was the last film I did while in the government job. There was no point for me to continue to go to work because I was making more money elsewhere. That was how I took up acting fully.

HIV rumour
A lesson that I learnt that gave me an edge is that having a good character and not being a cheat paves way for you. You cannot live your life the way you want. I remember when I became ill, of which I remain eternally grateful to God for sparing my life, there was nothing people did not say. They said I was dealing in drugs, that I had HIV, MBV, MJK and all manner of things that did not even have a meaning.

But I have said it severally that I don't fall ill often. My genotype is AA and my blood group is O+. The only thing that gets me down is malaria. I remember sometime in 1995 I had typhoid and was admitted. It was on the sick bed that I got the script of Owo Blow. Those who brought the script went back to the director, Tade Ogidan, and told him I was sick but he insisted it was me they wanted and this choice was not based on any other reason but merit. So I told the doctor to treat me for three days and I will be coming from home for the rest of the treatment. This is to tell you how strong I am.

Then I indulged in a lot of self-medication. I believe once I took a mixture of lime and Alabukun I will be fine without knowing I was liable to ulcer and was damaging some other cells in my body. I remember then that I had typhoid and was given drugs and injections in the hospital to put me to sleep but I still could not. The doctor asked me if I took drugs, I mean cocaine, and I said no. I told him I took lime and Alabukun and he screamed, 'you are killing yourself.' I took to his warning and stopped taking such things. This was around 1995. I was supposed to be going for medical check up since then but my nonchalance to things did not help matters.

I was driving on the fifth day of the Muslim fast in 1993 when I felt a sharp pain in my stomach. I was on my way to work with Arakangudu but the pain got worse and the guy with me, Shina Bankole, could not drive. We managed to get to the location safely and I was still fasting till around 2pm. It was Remi Surutu who saw me in pain and told me the symptoms of my stomachache seem like that of ulcer. They went to get me milk and water. I took it and five minutes after the pain subsided, so she warned me to see a doctor immediately. I went straight to my doctor from the location and he prescribed some drugs for me. So I went back to work.

Producer tricked me
The unfortunate thing about the producer Arakangudu is that the last time I saw him was the day before I took ill. He went behind me to finish the movie because he could not pay me my balance and he never called, not even once to know how I was feeling. We stopped when the movie was three scenes to the end due to financial constraints. When I saw Falla he confirmed that Arakangudu had gone to finish the movie behind me. Ask Falla when you see him. I wanted to confront him (producer) when I saw him at the National Theatre but I just decided to leave him to God.

Why I lost weight
This was how I continued treating ulcer as it got worse from then. It was from one test to the other and one drug to the other. It got to a stage that if I dared to eat, I threw up all I have eaten. One of our children is going through the same thing now and people have started talking again. But the girl is also suffering from ulcer. It was so bad that an Imam came to see me from Ilorin and sat beside me for almost two hours but did not know it was me until I spoke. People could no longer recognise me; I just kept losing weight. Between 1992 and 1994 I weighed over 90kg but the weight dropped to 69kg. Each time I try to walk I feel I will be blown away by breeze.

I went from one hospital to the other, from one herbalist to the other, from one Imam to the other, from one pastor to the other. One day somebody called me from London and said he dropped my name at a revival in a church and they are praying for me. He said I should listen and say amen, which I did. I met the pastor sometime later in London and thanked him greatly. Imams also prayed for me and many others.

In 2005, I underwent surgery for appendicitis. This was supposed to be minor but despite how big it was it was not detected. Thank God for a doctor who detected it and operated the next day. It was the same year I was given an award in Dublin. So while travelling I carried my bags myself and this affected my health. When I got back I was admitted again. Along the line I was also diagnosed to be hypertensive. But God that spared my life. My weight now is about 94kg and I follow my doctor's instructions.

My brother, it is no joke. I do not wish my enemy ever contacts ulcer. One of my nieces who had not seen me in a long time saw me during one Ileya festival and she started wailing because of how much I had emaciated. My children also struggled with it for a while but I try to encourage them.

I have four children, three girls and a boy. The oldest is 30 years and he is a graduate.

I thought I would die
In the midst of all the pain and operations, all I kept wondering was what have I done, where have I gone wrong or who have I offended? I remember the day I was to be operated on, I did not know what process the surgery would take. I thought it was just a small cut and the thing will be removed. I did not know that the intestines would be brought out. I looked at my children and wondered what I could do to leave some money for them.

So I called one marketer, Kazeem Afolayan (Epsalum), and asked him that in my state, what can I do for you? He said we can produce together, so he gave me money and I produced a movie for him. I did that because I thought I was going to die since rumour was rife that I was dead. I thought it was time and I wanted my children to have some money to spend when I'm gone. That was when we produced Omo Talaka.

The actors and actresses that came for the shooting were crying. They could not believe that was what was remaining of me. The marketers that stood by me were three, Corporate Picture, Afeesco and Epsalum. Epsalum whom I never met before first sent me money and I was wondering who he was. That period was touching for me (tears rolled down his eyes. The reporter had tears well up his eyes too. After a five-minute pause, the interview continued).

No help from family
I only have an elder brother and even at that time he too was not okay and we come from a family that worships traditional deities. I was moving around on my own from one point to the other. My children were very young and were in school. So I could not tell them to leave school and come to assist me because life must go on; I can't use my own to disturb them. My first daughter is 14 years older than the second born. My first daughter used to come home almost every weekend from school to help and it was a real strain on her part.

My wife was also there for me. Before the sickness I had one wife but God had ordained that I was going to have two wives. The second one just gave birth in 2009. If God says this is your way you don't have a choice.

My resolve
To get the best out of life. You know I have been an actor virtually all my life and it is the only way I know. I want to make sure my children become somebody in life and they have the best. I did not go to school and I cannot write well but I can communicate with whoever I talk to even if I don't have big grammar in my speech. The level I cannot get to my children should get there. I try to be good to everyone I come in contact with and strive to succeed in all that I do. There are some people in the industry that don't like you but laugh with you simply because they see you as a competitor. God should help us all; so many people around but few true friends.

I was poisoned
I don't know if it is food poisoning. The thing has been in my body for years and I didn't know. But I had had series of warnings to be careful of people that some will plan to poison me. And that was eventually what happened in 2007. I went to see an alfa who confirmed that I had been poisoned but that God will not allow me die. He did some prayers with me and told me to be watchful the following morning and I did see it with my own eyes. How many times have we seen something like that? My brother, don't let us talk much on that. Whosoever is doing good should continue. I'm close to tears; let us talk about movies.

How he regained position in movie industry
It is not me but God. I pray a lot and believe so much in the power of prayer. If not for God, I would have been dead and it is not because I'm so super. There is no particular strategy I'm using. I'm only a thorough person on the job. I'm a producer and I read all the scripts that come to me. I always ask if I can contribute my own quota to the success of the script. I must be able to align all the dialogues together in my head.

To the glory of God I do all that because I don't have any other means. I'm a Yoruba man to the core and a traditionalist but that does not mean I worship any other god.

Acting fee
I don't know if I'm the highest paid actor, according to what you wrote sometime ago. There are so many actors that get higher pay than me, so I don't know where that story came from. I may be among the highly placed Yoruba-speaking actors but it's not me; it's God. No amount of money you collect that will be enough for an intellectual. You can't quantify the job.
People will use any means to cheat you and they will be the same set that will ask you what you did when you were hot and up there. I don't inconvenience people but there are some of our people that will readily sell you to slavery.

Most of the marketers always look for the cheap way out to gain more. If one marketer comes to you to ask how much you would charge to produce a movie and you say three or four million naira, he would leave and go to one of your boys and promise to give him N300,000 after he completes the job for N800,000. This same boy will come to you and plead with you and because he is one of your own, you will help. But he has lied to you and betrayed your trust. So when they come back I readily ask for my fees for the lead role. If you are okay with my fees, you can stay otherwise you can leave me.

I don't take less than N500,000 from an outsider and most times I don't accept bad roles because of my fans since most of them don't like it.

Current film
My current work is a total culture film entitled Opa Ase. It has so many seasoned actors and actresses with over 300 casts. The film was financed by Corporate Pictures with over N9 million as budget. They released the money because they know I'm an honest person and will give my best into making it a very good film. I did a lot of research into the culture and tradition of our people to really make it a truly traditional movie. It would soon be ready but I cannot tell when.

Relationship with marketers
It depends on how they want it. If you want me to give you the full cost and credit, there is no problem. But if we agree to use another marketer, then royalties come in because in the nearest future you might want to take the movie somewhere else as a producer.

Advice to budding actors
It is not easy but you must really weigh your options and know within you that you can succeed if you leave a paid job to stand on your own. Before I quit Water Corporation, I had already produced about three movies and I realized that if I can concentrate more I could be better.

Power is the greatest concern we have. There is also the problem of video rentals but somehow they help the industry and if they can be well managed and organized it will be a boost for the movie industry. If we say these people are not helping us, are we helping ourselves too by doing the right things?

ANTPP crisis
Jide Kosoko served us well and he brought in some ideas, which some us accepted and some rejected. He did not for once say he wanted to overstay his tenure. But when the election issue came up, he handed over to the caretaker committee and this question should be directed to them. Some people cannot just wake up one day and say we have a president when there was no election. I don't recognize Ashaolu (as ANTPP leader). There are ways of doing things and we should follow the normal procedure.

Don't be too desperate for position. Don't ask for what you cannot take. He is too desperate. I campaigned for him initially but the way he went about it is wrong. He betrayed my trust and I told him I can't be a party to a wrong action. Only God knows the way forward but I can't accept Ashaolu as our president. He is not.

'Marrying two wives was divine'
It is a private matter, but that is destiny and it has been written. It is not that I wanted it but since it has happened there is nothing we can do about it. My first wife and children did not feel bad about it.

I made them realize why it happened and nobody is bigger than God. They were angry initially that I lied to them but I explained that it was because of the love I have for them. My first wife felt really bad but I begged her and some other people also spoke to her on my behalf. She took it as destiny. My two wives don't live together and I'm not yet married legally to the second woman. But we will do it and you will even be there.

Sex-for-role allegation against Odunfa caucus
I love this question but the best people to answer would have been the ladies themselves. In Odunfa we have been together for 21 years and the chairman, Yinka Quadri, and me as the vice with some other people that we started with did make some rules and those rules are binding on all of us. Nobody is above these rules. People that are not ready to obey, those with shady character are the ones that leave and make noise.

When we started, it was free but when we saw that many of them were not serious because it was free we decided to be giving out forms. We started in 1992 with N500; the form is now N2000 and we don't collect money for audition or give roles to people as some do. What we do is interact with you and discover your ability and your strength.

When male and females come together, it is normal for them to toast each other and that happens everywhere, among doctors, lawyers, at the market place and in every facet of life. So why all the noise about the entertainment world? It is those that want to join and cannot make it that bad-mouth Odunfa. We have trained so many at Odunfa. They say some of the ladies like Ogogo. It is not only me; it is just natural.

There are people that are liked naturally by the opposite sex. But you can ask from those that have passed through here over the years how I treat everybody. Fatiah Balogun, Funke (Akindele) would tell you. They passed through here. Why should there be something like you must marry or sleep with anyone when we have so many ladies that pass through here everyday, even from abroad? Sometimes you can see a lady and like her; I'm not saying we are saints. But saying we demand for one thing or the other is wrong information and that is why I said in the midst of people you cannot but see something like that. Some people are just looking for a way to divide Odunfa caucus. We will invite you to our graduation and you will see how it is.

How I handle female admirers
I was just using that to back up my point. They appreciate me and my job, both male and female at home and abroad, but there is nothing more. They appreciate what you are doing and you must not spoil that by downgrading yourself. On my Facebook page I have over a hundred requests and this is after closing it twice before because of too many requests and no space to add them. It is God and people should not look at it that anybody you us with is your girlfriend. I will be 52 this year and imagine if I had overused my body. There is no man without a shortcoming; we all have our weaknesses.

Rumour that Mrs Tinubu paid his medical bills abroad
That is not true. But she did ask if she could help, simply for the love she has for the industry and that they would not like to lose anybody. I appreciate her because I did not see a lot of people around me then. I thank God and thank her for her effort as well as some good people like her such as Iya Isila in London, my landlady, Iya Oyo, Baba Suwe that is Buhari Oloto's wife, and my friend, Kaka.

Abdulrahmon too and my namesake that I call George Bush and a few others. I don't really know how to thank them. Rotimi Makinde is another person I would always remember. There were some that were saying it is everybody with his or her own problem forgetting there is God up there. I believe in Almighty Allah and I know there is God. I'm saying thank you to all Nigerians and those that stood by me, especially my fans because without them there is no Ogogo. My brother, thank you.