I’m not a polygamist, I only have one wife at a time –Adebayo Faleti
Many people believe you must have studied Yoruba very deeply to be so versed in it. How true is this?
Well, at the high school level, Yoruba was not part of my Cambridge certificate. I did French instead of Yoruba. At the university level, I didn't study Yoruba at all.
So how did you gain your mastery of the language?
We have traditions. Like the British people, when they don't go to higher institution, they tell you 'my mother taught me.' So, if any member of the Faleti family speaks Yoruba, we were taught by our father. My father and my brother taught me Yoruba because I lived a long time in the village and I shared their stories, their jokes and all the festivities. So, my Yoruba was taught me from home, not from any institution.
But some of your books in Yoruba, like Won Ro Pe Were Ni, are better written than some authored by Yoruba professors.
That is what I am telling you. My own kind of Yoruba is practical Yoruba. It is not learnt from books. There are people we call akawe gbo Yoruba; they only read it in books. They can only understand it to a certain extent and are bound to make mistakes. I think practical Yoruba is better than learning it in school. So, that was the foundation we got and we built on it.
And you went ahead to study English…
Yes, I did English in my first degree, though I didn't lose sight of my Yoruba background. Intriguingly, most of us who are involved in Yoruba activities now didn't study Yoruba at the university level. Professor Akinwumi Ishola studied French as his major degree, and so did I, English with French as a subsidiary. So, all along, we have lived all our lives on Yoruba.
Was there a time you used your English degree to teach?
If I taught English at all, it was at the secondary school level. But I used to teach Yoruba at the university level. I taught Yoruba at the University of Ibadan for three years and at Ife for two years.
What qualified you for that?
Because I write it and speak it. I think the qualification one should have is the knowledge of something, not necessarily the paper you have on it. These days, must we even rely on paper qualifications when a lot of examinations are done by proxy? If you got it by proxy, how can you impact anything from what you yourself didn't know and you asked somebody to do it for you? So, by the grace of God, I had a deep interaction with Yoruba. Apart from my parents, kin and kith, for a long time, I lived my life in the village. So, that was a good grounding. And whatever I read in books is additional. Usually, my father had a habit: I had to read things to him in Yoruba, either history or stories. For example, when Fagunwa wrote Ogboju Ode, it was the habit in those days to read the passages to a group of farmers in the village. I remember reading a historical chapter to my father one day and I mistook apere (mark) for apere (basket), and my father was furious and he corrected me. Another day too, I was reading Ibadan history, of the warrior, Latosa, to him and he corrected me by explaining the meaning and the etymology of the name Latosa. According to him, it means that those who are supposed to bring honour to the family are buried in the pit, ola to sinu isa. And I am happy that the Olubadan of Ibadan in his book, The History of Ibadan, made the necessary correction. So, that was the advantage I had. I read things before my father and so many times, things which I thought were right were corrected.
You said you taught at the university level, how did you formulate or get the materials you used?
There were syllabuses for whatever you taught, even in the secondary school. The department must have got a guideline and write up on what things they wanted to be taught to their students, and that was what I followed. What happened was that I had to do more research to teach the students.
Maybe that was why you didn't become a professor.
If I had continued teaching in the university, I probably would have become a professor. I think you are assessed by your output before you become a professor, and I think I have put in a lot of materials either in poetry, drama, prose writing or cultural matters. But that wasn't my line. I chose broadcasting. But then, I wasn't ignored even by the universities. Whatever they wanted to be done, I did. I was a senior research fellow at the Institute of African Studies in Ife, and we held seminars and I presented papers too. So, I don't know what you can call me, maybe a roving academic or something, because most of them are my friends.
Was it broadcasting that took you out of academics?
Even when I was teaching in the university, I was a part-time lecturer. Broadcasting was my profession. My timetable was designed in a way that my teaching did not affect my work as a broadcaster. But when I was a senior research fellow, I had retired from broadcasting then. What I did then was research and writing. Again, it doesn't mean that I didn't write in English. I wrote at least one novel in English–Magun, which Tunde Kilani turned into a film, Thunderbolt. I wrote it in English and I wrote lectures in English. I had the advantage because I studied English and I was lucky to have good teachers of English, even at the lower level. And I think what we are trying to do now is to see if we can write a few things in English. When I say we, I mean people like Professor Akinwumi Ishola and myself. He writes in English. In the secondary school, I was known for my poems. And at the university level, I was the editor of the departmental magazine, Horizon. At the high school level, I was the editor of the school magazine, The Triumph. So, all the time, I had been involved in English and at the same time, I had been involved in Yoruba. At the high school level, I won first prize in Yoruba writing for three consecutive years at the Western Region Festival of Arts with my poems. Apart from that, you can not be a versed translator if you are not good in the two languages. I was a news translator for nearly 15 years at the BCOS. So, if my English was not good, how would I put it into good Yoruba? I think the dual involvement has actually helped me.
As the general manager of BCOS, what will you say you achieved at the establishment?
I was in charge of translating the national anthem into Yoruba. After the translation, I called all the translators in the radio stations in the West–Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Ekiti, Osun and Kwara states. We all formed a consortium and ratified the translation. That is what we have in the national anthem now. My argument has always been 'what are you contributing to your profession?' I was the one who introduced the idea of broadcasting to Muslims during the Ramadan festivals in the night. As a young boy, I used to attend preaching by Muslim clerics and I know what the Ramadan is to the Muslims. And that is now inherited by all the radio stations in the country, but I initiated it. In those days, Father Christmas was only known in the big cities and associated with big stores like Leventis and Kingsway, and I was worried somehow that it was only shown to the children of the elite. What of the ordinary boy in the village? So, when I was at Radio OYO, I initiated the idea of carrying Father Christmas from village to village. So we sent somebody to London to gather all the Father Christmas costume. The outside broadcast unit was then saddled with the task of going round the villages to show Father Christmas to the people. That is now being done by some other stations. I did the literary translation. Baba Keresi is my coinage. I feel one's pride is what one is able contribute to one's profession. Now we have a lot of phone-in programmes in Nigeria, which has been bastardised. I know what I experienced to get radio telephone linked with the studio through which listeners could get through. I was in Britain and I saw it done and I then thought we could do it too. So when I came back, I called my engineer and told him that I wanted it done. He went round and round and was not able to give me an answer and I was mad. So, by the time he gave me an answer, he said it would cost me N65,000 at that time. What I noticed was that he was not involving his junior technicians and I told him that I was not spending that amount. I threatened to involve the engineers in the television house if he failed. That was the time he thought of involving his junior technicians. Meanwhile, I had called one of the technicians who told me that it would not cost me much to do phone-in. Eventually, I did it at little or no cost. I thought of introducing phone-in because I noticed that broadcasting at weekends was always very dull and we used the phone-in for programmes involving high profile personalities on radio, where people could actually get through to them and ask questions. We created a programme called Eyi Ara, where commissioners, governors were invited. But it has now been bastardised by those who didn't even know how it came to be.
Was it after you retired that you went
into film making?
Do you know I was a television producer at WNTV? I was in production for a long time, about 20, 25 years. I was responsible for producing plays by Hubert Ogunde, Duro Ladipo, Oyin Adejobi, Kola Ogunmola on television. I even produced those of some English writers in the university. So, it wasn't something new at all. I would say it became part of me as an independent producer after I retired. But you see, we had an opportunity when we were in broadcasting. When you are a producer on television, you are free to introduce anything. You are even free to found a group of yours acting on television, and I took advantage of that.
So you founded one?
Yes, I founded Alebiosu Theatre Group, and we did a lot of things on television and radio. Another thing that I brought about was the idea of introducing scripting in plays. For all the plays by Ogunde, Ladipo and co, dialogue was improvised and I felt that was not right. So when I wanted to introduce the idea, not knowing that it was going to become universal, I found it difficult to write sub titles. So for my group, we were all using scripts. That was the introduction of scripting to Yoruba drama on television. When I wanted to put Duro Ladipo's Oba Ko So on television and I wanted to put subtitles, I had more than 400 captions which I wrote on cardboards. So, when I joined television, I was in charge of films. I was made the film editor/librarian, and all the films that were transmitted on the television in this country were prepared by me. I have been involved in film production for more than 40 years. If you are showing all the films I have handled and seen in my career at the WNTV one hour every day, you will show that for three years. That helped me to be at home when I retired into video production.
What of acting?
I have been in acting as far back as 1949. In 1949, I founded Oyo Youth Operatic Society in which all your actors sing their dialogues. I did some work after my primary school level and before I went further, I must have spent about six years. I spent another six years after my secondary school before I went further.
What was responsible for that, funds?
Yes. By the time I was going to the secondary school, I had a quarrel with my father because I was in a good job. I was a tax officer and my father was angry when I said I wanted to go to school. He wondered what more I wanted when I already had a good job, because he didn't know what going to secondary school meant. And after the quarrel, I had to go on my own. I had to put some resources together. Invariably, my father paid part of the fees despite his initial objection. Later, I got a scholarship to finish my secondary school education. I didn't go higher after I finished secondary school because I felt I was duty bound to take care of my old father despite many offers of scholarship. Invariably, my father, whom I thought of taking care of, lived until I finished school. He didn't die early as I thought. My education was piecemeal because of that anyway.
You only mention your father, what of your mother?
Women played a minor role in a child's life in Yorubaland in those days, because they were invariably their husband's helpers. She was just a housewife. But one major contribution I can remember she made concerning my education was that she sold firewood, and used the money to buy me the first primal in Yoruba, which was brought into the village when I started reading.
Was your father a polygamist?
How was polygamy then?
Incidentally, my mother was the first woman, and they lived together for a long time before another woman came in. In fact, my mother was instrumental to bringing in other women. You know, women were their husband's servants, sort of, in those days. It was not like now that they want to ride you if you don't take your time.
How rewarding is your involvement in the production of Yoruba films?
It is quite rewarding. At least, I have enough to eat. I still write and do a lot of things, but I think the main reward is contentment. I have a roof on my head and I am okay.
They say artistes are often attracted by the opposite sex. What was your experience?
What you are saying is that an artiste is promiscuous, abi? Well, what we are doing is a community business. People rush after you if you are a good actor, no doubt. But it does not mean that you must have relationship with all those who rush after you. Whoever does that will never do well.
What made you a polygamist?
Who told you I'm a polygamist? How many are my wives?
I heard you have two.
Let me tell you something, a Yoruba man is not a polygamist by culture; that is the truth. Many Yoruba men who are polygamists come about that by chance, not by choice. Our fathers in those days could not afford to be polygamists because they paid heavily to get a wife. Polygamy is not part of our culture, we only come about it when we were leaving our villages to towns where we become barbers, tailors, etc. Some people don't know the difference between concubines and wives. That is why we have divorce courts. You can not have a Yoruba polygamist by choice; it is either by chance or by circumstance.
What was your own circumstance?
How many wives did you see in my house? Only one at a time. Can you actually cope with two wives at the same time? You don't call me a polygamist because I only have one wife in my house at a time.
How did you come about your famous cap?
It was by chance. I was the news reader in the WNBS days, and if you had to read the news, you had little time to shape your cap the way you wanted. So, what I did was to put on the cap and put it at one side and go to read the news. That was how it came to be a fashion.
I learnt you nearly clashed with the late Alaafin. What happened?
What happened was that my theatre group involved some of his children in our rehearsals, and because of that, they were driven away by their school. Then I was working in the council. He was furious and said that if the children were not taken back, I would have to lose my job. Eventually, it was resolved. People pleaded on my behalf and his children were taken back by the school. There was no more row and I continued with my job.
Didn't you know they were children of the Alaafin?
I knew. Am I not a subject of the Alaafin myself?
Some people are canvassing for the abolition of tribal marks like yours. What is your view on that?
Good luck to them. What they should do is to improve on the marks, not necessarily as flat as our own. Tribal mark is a mark of distinction. If they can improve on it, what is wrong with it?
It was even said that it is the educated elite that are behind the campaign…
I have never canvassed for it. I have tribal marks; I will not campaign against it.
Do your children have tribal marks?
No. In fact, I regret not giving my male children tribal marks.
Because I bear my father's marks. Anyway, without canvassing, do you see anybody giving tribal marks again except in the remote areas?