Jimoh Aliu spits fire: FG must support the arts now or...
HE made a name for himself as Aworo just as his sitting room litter with plaques, awards and photographs
Some others love to call him Father of Culture because of his over four decades of involvement in the area of arts, culture and showbiz.
One thing that stands Jimoh Aliu, founder of the Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (ANTP) out from the rest of Nigerian entertainers is that he is a jack of all trades and a master of them all. Whatever you may love to call him, from comedian, actor, director, singer, scriptwriter, producer, dancer, make-up artiste, musician, fire eater, set designer, costumer, boxer, bolekaja driver, brick layer etc, he fits in and could readily answer. Yet he has affected humanity so well that he has become personified with the generic word 'entertainer' even with barely six months of academic education.
Award winning showbiz impresario, Chief (Dr) Jimoh Aliu, who gave the world peculiar names like Orisabunmi, Fadeyi etc is guest to Home Video People and what do you expect? Explosive, racy and breezy un-put-downable story of determination, resilience and humour et al.
Dramatic entry into the world
“My father, Aliu Fakoya was an Ifa priest whose fame reigned from Okemesi, where he lived, to the surrounding villages as Iloro-Ekiti and even as far as Lagos. I was told that my mother had been married to another man for over seventeen years without an issue so she was advised to go and see this Ifa oracle at Iloro-Ekiti. When she got there, rather than discuss her plight, the old man was saying he wanted to marry her so she ran home to tell her people what had transpired between her and the priest. Some months or even years came again and she was advised to go back to the Ifa who was very happy to see her yet again.
She complained that she had come to check out why she has not had any child while the man kept saying she would be his wife. The old man said that she could even see a child in her womb there and then. One thing led to another and the young woman later became his wife and later bore him six children, of which only two survived, my sister and I. I was born in 1939. My mother was one of the nineteen wives of the old diviner, my father. He had almost about seventy-something children. It will interest you to note that my sister is a very big Christian who owns a church in Lagos.
I see my talent in showbiz as something from birth. My mum told me that when she had me in the womb, she kept hearing the sound of drums and a voice telling her 'you must buy a drum for me. You have to buy a drum for me so I can play for the people.' When I look back at my interest and involvement in the arts and showbiz, I recall what my mother told me. I was also told by my father that because of the deaths in the family, they did some Ifa divination for me and removed some things out of my two palms. They put these into a small pot and added Ori (Shea butter) to it and that was what I was eating. But I didn't walk until I was about seven years. So it was a life of mystery even to me. I started growing with five dread locks which I later cut off. My power of divination was too strong. Whatever I said then, happened, and even now.
I realised that I loved masquerades so much as a kid. I could follow the masquerade all through the day without caring about food. When my father caught me, he would want to beat me. But at a time, they decided to leave me alone. When I see people playing drums or kokoma, I would join them and go through the entire town. I was following Igunuko people also even after receiving some lashes of the cane the previous day. I was about ten years old then.
Do you know that I only spent six months in primary school and nothing more? Let me tell you what happened. It was in 1940, when we were at Ota Ayegbaju because like I told you, my father was still on the move with his Ifa divination. When he returned, I was vomiting blood. He consulted the Ifa and he was told that if I went back to that school, I would be dead in no time. That was how I stopped formal education. My education now was in the streets. I became a street boy to the core.
School for me ended at the time I was vomiting blood so I joined my father's trade of spreading Ifa oracle and the divination across communities. The job took us to Lagos and I soon became an Omo-ata and almost lived at the motor garage. I started following bolekaja. It was not molue then. I learnt how to drive and got a Shorongbo to drive. It was called Shorongbo because as soon as you saw the VIO, and you had no licence, you jumped off the vehicle and ran into the bush. When the problem of the Shorongbo was becoming too much, I decided to cool down. I had then seen a group called Atinga who were into what I considered bravery, but which others saw as magic. They wash their hands with pepper and rub it on their faces without blinking. I joined their society. Their job was to go round the communities catching and exposing witches. We would land at the Oba's palace and everyone gathers.
All witches are exposed as they confess. One day, we found out that the witch was the Oba's mother. The story turned different. That was the end of my involvement with Atinga people. This was in the 50s. I thought about a handiwork. My father moved so much so I wanted to learn a trade. I learnt brick-laying. I did tailoring and also tried my hands on boxing. My contemporaries were Hogan Kid Bassey, Dick Tiger, Mighty Joe before he became an armed-robber and was killed. I also recall others with whom we practised at Idioro then. I still box and jog every morning.
Films and films
I started getting interested in movies. We would go to watch Johnny Walker on movies. Even the Indian actors. I got fascinated with the cinema so much that I could not do anything else. This was in 1954-55. After watching a film, I would come and gather my playmates to reenact what I had just watched. I never knew what it was like. I almost ran amok if not for God.
I had to join Akin Ogungbe's group who was then based at Abeokuta. He was a trevelling theatre guru whom I call my master. He taught me all the tricks of showbiz. I felt at home with his troupe. I danced, sang, acted, played drum. He had come on tour of Lagos and I had to join him on tour of Sapele, Warri, Onitsha, Abakaliki. I have been to most places in the country. I have lots of respect for Pa Ogungbe. He is now living in retirement at Abeokuta. Several people who passed out of the troupe have made names for themselves.
Several people left and I remained and learnt plenty. I recall people like Alhaji Agbako, shinane Rambo. I learnt how to manage a troupe and how to present a show for the people to enjoy. I tell you, my people at a time were wondering whether I was lost. They didn't know that I was travelling through Bida, Kotangora, Minna and several northern Nigeria towns. The day I realised that I was destined for showbiz was the day some one in the group offended me and I ran home. For five days I couldn't sleep. I would wake up and begin to replay our shows. So I had to rush back to the troupe. I had to raise money as an Alabaru, load carrier in the garage in order to pay my fare back.
Chief Harbert Ogunde's fame reigned all over Nigeria. I had heard of himas a kid. Let me tell you, it was the association with Ogunde that made Ogungbe accept me in his troupe. I told him I had worked for Ogunde which was a great testimonial. In those days, I became the lamp carrier for Ogunde's group. You know there wasn't electricity then. So I became the one to carry their gas light which they usually pumped on my head when it seemed to burn out as the group played through the streets of Lagos. I was happy with my self and the spectacle. So I told Ogungbe that I was the one carrying their lamp. Ooh man, I loved showbizness and the radio adverts they did.
I performed for WNTV, Ibadan, BCOS, NTA Akure, Sokoto TV, Niger State TV, Kwara TV, Benin, NTA 7 now 10, Tejuoso. I have also done something for BBC and have been interviewed in the morning programme. Some of my TV programmes include Don't spoil religion, Sege boy, three jolly friends, Arugbo Soge. I also produced four series of Atoka, the Yoruba photo-play magazine. Igbo Olodumare made me very popular.
I was with Eddy Okonta, Sonny Lion Heart, Adeolu Akinsanya, Ade Konga who is now with Orlando Owoh. We played Conga together, I play trumpet and I could handle the talking drum. Ooh no, I see myself as a gift of God.
I am a jack of all trades and a master of all of it and I thank the
Almighty for his blessings. Maybe that is what has made me successful. In music, I recall Bill Friday, Roy Chicago, Bayo Martins. At this time professor Peller was living in Surulere. Most people started with music. Ogunde started as a Musician, same for Baba Sala who started as a juju musician.
When I first wanted to join the army in Abeokuta, Major Daramola was incharge. I recall what happened the first day. They wanted to sift the people according to their origin. I discovered that Ekiti people were too many so they were all beaten up and asked whether their father started the war. So the next day I denied my origin. They took me and noting that I was in entertainment, they put me in the music and theatre department I remember my friend called Idowu Animashaun. At Zaria for a brief course, I met Sonny Lionheart and asked him what he was doing, he said he joined the army to protect himself from harassment. He said they were playing at one hotel oneday when some military police boys came and beat every one up. He was in music and I was in drama. They called me Jimoh Aliu and his welfare troops. This was about 1967/66. From Zaria, I went to Benin for Nigeria sports week.
I also was at Kaduna sports week where I displayed for about nine Military Governors. I remember that Mobolaji Johnson was there like General Gowon as well. I was posted to 2nd Division where I met James Oluleye who loved my performance and promised that I must perform for the then Governor Brigadier Sam Ogbemudia when he returned. The show was very successful that I made enough money to buy my instruments including generator, costumes etc. Even the costumes I wore on that day was borrowed. From there, I found myself traversing the entire army divisions, brigades and cantonement, Uromi, Agbor, Port Harcourt. I went to P.H for a course where I met Brigadier Adekunle.
I also met General TY Danjuma, Olu Bajowa, Ejiga who gave me a house . I moved through Calabar, Oron, Eket, Ubiaja, Nkalagu, Abakaliki, Ughelli, Kwale, Onitsha, Enugu, Gboko, Makurdi, Jos, Numan, Yola, Mubi, Maiduguri . My brother I don waka o. I thank God for I have also gotten honour from afar. You could imagine some one who only had six months of school becoming Doctor of Theatre from Brandly University USA? Why wont I thank God? I will show you several academic projects with me as a case study.
My typical show
I start with comedy. I was one of those people who stuff their backside with clothes and stuff the stomach with clothes so as to look funny. I could paint my face, sometimes eat fire and all that. I could then dance, sing and play some talking drums to fully entertain the audience. No one left my show then without cracking his or her ribs. After about eight or nine years, I pulled out from the army. Brigadier Oluleye assisted me by giving me transport to take my things back home.
I look back to those years with nostalgia because I see them as watershed years, years of my turning point. I had bought most of my costumes from Ikot Ekpene and those South South towns. People say Jimoh Aliu is known to several people. I tell you, it all happened during these period. It was after this time that I started taking the show to Northern Nigeria secondary schools. I was in Sokoto, Kaduna etc. My contacts continued to improve. So you can see, my job is only entertainment. It is all I know and nothing else. I enjoy it and nothing more. I consider myself as very lucky . People love me and I cant tell why than thank God.
Nigerians and arts
Nigerians are arts loving people who love to enjoy themselves. People want to release their hotels free of charge for me to entertain people because they want you to come again. The audience is great. We are happy people in this country. When I return, I call on every one like Ogunde, Baba Sala and others that we should take our shows to the North and South of Nigeria because fans are expecting us. Now, the economy has caused a lot of problems, just like religion has done. People now segregate about religion. Some people think that art and culture people are evil and it is not fair. This is not beneficial to us because government has not really shown their support. If federal government give artistes the support they need, then Nigeria will be a better place, I have been to London carnival.
There was no other Nigerian except me. It is a shame really. I was the first Nigerian to present a Yoruba film at the Rio Cinema, London.
In Germay, Holland, Italy where several programmes take place, no Nigerian is there. The lack of interest by government is very unfortunate because the name the country makes at such occasions outside Nigeria can never be bought. When other country's flag is flying there, why shouldn't Nigeria flag also fly? Nigeria should give support to arts and culture now or continue to lose it's benefits.
That is why I am calling on the Minister of Culture and Tourism to gather together all arts and culture exponents because Nigeria stand's to gain a lot from their performances. Their activities could promote Nigeria's image abroad. This is one of the reasons I am currently working in tandem with one of Nigeria's international showbiz promoters, Isaac Izoya to do shows in Europe this new year. He has been carrying on without Government support for several years. We are also consulting with government to see how to do these in the coming month.
There is no doubt that Nigeria is a home to several talented people in all spheres of the arts. There is no way one could make a list and succede because they are just too numerous. Just imagine those who passed through me and are very active in their own right. Fadeyi Egbeji, Fadeyi Ogene, Fadeyi Ikumolaje, Baba Lagba, Fadeyi Rotimi, Fadeyi Odu Arowosafe and al the Fadeyis. What about the Orisabunmis including Folake, Fatomishe who have died, Ajire etc. All these people became popular through me and are holding their own right now. Add it to all those on their own and you see that the North and South of Nigeria is full of artistes whom Nigeria could use in laundering the very bad image of Nigeria created by crooks and wayo people abroad.
A lot of Nigerians do not really know the difference between acting on stage and acting on film, video or celluloid. I am very lucky to have passed through all these. My celluloid movies include Aye, Jayesimi, Ayomo, Ija Ominiran, Ajani Ogun, Ogun Orisabi, Kadara. etc.
You could see, I acted for Ade Love, Ogunde, Adebayo Salami and did my own movies as well.
The new trend of video has caused Nigeria to lose several in terms of money and history. Video is a restricted system unlike celluloid which is the world accepted format. You can not exhibit your video outside this country. There is no way for you to travel outside Nigeria for festival with video. Not even 16 mm but 35mm. In a 16mm, they will likely give you a little hall to show but with your 35mm, the world would gather to see what you have to show.
Formerly, Nigerians were invited to such festivals but now, we have schemed ourselves out due to the video format. Celluloid is very costly and the governments support is not there. The film labs in Jos are not operational. Moreso there is no film fund for film makers to tap from. I did the Return of Ori Olokun for the National Museun. It is on video. We did it to promote the idea of intermarriages and interest in the museum. Most Nigeria missions abroad will have the movie and I understand it will also be sold in the popular market soon.
Talent & Training
Those who claim that theatre and arts must be taught in the classroom are joking because some people were born with it and learnt on the road practically. I am one of them. I hear some people who say some of us are illiterate in the business. if they try that with me, I will show them pepper. I know this very business practically and God has blessed me in many ways. I am gifted in every aspect of it costuming, set design, artistry, acting, singing, everything about it. Even my father cannot do any of these things. It's God's doing and I am even surprised that I even write the play, take them to location, direct the artistes, edit the work and put it on projector and show people who are taken from where they are to another plane. You must not pass through the University to know this. Every day, Europeans come here to study me for their documentary.
The man whom you say is illiterate is literate in several
places. Let me show you the copies of students academic project from University of Nsukka, Ife, Benin, PH, Lagos and even from abroad. They scream when they go into my costume room. These people know nothing about our culture and I teach them. I am not boasting but I am a beneficiary of God's several blessings.
The first person I know who did celluloid movies in Nigeria is Ola Balogun. Its is unfortunate that he is no longer making movies. He did Ajani Ogun with Ade Love. Mope was there as the actress. Ade Love was paid N2,000 but when he came to the hall to see the number of fans at the gate rushing to watch the movie, he planned to produce his own movie and that was how we did Ija Ominiran. So Ade Love was the second person. He carried all the file to Ogunde who now did Aiye. For all these people, I was their set designer. So when I wanted to do mine, it was very simple. It was in the process that I met Eddie Ugbomah. When he also wanted to do his own movie I supplied part of his costume.
That name is a registered name just like Fadeyi. A lot of people have borne that name in my productions. Aworo is also a registeed name. When these artistes mature and go, they drop the names. My lawyers have written people to remind them that such names are registered which they should drop with them when they leave my troupe. I have no problem with their being recognised by such names but now doing business with the names will be tantamount to OBT, fraud and impersonation.
Like father like son. I told you my father had almost 20 wives. I also have had my fair share of women. My children are also interested in movies. One of them is in London while another is in Abuja. Another one is a cordinator at Ghana Aviation institute. I have another in South Africa. Let me say I have wives and I have children.
For several years I have lived outside my home town trying to sell my showbiz to the world. But now I have decided to return home where I belong because of the Award for Excellence Ekiti state Governor bestowed on me. Gov Peter Ayo Fayose singled me out for honours and I am grateful. It makes me feel that my people now need me so I have resolved to return home to my home town. I will from now operate from Ado Ekiti. I thank Governor Fayose for his magnanimity. Whatever contributions I would make, I would readily make.
Advise to Nigeria artistes.
I call on them to be steadfast in their job and calling. Any potential patrons of showbiz would want to patronise the real and authentic performers rather than the fake. You shouldn't gate crash into showbiz because you are likely to crash out. Ask any one who knows me , I don't smoke or drink alcohol. I have even stopped mineral water.
Anyone who wants to buy a cloth goes for the real wax and not for the fake which would likely fade away. Train yourself, not necessarily in the school to be very knowledgeable in your area of interest.