The Olisa Adibua Nobody Knows
Olisa Adibua is not only one of the country's most recognisable entertainment personalities, he is also one of the most inscrutable. "I have been doing this for more than 20 years," explains the morning drive time host and programme director for Lagos's The Beat 99.9 FM. "If I have managed to be in the public eye without revealing my privacy, why should I start now?"
Along with a successful career in radio, 43-year-old Olisa has numerous television credits to his name, including hosting the first ever Big Brother Nigeria and M-Net's talent show Naija Sings.
Things really took off when he moved back to Nigeria after spending 20 years in England.
"My father thought I would be better suited and exposed if I went to live in another country, and at the age of eight, nine, you really don't have a choice," he says. "For a long time, I questioned why they had to send me away like this and they said it was for my own good. My father made our thinking very wide. Sometimes, I would return from school and he would put a bed in the library and tell me my room for the holiday was the library, and I had to read a certain number of books and we would discuss it every day.
"I had lessons and all kinds of holiday classes before we could go out to play. And like the typical child, I thought that was evil, but now I appreciate it."
How it all started
While in school in England, Olisa featured in numerous theatre productions, but when he got to Nigeria, the screen lured him in.
"When I returned, I tried to do stage, but projects were too few and far in between so I decided to move to television," he says. "I did a lot of stuff with NTA and Clapperboard TV, which was the first private TV station. I (also) acted in Onome with Olu (Jacobs), which Opa Williams produced. I was also in Zik Zulu's Haunted, and Zeb Ejiro's Ripples. I left the industry because I got disillusioned at some point 'cause scripts were not as good."
He then turned to radio, berthing at Cool FM Lagos, where he stayed for 10 years - hosting a popular evening show and the Top 10 Countdown. "Radio is a strange dichotomy of science and art," he says, explaining his attraction. "But you will never understand unless you come and sit with us."
Last year, Olisa finally moved from Cool FM, where he had become something of an institution, to pitch his tent with new station The Beat FM.
"I've always tried to be the best at all I do," he says. "I strive for perfection. I probably know deep down in my heart that I might not reach it, but I come close. My principles are: aim for the best in whatever you do and maintain a standard. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity because of what you see around you."
As though he were not busy enough, Olisa is also a director with Storm 360, one of the top entertainment and production companies in Nigeria founded by his friend and relative, music industry mogul Obi Asika. The two lived in England around the same time and when they came back to Nigeria, started doing gigs at bars which led to registering Storm in 1991.
"Our first music project was Junior and Pretty (early '90s pidgin rap duo)," he says. "We met them at Jimmy Jatt's Roll Block Jam with Jatt and myself as hosts at Obalende. We signed up and did a lot of work with them; released an album. Unfortunately, piracy was also bad then so we didn't make profit but it sold a lot."
Storm 360 now has a full stable of artists which includes Naeto-C, Sasha, Sauce kid, Tosin Martins and GT the Guitarman.
"For a while, we went on the low, doing only corporate jobs before we then came back again full force in about 2004 with music and television on a big scale," he says. "We decided to face it squarely, no matter what."
His own drummer
However, even with all of his success, Olisa has yet to take the "expected" next step - get married. He laughs heartily at the suggestion that he might have a wife and kids stashed somewhere. "No! no! I haven't been foolish enough to do that!" he says. "You see, society puts so much pressure on people to get married.
"Sometimes I get yabs from people but I still laugh it over and maintain. Society has its rules and you don't have to conform to all. You can choose to do certain things when you want to. So just because you are not conforming doesn't mean you are crazy; just means you have a lifestyle that suits you. I feel for some women who are not married and advanced (in age); I can connect with the pressure on them. But if someone chooses to live life alone, there's really nothing wrong with that.
"People should be themselves and what they want to be because it's happiness we all want. I have seen too many of my friends with broken or troubled marriages because they married for wrong reasons. (But) I'm hoping to get round to it someday! I mean, you don't want to be alone forever."
His own muse
And then there is his dress sense; many times seeming to go out of his way to offend the style police.
"I dress as I feel; comfort and style is personal," he says, a little defiantly. "You might wear a dark suit with orange socks. Breaking the rules is fun. You can't follow fashion, it should follow you. I've got things I used to wear that people are just catching on to. If it's formal, I dress accordingly. Otherwise, I dress for comfort and maintain my individuality."
And that individuality also includes one most important accessory: his trademark cigar, present with Olisa at parties and events. "You see, the cigar makes me think and reflect constructively," he says. "It relaxes me also. I don't smoke cigarettes; (the) cigar was made for me!"
So what does he have to say to the people who look at all these and call him arrogant?
"Well, there's a fine line between arrogance and self confidence," he says with a shrug. Then he pauses. "I'm very sure of who I am and of what I do. We, for too long in this country, have allowed people who have no business in certain businesses get ahead; too much mediocrity in the society. Maybe people have the misconception because when you walk into a place, you are not afraid of anything. I respect everyone really, whether you are cleaning the streets or gutters."
Things are clearly on the way up for this hardworking radio and television show host. But he'd rather demur on that.
"I will be arrogant to say I'm successful," he says. "What I can say is I have managed to do a couple of things I planned to do in life, and a lot more undone. So I won't say I have been successful, but I have made some in-roads. I have this strange thing that I am artistic and can make money out of it. The joy of what I do is my success."