WHY I INSISTED ON A BORN-AGAIN WIFE---OPA WILLIAMS
Were you born a comedian?
I was actually known for movies. Then, when you mention Opa Williams, people would say, 'Oh, I have seen him in movies.' Then, gradually, they started knowing me for comedy. When you mention Opa Williams now, people say, 'Oh, of A Night of Thousand Laughs.' I have been known for many things. But thank God, I have been known for good things. I am into the arts and entertainment. I go around on entertainment a lot.
What inspired A Night of Thousand Laughs?
It is not for money, it is for comedy. It is just for doing something different, something that will actually impact something on the next person. I could have done it for money, but it is not a quest for money, it is in quest of doing something that can affect change, for happiness, something that people look forward to, something that can trigger joy when you think about it. If it is about making money, I would have stuck to my TV programme and movies. But I just wanted something that could change, reflect legacy. Life to me is about change, about affecting the next person positively; if I do comedy, you go home and you laugh, you are happy. I derive joy in it to make people light-hearted, that is all about it.
You are one of those who turned comedy into business…
I am the one, not that I am among. I turned it into a wealth creation venture.
But why would I pay someone money for you to make me laugh?
The question is why do you want to laugh? If you want to laugh, you have to exchange a form of wealth. There must be a consideration for you to laugh. It might not be money. It might be something else. You want to laugh to ease your nerve, you want to be happy, you want to be light-hearted, you don't want to think seriously about things, you want your life to go round, you want to laugh because you want to take it easy. So, if you are paying to laugh, you are paying for your inner satisfaction.
Before now comedy was seen as a profession for dropouts, good for nothing.
Before now, there was nothing like comedy. What we had were MCs, jesters. The guys then tried to make you laugh. We had just stand-up comedians. Comedy as an industry was not in existence even when we had people like Away Away around, the likes of the late John Chukwu, the late Mallam Danjuma, people like Femi Segun. Those were in the realm of MCs, toast masters. But we came and said let's make money out of this thing. If I can sit down and make my audience laugh, I should be able to make a living from that. If you leave your house to go and watch some people playing around something called football and you pay excessively for that, and if you go out and see an organised noise and buy that CD, then people must make it now.
How did A Night of Thousand Laughs come about?
Well, we were out there enjoying ourselves – myself, Okey Bakassi, Ebere. But the major person who said this could be a worthwhile venture is my friend, Yemi Yogo. He was the one who made me see the financial reward aspect of it. Today, we have had the 15th edition in the series – we were in London, Ireland, Ghana. It's going from just an event to a brand; it's gone beyond just the regular stage.
What was the response like at the early stage?
The first show in 1995, had about 68 people, including our relations, in the audience. But now we can talk about 6,000 to 7,000 people watching the show live. In every 10 homes now, at least six to seven have the CD. It's grown beyond what we thought. The corporate bodies are coming in, and they see it as a brand to sustain.
So, what do we call you now, are you a comedian?
I am not a comedian. I am an entertainment entrepreneur. I don't know whether there is a word like that because I am not just into comedy. I am just like a village mango tree – it has shelter, it has root, it has fruits. You can always pluck it and create your own shelter and it bears more fruits.
Like a typical Nigerian thing where every money-making venture is bastardised, every Dick and Harry now has one show or the other…
Yes, it is true that everyone now has a show – laughter this, laughter that. But it's all good, at least. You know what competition does to a brand; it makes me sit up. Two, you must be strong enough to be in the race. Some have done their comedy shows and never came back. It's a marathon, and to remain you must have strength, otherwise you fall off. But we have been in the forefront, we have been in the race for 12 years, and we are still running. This year, we are going to be in Jos. Every year we go a into new city, and we have been consistent. We have strategically placed ourselves and we are a force to reckon with. Ours is not about comedians, it's about comedy, it's about laughter, we work with a lot of things. In A Night of Thousand Laughs, laughter comes in different ways and that is what we want to do.
Is it proper for comedians to abuse people just because they are into comedy?
That is what I say always; the right to hold the microphone is not a right to insult people. Some of them get carried away along the way. But what they fail to realise is that the audience in front of them is their potential paymaster – he pays you to watch you and that's an honour. They must remember that. What happens to such at the end of the day is that they shortchange themselves.
How have you been coordinating the various comedians?
I run a company and I have my dream. I maintain the leadership position. Being a leader, there are certain qualities to make you remain like that and I know those qualities. So, most times, I give the encouragement; I know that I need you just as you need me. I don't go out of my way to be bossy or arrogant.
You talked about being in the movie industry earlier…
Well, I may be wrong; but I know that some of us were in the forefront of the industry – myself, Ted Ngime, Zeb Ejiro, Amaka Igwe. Ted started with Living in Bondage; we were in charge of productions then. You see, the way Nigerians are crazy about the English Premiership amazes me. And I ask them, what about Iwuanyanwu FC and the rest, they say we are not up to that. That's how we started. I remember in 1994 when I was doing Tears for Love, somebody told me it won't sell because it is an English film, made in Nigeria. And I said we had to start from somewhere. But today, the whole world is agog and taken over by Nollywood, whether we speak good English or not; we have been accepted. When we started, few of us were producers then. Later different people came in and we had to move forward. That is to show you that anyone who has an educated mind doesn't lack. We left movies and moved to comedy as a new ground. And when I moved to comedy, I went to a company, the guy there said I should come back in five years' time. But today, so many of them come to us to sponsor. The main thing is that when you are passionate about what you do, the sky is the limit.
Ideas are children of necessity. I started as a TV producers. I started doing some programmes before I went into the movies, then comedy. Now I am moving from comedy to national dance championship. Ideas come as I see situation.
Did you by any chance study Theatre Arts?
No, I did not, unfortunately. I did Economics in my first degree, I had a master degree in Industrial Relations, and then MBA.
People say those of you from the South-South are usually aggressive…
Yes, we are aggressive. Aggression comes with passion. Passion comes with belief. It is a study of a cutlass and a farmer – what do I do with my aggression.
If you notice, 80 per cent of the greatest men in the world are self-made. I was reading about the 10 richest men recently, about eight of them are self-made and are below the age of 50.
>b>What was your dream in life?
I was born in Ajegunle. I remember that when I was growing up, there are three things I wanted to achieve – I wanted to own a Land Rover jeep, I wanted to go to Timibuktu, I wanted to own cinema. I remember then that the Ministry of Information used to come in a Land Rover jeep and when they came, they mounted films on top with Timbuktu as background. I grew up believing that one day I was going to do films, I was going to be in Timbuktu and I was going to own a Land Rover jeep.
How many of these goals have you achieved?
I have done films, the Land Rover is now old fashioned I have not been to Timbuktu but I hope to one day.
How do you cope with fame as a celebrity?
My name is Opa Williams and not a celebrity. I give God the glory for what He has done for me. I am human, I never forget where I come for.
You mentioned God, how religious are you?
I don't know what you mean, but I know there is a Supreme Being up there who directs the affairs of all of us. My wife is a full time pastor.
What about you?
I am Opa Williams, time will come when God will call me. I don't deceive myself, I know myself more than you know me. There are certain things that I think I do that I think I should not do in the presence of God. I don't deceive myself about getting calls. You know some calls are missed calls. All I know is that I am married to a pastor. I am not being called.
Did you marry your wife as a pastor?
No. Funny enough, when I was getting married to my wife 12 years back, one of the conditions I gave was that she has to be born-again.
Yet you were not…
Yes, I wasn't born-again. Why I asked for that is that I said to myself that I needed a pillar behind me at every point in time; somebody who will pray for me; somebody who will be controlling me spiritually. Somebody who will be controlling the home front when I am scattered, she will be the one arranging things. I said to myself I was going to marry somebody with all my scatteredness and roughness, who is more spiritual. As the saying goes, for the outside to attack you, the inside must give consent. So, the inside must be very strong enough to resist attack from the outside. So, when I go crazy, the outside will seek consent from the inside and when the inside says no, that is why my wife is a born-again. Then again, I have an idea in my house, you do the things that make you happy, make other people happy and I am not going to obstruct you from achieving your goal. Based on that, I told my wife initially that she should be born-again so that some of my lapses could be taken care of. I want to have a home based on a strong foundation of tenets of Christ.
How was it like to come from a polygamous home, the rivalry especially?
There was no rivalry; I was very close to my stepbrothers and sisters. For me when I say step, I feel bad inside because I don't see them stepping anywhere. Something I learnt is that every woman for her children. My father would give N10 each but your mum will now add either N2 or N3 depending on their capacity. There was competition among the wives to make sure that their children move up. They were not fighting over my father's attention really, but their children. Oh, in this house, this boy my child should be the first graduate and all that. And somehow, there is this thing that I learnt in polygamous home then, whenever my step brother was going wrong, my step-mother would call you and say, go and talk to your brother. There was an open competition to see wise counselling prevail unlike some monogamous homes where there was nobody to look up to.
How was life in Ajegunle then?
We didn't have plenty to eat but we had enough to feed. I learnt from it that it was no good to play with food. Now I know why. We had our own share of life; we were not deprived. They would take you to the tailor for your dress and they would do a five-year plan on your head. They would sew your trousers by folding it all over again and as you grew, they kept loosening it. And when you were given new shoes, they would stuff it with paper, all that come to play with management. I had a strict upbringing and there was a time I had a mind of running away from home. My father's strictness is funny, he was a funny guy. He would tell you straight and say 'boy, for the next two weeks, I am not going to give you money to take to school o,' and he would do that. My mother would flog you but I prefer my mother flogging me to my father's cruel jokes. At a point, I began to think that they were too difficult but when I now began to have kids, I now realised the importance of the home training. I also had my fair share of love. We enjoyed gisting with my father because he was a very funny fellow. He served the whiteman as a steward, he still had those stories to tell us, the man he served and where and when.. He retired and went back home to start doing show business, local show business, organising events for various festivals and inviting people like Osita Osadebe, Rex Lawson etc. I guess that's where I picked up my interest in entertainment.
Why are you not picking up polygamy from him?
The economy is too harsh for picking up such a thing. Any man that wants to pick up that should be ready to die. The heat of the moment would not allow you to even have a permanent girlfriend and a wife, let alone a second wife. Polygamy then could be easier but now even if I have a mind of picking that, I can't. I have three kids and when it comes to the time of paying school fees, that's when my face changes. Everybody in the house knows that daddy is not smiling too much. If you go and pick up polygamy now, God bless you.
As an Ajegunle boy, how was your relationship with girls while growing up?
A lot of people have this impression about Ajegunle as a place where there is no discipline. I had a very strong discipline. I had friends in Ikoyi, Surulere but I realised that I was more disciplined than many of them. I couldn't get home by 7 o clock without being flogged. It is a ghetto, yes but it did not make it a criminal haven. In my street, I knew everybody from No1 to No77; we had a communal relationship. If you misbehave in my street or in the next street, we knew your father. All these guys, Daddy Showky, Daddy Fresh and all the stars from Ajegunle, they really fought to get a lift up. It's not that anybody or Abioro or EMI came to pull them, they struggled on their own and that is the spirit of Ajegunle.
I remember when I was in Form 4, a girl came visiting me . And my father being a nice person, he bought bottles of minerals and biscuits and we were sitting in the parlour. But when my mum came, she said who is this? That really caused a row between my dad and mum.
We were not allowed to do that. The day my mum met a girl in our room, with my elder brother who was doing his A Level then, my mum bit him and sunk her teeth in his flesh for trying to corrupt another person's daughter. I used to smoke about 6, 7 years ago, then I dared not smoke in the presence of my elder brother. It's not that the guy would beat me and it is not that he did not know that I was smoking but because of the way we were brought up, I could not smoke in his presence. I could not open a bottle of beer in the presence of my father.
You studied abroad, how was it like?
I studied in London, University of London, the best school you can think of.
As an Ajegunle guy, how was it like in London?
That's the competition I was telling you about. In my class, there was competition within us to enter universities. We were very conscious that our fathers served masters and we didn't want to do that. Then it was easier to travel abroad unlike now. I remember that my first flight to London was N180. It was a pride in the family then to say Oh, my son is in London.