I’M THE FIRST PAPA AJASCO - PETER FATOMILOLA
Mr. Peter Oladele Fatomilola, popularly known as Papa Ajasco, hails from Ido/Osi Local Government in Ekiti State. He is an actor of great substance, born about 62 years ago. His choice of theatre arts, as a profession, may well have been influenced by the role he had played during Ifa festivals, in support of his father who was then an Ifa priest. As a way of refining the rudiments, which he acquired in those early years of his life, he decided to join the Olokun Theatre in 1967, under the late Professor Ola Rotimi at the University of Ife. He has featured in over 500 films which include 'Papa Ajasco', where he acted as Papa Ajaco, Lawuwo in 'Rere Run', Afonja in 'Afonja', Amawomaro in 'Saworo Ide' and Mr. Ladego in 'Sekeseke'. Mr. Fatomilola, a retired lecturer from the University of Ife, obtained a degree in Theatre Arts in 1978. Hear him in this interview with Gbenga Olumide.
OTHER actors extol your virtues. Is it because of your age or what?
I cannot say it's because of my age. I will rather say maybe because of the talent given to me by Almighty God. Age has nothing to do with knowledge. We can only mention age when it comes to experience and years of service. Maybe the two combine together to make a success.
When did you start acting?
Professionally, I started in the year 1967, precisely January 10 of that year, with late Professor Ola Rotimi. He was then Senior Research Fellow in Arts. We happened to meet at a festival —Festival of the Arts for Oranmiyan Local Government then. Late Professor Ola Rotimi was the chairman of the occasion. He discovered me, called me and asked for my particulars. Afterwards, he made a statement. He said, “You are a material, and I will like to tap the resources in you.” I was looking at him, thinking, “How can this man call me a material? Am I a piece of jewelry or fabric? Which resources is he talking about? But later when he started visiting me in my school, the then Ife City College and asked me to join his group —Ori Olokun Performers, I understood why he called me a material. On January 10, I started with them. From there, I was elevated to the professional level, because Ola Rotimi was a professional to the core. So that's it.
You were the first Papa Ajasco when Wale Adenuga started his TV comedy. How was the experience then?
I will say I had been Papa Ajasco even before the time I played it on the TV drama, because Wale (Adenuga) is my very good friend. Whenever he came to Ife to see his family, he would always come to see me at Arubiidi where I was staying then. There was a time he told me that he wanted to float a magazine and he wanted me to be a part of it, but I told him I didn't know about writing.
Ten years later, Wale came back; this time to tell me that he wanted to shoot the TV version. I accepted to be a part of it, since that was my work. I joined him and we performed the first production of 'Papa Ajasco'/'Ikebe Super'. Since then, people have known and been calling me Papa Ajasco till today. If you ask anybody around here to lead you to Papa Ajasco's house, he will bring you here. It's only I don't like bearing any stage/screen name. Back to your question, I didn't feel anything. I had gained enough experience since 1983 that we did the first production, to be able to perform beautifully well. There was no hitch. I took it lightly, the way I used to take my productions with Ola Rotimi because I had gathered enough experience; and those who watched the production knew it was highly professional.
Why don't you participate in his productions today?
After the first production in 1983, he did not invite me for another one until when they wanted to produce 'Binta, My Daughter'. Papa Ajasco was one of the characters in 'Binta, My Daughter'. He called me and I answered him. He knows how to get me. Even in those days when there was no GSM, he would phone his brother, Taiwo who would find me and deliver the message. But suddenly, that changed.
Well, maybe because I complained about the amount he wanted to pay me as an artiste for the production of 'Binta, My Daughter'. I complained and he added more. Later, when he replaced me with another person as Papa Ajasco, the press asked him why, and his reason was that it was not easy getting me. It was easy before, but at a point it got difficult. This is somebody who did not change his place of abode and yet, he said he couldn't find me. I was not, and still am not bothered because I'm ever busy here.
How would you compare the Papa Ajasco of your time with that of today?
I can't compare them, because it's not good to judge oneself. I leave judgement for the audience. Either Papa Ajasco played by Peter Fatomilola or the one played by Biodun. I trained Biodun at Ife Dramatic Arts Department. He was there for CDA (Certificate in Dramatic Arts). I taught him how to act, how to move, how to perform, and I directed him on series of productions when he was a student. The present Papa Ajasco schooled at Ife, a sister department to my own department and there is no way he would not have come across my own knowledge. So, I'm very happy that Peter left the place before his younger brothers took the stage. Whenever I see the former Papa Ajasco or the present one, they are my boys — my brothers.
Those who didn't watch you then wouldn't know that you ever played a lead role in comedy because you don't do comedy anymore. Why?
I discovered myself to be a comedian during the time I was with my boss, Ola Rotimi. He handled me for 10 years —1967-1977. It was when he left for Uniport that Professor Wole Soyinka took over. We had various lecturers in that department, and I was one of the first set of students of Dramatic Arts. Whenever they gave us projects, I preferred to go solo, and I usually wanted to perform a sketch of five characters in a short story. I call it sketch because it was not a full-length story. And since I didn't want to disturb any of my colleagues, I always wanted to play all the characters. I did it for 10, 20, 30 minutes or one hour. Even NTA Ibadan used to use it — I alone performing on stage for one hour.
The title of the story was 'Alogbo', and I was Alogbo. It was a comedy. So, I'm a comedian to the core. But what I discovered about comedy in Nigeria is that if they know you to be a comedian, they wouldn't call you for any serious drama; and comedy is not common in Nigeria. Majority of those who do comedy have been stock characters who continue to perform the same way, no variation. And a good actor must be flexible; he must be able to play any role given to him. It was after I left Papa Ajasco series that I discovered myself to be a good Ifa priest. Therefore, the simple reason I left comedy is that people always take them to be unserious characters.
Have you ever played a role that has to do with violence or aggressiveness?
The role I played in 'Rere Run' was more of violence. I played the role of a revolutionist. If you watched the play very well, you would see that they maltreated me, the police maltreated me. It got to the extent that when 'Lawuwo' got back home and met his wife dead and the money stolen, he ran mad. Another film in which I took part that was violent in nature was 'Afonja'. It was war from the beginning to the end.
You play the role of Ifa priest so effortlessly. Are you one in real life?
Yes, I am an Ifa priest. At 18, I could recognise almost all the odus. Ifa is knowledge and I am very knowledgeable in it. My father taught me. He was the Oluwo of Ifishin-Ekiti where I hail from. Although I attend The Apostolic Church, it is because of my mother, she is a member of that church, and I can never deny her anything that will make her happy. She is 99 years old now, and I am her only child. My father had 13 wives and 32 children, but my mother had only me out of the 32. So, I go to church to please my mother. I use herbs, I practise oracle, but I don't exhibit myself.
Which is the most challenging of all your movies?
I will not call them my movies. I have not done any movie, I have only participated in movies done by other people. And I cannot say any of them is more challenging than the other because I act different roles in films. I put in my best in every production I've participated in.
Generally speaking, who is Peter Fatomilola?
Peter Fatomilola is the son of late Chief Abraham Ojo Fatomilola, the Olori Awo of Ifishin-Ekiti, and Elizabeth Fatomilola. I respect my mother a lot, because she was the one who made sure I had formal education. I only wanted to study Ifa, stay with my father. Staying with my father was pure enjoyment. When clients brought goats, sheep, ducks, chickens and the like for sacrifice, my father would take the needed parts, maybe the blood, and ask us to roast the remaining. So, this made me love staying with my father.
But my mother was bent on ensuring that I had education, being her only child. I started school late. I was already a teenager before I started school. This, however, made my performance excellent, to the extent that I spent only four years in primary school, and I gained admission into secondary Modern School. I spent only two years there too and I had my certificate.