MY CHILDREN RAN AWAY FROM ACTING BECAUSE THEY DON'T WANT TO END UP LIKE ME
He was a household name among television viewers across the country for over four decades that the popular television drama series, Village Headmaster, sustained.
As one of the leading actors in the programme, Adejumo Lewis played the role of the king, Oloja of Oja, and he did with uncommon dexterity.
Since 1999 when Village Headmaster was rested by Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), Lewis, like some other members of the cast, has gone to other things.
Following weeks of enquiries by this magazine, it was discovered that this actor and theatre administrator lives in Yaba, Lagos. However, for what he called personal reasons, he insisted on having an interview with him in an office at Stadium Hotel in Surulere, Lagos.
Face-to-face, Lewis looked younger than his age. Although he spots strands of white hair, he looks much younger than somebody who is set to mark his 68th birthday next July. While recalling the trajectory in drama and acting, the veteran actor said that his ambition was to be a priest, which was why his parents enrolled him in a seminary.
'As a young boy, it was my dream to be a priest. That was my major ambition. I love the way Catholic priests dress, and the order of worship in the church. For this reason, I didn't attend secular schools for my primary and secondary school education. I attended a major catholic seminary in Ibadan, SS Peter and Paul, where I read Philosophy for my first degree,' he said.
However, Lewis's foray into the theatre started on October 1, 1969 when Village Headmaster made its debut on the national network.
According to him: 'I had put on my television and there was this new drama series making its debut. I was highly impressed. I immediately made a resolution to be part of the cast. I've always been in love with acting as a young child. The following morning, I went to NTA headquarters at Ahmadu Bello Way, Victoria Island, where I sought audience with the producer and this decision effectively marked the end of my initial ambition to become a priest.'
Describing his encounter with the producer as an interesting one, Lewis recalled that when he was taken into the man's office, the producer, Prince Sanya Dosunmu, who is now the Olowu of Owu in Egbaland, asked whether he read theatre arts. 'When this question was put across to me, I laughed. I told the producer that I had a natural flair for acting, and that he should give me an opportunity to prove myself. I was then given a minor role, but barely six months after, the producer having been impressed with my performance, gave me the role of Bale of Oja. I was later elevated as a full traditional ruler with the title, Oloja of Oja.'
Lewis, who said his time in Village Headmaster was a memorable one, confessed that he can never forget the close relationship amongst members of the team. 'We were like members of the same family. I enjoyed the camaraderie. How can I forget in a hurry such people like late Councillor Balogun, and Chief Eleyinmi both of whom later became traditional rulers before their death? How can I also forget Sisi Clara, late Elsie Olusola who was the wife of Village Headmaster, Femi Bamishe?.
What about late Garuba and Lakunle Ojo, who played the role of drunkards? What about Kokonsari? I can't surely forget both the dead and the living members of the cast.'
It would seem that, like so many of his contemporaries, Lewis has stepped into some obscurity. But he is quick to tell that he has been working on a major book for the past 10 years. He said literary work has been his major pre-occupation since he was forcefully retired from Nigeria Television Authority, NTA in 1999.
The veteran actor who still has tinge of bitterness about the way he was disengaged by the management, said: 'I joined NTA as a programme officer in 1969 and rose through the ranks to become Director of Programmes before I was eased out in 1999 after serving government for 30 years. It was all conspiracy as some people wrote a fictitious petition alleging some wrong doings against me. But this was later discovered to be falsehood. It is like there was a hidden agenda against me. I had initially tried to uncover a fraudulent deal in the programme department, but the table was later turned against me. However, I have put everything behind me. I leave God to judge everybody involved.'
How rich is Adejumo Lewis? Has acting brought him fortunes? The veteran quickly relied: 'I'm not rich but I'm highly contented. I'm fulfilled. It may be a surprise to many people that I don't have a personal house of my own, and after serving this nation for 30 years, I still ride a jalopy car. My children even considered me a failure materially, but I'm the happiest man on earth today.'
The theatre man who lamented that Nigeria has not been able to realise its potentials added that the major problem confronting Nigeria today is that of corruption.
Lewis who revealed that he turned down several opportunities to be rich, said he refused to take advantage of such opportunities because he doesn't believe in corruptly enriching himself.
He stated that it was out of such conviction that he rejected the offer of a national honour in 2008.
'About three years ago, I was offered national award in recognition of my contributions to the theatre industry, but I rejected it outrightly. I told those who came with the offer that I wouldn't have anything to do with any award given by a corrupt government.
Take a look at the list of most of the recipients of these national awards, they are nation wreckers, people who have destroyed Nigeria. Even at a time, some people were ready to build houses for me, but I refused the offer.' Was there any occasion fame brought him embarrassment? Lewis said he has had several encounters with admirers who openly mobbed him in public.
One of such moments, he recalls, was when he paid a visit to Adrao International College on Victoria Island. He had barely stepped into the premises when some students and teachers who recognised him rushed out of their classrooms and started chanting his name.
'The whole school suddenly erupted into wild jubilation as shouts of Oloja, Oloja, rented the air. The school principal, Mrs. Omololu, had to rush out of her office because she thought there was a riot. She later burst into laughter when she saw what was happening. When you are a star, you have no privacy again. There was another time I was mobbed openly at Yaba. An Efik woman who recognised me suddenly blocked my car.
Traffic was halted for several minutes as other commuters joined her to mob me. It is part of the price one has to pay for stardom,' he declares. The artiste, who hails the advent of Nollywood as one of the best things to have happened to the entertainment industry in Nigeria, however disagreed with the nomenclature, insisting that he would prefer the title Niger-Movies to Nollywood.
'Must we be copycats? Simply because we have Hollywood and Bollywood, must we have Nollywood? I prefer Niger-Movies. Although Nollywood has put Nigeria's name on the map of the world as we are known as the third largest film producing nation after United States and India, it appears the title, Nollywood, applies to only a section of the country. We need to make it wider and this is why we should call it Niger-Movies to accommodate other parts of the country.'
Is any of the children taking after him in acting?
No, he quickly replies, saying it was only when they were young that he tried to bring them into theatre activities. He however added that as the children were growing up, they later charted their own course, keeping a long distance from the industry that brought him fame but not material fortune.
'Perhaps, out of fear of not seeing what happened to me being their own lot, they decided to chart a different course for themselves. I have four children, two of them are lecturers while one is a lawyer, and to God be the glory, they are doing fine in their different fields,' he said.