I had to leave Village Headmaster because I took N.T.A to court
Where is Olayiwola Ashadele, the man who gave character and life to Lakunle Ojo of the now rested television drama series? The Village Headmaster held... television viewers scurrying home from work and kept glued to their television sets. Ashadele also played the role of the very affluent and vibrant Fred Akin Thomas in Fortune, one of the television drama serials which kept viewers on the edge of their seats. He featured in several other roles in television drama, home video and stage plays, including the ageless Baroka of Wole Soyinka's The Lion And The Jewel. Has Ashadele finally called it quits with acting? Or has he, like the proverbial Andrew, checked out of the country?
It was in answer to the above questions that Nigerian Compass on Saturday this week decided to pay him a visit at his Satellite Town home in Lagos.
As expected, the actor and former bank executive is still very much an actor and lives in Lagos. Adorning an all-grey hair, and walking with the gait of a man in his early 50s, Ashadele who is from Oyo State, disclosed how his career as an actor began as well ashis foray into the banking business. Although, he will shortly be joining the elite septuagenarian club, his exuberant personality is still very remarkable.
You arrive at his home to keep an 8:00am appointment but find the door locked. As you bring out your phone to make a call, a voice beckons on you from the adjacent street. And before you can say good morning sir, he apologises. “I hope you got my message? I left a message for you with the gate man,” he says, as he thrusts his hand for a handshake. You marvel at such a humble personality.
According to him, he told the gate man that he was going to buy something across the street. Inside his parlour are photographs of him and his family. No action pictures to show that he is an artiste. To your surprise, he has several albums filled with them, setting a significant background for an interview.
As the interview progresses, his striking voice is unmistakable.
He has been off the screen for some time now. What really has been happening? Has he abandoned acting? In answer, he takes you through his career and his travail as an actor.
“The situation in Nollywood in terms of acting is so precarious,” he says. “One does not get the right payment from producers and marketers. In the past, I had helped so many of them. I do not think I should just be using my talent without adequate remuneration. It is just not right. It would be lopsided. It means that somebody is doing the job another person is getting the benefit.
“If I get the right person with the right fee, I will do the job. I do not know their terms or criteria for paying people, but what I have observed is that many of these marketers have their own people who they pay well, because they believe their faces will sell the films for them. If that is the condition, I do not see myself working for people to make it, only for me not to have adequate remuneration for the job I have done. I believe I am a professional.. I cannot say that I would act according to the amount a producer paid me. There are some artistes that if you do not pay well, they just do whatever they like on set. I believe in doing the best for whoever I work for, once the I agree to accept a particular fee. But even the young ones who were being paid over a million at a time, were complaining. I read all these in the papers.”
Although, he has acted in couple of films, according to him, he has not acted in any film in past four years as producers were not ready to pay him. His words: “Sincerely, I do not have the records of how many films I have done. I just go on set and do my best to play my part and satisfy the director. Even some of these films, I do not have copies in the house. My last film, I think, was Dugbe Dugbe – a Yoruba film which was shot about four years ago. As I told you, I have not acted in any film in the last four years or so, because producers are not ready to pay good money. Some producers have been to my place to give me scripts. And when they come they would be telling me that I am their Papa in the industry, and that I should help them out. I usually tell them that I have helped so many of them to get to the top. I cannot continue to be down. And that if they if they cannot pay me they should please leave. And they left. This is business.
“The Yoruba film sector has its own modus operandi. The way they operate is different from the Nigerian English film sector. Most of the Yoruba film producers know one another. So they compliment each other. If one them has a job, he invites the other one to play a particular role for him and he will be paid something that you cannot really call a fee. When the other producer has a job to do, it will be time to reciprocate. So he in turn will invite the other producer to come and play a role for him too. It is like helping one another. So it is not about artiste fee.”
On what he has been doing in the last three or four years, Ashadele said that apart from writing and lecturing, he also is into video coverage and still photography. “Well I am comfortable. I thank God Almighty that my children are taking good care of me.
“I have three children - a boy and two girls. The boy is an engineer, while the first girl is married with children and lives with her husband in England. The other girl is a businesswoman.”
To answer your question, I lecture at the Independent Television Producers Association of Nigeria (ITPAN) Training School. I was the pioneer Director of Studies of the Pencil Film Institute (PEFTI), Lagos. Also I train up-coming actors here in my house. I do that out of interest because most times many of them cannot even pay. There was a time I wanted to put together a theatre group where I would train aspiring actors, and put them on a soap opera to make them visible to producers who will then feature them in their movies. But I discovered that many of them could not raise the twenty thousand naira registration fee. And I cannot just take my money to pay for air time and also pay artistes fees. That was why I dropped the idea. I also do video coverage. I have young men who are working for me. Anytime I have video coverage job. I invite them to come and work for me. Also I do still photography too. Some people woke in the papers that I am a photographer is not a thief. Photography is a profession God Almighty said humble yourself and I shall lift you. God has a purpose for me in life and nobody can stop that. When it is the time, it will come to pass.
On how he got his first camera, and subsequently into photography, he disclosed that it was a gift from an American. “He was about to be ditched by a Nigerian businessman. I was able to get him out of it. In appreciation, when he went back to America he sent me a professional camera. I then bought books on photography which I studied. I was using the camera for most of my colleagues who got married at the time. So when I retired in 1997 as Operations Manager in United Bank for Africa (UBA) in 1997, I decided to start using the camera. I read many books in photography. I believe that anything you want to do in life, make sure you do it best. And it has been quite interesting. There is a lot you can do in photography like laminations and so on. You will make some money from it. And apart from that it keeps me busy. I can not imagine myself not doing anything in the last eleven years than just sitting down in the house.
“I write scripts too. I can produce and direct. As a matter of fact, I shot a film with Leo studios which used to be at Ikoyi. But the film did not see the light of the day because the marketers connived not to be interested in the film. They said that the film had too much grammar because they did not understand what I was talking about. And since I did not have the exclusive copyright, there was nothing I could do about it. I was the producer and script writer and Matthias Obayangbon directed. I will still come back to film production. There is nothing I cannot do in production,” he hinted.
He however said he does not have a voice for music. “I love music but I have never dreamt of being a musician. I like any type of music that makes sense. I like musicians like Sunny Ade and others. Even all the boys with their funny lyrics. I like Timaya's music. I like the way he gesticulates when he is singing. I also like the camera work.
I specially like blues. I like soft music. At times I wakeup when some of the radio stations play soft music and listen. Blues music is cool, the lyrics are good. They pass messages. I like something serene. I like something that is not on the noisy side. Although you cannot do without having some noisy ones. I see all this their music as funny because their lyrics are so funny.
The story of his first experience on stage is something that always amuses him. According to him, he was in primary school, Baptist primary school Ibadan and was about nine or ten years old. The school was staging a biblical play about the shepherd and the sheep. “I was one of the pupils acting in the play. I was playing the role of one of the sheep. I was so excited that I invited my father to come and watch the play and see me on stage. On the day of performance my father came. In fact he was sitting on one of the front seats. When the play started I was crawling on stage bleating while the shepherd was beating us with something. A look at my father's face and I knew that he was shocked to see his son acting like a goat. When I saw the expression on his face I just stood up and ran out of the stage and did not return to the stage even after the end of the play. My father was a very liberal person and a disciplinarian. He was not angry with me. He understood that it was childish exuberance. He did not make any comment about it even when I got home. My father was not the type of person who would beat you or scold you or chastise you unnecessarily. He was so close to us. If you did what canning you would resolve he wont spare the use of the cane. He will give you strokes. In this case he just laughed over it. He even said that the play was good. This thing happened in the early 50's.
After his secondary school, he had a stint the finance sector, working with National bank, Ministry of Finance and subsequently, United Bank for Africa (UBA). “In those days when we were going to school it was whatever you gathered as a student that propels you to do whatever you wanted to do. And opportunities were there. Opportunities because there scholarships available . But as I said, immediately I left school, I got employment with National bank in Lagos as a clerk. I left there in 1964, because we started a union. The management of the bank said they were reviewing staff positions. They asked us to leave. At that time all you needed to do was just apply. There were jobs everywhere and so I just went straight to the ministry of finance and I was employed as a clerk too. There I met a young man there, Mr Fela Davies, who was in the same department with me. He was a very proficient writer. He started a group called the stage craft. I was a very funny person. Anytime I talk people would laugh. He saw that talent in me and co-opted me into his group, the stage craft. So we started acting on stage from 1964 and in 1968 when the village headmaster was to start he was invited as one of the script writers. He took a few of us along, we were auditioned and having a had experience on stage it was not difficult for me to blend. Eventually I became Lakunle Ojo in the village headmaster. Initially, Lakunle Ojo was one of the praise singers of Counselor BalogunI. Nut because of my performance, the producer upgraded the character to the Secretary to the Council. had to leave in 1977. At that time I was already working with (UBA) in the foreign exchange department something was published in the paper that I was involved in foreign exchange money laundering. Where as I was on leave and on a programme on television, what the papers are saying it was mentioned by N.T.A, so I had to take N.T.A to court. The case lasted about 10 years and I won. I had to leave The Village Headmaster because I took N.T.A to court. But at that time there was a proviso that N.T.A could not be sued, so when we went to court they just discharged them. Later, because of my performance in village headmaster a producer in N.T.A Mr Danladi Bako invited me back to take part in Spacs - a detective television programme. I was the head of the detective team. I also acted in Second Chance. I played the role of Headmaster of the school. That was how i came back to television. I was also in Fortune. I was Fred Akin Thomas in Fortune.
When the home video industry started, I also joined. I think the first movie I featured in was Onome, which was produced by Opa Williams. I was the doctor in Onome.
Because I was still working in United Bank for Africa (UBA), I could not act in so many films at that time.
While he continues to write scripts, he has no plans to sell them. “Where do you want to sell it. You take your script to producers or marketers, they tell they are not interested in it. They make photocopies of the script, and before you know it, the scrip has been pirated.”