Nollywood great, Adebayo Salami, aka Oga Bello has been in celebratory mood since he announced plans to mark his 50th year as an actor.
With the big event to celebrate the icon less than a month to go, ENCOMIUM Weekly spoke with him on the event as well as the various issues rocking the industry, including the festering crisis within the Yoruba actors body, the Association of Nigeria Theatre Art Practitioners (ANTP).
He also justified the decision of frontline actors like himself who pulled out of the crisis ridden ANTP to form the Theatre And Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria (TAMPPAN) where he is serving as the Chairman, Board of Trustees.
Though he was reluctant to open up about why Yoruba movie producers find it difficult to access the Federal Government’s Nollywood funds, the talented thespian gave his opinion on entertainers dabbling into politics. He also spoke on how to move the industry forward and much more.
What activities have you planned to commemorate your fifth decade as an actor?
There are a host of activities lined up to celebrate my 50 years of acting and it includes the celebration itself, which will hold on Wednesday, December 10, 2014, at the Muson Centre, Onikan, Lagos, with a stage performance of one of my old movies, Oloko Oba, where I played a major role back then. I will not be starring in the play but it will be a great experience to remember where we are coming from. There will be people from all walks of life on that day but it will be strictly by invitation.
There will also be a showcase of a compilation of about 12 of Adebayo Salami’s movies. However, since we cannot have too many people in the hall, we are planning on taking the performances to the National Theatre later so that more people can get to see it.
Do you have any plan to sustain live performances afterwards?
I believe it is going to be sustained and that is even why as I said, we plan to move it to the National Theatre. We have an arrangement with the National theatre to have performances there every month and this is where our association, TAMPPAN, comes to the fore because we have the office of a theatre director where that will be taken care of. Personally, I prefer acting on stage to movies because that is where we started.
So, what efforts are you putting in place to revive stage plays in Nigeria because people prefer the cinemas these days?
A Yoruba adage says that a tree cannot make a forest. As actors, we cannot revive National Theatre alone. The management of the place also has a huge role to play. Ours is to bring our plays, theirs is to create a conducive environment for those who will come there so, we have to work hand in hand to achieve that and I believe we have started doing that.
What happened to your former organization where you shot into limelight, Awada Keri keri and the members?
I want to let you know that we are very much together up till now. A Yoruba adage says that 20 children cannot play together for 20 years. From my experience, there’s always a problem with joint ventures.
We all have our families and responsibilities here and there so, we realized that continuing together will not fetch us enough to take care of ourselves so, we agreed to go our different ways. But whenever we need to do something together on the Awada keri keri platform, we come together and do it. Apart from that, whenever I’m doing my production, all members of Awada keri keri come around and I make myself available to them when they are doing theirs as well. We are still very much together.
In Nollywood, Yoruba genre, we have always known one association ANTP governing it, but now there is TAMPPAN and one or two others, will there ever be one umbrella body again or should more factions be expected?
Most of us pulled out of ANTP because for the past 15 years or so, we discovered that whenever we wanted to make any progress or approach the government or corporate bodies for support, some elements there would start writing petitions to draw us back and we cannot continue that way so that is why TAMPPAN emerged and it has come to stay and if you look at it very well, those who are actually practising this profession and are visible belong to TAMPPAN.
What legacy would you like to be remembered for?
I would love to be remembered based on the lives I have been able to touch, especially in this industry. I am happy that some of my children are there without me pushing them there, they joined the industry out of their freewill and passion, and I thank Almighty Allah for that. I want people to remember me for my good work, honesty and passion for this job.
You have remained an actor for 50 years, these days, actors jump from acting into other professions. The trend is now politics. Would you join politics or do another business later?
It depends on what you want for yourself. Ogunde did not join politics, as popular as he was, Wole Soyinka is still there, he did not join politics, I am 50 years today in theatre, nothing can push me into politics. Those who have gone into politics, they know what they want for themselves so, I won’t be able to say anything for them.
Having spent 50 years in this industry, what would you consider as its major challenges and what is the way forward?
First, we have talents here. We have creative people in abundance so, we do not have a problem of content but we have the problem of marketing. If, for instance, we can have one cinema in each local government, we have killed the pirates. I would appeal to the government to invest in the industry both at the state and federal level.
If you look at the piracy law for example, it is nothing to write home about. What is three months imprisonment with option of N10,000 for people feeding fat on other people’s sweat?
Having mentioned the challenges facing the industry, you belong to a group different from ANTP, Saheed Balogun has another group too, don’t you think it would be easier for the government or corporate world to help if you were all united under one umbrella?
We tried for more than 12 years to solve the problems in ANTP to no avail. There were litigations upon litigations and a Yoruba adage says, we don’t return from the court and remain friends. Saheed Balogun can do whatever he wants.
I’m not saying it is good to have many bodies but one thing I am sure of is that whenever we want to fight a common cause, we come together. It happened between us and AGN and others.
Why is it difficult for Youruba movie producers to access the Nolywood funds because we have seen some of the English producers get the funds?
Your question is quite technical and I do not want to talk about the subject for now. I know for a fact that there are a lot of applications that have not been honoured. Our people have applied to the Bank of Industry, even the one that is controlled by the Finance Minister.
I really don’t want to talk about it now because I know what is happening. I have my application with them, Kunle Afolayan also applied, one way or the other we can’t access it. I just pray that God will help us Yoruba in general in this country. I don’t want to sound tribalistic. That is part of the reasons we thought it wise to come together and forge ahead through TAMPPAN.
So, do you have any regret over the years or is there something you wished you had done differently?
My regrets are personal and not professional. However, I can tell you I had challenges that could have discouraged me. It started in 1985, when Iya Mero died.
She was the wife of my late boss, and she died seven years after her husband. People started to say things that made me sad. They said he killed the husband and now the wife so that he can take over their business. That was when I said I was no longer interested. I called my family and said they should raise some money for me so I could start doing my thing.
I had several challenges over the years but I don’t like going back to those challenges when God has helped me overcome them all. I can only give thanks to God.