ON Saturday, January 24, 2015, ENCOMIUM Weekly was at star actor cum film maker, Saidi Balogun’s Ikeja, Lagos office where he granted us an exclusive interview on a number of issues, including poverty which has eaten deep into the fabric of the industry, rumoured reconciliation with his estranged spouse, Fathia and much more…
2015 has just begun, what are your plans for the year?
My plan is to expand my business, repackage myself and move forward.
Would you say 2014 was a fulfilling year as far as your career is concerned?
I will say yes, not financially though. Yes, in the sense that it was in 2014 that we created The Golden Movie Ambassadors of Nigeria (TGMAN), that has to do mainly with the rebuilding and rebranding of the industry. And the Yoruba sector has been in court for long over the leadership of the Association of Nigerian Theatre Art Practitioners (ANTP). So, when we came up with TGMAN, they also did the needful by coming out with a new association called Theatre and Motion Pictures Practitioners of Nigeria (TAMPPAN). So, everybody is now rebranding and rebuilding. To me, it’s a success for me as an individual. I took the decision to form another association when I was tired of their legal tussles and I said, “Can we change and move forward?” And that made the year successful for me.
Would you say you have realized some of the objectives of forming the association?
Yes, we have been able to make statements to the general public. For instance, in February 2014, we organised Love Show to mark Lovers Day. We also held Christmas Carol which a lot of people participated. Also, we went to American Embassy in Lagos here, we held a rally in conjunction with Dr. Joei Oke Odumakin and the US Embassy gave us a documentary movie to produce, sponsored by the embassy, which means we succeeded. That’s a fantastic development in the history of the industry. That has never happened but now it has happened in our time. We need to thank God for the success.
Would you say the membership of TGMAN is growing tremendously?
To me, it’s not about number. What’s important is what you have to offer. When we say rebranding and rebuilding, is everybody willing to join the industry to work as a movie ambassador? Does that mean the person can represent us anywhere, any day? TGMAN is not just an association for every Tom, Dick and Harry. It’s for those who live by our rules and regulations. But to give the answer to your question, we’re growing. And I thank God for that.
But we learnt some of your members have moved into TAMPPAN since the association came on board?
(Cuts in) It has to do with your dreams. You can see people moving out of one political party to the other. Either from PDP to APC and vice versa. As an association, one cannot be bigger than all other people in the association. You’re free as an individual to join any association you like but as for me, make sure you remain focused and set a good target for yourself.
What’s the relationship between TGMAN and TAMPPAN now?
Our relationship with TAMPPAN and other associations, including Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN) is very cordial. We’re all aiming at achieving the same goal. We’re not in competition with any of them. It’s all for the betterment of the industry. We love everybody. Competition is not in our agenda as TGMAN. The main issue is how the industry will move forward and everybody will be happy in the end.
That means you can’t discriminate against members of the associations when it comes to movie production because the speculation within and outside the industry is that a non-member of a particular association won’t be cast among members of another association?
That’s not true. But people have their ways of doing things. I will tell you without mincing words, movie production basically, has to do with who fits into a role or the other in a particular movie. Of course, it gives you more confidence when you see a TGMAN member and he or she fits into a particular role, you will want to use that person because you will be more at home with him or her because he or she is a member of your association. But in a situation the person doesn’t merit it, you will definitely choose from whoever qualifies from other associations. We have about 30 associations in the industry. It will be very difficult for you as a producer to limit your cast and crew to only the members of your association.
With the benefit of hindsight, do you subscribe to the fact that there is poverty in the industry as some people are saying?
Yes, that’s why you see some of our people running helter skelter, campaigning for all these politicians. But there is one question we have all not asked and that’s what makes American artistes donate to politicians and what’s making we the actors asking from politicians here in Nigeria? I must tell you the truth, that’s the main issue on ground unaddressed. Every member of National Assembly has not made any reasonable law on piracy which has devoured the industry. So, there is poverty in the industry, I won’t lie. If there is not, you won’t see our people flocking around all these politicians, campaigning, singing and dancing for them. I saw a candidate being surrounded by some of our colleagues, I now said to myself, “If this man eventually wins, how many actors or musicians will he remember?” Although, some are doing it, to make ends meet. And it’s sad because we’re stars. I think we’re supposed to be worshipped, not worshipping others. Even if a governor holds your hand, he is supposed to be happy. But now, the reverse is the case. If you have been following the trend concerning me as a person, I have campaigned for many governors. Just to talk of South-West alone, and not other parts of the country. I campaigned for Kwara State governor, Dr. Abdulfatah Ahmed, he won. I campaigned for Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, he also won. Equally, I campaigned for Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, he won as well. Yet, I am still hustling. I think you can decode something from the point I am trying to make. And I am one of the old-young guys, we have been following politicians for long. Old in the sense that old in the political scene, I have been into that for more than 20 years, but age wise, I am still young. Even, the new actors are still coming in joining the train, I still remain an old guy doing the hustling thing.
That means you are also doing it to make ends meet at times?
No, that’s not true. Let me give you an example, Dr. Abdulfatah Ahmed and I were close before he became the governor of Kwara State. I know the way he thinks and acts. He was in PDP. Also Mimiko was in Labour Party, I followed him. And Aregbesola was in Action Congress which later became All Progressives Congress (APC), I also followed him. And Dr. Ahmed came out as APC candidate in Kwara State, I was also with him. Any moment they change the vision I know them with, I won’t follow them again. But thank God, Aregbesola has not derailed, so also Dr. Ahmed.
But you can’t say your romance with them has not earned you anything at all…
(Cuts in) Definitely, if you meet them, they will help you in their own little way and no matter how small they give you as an individual, you don’t complain because the money belongs to the state. It’s not meant for you alone. Let me give you an example, every other governor I have campaigned for knows that Aregbesola is like my father, and I love him so much. Mimiko and Ahmed know this very well. So, if you and I go to Aregbesola for a favour, he would attend to you first. He would say Saidi, sit down, you’re my son, let me attend to this guy first. If I even get N10b now, I still have to consult him. They all help me the little way they can but not as rosy as people expect. You too can imagine all the big names I have just mentioned, I think I should have been a billionaire now but I believe you know part of my story. That means I don’t identify with them for their money. Let me give you another clear example, everybody knows that Governor Ajimobi of Oyo State and I are from the same family lineage in Ibadan, Oyo State. The day he saw me, he said you have a choice, it’s either you follow our elder brother or you follow me. But to be honest, Ajimobi has done so well in Oyo State generally. He is the first politician that would always say, “I am a professional in politics but not a professional politician. I mean well for my people. This campaign or elections shouldn’t be a do or die affair.” And he also made a very salient point in his campaign, he told the crowd that if he is giving them money how will he be able to embark on all the projects they are enjoying today? So, they should not complain if he doesn’t share money like other politicians may be doing. And those who saw me with him concluded that I am only working for my brother, and not about money. So, if I should go to him and ask for N5m or whatever, he would ask if I am stupid because he expects me to understand that he is working for the entire people of Oyo State, not for the family.
Would you say piracy is the only thing that has contributed immensely to poverty in the movie industry?
Yes. Let me give you an example, I produced You or I, which gulped millions of naira. Thanks to all the companies that supported me one way or the other. They were all there to take the movie to that level. Banks were there, we still owe them…and they pirated the movie. We can’t even pay back the banks till now. I am dying, I must be honest. So, if I cannot afford to pay the banks for the flick I shot, how would I be able to donate to politicians? That’s why I constantly advise my colleagues campaigning for those vying for the Senate or House of Representatives to drum it to their ears that if they eventually win and even elected into a committee of culture, they should help pass a law against piracy so that we can all make it, instead of collecting peanuts from them.
So, what you’re saying now is that despite the kind of publicity You or I enjoyed, you didn’t make any profit at all on it?
I can’t deceive you, my brother. No profit at all. As co-executive producer of the movie, I can tell you authoritatively we didn’t make any profit.
How much did you spend on the movie?
We spent about N18m and we didn’t recoup N1m out of the money spent because the movie was pirated. So, how will you survive in that kind of situation? And You or I is first of its kind. I am the only black while other cast are all white, which made a lot of statement in the industry. How will you now be encouraged to invest your money in any movie again? I wanted to release the movie on a Monday, they brought pirated copies to me on Saturday. I almost ran mad. My mom brought it home for me to see and she was crying. Now, I have another movie, The Rider, the executive producer of the movie has been on my neck but afraid of releasing it because of the nefarious activities of pirates. I told him if he has another person that can sell it well so that he can make his money, he could discuss with me. I have learnt a bitter lesson about You or I, and can’t allow such a thing to repeat itself.
Let’s digress a little, what’s the truth about a social media report that you and your estranged wife are planning to reconcile?
All I know is that bloggers just write whatever they like. That’s their style. I don’t care and that can’t bother me at all. It’s people like you that practice investigative journalism, not because I am with you, that’s why I am saying that. You ask before putting your pen on paper. And that’s the kind of professionalism we need if you want to know the truth. Some bloggers would just post anything on their blogs to gain more traffic thinking they can push people like you aside. But that’s not possible because you’re a professional. I, Saidi Balogun, my vision and mission are different this year. All I am after now, is how I can move my career forward, not one woman or the other. My marital issue is private and I don’t discuss it publicly. I don’t know where they got the information.
But a lot of your fans are expecting that you should have remarried, what is causing the delay?
They should just let the issue rest. I have said it, I have gotten someone to marry and they should let the issue end there. It’s my private life and should be treated as such.
– TADE ASIFAT