My friends taught me because I couldn’t go to school –Oga Bello

Veteran actor, Adebayo Salami, popularly known as Oga Bello

Veteran actor, Adebayo Salami, popularly known as Oga Bello

Veteran actor, Adebayo Salami, popularly known as Oga Bello, tells Ademola Olonilua how he became an actor

How did you get the name Oga Bello?

There was a programme we had then on NTV Nigeria Television before it became NTA, the programme was called Bar Beach Show. It was anchored by the late Art Alade, father of Darey Art-Alade. We were given a comedy segment on the show. During the show, my boss, Ojo Ladipo, gave me the name Bello and since I was a senior staff in the office, I was called Oga Bello and that was how the name stuck.

You have been acting since age 12, how did it actually start?

I would say God has designed everything for everybody and He sent us to the earth to deliver certain messages. In 1964, I lived in Lagos Island, that was where I was brought up and a lot of festivals happened there. I have always had passion for anything that has to do with arts. One day, I was in my school at Ansarudeen Oke-Ejigbo, Lagos, when I heard some drum beats and I was curious to know what was happening. I climbed the wall to see what was happening and I saw a group of people dancing and beating drums. When I made enquiries from them, they said that they were the Youngsters Concert Party and it was led by Ojo Ladipo. I decided to join them. That was how it started. It was the same Youngsters Concert Party that later turned into the Ojo Ladipo Theatre Group.

Although you are from Ilorin, you were born in Agege, Lagos but you were raised by your uncle instead of your parents, why?

It was not my decision; it was my parents’ decision. My father and my uncle were brothers; they were the only children of their mother. In the olden days, there was this concept of giving a sibling your child to raise as his/her own. So they gave me to my uncle and I could not reject it.

We learnt there was a time your uncle almost cursed you with a Quran because you became an actor. What were the challenges you faced while acting at such a tender age?

Majorly in Ilorin, if you are into entertainment, you are considered as an unserious and wayward child. Most of the people who were into entertainment were considered to be dropouts. It was worse for me because I was the first son in the family so my parents did not want me to become an actor. In Ilorin then, most parents wanted their children to be either Islamic scholars or traders. But I did not want to be any of that. Even at the age of 12 when I began acting, nobody knew in my family. I had to sneak out of the house most times. When they discovered and their complaints were getting too much, I decided to run away from home. They did not find it funny because at a point I was living in a church with a friend. You can imagine how they felt because mine was a devout Islamic family. I was staying with a friend who was a Christian and after about a month of living with him, he said that I could not be sleeping in his house without worshipping with them so I decided to get my own garment and attended church with them. That made my parents very angry and they sent my brother, Saka, who is dead now, to get me out of the church and he took me to Agege where my parents and grandmother lived. When I went back home, they had called a family meeting on me and that was when my uncle brought out a Quran and said that he would curse me with it and that I should desist from going for rehearsals. Ironically at the family meeting, it was the same brother of mine who came to fetch me from the church that intervened on my behalf and told the family to leave me that maybe acting could be my calling.

At what stage did your uncle give you his blessing to become an actor?

We had a wedding ceremony in our house in Ilorin and one of my younger sisters wanted to gain admission into the Kwara State Polytechnic but somehow the result was manipulated and she was not given an admission letter. Then I was at NTA Ilorin and people knew me everywhere. After the marriage my uncle told me that I would take him to the school so he could see to the admission of my sister. As we got to the school compound, people began shouting Bello. I asked for the office of the rector and they described the place to me. Before I got there, a large crowd had gone there and they were shouting my name. The rector rushed out to see what was happening and when he saw me, he was shocked and welcomed me warmly. I went in with my uncle and for about 30 minutes he was talking about my movies and the characters I had played. Later, he asked why I was at his office and when we told him, immediately he instructed that an admission letter should be issued. My uncle did not say anything. When we got back to the car, he said that he was convinced that acting was my path and that was the day he gave me his blessing.

Aside from your chosen career, what other areas in life did you meet some difficulties?

I also had some challenges with my education. I was brilliant when I was in the primary school but my uncle could not afford to send me to secondary school. My father had the money but my uncle would never go to my father to ask for intervention because my father had already placed him as my parent. I was not happy because I liked education and I always like to learn every time even till now. Later, some of my friends from primary school gained admission into various secondary schools but I realised that the closest school to my house was the Ansarudeen School in Surulere (Lagos) and some of my friends were there. What I did was to target the time they would close from school and I would wait at the gate. When they come out of school, they would teach me what they had been taught during the day and when the time for their examination came, they would also set exams for me. That was what I did to learn. I did that until I had the opportunity to attend Adebo Commercial School, Lagos, where I read up to Class Four. After that, I decided to learn everything by myself and see where I am today. Because of my interest and the fact that my mates were advancing without me and I wanted to catch up with them, I resorted to self-help. I told myself that even though my parents could not afford to send me to school, I could manage by myself which I did.

How did you feel when your mentor and group leader, Ojo Ladipo, died?

I felt very bad; it was a very sad moment in my life because I thought everything had ended there. Although he was on the sick bed for months, we did not expect him to die like that. When he died, I did not know what to do because before then, I was working at the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing and earning salary. I left there and joined Femi Okunnu’s Chambers in 1976 where I also earned salary until we decided to make our theatre group a full time job. I resigned from my place of work, I stopped earning salary and in 1978, Ojo Ladipo died. I was the next person to him before he died, I wanted to quit but people said the group could not die like that. The first problem we had was lack of money to move around; we had to borrow money with interests. We were also required to put some gold down as collateral. Before Ojo Ladipo died, we also had some debts we had to settle. Everything was tough for me at that time but people kept encouraging and counselling me and I listened to their advice which later paid off.

One of the people that counselled you was the Late Hubert Ogunde who inspired you to become an actor. How did you feel when he was giving you words of encouragement?

The Late Hubert Ogunde was my role model and he was the one who inspired me to become an actor. The first time, Baba did not counsel me, it was when the wife of Ojo Ladipo died that I gave up totally. I called it quits. Although I did not tell Baba that, he heard what I said and he sent for me. When he counselled me, I had peace of mind. We all looked up to him and for someone like that to counsel me and tell me I had a bright future and prospect, I had no choice than to listen. He told me that whoever would be great in life must face challenges and he promised to always pray for me. I changed my mind because I respected him.

A lot has been said about the Late Hubert Ogunde with some claiming that he was very fetish. Being someone that was close to him, what kind of man was Ogunde?

Hubert Ogunde was a disciplined man but those who were not close to him thought he was a wicked person. He loved those who knew what they were doing as well as hardworking people. He cherished anybody that had focus and he had a way of counselling people. When I released Omo Orukan, he said I should be persistent in making quality movies. He said that I should maintain my quality and make further research. He made me understand that you can learn from anybody even the youngest person in the room. If you see the talent or knowledge in the young one, tap from it. Although he was famous, he also wanted everyone around him to be famous too and he supported with anything he could, either financially or morally. To people who don’t know, Ogunde was a prayer warrior. He prayed a lot, he was not a fetish man. He loved our culture very dearly and he did not joke with it. He prayed a lot and always wanted to be close to God. He was one who believed that you should be prayerful in anything you want to do.

You are one of the first set of Yoruba actors to produce a movie, Ogun Ajaye, in celluloid in Nigeria, how were you able to make the project a reality?

I had the experience. I bought books on film making and I read a lot, I also submitted myself to the likes of Ade Love and Hubert Ogunde to learn the practical aspect. As for resources, I ran into problems twice. The first was when I went to a top society man to use his influence to secure a loan from the bank. He agreed and the bank sent the money into the man’s account but he spent it on his social life. The second was when a friend teamed up with me but told me that he would have his percentage when the film was released. I agreed. I was not even thinking of the profit, the only thing I wanted was for people to know that I produced a movie. My friend introduced me to someone else who gave us the money and I produced the film. Later my friend began to backbite me telling the executive producer all sorts about me. The executive producer told him that he loved me and told me all the bad things my friend had said about me. Eventually that my friend came to me and said he wanted to sell his own part of the movie, I bought it and paid him off and we went our separate ways.

How was the transition for you, moving from stage play to shooting films?

It was not a tough transition because I was always learning and I believed in moving with time. By the time we moved from stage plays, we did not go to the cinemas straight. The next step was the television programme and that is similar to film making so there was no problem going in front of the camera. All I did was to learn about film making and the ethics of the profession. I have passion for my profession and I approach it with every sense of seriousness and that has helped me a lot. I moved with time, it was not a difficult transition but I must confess; producing a movie is a difficult thing.

How do you feel when you look at the industry and see that stage plays are not as vibrant as they used to be?

There is little one can do. I guess it has to do with technology. When on stage, you have to describe everything and the audience has to visualise and use their imagination. But going to the movies, you do not need to use your imagination. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy the show. A lot of people prefer to see the real deal than to use their imagination. Personally, I prefer stage performances and the aspect I love the most is the participation of the audience. When acting, the audience go along with you and you invite them to be a part of the play. I enjoyed that a lot.

Is that why you still partake in stage plays?

Yes, I am going to celebrate my 50 years on stage and part of the celebration includes a stage play.

Why did you have so much faith in your godfather, Femi Okunnu, because when he was leaving the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, he asked you to come with him and you resigned to work in his chambers?

It was because he was my godfather and he has never advised me wrongly. When I got involved in theatre arts, he supported me. He loves me a lot. There was a time he spoke to a friend, Architect Tunde Sholade, and bought a big lorry for the group free of charge just to support us. Because of the same Okunnu, Sholade put me on his pay roll just to support our theatre group. Although he was not happy that I resigned from his chambers to go fully into theatre, he still continued to support me.

How do you feel having five children toeing your path in the movie industry?

I thank God because there are some people who want their children to carry on with their legacy but have none.

If none of them showed interest how would you have felt?

I did not ask God for it so I would be okay with whatever profession they chose. I did not force them to be in this industry and some of my children are in other fields.

You said while growing up you were a rascal. What were some of the things you did?

The area I grew up really influenced me. I remember I used to go about with the masquerade and hold a cane. I used to flog people well during festivals. I also used to love fishing.

Do you still go fishing?

I don’t go any more. I stopped because there was a time we went fishing with some people and the one who knew how to paddle the canoe was angry with us and said everybody would die. He threw away the paddle and jumped into the water then he began rocking the canoe. Immediately I was safe on land, I said I was not going to fish again.

How do you feel when you watch some movies and see that some actors promote bad vices like smoking, illicit sexual affairs and the likes?

I think that it is very bad. I look at the ladies that carry guns in movies and say they are educating people and wonder if they would allow their children watch the movies if they’re parents. I feel it is bad, there are lots of concepts that can deliver lots of messages without promoting bad habits. Even if you want to tell a story about a bad vice, there are ways to go about it, you can preach your message well if you pick the topic and treat it properly. Now, it is either they carry guns or they are into ‘runs.’ They lack creativity because they did not learn the job properly. I am not happy about it but by the grace of God, some people and I are working towards changing the status quo.

What do you think can be done about it?

A lot can be done. If we impose discipline on the association, things would change. We have created a body called Theatre Arts Movie Practitioners Association of Nigeria and it would tackle the problem. We would give them seminars and workshops to sensitise people on reasons to shoot a good movie.

You preach against polygamy yet you practise it, why?

Whether by destiny or by error I find myself as a polygamous man. What God has done for me might not be so for others because in that area, you will learn a lot. It is in the Quran, you can marry as many wives as you want provided you can cater for them equally and that is not possible. So the Quran in a way is against it. I don’t have any regrets because my house is peaceful and my children are united but it may not be so for everybody, so it is better you don’t go into it, that is why I am pushing against it.