How did your acting career start?
I am from Oke-Mesi, Ekiti State. I was born in 1936 and my father was an Ifa priest. Growing up, we were poor, so I did a lot of menial jobs like brick laying at building sites. But I had always loved the theatre. I travelled to Lagos with my father in 1946 when he went to work as a diviner. I had the opportunity to meet with a theatre group during my visit and when I started theatre job, I was working under the tutelage of Mr. Akin Ogungbe and I was a funny actor.
When you began acting, what was your parents’ reaction?
My father did not even know when I joined the theatre. I ran away from home for about six months and they were looking for me frantically. I knew that if I had told my father, he would not have allowed me to become an actor. He wanted me to be a herbalist like he was. But as time went on and he saw the passion I had for acting, he gave me his blessings.
When you began your career, did you ever imagine becoming this famous?
I never knew I could ever be rich in life. I did not do it for the money anyway. All I wanted was to be recognised through my works. When I started out, I took a Bible and swore that I would serve Ogungbe till I died. But when it was time to move on, they asked me to leave and continue the legacy. Then he normally bought fairly used clothes for us and we were always very happy whenever he gave them to us.
We learnt that you were always happy eating your boss’ leftovers?
It is true. Then I had a colleague, I-Show, and he would be the one with the garri. I would take the bones and begin to chew them while others would eat the leftover food. We all knew what our portion was and we never fought about the leftovers.
Is it true you were once a political thug?
Yes. In fact, I did it well. My father was a herbalist and I had charms that I used when I wanted to fight. Sometimes, I got power drunk because of those charms. I am glad that God changed my destiny because many of my friends who were also thugs at the time are dead. Some died at a young age while others died poor. God trained and guided me to become something in life because my life changed from being a stubborn and troublesome person to who I am today. Now, I rub shoulders with dignitaries like former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Afe Babalola, etc.
How was it growing up in a poor family?
My case was like that of a man who takes bitter leaf in place of honey; no matter how bitter it is, it will one day begin to taste sweet because you would have got used to it. My father never built a house during his lifetime but he prayed for me that one day, I would become a great person. He then warned me not to indulge in certain things for his prayers to be answered.
What were the things your father warned you against?
He said I should not steal. He warned me against insulting an elderly person. My father said that I should not snatch someone else’s wife especially if the person is a king or a wealthy man. He also told me that wherever I go, I should always try and locate the priests and Islamic clerics in that area and that I should ask them to pray for me.
How was life as a herbalist’s son?
I have been asked several times to become an Ifa priest but I always shy away from it. I was a part of the first set of people that started performing magic to amuse the audience. I used to eat fire, broken bottles, etc. My father once told me that my last job on earth would be an Ifa priest. When I was doing comedy, nobody knew me until people started advising me to take over my father’s job. I switched from comedy and began to always play the part of a herbalist in movies, and that was how I became popular. I know how to do different kinds of charm.
Have you ever hurt anybody with your powers?
No, if I have ever committed evil with it, I won’t be where I am now. I have seen a lot in life and there is no way you will hurt someone and you won’t get a taste of it.
How did you come about awards from churches and mosques even though you are a spiritualist?
I have the knowledge of various religions. I went to Saudi Arabia for holy pilgrimage. I read the Bible and I learnt that it encourages us to use leaves and herbs as remedies for ailments. I have a close relationship with pastors and Islamic clerics. I was even made the patron of the Yoruba community in Saudi Arabia and I have the certificate with me. I must promote the heritage and culture of my people. I practise many religions but I am a full time spiritualist. I have various programmes on different television stations and a lot of people have called to thank me for the spiritual assistance I have rendered to them. Some people just tell me to send my account number while some send me cards and gifts.
We learnt that you were born in mysterious circumstance?
Yes, my mother spent 17 years in my father’s house. Before she married my father, she was once married but her husband died early. One day, my mother was to remarry her late husband’s brother according to tradition but she refused. My father then married my mother at the age of 70. I worked for him at his old age and learnt a lot from him. That is why if somebody begs in the name of God, there is no way I will not grant the person’s request. It is the same way I cannot sit where a lady just stood up from. If I do that, I believe I have committed fornication. I can’t share a cup with another lady aside from my wife because I believe that I have kissed the lady. It is just my way of life. During my days in the theatre, I didn’t have any girlfriend and nobody can say otherwise.
Although you said that you do not date actresses, you have been romantically involved with an actress, Lola Aliu, and she has a child for you…
Lola Aliu is my wife. I married her and asked for her hand in marriage from her parents. I was the one that took her abroad before some people began to advise her wrongly, telling her to remain abroad. I told her that if she did not come back to Nigeria, she would never get pregnant and when she came home, I impregnated her. She is my wife and she bears my name. I came back from London not too long ago where I went to pray for all my children. If I call her, she would reply me immediately and I will talk to my children and pray for them. We have a cordial relationship.
You were also rumoured to have an amorous affair with popular actress, Orisabunmi…
She is also my wife. We have been married for about 17 years.
It was rumoured that you had metaphysical powers in your hair and if you put it in your mouth to prophecy to a person, it comes to pass, how true is the claim?
It is true and it is one of the reasons I barbed my hair because I did not like what it was turning me into. I was born with dreadlock and I was becoming too powerful with it. Anytime I put the hair in my mouth and speak, it comes to pass. My family members knew that about me very well and anytime I used my hair, my eyes always became very red. When I was about going to Mecca, I decided to cut it the way it is meant to be shaved. I could not just shave the hair off the way ordinary people barb their hair. I had to do certain things and follow certain procedures.
What were the things involved?
It did not really involve much but there was somewhere I was supposed to sit and there was somewhere I was supposed to stand on before I could shave the hair. Also, the barber that would shave the hair must not utter a word till he was done barbing my hair. There were certain things I had to put on my body and certain clothes I had to wear before the hair could be cut off.
We learnt that you spent only six months in an elementary school. Why?
When I was enrolled in school, I began to vomit blood after the sixth month. They immediately sent for my father because my mother gave birth to six children but as of that time, about four had died. Initially when I got into the school, they shaved off my hair and shortly after, maggot began to come out of it. In my family, they don’t just shave our hair like that. They took me home and when my hair began growing again, I became fine. It was when they returned me to school the second time that I began to vomit blood. When my father consulted the oracle, it was revealed to him that if I continued my education, I would die.
So till date, you truly believe that if you had continued school, you would die?
Yes I believe so. My relatives that went to school with me at the same time are either farmers or headmasters of various schools. God just wanted to use me as an instrument of His good works because there are some people in China that do not understand English, only their native dialect, and they are very intelligent.
How come your spoken English is relatively fair?
It is just an ordinary language. If I go to the north and stay there for some time, I will know how to speak Hausa. It is the same way a white man who lives in Yorubaland for several years would understand how to speak Yoruba. How would I be in the military for over seven years, interact with various tribes and I will not know how to speak English? Whenever I hear my children speak English or I watch the television or listen to the radio, I pick a word or two. Even whenever I go to the embassy, I don’t ask anybody to translate for me; we communicate together even if it is not so easy.
Without any formal education, you were made an associate professor in the University of Jos, how did that happen?
They honoured me with the award because they know that I deserve it. I have travelled all over the world promoting our culture and tradition. About 60 students from the Ekiti State University came to meet me that they wanted to form a theatre group and they made me their patron. About two months later, there was a performance at the University of Jos and Afe Babalola was in attendance. We had a wonderful performance and after the performance, the students were asked to introduce themselves. Although they were from the same school, they were not from the same department and it came as a surprise to the guests. The students were asked who taught them and they said I was the one. Immediately, Afe Babalola said that I was a professor. One of the top officials in the school and Afe Babalola made me a professor of theatre arts in the school from that day. They put it in writing and said that I was worth it.
How were you able to bag a national award?
It is through my work. Obasanjo was my boss in the army. After (Brig-Gen) Adekunle left, Obasanjo came and when he was removed, (Gen. Theophilus) Danjuma replaced him. It was under Danjuma that I left the military. Obasanjo knew about my activities and when they wanted to award someone who had promoted the Nigerian culture, he penned my name down. Eventually my recommendation was accepted. When I got the letter that I had become a Member of the Federal Republic, I took it lightly till I got to the venue and met with other dignitaries. I was so happy on that day.
Why did you decide to become a soldier?
I wanted to be a soldier because I come from a family of warriors. My great-grand parents fought to defend Ekiti back in those days. I like anything that has to do with war or fighting. I like situations where the people I am fighting are more powerful than I am. It makes things more interesting.
Why do you like acting the role of a high priest in movies?
It is because I do not want to forget my roots and I also want to promote my culture. That is why I take such roles. There is no role or character I cannot play. I also know how to dance very well.
You are known to be very close to the late Hubert Ogunde, how did you meet?
He was my boss. There is a photograph of him and I in my house. Before his death, he came to my house to pray for me. He took me as his son and loved me because he knew that I am a traditional man to the core and I am a very straight- forward person. He had tested me so many times and I proved my worth. He could send me on an errand for over a month without giving me money and I would still deliver. He left Lagos and came to Ekiti to pray for me. He prayed that I would be known all over the world and his prayers have come to pass. I made tea for him and he drank a little. He proceeded to Jos from my house for a play, Mr. Johnson, and it was from Jos that they took him to London where he died. I was very pained when he died because he was a very loving and talented man. I am still very close to his children and I revere them.
We learnt that you lost three children in three days over a film…
No, it was not a film, it was a stage play. There are some incantations that must be properly recited but I did not recite them properly and they backfired. That is why I tell people to be cautious when they are reciting some incantations because it has made some people become paupers. I decided to keep quiet because people would tag me as an ‘I too know.’ That was what happened when my three children died in three days. When I realised my mistake, I got closer to some elders who taught me how it was supposed to be done. Besides being a traditionalist, I have also attended a Christian school under the tutelage of Mike Bamiloye and I have a certificate to that effect. I also learnt Christian theatre and that was where I learnt to pray that God should protect us while mimicking evil doers. This prayer is to ensure that things do not backfire.
Why is it that you are not as vibrant as you used to be on television?
It is deliberate because now I am paying more attention to my father’s work. I am needed a lot and I cannot afford to let anyone down. Even whenever I am on a movie location and somebody calls needing my help, I leave the location to go home. I don’t charge the people I care for and that is why people like me a lot. People come from as far as Dubai and London seeking for my help.
You do not look like an 80 year-old man, what is the secret?
I take a lot of herbs and I have studied my body system, so I know when there is something wrong with me. I know when my blood pressure or sugar level is high, even without checking and I know the right herbs to take for any ailment. My gate is always open and I do not fear anything except God. I do exercises a lot every morning.
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