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Afeez Oyetoro is a comedian in a class of his own in the movie industry in Nigeria and he has come a long way. The lecturer cum actor speaks with ADUNOLA FASUYI in this interview on issues bordering on the movie industry, as well as his personal life. Excerpts.
Tell us about life before the Etisalat deal and now?
WELL, I give God all the thanks because the deal has been very good for me as a rising artiste. It was tough at the beginning of my career. As you must have known I had a very poor background and I have said it before that at a point in my life, poverty was too evident with bread and beans as well as guguru and epa being my anointed foods but today it is all history. The Etisalat campaign is blessing my pockets, it has also boosted my profile to the point that I believe that real stardom will soon come. However, I am still my humble self.
Sure, advantages came with the Etisalat deal but what are some of the challenges it has brought you?
People think I am now a millionaire and that I have many Blackberry phones. Anywhere I go, people ask me for a BlackBerry. They ask me for money. They think that I have become a millionaire. Some even pass embarrassing comments in the process. It can be so embarrassing that at times I decide to take some alternative routes to safely get to wherever I want to go. People need to know that Afeez Oyetoro is still Afeez Oyetoro. “It is true that God has been kind to me, but I am just me, I don’t pretend that I am a superstar when I am not one. I am comfortable as an average artiste but I am not a millionaire.
Tell us about your experience with the deal?
Well, it has been a beautiful experience. The campaign is still running, but it is not an everyday affair. We record once a month and it is usually on Sundays, so, it does not affect my job. Another good thing about it that works for me is that the handlers do not obstruct my attempts to interpret the script to the best of my understanding and creativity. They give room for discussion and suggestions, which is good because it lets you bring out the professionalism in you and they get the best.
You act and also teach, what is the benefit for your students?
Oh, about that, the benefit is unquantifiable. Back at Ademiran Ogunsanya College Of Education (AOCOED), my students are really benefitting from my romance with the stage and screen because the fact that they see me act is like seeing me practising what I preach, which makes them believe what I teach them. Acting has strengthened my integrity before my students. It makes me more credible as a lecturer. The practical aspect of me has enriched my teaching methodology.
Your sojourn into acting, how did it all begin?
I was born in a village called Adegbola in Iseyin Local Government Area. My parents are from Iseyin but they farmed at Adegbola. When they took me to Iseyin to school, I discovered that during the end of year activities, our teachers always put me in plays. Even when I got to secondary school, I was a member of the dramatic arts society and we used to take plays round schools in our local government then. It was at that period that I developed interest in participating in to plays and in watching them. After my secondary school education, I joined a theatre group until I gained admission in the university and I went to study Dramatic Arts as my first degree at the University of Ife then, now Obafemi Awolowo University. I came back to do my Masters at the University of Ibadan. Now, I am a lecturer teaching Theatre Arts at the Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education. In the process, I was all over the place, taking part in productions, either stage, TV, radio and film production. That was how it started and that is how it has been till now.
So, would you say you got into it by accident or design?
Our life is already designed by the Almighty. However I will say that it is divinely set and also a matter of passion. I loved it from childhood, so I went to study it, learn it, I am teaching it and practising it. I chose it and love it.
What are the major challenges you have had to face getting to this level?
The challenges are much and it dates back to my school days. As an artiste, you have to go to school, you have to read and you have to pass your exams. Sometimes, you are hungry and your parents are not around. By the time you become a professional, the challenges continue. There is also the greater challenge of the society looking down on an average artiste. People begin to see you as a joker. Socially, you are not recognised. It is only recently that theatre practitioners started receiving recognition. It has not been really easy.
How would you describe the journey so far, smooth or rough?
Nothing is ever easy but the truth is, in the process of achieving success, we should find it enjoyable. There have been challenges here and there but it is probably because God is on one’s side, one has been able to surmount the challenges and achieve the little we have been able to achieve. But that is not to say that one has achieved the best. I am still trying to be greater, to achieve a lot. I still have a long way to go. All the little things you have seen on TV and on stage are just minor. At this point in my life, I have to thank God for giving me the good health and for being alive, and for giving me the strength to achieve the little I have been able to. I still pray to achieve more.
You seem to talk funny, how do you handle it when you are making a point and people think you are joking?
It is only when one does not realise his or her role in the society that they begin to mingle his or her roles. For me, I know the role I am playing on TV and the role I am playing as a person. The role I play makes people laugh. As a lecturer, when I am in class, my students see me as such. It depends on how one manages his person and the role he plays. As a professional theatre person, I was trained under the watch of lecturers that are cable of changing people from one role to another. One of them is Chuck Mike who trained me as an actor and as a Theatre director. I know the role I am playing at every point in time. When I go for serious business, you see a serious Afeeez, when I go for comedy roles on TV, you see a comic character. When I come home, you see a father and a loving husband of his wife. When you see me in class or in a serious situation, then you will see I’m not funny. I can switch the characters easily. It’s my job, it’s what I was trained to do.
Are you this funny at home too?
I am funny when I want to be funny and very serious when I want to be. You must be able to set the balance and boundaries. I am a very loving and caring father, but I also discipline my children, that is what the Almighty says.
You recently took part in a feature film, was it easy for you?
Definitely, it wasn’t easy but when you have a passion for something, it keeps you on and you begin to enjoy it. They are all things we were taught in school. I always refer to my lecturers who have brought me up to this level. Those people actually worked on me and I don’t find it difficult in any genre of drama today. I can write, I can direct and I can produce because over a period of 30 years, I have not done anything outside theatre.
Between stage, television and the big screen, which do you enjoy most?
It definitely has to be stage. When I am on stage that is when I actually experience that professional satisfaction. Unfortunately, there is no money there. When it comes to stage performance, you use everything. You must have your lines; go through rehearsals and all that. When you are performing, it is to a live audience. For screen or radio production, you are not directly performing for your audience. You are either performing for the camera for TV or for the microphone for radio. But it pays more than stage.
How many children do you have?
I have three children. I got married late, when I was almost forty years. My children are still very young. I thank God for their lives. They are doing well, they are healthy and they are performing well in school.
Do you hope to have more?
It is only God that can determine that as you know, man proposes and God dispeses.
Was it the job that made you marry late?
In those days, people don’t really acknowledge the artiste and because the artiste is always moving up and down, coupled with the economic situation, I wanted to get married when I will be able to maintain it. I met a woman who really understood that thing at that point in time. We were together for some time and when we knew that it was possible to go into it, we got married.
Do you see any of your children following your footsteps career-wise and what will be your reaction?
They are still very young, but if any of them decides later in life why not? It would be very nice. I am not forcing any of them; I am not even suggesting anything to them. I am just watching them. They are in school now. Anyone who wants to toe that line has my blessings. I will support them in whatever profession they choose except that which the society does not value. If none of them wants to go in the theatre, that is how God wants it to be. I want to assure you, if any of my children wants to go into the theatre now, I would embrace it.
Can you have more than one wife, especially since you are a muslim?
Let me tell you, if someone gets married at 40 and presently has three kids and they are still very young, and the school fees keep going higher, he will think twice before considering such. Besides, I want to be a responsible father to my children. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow but as for now, I want to get married to only one person, I want to take very good care of my children just as my parents did for me. That I am a Muslim does not mean I have to follow everything the Quran says. God says in the Quran, that you can marry up to four, but you have to satisfy them equally. There is a condition tied to it. No human being can satisfy that condition, if we are to be sincere and just.
So, what is the next step or move for Saka?
Well, the next move for Saka is to go on a TV series. Saka is planning a TV comedy serials. It is a story that runs from London to Nigeria and back to London. It’s a captivating drama.
Are you the producer of the series or just the lead character?
It is my production. I and a friend are planning to be on air before the end of this year. God willing, if we are able to get sponsors, we will get it on air but we are working on it right now. We have been able to shoot the London leg of the series. We are lecturers, so as soon as we finish the session and we are on long vacation, we will shoot the Nigerian part of the drama. Before the end of the year, we hope to finish the post production and throw it in the air.
It must be really hectic combining acting, modeling with your lecturing job?
Oh, certainly, it is hectic but what can one do. Man must survive. Besides, it’s the passion. I am able to combine all perfectly without any lapses for the other. God has been very helpful.
This production of yours will gulp a fortune or don’t you think so?
Well, we are putting all our investment and our very best into it and of course, hoping to get sponsors. What is worth doing at all, is worth doing well, abi no be so? (Laughs).
How were you able to sustain the love?
I think it is the passion. Nobody actually told me that there was no money in the arts. I saw it for myself. The money started coming in not quite long ago. I used to do one man show round the country. There was a year I invested about N30, 000. It was big money then. At the end of the show, I found it hard to realise one thousand naira. There was no money but the passion and the love for theatre kept me going. A lot of people advised me to leave but I don’t see myself doing other things. It was the passion, the gift and the courage from Almighty God that has been keeping me on up till now. I thank God for it because level don dey change.
With all these activities, do you still make time for your family?
God is an excellent planner of time for human beings. If you listen to your God, you will never fail in his time. God has time for everything and he has been able to plan everything for me, right from the beginning of my life. First, he gave me a very loving and understanding wife, who is capable of taking care of my home.
When I leave location, I go home, not just to a house. My children are very understanding. They love and they know what I am doing. Because I teach theatre, it is not really difficult for me to practice it. It is not a big deal. My producers and directors know that I don’t have much time on week days because I need to be in the classroom. Except I travel out of the country, I don’t stay more than a week outside of my home. I create time for my children. They know me and I know them very well.