Emmanuel Adejumo is the son of popular comedian Moses Adejumo, aka Baba Sala. He tells OLUFEMI ATOYEBI how his father survived after the original copy of his most popular film was stolen
What are the children of Baba Sala doing to preserve his legacy in the art industry?
Before my father left the stage, he encouraged his children to imbibe his skill as an artiste and stage director. He has many children and through various channels, they are all doing their best to protect what he achieved as an artiste. Some of us are in Europe, the US and other parts of the world.
I am an artiste, a dancer, a stage director, a musician and multi-instrumentalist. These are the skills I got from many years of following my father as he travelled around to showcase his numerous talents. He showed me so many things as an artiste, growing up in the family and seeing him doing so many things. I grew up to develop interest in what I saw in him. In my childhood days, I watched my father singing, playing the guitar and directing his show on the stage. He started as a musician long before I was born. He is still an amazing person but he is now an old man.
How would you describe Baba Sala?
Baba Sala is a comic character played by my father. It portrayed the figure of an old man that exhibited a funny character in many films. In some films, he was a poor man trying to be smart and in other films, he was a wealthy old man. There were other characters like Okondo (Sola Shoremekun) and Adisa (Deji Bankole) who assisted Baba Sala in entertaining the audience. He was loved by his fans in Nigeria and abroad. The character gained an unlimited appeal among the people in all ranks. Children and adults rushed to film theatres and cinema halls where Baba Sala was performing in those days.
They also kept the date to watch him on the television. The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was eager to meet him many years ago. He thought he was an old man who loved to make people laugh. But when he got to our house in Yemetu, Ibadan, he was surprised that Baba Sala was at that time a young man who used costume to create stage identity for himself.
In real life, my father is not bothered by any circumstance. He takes life very simple. Instead of getting annoyed, he will just laugh loudly and move on. He is also a loving father who wants us to take after him.
How was growing up under him like?
Although he still looks for the funny side of all situations, growing up under him wasn’t that easy because he demanded perfection from everyone around him.
My mother was the first Sala when he started acting. I was so young and I had to travel from one city to the other with my parents. For me not to disturb them on stage, I would be tied to a chair at the back of the stage.
My father is a strict disciplinarian. He doesn’t take nonsense from both his wives and children. He loves honesty and trained us with it. He also loves God so dearly and trained us with the fear of God. He is a very deep Christian although he is a polygamist. Each time he was working on a film, he would engage in fasting and prayers and asked us to do the same.
With his busy schedule, how much of his time did he devote to his family?
Because he travelled a lot, he employed two nannies to take care of his children. We named them Iya Adura one and two. Because he has many wives, he is also blessed with many children. Most of his wives were members of his theatre group called Alawada. So whenever they were going to perform, the nannies looked after us.
How long did he stay away from home?
He could be away for three months or less depending on the schedule of the tours. But whenever he returned from such trip with my mother and his other wives, my father would buy a lot of things and ensured that he stayed with us for at least one month before he embarked on another trip. He would ask us what we wanted and if there was any problem with the nannies while he was away. He also organised Christmas parties for us and other children in the neighbourhood.
How much interest did he show in his children’s education?
One of the things he told us was that because he did not have the opportunity to go to school, we should try as much as possible to excel in our academic work. He would say that he was ready to provide us with everything we needed to be successful in school. Each time he was at home with us, he took time to check our books and asked questions. He hated failure and he punished any child that failed in academic work.
When I was in primary three, I failed my second term examinations and he flogged me. In the third term, I was one of the best in the class and he showered me with gifts. When he beat any of his children, it was meant to correct the child.
How did you know when he was serious since he joked all the time?
Because we know our father, we know his likes and dislikes. So we would not do anything that could upset him in order to avoid his anger.
How was life in a polygamous home?
It was actually interesting because the wives respected each other. In those days, parents would not allow their daughters to stay away for so long just because they were acting. It was the reason why my father married many wives. He told us many times that although he married many wives, none of his children must do the same.
In those days, many people looked down on theatre artistes, so they did not allow their daughters to marry them. The belief was that artistes were rough, dropouts and nuisance in the society. But my father’s success changed the impression so it was easy for him to approach the women for marriage. His children are successful in their callings. There are lawyers, doctors and artistes among us.
My father led the life of a Christian and continuously preached love in the family. In our house, it is difficult to know that the children are from different mothers. We are still inseparable. Most of the time, I slept in my step-mother’s room. There were misunderstandings but it never threatened the unity and love in the house. I am sure my father was lucky to have such bond in his home.
When there was misunderstanding among the wives, the eldest played the role of a mediator and they all listened to her. None of them must report to my father directly. The wives attended parties wearing the same cloth and during the festive periods, my father would buy the same cloth for the whole family, so during a Christmas or Easter celebration, we wore the same thing.
Don’t you think marrying many wives and having many children had its financial toll on your father’s life?
He made money and spent it to develop people around him. He is a modest person who lives according to what he has. He is retired now but he has lived a fulfilled life and achieved what people of his age achieved during his own time. He built houses and made a name all over the world. He performed in Europe and in the US. He could adapt to any situation and that helped him when he had problems. I was with him in a remote village where he had gone to perform and there was no hotel to sleep. We all slept on the bare floor of the theatre hall. In the morning, we all ate what was available in the village. He did not send his driver to go to the town and buy food. When he had problems, he travelled to many places in public transport and people saw the real individual in him.
How does it feel to be the son of a famous artiste?
My father’s name has opened the doors of success for me. I receive many favours from people when they realise that I am the son of Baba Sala. Many people tell me that they loved watching him in those days. They would ask me where he is now and what is he doing. I was stopped by the police sometimes ago and after checking my papers, it was discovered that one of them had expired. I begged them to let me go because I was rushing to a show where I was to play the lead role. I told them I am Baba Sala’s son and I was allowed to go. In the university, an administrative officer offered to help me with my registration because she said watched my father on the television in those days. My father built a name and he protected it with good behaviour.
What has become of Awada Spot which your father built in Ibadan?
It was built as a guest house and relaxation centre in those days. It was a popular spot at the time and influential people patronised it. My mother managed the place for many years but my father has given it out to one of his brothers who served him for many years.
Did you appear in any of your father’s movies?
Many of his children played different roles in his work. Sometimes, we stayed behind the scene making things work. But my elder brother, Biodun Adejumo, played major roles in most of our father’s movies. I featured in Obe-gbona, Return Match, The Diamond and a few others.
What about the other major characters that worked with your father?
Some of them like Adisa and Okondo are now dead. But they are part of our history. They contributed to the success of my father on the stage and we were born into their hands. Adisa and Okondo were like fathers to us.
Who was behind the theft of your father’s film, Orun Mooru, and how did he respond to the loss?
One of the people in charge of our films and a driver were tricked by a man to release the film for him to show his wives. The man paid them N500 but when he did not return it the second day, they went to his house but he had absconded with the original copy of the new film. All efforts to trace him were to no avail. It was a major loss because my father took National Bank loan to produce the film and he used his major assets as surety. We later heard that the film was already on Video Home System in the North.
My father trusts people but he was betrayed by his workers. He ran to many places but he could not get money to pay back the loan and the bank started going after him and threatening to sell off his property. He ran to another bank to take another loan for the production of Aare Agbaye, hoping that the profit would help pay back the National Bank loan. But Nigeria’s economy was already on the slide so proceeds from the film did not solve the problem. In 1993, he sold his house in Mushin, Lagos to pay the loan. It was a very big house and selling it was a big loss but it helped to take away our burden. The problem ruined him and it affected the family. The driver and the other man who gave the film out are now dead.
But while he was living with the problem, he believed in God. He would call us and tell us the story of Job in the Bible and that we should put our hopes in God. He kept encouraging us to pray. But today, he is a free man. He now devotes his time to serving God as a church minister in Ilesa. He no longer owes any bank and he drives the car he likes now.
What were the challenges he faced while producing films in those days?
He is a talented man and he had great people around him. But I think the film industry generally was missing modern technology. If my father had had the opportunity to use modern technology to produce his films, he would have been one of the best in the world. But there is nothing that today’s actors have achieved that my father did not achieve as an artiste.
What is the relationship between him and Sunny Ade?
Their relationship is very cordial. My father taught Sunny Ade how to play the guitar and how to be a successful performer. He calls my father ‘director’ and assisted him financially. He even bought a car for my father.