In the 44 years you are talking about, I have done more than acting. I am a trained movie director also; I was trained at NTA as a producer and I served them for 13 years before I retired. I have a master’s degree in acting and directing. Of course, I also built a name in the corporate world while I was acting as well. I would say it is the grace of God, hard work and passion for what I love to do. That is my staying power. Every day you want to surpass where you were in life the previous day.
All through the 13 years you worked with NTA, why didn’t you bother to delve into broadcasting?
I presented some programmes and I was also writing for them. Like I said earlier, I am more than an actor. We used to create series content. I was a broadcaster at the time essentially.
For someone whose father was a professional, an engineer, how come he allowed you to start acting at a tender age but frowned upon your decision to make it a life time career?
When I was growing up, I did some acting and it was my father that was taking me everywhere. He would buy me books, including comics. I think he did all that so that I could broaden my horizon but I caught the acting bug early in life. During that period, I just felt like acting was what I was meant to do and I kept at it. By the time I was in secondary school at Lagelu Grammar School, Ibadan, I knew what I wanted to become in life and that was the period we fought. Everybody wanted me to become an accountant because the banks were still very good.
When you say you had a fallout with your father over your career choice, what specifically do you mean?
We actually just had a man to man talk. Everybody used to be afraid of my father because he was a giant. He had a lot of apprentices and street boys who were always willing to do his bidding. My father’s word was final on that street that we lived in; so for me to have flouted his orders meant I must have crossed the Rubicon. It was more of an interrogation than a talk and after I was persistent that acting was what I wanted to do, he said I could not do it in his house. That was the fallout. He was very angry and because I was his favourite child, he was very disappointed. That’s how I went into apprenticeship with a drama group which was led by Professor Bode Sowande of the University of Ibadan. That is how it all started. I thank God that I became a star before my father died.
Being a star at 22 years old must have exposed you to a lot of things…
Oh! Yes it did. As at then, there weren’t many stars on the television. I remember the programme that made me a star, ‘Why worry,’ everyone wanted to meet me, including the governor. The speaker of the House of Assembly sent for me and they did not even know that I was a young man because I was playing the role of a 60-year-old.
It was a shock for me at first and at that age, what did I care about? I had no one to look after, so we were open to everything. Luckily, hard drugs were not in circulation then, so I never took drugs. We never saw them in our circle in those days; so it was just alcohol, cigarettes, girls and parties. We could attend parties at four states in a night. Many people died during that time. We could go to Oyo State, frolic there for about two hours, then head to Ilorin where we could spend about two hours as well. Then we could move on to Abeokuta, end up in Lagos and then go back to Ife via Ibadan all in one night.
How come you never had a child out of wedlock?
My time was different and the girls were brought up better than the ladies of these days. Those were the days when you had to woo a girl. You had to write poems and love letters. These days, you don’t need to woo any girl, just look at her and she would follow you. This is something that I have seen. In our generation, you rarely saw people have children out of wedlock. There were a few cases but 80 per cent of us waited to get married before having children.
You said you were your father’s favourite, is that why you hardly talk about your mother?
I was very close to my mother and I look like her facially. I got my body stature from my father. I was very close to my mother but she was the kind that always pushed us to our father so that you could be straightened out. She was not the kind of mother that would spoil you. I must say that when I wanted to become an actor, she gave me her full support. When I became very popular, they started calling her Mama Why Worry.
How would you describe your days in the University of Ife?
I was an activist on the side but in those days when we studied drama, they always asked us in the department to choose which one we wanted to do: whether we were there to study drama, do sport or activism. If you goofed in the department, they might give you one more chance and if you messed up again, they would kick you out. Studying drama at that time was as tough as being in the barracks;, it was like being a soldier. If Wole Soyinka was there at 7am, who are you to be late? We would be at the theatre till 12 midnight with him and as he was leaving, he would always say, measure your pleasure but as young men, we would go to drink somewhere and we would start scrambling at 6:30am to make it to class on time. At a point, I had to let activism go and I focused on drama.
What was it like being taught by Wole Soyinka?
I remember the first class he taught us; he kept on talking and giving note but we were just staring at him. When he realised that nobody made a sound, he turned back and realised we were all star struck. The class turned from a lecture to him telling us to snap out of our amusement and get used to the fact that he was our lecturer.
At a time when your mates were travelling to London or America to further their studies, why did you choose to go to Bulgaria?
That was in the early 80s; I went to Bulgaria because of my passion for theatre. Those eastern Europeans understood theatre. I believed that was the best place to study and I was right because when I came back to Nigeria, things really worked for me and I got a lot of acting gigs. I attended Sofia in Bulgaria. That is where I bagged my master’s degree. I also studied languages because of my love for it.
When I was in Sofia, I was involved in politics and I became the leader of all the Yoruba people in that country at a point in my life. I was also the goalkeeper for the national team in Bulgaria.
So why did you quit sport?
My professor called me to ask which I would rather opt for between acting and sport. I chose the theatre because I had never wanted to be a professional footballer. It was easy for me to make a choice. It helped me because I came out with the best overall result in that school, the same way I was a distinction student in Ife.
If you had so much passion for theatre, why did you delve into the corporate world?
When we started studying drama, there was no money in it. They used to say we were doing art for art’s sake. When we left the university, things were still like that and we could not earn enough to feed the family. I know a lot of my friends who lost their family because of that, so what I did was to get another stream of income and that is how I went into marketing management. I have a postgraduate diploma certificate in marketing management. With that, it was easy for me to get jobs. I also did Public Relations and Advertising before I went to work for a bank and telecommunications industry.
I branched out because of the money and it helped me to continue with my theatre job until the industry blew up some years ago.
How were you able to combine your role in the corporate world with acting?
Apart from the grace of God, I am a very scheduled person. I used to work overnight, weekends and even during my leave so that my face would still be seen on the television. It was easy for me because I was at the top of the corporate ladder. I was at the directorate level.
How did your bosses and even colleagues relate with you in the office as a popular face on the screen?
Some people loved me while some others did not. I had a boss when I was working in the bank who did not like the idea. The day he saw me on television, he had to ask me where I had the time for acting. From that day, he began to monitor me. There were days he would barge into my office immediately he resumed work for the day just to ensure that I was at work and performing my duties and I would be there working.
There was a day he simply told me to quit acting but I declined by reminding him that it did not affect my job. I never slacked off at work and I am a very scheduled person. After a while, I just got used to the hard work.
How do you relate with your female fans?
I always run from women. We can hang out but when it is getting personal or sexual, then I take a bow and leave. If I had to sleep with every woman that had approached me since I started this work, I probably would be dead by now. At this level, my wife is more like my companion, we talk and she gives me sound advice. At a particular age, I was not interested in advice but to just jump into the car and head to the club. I have always run away from women, I mean I literally run from them. We can be friends but when it is becoming something else, I run.
In your early days when you wanted to choose a wife, were there girls that schemed to be Mrs. Lewis?
The one I ended up marrying got it right because when the others were always there to go to the clubs and parties, when they were too available, she was not. They were always flocking around me because they wanted to be seen as my girlfriends.
The lady I ended up getting married to never did that and even when she showed up, she would just sit down quietly despite the number of girls she saw around with me. That was how I knew she was the one. We got married eventually and she had children for me before the marriage fell apart.
When we got married, I decided to be a faithful husband and I was always taking my wife everywhere, even to joints and that was a bad move. Some friends had to tell me not to move around like that with my wife.
How did you feel when your first marriage broke up?
I felt very bad, it was such a disappointment. We had all sorts of problems and I felt she did not do well but what can I do? If a woman does not want you, there is nothing you can do about it.
Did you not fight to get your ex-wife back?
We tried everything, ranging from counselling, couples therapy, everything. You should know that before a marriage breaks up, it does not start in a day. The little things that never mattered became big issues. Everyone was brought on board to help us sort our differences out; our church and family also intervened but it just did not work with her because she was the one who quit. We tried reconciling for a year but she called it off.
They say the children bear the brunt during divorce situations…
It is true, it was a very tough period for the children and because of them, I had to make some sacrifices and compromise. They were affected in one way or the other.
For someone who was married for two decades and all of a sudden became single, how were you able to adapt to bachelorhood?
When the marriage failed after so much efforts in trying to patch things up, I advised myself to move on. I got married again; I did not stay in the singles’ market for too long, otherwise I would have become a playboy. I went into another marriage which also did not work out. Then for the third time, I gave marriage a shot and it is working out fine. I am in my third marriage.
Some people would have given up on the institution called marriage, why did you keep attempting it?
I don’t know, my wife actually asked me why I was getting married again to her and honestly, I can’t answer that question because I already have children. Maybe, somehow God wants to use me as an example because I love that sacred union called marriage and I know both parties have to work hard to make it work. If it works, it helps the children and even those involved. I think maybe God just wants people to know that what had happened does not matter.
Was your wife not scared or sceptical about getting married to you after two failed attempts?
I had to prove myself to her and I talked a lot.
How did you meet her not to talk of convincing her to marry you?
My wife was a secretary to a friend and I used to have an office space in that same building. Anytime I was less busy, I was always at that my friend’s office. Besides, we had a jazz bar at the basement of the building, so after work, we always converged on the bar. When I was having all my marital problems, she was there and even heard some of my story while I was discussing with my friend who was her boss. She observed me and according to her, she always said that I am not as bad as people think I am. The day I eventually asked her out, she refused my offer. But honestly, she is the one that has made me smile again.
Don’t you think that your career probably caused your marital crisis back then?
The truth is that if you work too much, they would call you a workaholic and when you decide not to do anything, the same people would call you a jobless idiot. The important thing is that before I met them, I was already doing my work; so they came on board knowing the nature of my job. This is what puts food on my table, so you cannot be eating my food and taking my money only to turn around to say that I work too much. How do I reconcile that? I have always created time for my family and I cherish spending quality time with my family. Most weekends, I am with my family.
When did you encounter the happiest and saddest day of your life?
The happiest day of my life was when I gave up everything I had to become an international evangelist. The saddest was when I discovered some things they do in church that ought not to be, so I quit.
So at a point in your life, you were an evangelist?
Yes, I am a trained and ordained evangelist who went on missions.
What led to your call from God?
I have always been a Christian but at a point, I met with a group of people who really showed me the scripture. I was baptised but I felt it in my heart to do more for God. At that time, I was a controller in a bank.
If you were ordained and even went on missions, why did you quit being an evangelist?
When I saw some things that were being done in church, those we were meant to look up to and learn from, I was amazed. I tried to change the status quo but they refused, so I left. The bible states that God would begin his judgment in the church. I tried to fight the ills that were being done but they fought back and the truth is that it is difficult for one man to fight an institution. I would not want to mention the name of the church.
So you do not minister the word of God to people anymore?
I just let my lifestyle and work speak for me. I also mentor people.
Was it difficult for you to change your lifestyle after your ordination?
I dropped everything negative I was doing then and it was not difficult for me because I felt the call. I really felt the call; I was not assigned by somebody. I was not living a life of lie, I was true to my calling and you would not believe the places they kept sending me to.
Places like were?
They sent me to Muslim nations, war fronts. I was the evangelist in charge of the Mano River areas; places like Conakry and Liberia. I started a church in Sierra Leone and I am talking about the period when they used to chop off people’s arms. I was sent to places like Guinea Bissau. Where I lived in Conakry, you dare not say you are a Christian because they would cut off your hand, so that you would not be able to carry your bible. I lived right in the midst of the fundamentalists, so you can imagine the incredible miracles God has used me for; miracles that I cannot begin to count but when I saw what the ‘big bosses’ were doing in church, I had to pull out.
But was your call by God dramatic?
No it was not and that is part of the problems that we have. The church has become so dramatic that you think that everything that has to do with the spirit must be dramatic, spectacle, screaming, etc. That is not the Holy Spirit because he is so gentle; you would not even know you have him until he uses you for his glory. The Holy Spirit does not make people to fall down like evil spirits do. You see some people performing deliverance and people would be falling but in the bible, the only thing that made people to fall down was evil spirit. I just felt God’s call in my heart and that was in the 90s. Before the call, I was with the bank and I had a car, a house and a driver, so you can imagine how much I was earning. The bank was paying for everything I was doing. I was riding a Mercedes Benz at the time and I was not yet 40 years old. I had such a great future in the bank and my boss would not forgive me till date for quitting because he was grooming me for the top. I just left everything, sold all I had and joined the ministry. I passed through some incredible experiences even with armed soldiers but I was saved by God. After going through all that, I realised that the ‘ogas’ were messing up, so I challenged them.
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