Veteran actor, Jide Kosoko is an interesting personality. He has been in the film industry for over 50 years. He began his acting career as a child actor in 1964 with the Ifelodun Travelling Theatre Group. He has featured in several Nollywood movies of both English and Yoruba Genres. In this interview with VANESSA OKWARA, he speaks about being a polygamist, his opinion on certain women rights and sundry issues
How did your journey in the film industry start?
I’m over fifty years in the film industry. When we started, there were a lot of challenges in the industry. My professional life started as early as when I was ten years old. That was in a production called ‘Makonjuola’ by the Ifelodun Travelling Theatre Group. I lived then in the same community with late Chief Pat Ogundemi, the Doyin himself. He was the one who actually commercialised theatre in this part of the world. I had the opportunity of going to their house to see them do one thing or the other. When I went to secondary school, I was in the dramatic society. Even in Queens Street in Yaba where I grew up, I use to gather kids around and we formed our own theatre group to act. When the opportunity came in 1964, one of our neighbours, who was part of the production came and told me that they needed a boy of my age in the production. I couldn’t tell my parents because I knew they wouldn’t agree. I went there and met children of my age. We did an audition and I won that role. That marked the beginning of my career. It was a lead role for a small boy of that age and that was how the journey started.
Where your parents in support of you going into acting?
How do you think they felt? They had expected their son to be a doctor or a lawyer. My father kept on reminding me that I was a Prince. That I was not supposed to be entertaining people but rather be entertained. I am a direct descent of King Kosoko. But my mother was more aggressive with her refusal. There was a day I went to shoot a drama at NTV at Bar Beach in Victoria Island and was coming home from the production and people were hailing me, but my mother had laid ambush for me at home. I was given the best beating of my life that day. That did not stop my continuous love for the industry. In those days I was a bad boy, I must confess. Then I was not doing too well in my academics. I was just an average student. I was determined to be in the theatre. I was not even paid then. In fact I used to steal my parents money to give our leaders in the Ifelodun Travelling Theatre Group. Despite my parents’ opposition, I kept on being part of the theatre group.
Where you able to attend a higher institution?
After my training in the travelling theatre, I formed my own group in 1972. That was the year I finished my secondary school. It was called Jide Kosoko Theatre Company. One day, I did a production and I invited the then Federal Commissioner for works, Alhaji Tony Ogun as the chairman of the occasion and my father as the special guest of honour. Despite the commissioner giving me money, he advised me to further my education. I had already decided I was not going to further my education but to continue with my passion for theatre. But he was able to convince me. I went to Yaba College of Education but never stopped my love for the arts.
What else did you do when you finished school?
I worked in a shipping company at Apapa. I became a shipping officer. I was a ship agent for a long time. From there I got money to buy first, a Vesper before getting a Volkswagen. In those days I was changing jobs. Getting a job was not as hard as it is now. I also worked with Flour Mills of Nigeria. I kept using this money to sponsor my club. I was also in the masquerade for some time.
What are those movies that brought you out to the limelight?
In our own time, you cannot say it was a particular production. It was a combination of so many other productions which people had particular interests in. Though, I would say that my name became more prominent when I participated in ‘Awara kerikeri’ a Pidgin English programme.
What have been your gains and losses since you came into the industry?
For loses I would say maybe if I have not been in the movie industry, I would’ve been very rich. This is because of the kind of job I was doing and my take home package at that time. I was the first clerk to be the general manager in a shipping company. I was also the first African to be the general manager of Steve Industrial in Apapa. It was this company that made me to travel all around the world. If I had waited and concentrated at one of them, I know where I would have been today. But I am not saying that as if I have lost anything or in regrets. This is what I love to do and I am happy doing it. There were also so many obstacles and challenges.
Can you give us a preview on your thoughts on polygamy?
Well, you know I am a polygamist so I don’t have much to say. Already I belong to that institution and as much as possible you defend what you are. But the truth of the matter is that the best thing is one man, one wife. With the situation globally, even people with one wife are divorcing. That is why I want to talk more about the role of women in marriage. Look at those people agitating for the rights of women. I still strongly believe that Domestic Law is uncalled for.
Why do you say that?
That law is not meant for Africans. Some of our ladies are getting this thing into their heads and they are now creating serious problems in their homes. Women are not the same; I quite agree but I want to tell you that majority are bad. That is why I said, by the time I talk about women, majority will not like me. Women want to have power but I am more of a traditionalist. I don’t want Nigeria to be like England in terms of collapsed marriages and women being the head of homes or having absolute control.
Are you saying that women should be subjected by men?
That is not what I am saying. I am not in support of men that beat their wives and all that. But there are some things they must be subjected to. I am saying that it is not possible in Africa for women to have absolute control over their men. This is especially the ‘Acada women’ that is the educated ones. Anybody that gives them that opportunity in Africa will not die well. Concentration should be more on women’s behaviour to their husbands. I see my wife as my better half but in a situation where she wants to be a leader, I will not accept! I am advocating that there should be more programmes correcting women’s activities in the homes, this will checkmate some of their husbands excesses.
What do you make of the broken marriages we see lately among ladies in the industry, do you think it is this same issue you talked about that is causing their marriage breakup?
No, it’s not all of them. What is the percentage of people having problems in their marriage in the industry? They are just a minority. Is it because we are popular? Do you know as of this moment how many marriages that have been dissolved all over the world? But immediately you hear of artists divorcing, you are quick to condemn. I can tell you boldly that a lot of these actresses are good wives. It is the men that go for them that are their problem. This is because they went for them because they are popular. These ladies are not the only ones. We have them in other professions as well.
Some of your kids are in the industry. How did you get them to be interested in the profession?
I only prompted one to come into the industry. That was Ojuola I prompted her because she was not really interested in acting but there was a year I was disappointed by one actress, and I just told my daughter to come and try out that role. That was when I saw the potential in her. Today she is a star actress. She is enjoying today, after she finished the university she has never looked for job. In fact when she was in school at a point she was the one paying her school fees. Today almost all my children participate in one acting or the other. In the industry, I have three of them seriously in the industry today.
How many kids do you have?
You don’t ask a Yoruba man how many children he has. I am blessed with children and they are over one dozen.
You are one of the few Yoruba actors that made a smooth switch to also act English movies and appear in both types of movies. How were you able to achieve this?
An actor must be versatile regardless of the language barrier. I can act in an Indian language if they can give me a prompter.
Why do you think there is a demarcation between the two industries?
I don’t know; it could be tribalism. The first man that started the home video revolution in the county, Kenneth Nnebue met us the Yoruba actors on ground. In fact he first came to my office to see me before he started and asked questions and I gave him all the necessary information he needed.
He shot a lot of Yoruba films before even shooting ‘Living in Bondage’. That was the same year I shot ‘Ashirolu’. Both films did well in the market. I sold close to 200, 000 copies without publicity. ‘Living in Bondage’ was like an eye opener for them in the Igbo sector because Yoruba films have been in existence even before then.
But now they feel it is good to change history. They are now saying the film industry started 20 years ago. If the film industry in Nigeria is called Nollywood, then it didn’t start twenty years ago.
Yes, I agree it came and made its own impact. It was like an advancement of what has been on ground. Can you still compare that with where we started on the celluloid if not for the rise foreign exchange then? It was like a revolution and this revolution has stages. ‘Kongi’s Harvest’ I believe was before 1970’s. ‘Ija Orugun’ in 1976 opened the eyes of everybody.
It was an experiment by Ola Balogun on commercialising the industry.
In our days, we go to the theatre to stage our plays and people pay money to come and watch. Other revolution came up before we came to where we are today. So tell me where we picked the story that we are twenty years in the film industry in Nigeria? If we are not careful we can use this to quarrel in the industry. Already we have quarreled over it and there are moves to change it, taking the story from where it actually started.
What is style to you?
Apart from being a celebrity, there is need for you to look good always. You must be presentable. The style of dressing must compliment the occasion you are attending. I am first a Yoruba man so I cherish projecting the culture by my mode of dressing. I also wear a lot of suits. It all depends on the occasion or production.
What kind of wristwatches do you like?
When it comes to wristwatches, I am a freak. I am not into designer names, but once I see a good wristwatch I quickly go for it. I don’t have special wristwatch designer.
What would you like to be remembered for by your fans?
I would love to be remembered for my contribution towards the development of the industry. I have been one of the leaders. I am a former president of Nigeria’s largest acting organisation and as one of the energisers of the industry and its development