Jibola Dabo, the veteran Nollywood actor, has talked about his life and career.
In this interview, he speaks to EMMANUEL OJO about his growing up, career and related issues
At what age did you start acting?
I started acting even before my primary school days back then in Owo, Ondo State, not professionally though. In those days, elders in the community would just put a story together and assign a character to me. I was famous for playing the character of Samson in the story of Samson and Delilah; that was in 1963. I was in the dramatic society in high school and since then, I have been embedded in drama. So, I basically just knew and discovered myself in the art world.
What schools did you attend?
I started at St. Andrews Primary School in Owo, Ondo State but completed primary school at Methodist Primary School. My secondary school was New Church Grammar School, still in Owo. My higher education was abroad.
Did you come from a wealthy background?
I grew up in a family that didn’t have excess. We were not hungry but we were not rich either. I was the third of six children and the second male. I learnt to fend for myself a long time ago because I was just 11 when my father passed on, leaving my mum to raise six children. So, going through high school, I had to work during weekends, either in someone’s farm or at a building construction site as a labourer. I did all that in a bid to reduce the financial burden on my mum. It was rough.
Then, there was this local theatre or masqueraders’ group that I used to follow to perform and they would give me sugar or biscuit. Back then I also loved playing soccer. Till date, football is my thing and I think that is part of what makes me look agile. Sports and arts have always been my life.
How were you able to travel abroad for studies? Did you get a scholarship?
No, it wasn’t a scholarship. Acting took me abroad. I was already an actor as of when I travelled abroad. So, when we arrived at the United States of America, we were like celebrities. I was the leader of the Black Heritage Dance Theatre. I was even teaching some students who were into African Studies. I did a lot of security and garbage collection jobs. That was how I funded my education.
Having been an actor over these long years, how have you managed to remain relevant in the industry?
That is the grace of God. I am thankful to the creator for all He has done. I don’t want to go self-praising. I am grateful for being able to have remained relevant. I operate by the philosophy that what is worth doing at all, is worth doing well. After the grace of God, it is consistency and being able to know that there is no end to learning.
Overall, the experience has been wonderful. We’ve been through the ups and downs of the industry. Some of us have been here from when actors weren’t even getting paid or respected. I have had to travel back from the United States to do some shows that I wasn’t paid for, just because it’s my passion. But today, we see actors doing great things legitimately. It’s been a wonderful experience and I know we are still growing. I’m most grateful to God that I was here then and I’m still here now.
What do the awards and recognition that you’ve got for your works mean to you?
Well, once again, I’m appreciative of these awards but there are several awards that I really don’t think much of. And for someone like me who has been privileged to receive awards outside the country, even before I started receiving awards in Nigeria, I know what awards mean and what they should mean. For example, it was in 1989 when I received the choreography award in the United States of America and I was given thousands of dollars so that I could take time off to create another work. That’s what awards are about over there. Back here, there are awards that you are basically buying, which I don’t subscribe to. They want to give you an award and they are expecting you to donate something. I don’t need to buy awards. If you know that I’m deserving of an award, then give it to me; it’s not for me to come and give you money. I’ve got awards that I really appreciate, including international awards as best actor of the year. One was the Zuma Awards and I appreciated it so much because it was handed to me by the French ambassador in Abuja. In a nutshell, there are awards that are well respected while others are not. With due respect, I don’t care much about those awards.
Is there a method by which you get into your assigned roles?
There is an important element in acting, which is hardly talked about today because everyone just wants to be an actor, especially the young people. They just feel that they can act but if you don’t have it, you don’t have it. You get the script, read it and then try to become the character. That’s a very important element of acting. If you don’t become your character, then you will present a non-dimensional acting. You will be flat and there will be no depth in it. What I do is to read my script and a lot of time I try to remove that character from the story and see what’s missing. That’s why it is also not easy to be a director. Some directors try to kill the actors because they want to impose their own picture, forgetting that an actor is multi-dimensional. A good actor can become any character, and I think I’ve experienced the outcome of such in-depth acting over the years. What you see on TV is actually not me.
Are there roles you can no longer play, irrespective the amount of money involved?
Yes; things like nudity because I don’t think our society is quite ready for that. I’ve played a few roles that later haunted me because our society doesn’t understand. There was this TV thing I did about a one-night stand, where I worked a lot with my fantasy. This story was actually reality in fiction and for us to tell this story, somebody had to play that role. My performance became a topic for social media debate. There were those who described me as useless for taking on that role. Meanwhile, there was an audition for that role that several actors came for but were not picked because they didn’t deliver it well. I was picked for the role because they felt my interpretation was the best. But when the work came on screen, people misjudged.
I remember a scene in one of these movies that I had to kiss a man. I despise cigarette smoking and I can’t even stand it; but the guy I had to kiss is a smoker. Each time I kissed this person’s lips and the director said cut! I went to spit and rinsed my mouth with water and the guy kept saying, ‘Uncle, sorry’. But the public wouldn’t see that. All they see is me kissing a guy and some people were saying, ‘How is he comfortable kissing a man?’ I got calls from all over.
It also affected me when I thought of the need to help my community and I went into politics. People used it against me, saying, ‘Is this the person who will represent us?’ Some pictures came out from the movies and called mess. A young man actually phoned me and also called me out and said a whole lot of nasty things to me. He said his dad allowed him to go into theatre when he discovered me but now, I had disappointed him because I took some of those roles.
I was told that I was actually supposed to be led out and stoned. A woman once slapped me at a gas station in Alapere because of a role I took in a movie where I fell in love and moved in with a young girl. After she slapped me, I thanked her for her reaction. What it really meant to me was that I played the role well. It doesn’t make me happy but somehow, I’m happy because it meant that my acting was real enough. So, it boosts my ego about the role. But that’s just one out of many experiences like that.
There seems to be a little controversy about your marital status. What is the situation really like?
I think the air should have been cleared now because the lady who was said to have had a child for me is known. I know you are referring to an actress, maybe there is no need to mention her name right now because she is also a celebrity.
Well, don’t you think mentioning would better clear the air?
Okay, she is Binta Ayo Mogaji. Well, we met in the theatre and were dating and then I left them there and went abroad but there was no mobile phone then and there was no way to communicate unless you came back home. In those days, when you wrote a letter, it might take six months for it to get to Ibadan from Lagos.
So, when I came home in the mid 2000s, we had a son, who is now 17 years old and he’s in his third year in Theatre Art at the university. So, when I came in the mid 2000s, we rekindled (our relationship) and the pregnancy happened; but, of course, I was married in the US and then my wife in the US knew about her (Mogaji) and she also knew about my wife in the US, even though I was already going through separation over there; so it wasn’t like I was cheating on somebody.
My wife in the US is a Black American. She is partly a native American-Indian and a Black American. So, Ayo Mogaji and I were never married, though she got pregnant. We were very mature about the situation; she was about 40 at that time and we couldn’t have suggested that she should go ahead to abort the pregnancy and thank God today that the child is thriving; he’s alive and doing well and we both love him.
Did you both have an agreement to move on separately?
Oh, yes. As a matter fact, we had a lifestyle that didn’t match. We were cool before I left for the US and don’t forget, people grow away from each other and the press, especially most Nigerian media, I must say, are not sincere. They say what the interviewee wants them to say but there is what we call investigative journalism. I studied mass media too, so I’m in one sense a journalist because I did broadcasting. I rarely see investigative journalism work in most reports I read. They knew exactly what was wrong between Ayo Mogaji and me; they knew that my complaint was about lifestyle and that eventually made us to go our separate ways and eventually she got married, and I believe that she is still married. We are very good friends till today; we still call to say hello.
Do you have other children apart from the son you had together?
Of course. He is my youngest son.
How many others do you have?
Well, in counting children, I’m a Yoruba man. I will mention a number of them but they are not all biological.
Did you also adopt?
Yes, you know. I have a big son who has given me about four grandchildren in the UK; so, I’m a grandfather and I’m looking forward to becoming a great-grandfather very soon. I don’t think I will like to talk about biological children when I know that my children who are not biological are also just as important to me; but in all, I have about eight children. I have a son who is making waves on the Internet right now. He is Dabo Williams; he’s a musician and I’m looking forward to launching him soon, hopefully.
What’s your opinion on polygamy?
Well, I’ll repeat what I said a very long time ago. I know it’s still in the newspaper somewhere. I said I have nothing against polygamy and I will never have anything against it. But the problem is that some people confuse polygamy with having a wife and having mistresses around. That is not polygamy. Polygamy is when the wife at home knows that you want to marry someone else and the other one comes home and they know each other. They either live together in the same or different quarters but they are aware of each other and co-exist. That is polygamy. My maternal grandfather had eight wives that I knew of. My own father had four wives and we lived together. As children, we ate from any of their pots of soup. I have an uncle then who had 11 wives and they all lived in the same house. That is polygamy but these religious peddlers will come around and condemn it. They will have a white wedding and put a ring on a woman’s finger yet, they will have mistresses all around the place and they will turn around to condemn polygamy. That is what is dangerous.
You mostly appear in white attire and you dress very youthful too. Is that delibrate?
For the white, that is what goes with my spirit. I am a very spiritual person and what suits my spirit is white, which signifies purity. However, on the surface of it, it is part of my brand. It gives me peace. For example, if I check into a hotel room and they can’t provide me with white bed sheets, I probably will have a nightmare; in most cases, yes. So, you need to understand what goes with your spirit. Everybody has what goes with their spirit; that’s why people have their colours. So, if it suits you, it probably does something to your spirit.
Does that explain why you keep and nurture white beard too?
No, that’s actually my brand. I didn’t give that to myself. That’s a brand God created for me. I can say I took it from my mum because dad died too soon. He was only 40 when he died but I was already grey when I was 40, that’s why people think I’ve been grey since forever. About wanting to appear smart, why not? I don’t think I want to be going about with agbada all the time and looking like my great-grandfather. I will wear that when necessary. I like looking smart. Your appearance is what people see when they see you.
Source: The PUNCH