Oba Olusegun Ayodele Akinbola, the Aladeokun of Alade-Idanre, Ondo State, used to be a journalist with the Nigeria Television Service (NTS), as well as a lecturer of Dramatic Arts at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. In this interview with ADEWALE OSHODI, the royal father speaks on his time at the NTS, as well as the dwindling fortune of theatre in the country. EXCERPTS:
YOU used to be with the Nigeria Television Service (NTS), which later changed to the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), how did you find yourself in television?
I started my life as a store-keeper at the Medical Stores in Ikeja, Lagos. We used to have just only four regions then in the country — we had Eastern region, Western region, Northern region and Mid-West region. It was in my presence that the Mid-West was created. I was then a store keeper at that time. So I went to the university and graduated in 1967; after my graduation, I got employed with the Nigeria Television Service (NTS) as a producer. I was with the NTS until 1972, when I joined the teaching staff of the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. I was at the Institute of African Studies. During my time at NTS, I travelled far and wide, and I then knew what journalism was all about. I directed news, I worked with news people, and I was the second producer of The Village Headmaster, while Sanya Dosunmu, the Olowu of Owu, was the first producer.
You ascended the throne of your forefathers in 1995, so how has it been coming from the academia to becoming a king?
The transition has been as it can be; the world does not like change, and if you had undergone any operation, then you would know that change can be hard. A good example is tooth removal; when a new tooth is fixed for you, you don’t like it, but after some time, you get used to it. However, despite the fact that the world does not like change, when you know that becoming a king is your last bus stop — you don’t get transferred; you don’t resign; they don’t get sacked unless you do sacrilegious things — and you are just there until eternity, so you just have to accept where you find yourself. However, there are changes that come over you after sometime, like social changes, religious changes, general changes, among others. When I started, I started low, but I am not where I was. It was not a surprise, and being somebody who was into theatre, and somebody who taught theatre, I found it interesting to come from the academics. I’ve never had any crisis since I became king because I have been using the experiences garnered over the years to manage the affairs of my people; however, I must say everything has been God?
While you were in theatre, what did you find most irritating about the set-up?
What the audience wants to know are the actors on stage; nobody wants to know who directed the play. It is unfortunate that other people who work for the success of the play don’t mean anything to the audience. I did theatre technology, and my work on stage was as important as the work of any other person in any production, including the lead actor.
How was live theatre in the years gone by, and how is it now?
This is my surprise, theatre has changed from what it was when I was still practicing. All of a sudden, home videos took over from live theatre, but I am sure we are going back to live theatre, and that will be very soon. This is because home video is just only money-minded. In home videos, you find an actor in a play, and after that, he begins to look financially buoyant. Maybe after the production, the actor is paid N500,000, and he goes to buy a Jeep, and he begins to use that as a bait to negotiate for another movie. The glamour of home video is over because intelligent ideas are no longer forthcoming. When you watch home videos today, what you find will be violence, money rituals, gun violence, promiscuity, among other negative things. Also, home video has made our artistes to be lazy; after doing a production, the work is seen all over the world, and that is the end for the actor. However, for a live production, the work is taken around, and this will give the actors the opportunity to feel the mood of the audience. If they are doing well, the actors will know immediately, and vice versa.
In 1985, I organised students of the Dramatic Arts of the University of Ife, and we toured the whole of Osun State, staging The Gods are not to Blame. We had 25 performances, and although money was not there, we nevertheless performed to the satisfaction of the audience. The audience was able to feel the artistes live, and they spoke with them after each performance; this is not possible in home videos. The glamour of home videos has spoilt the beauty and legacy of theatre, and I hope that very soon, Nigerians will return to live performances.
How soon do you think Nigerians will return to watching live performances on stage?
We all have a lot to do; people now find it hard to go to the theatre to watch live performances because satellite television has brought theatre to every home. In a single day, one can watch tens of home videos. However, we need to return to the theatre culture; I am sure that artistes are now tired of the screen limitation. An artiste can shoot a whole two-hour movie in a small room, and the audience will not know. The theatre also makes the audience know how sound an artiste is. In home video, any person can play any role, as the director will only be cutting until the actor gets the interpretation perfectly. This is not possible in live theatre.
Some theatre experts believe the security situation in the country is responsible for the fate that theatre has suffered, as some people prefer to stay indoors at night than go to the theatre to watch performances, what do you have to say to this?
I don’t want to support those who are saying this; people still go to watch football matches at night; they don’t stay away because of the security situation in the country. In fact, football stadia are likely to attract hooligans than theatres. So I won’t accept that the security situation is responsible for the fortune of theatre in Nigeria today.
You recently celebrated your 21st year on the throne; what difference have you made in the lives of your subjects?
This is a very common question among journalists. In actual fact, I am not in a position to say this is what I have been able to do for my people. I can only say that Alade people themselves should be able to highlight how I have positively impacted their lives. One thing I want to say, however, is that this was not how the town was when I ascended the throne. So I believe we have experienced tremendous development, but to be telling you what I have done or influenced is what I don’t do; my people are in the best position to talk about that.