What I refused to inherit… —Adenuga
Ikebe Super, Super Story… We Are Pencil in God’s Hands et al, define him. Mr Wale Adenuga is also a delight to interview. He shares his stories with SEGUN KASALI.
WOULD you say you were born with a silver-spoon sir?
I would say yes. At the time I was born at Gbongan, my daddy (Chief J.A. Adenuga) was a big businessman at Ile-Ife [in the present Osun State]. When I was still young, he was the chief distributor for the Nigerian Tobacco Company and also chief distributor for NASCO biscuit distribution company. He had a number of petrol stations. Yes, he was a big trader, but being a polygamous family, my mother was at Gbongan, supervising the business there. By the time I was 10, I moved to Ile-Ife and we all grew up there. If you enter Gbongan today, you will still see Adenuga compound. You will see a petrol station, an open store. The station is still working. One of my younger brothers, Taiye, is operating it. My father was a disciplinarian and I wouldn’t say I did not indulge in excessive behaviour or youthful exuberance. All I know is that I had a normal childhood experience and I was a good boy, not rascally in any way.
I didn’t indulge in the youthful exuberance of smoking, drinking and all that. We were level-headed because my father was a disciplinarian. Before he started business in Gbongan, he was the headmaster of a school in Ibadan. You know, headmasters in the olden days were disciplinarians.
Give us an insight into primary school days?
Yeah, I attended a primary school at Gbongan called St. Luke. In my primary school days, I only knew I was brilliant. I was always taking the first position in class. Even when I got to secondary school; from form one to final form 5, I was first in my class. I was also first in Maths, Geography and English in addition to being overall first. I also knew I had these special talents in three areas: drawing, acting and singing. I started drawing at the age of six or seven. I never studied it in school. I never had any formal training in drawing. It was innate. I was born with it.
Were the talents hereditary?
I never knew, not until I was told that I took after my grandfather. I was told that the man was an artist and, in fact, he was a sculptor. He was a popular sculptor in Ijebu Ode. By the way, my parents are Ijebu, but migrated to Ife. In terms of singing, I wouldn’t know. But as early as form three or four, I formed a band at Ibadan City Academy. We used to call it Social Brothers Band. So, I formed a band then and we were singing Sunny Ade’s, Ebenezer Obey’s songs. We were singing all those songs entertaining the school. So, that was that at the Baptist Academy in 1967. In my primary school days, I only knew I had interest in drama. I was following the path of Ogunde theatre, Ogunmola theatre. They used to put up shows in town halls and every other place and I would sneak into the hall to watch. Of course, even at that young age, each time I watched Ogunde or Ogungbe or Ogunmola, I usually made a little magazine out of what I had seen. I tried to explain to those who didn’t attend the show. I put it in a story, in a cartoon form.
How was the journey to King’s College?
In primary school, I just knew I was good. But in secondary school, I took the first position throughout my secondary school. As I was the first overall, I was also the first in Maths, Geography and English. And then, at the end of the final exams, I left a record with the grades I got. Up till now, I don’t think they have broken the record. I scored A1 in Mathematics, A1 in English. I had A1 all through and I got a scholarship to King’s College, Lagos.
But as I said, I was more [active] on the social side. I had a band. I was the chief vocalist in school. Even when I got to King’s College for HSC, I also had a band there. I bought two or three instruments to start with. We had drums, we had sekere and all those things. Then, Sunny Ade was very popular and his songs were very popular too. Ebenezer Obey too was very popular. We sang songs like “Ajo o le dabi ile… E ba mi ki baba mi te ba dele”.
You know when I sang songs like “Ajo o le da bi ile… E ba mi ki baba mi, maa de le o,” I would be mentioning the names [of listeners]: “E ba mi ki Mr. Falodun o, maa de le”. And everyone would be clapping. Talent is talent and that’s why you can’t query talent, because talent is God-given. The school had no band and I formed the group myself. The band comprised about 12 people.
I was the best student in Ibadan City Academy. When I got to King’s College for HSC, I met guys who had better scores than me because there were guys there, who scored A1 in all the subjects. It was when I got there I discovered that elewon ni oga (a prisoner has a boss) (Laughs).
In those days, King’s College and Queen’s College were special schools. It was like you went to London, because that was where the children of the rich were going. But your result must speak for you before you get in. You would write an entrance exams and your performance from the exam would determine your admission to the school for HSC. I spent two years there.
What happened to the band?
There was disagreement. As I said l, I was in form three and some of my members were in junior classes. So, some of the junior members decided to organise a coup. They were very ambitious and they wanted to raise their own band. So, we parted ways and they formed their own, bought their own instruments and then I replaced them.
But what really caused the split?
There was no reason. When someone decided to be ambitious, there would be no reason. There was no money, but there was popularity and there were girls. I can’t even remember if there was money of sort, but you would enjoy recognition and popularity. Everybody would be hailing you in front of teachers.
And the girls?
Ah! Girls were toasting me and I would tell them ‘I am not here for this but to study’. You know toasting… Love letter was very popular then. I can’t count the number of girls that wrote love letters to me. It was part of my popularity. Because I was from a rich family, girls would make advances and thank God I didn’t lose my soul to such things.
Hope they weren’t fighting over you.
Yes, the only one that happened was that the same boy that organised coup in the band also tried to snatch my girlfriend. He was in form four and I was in form five then. He tried to snatch my girlfriend and the way he did it – he wrote a love letter about six pages to the girl, telling her that Senior David (me) doesn’t love her. That he’s my friend and he knows my mind. He said I have other girlfriends. In the letter, he gave reasons why the girl should leave me because I have other girlfriends and that he loves her. Unfortunately, for him, the girl thought it was a planned work when she got the letter. She thought I was aware of it and that I wanted to test her faithfulness. So, she just came to me in the class and said David I want to see you and I said okay, after school. She now said I disappointed her because I was doubting her love and that me and so so person went to write love letter to test her. She said any way, take back the letter both of you wrote. I collected it and read, seeing I love you. I saw ‘If I were given all the groundnuts in Kano, I will not leave you’ and all other sweet things. I now told the girl that you know what, I am not aware of this letter. Coincidentally, the girl and I were having normal quarrel and it was the boy who was encouraging the quarrel because he would come to me telling me the girl is this and that. So, I told the girl that if you love him more than me, you are free. But if you love me more than him, be rest assured that there would be no more quarrel between us. I collected the letter from her. When I got to the hostel, I met the boy laying on my bed and chatting. I said, Tunde you have a letter. He collected and opened it. He was so shocked. Till today, he can’t look me in the eye. Imagine betrayal at such age…! It was like God was preparing me.
Did you continue the relationship with your girlfriend at King’s College?
No, I think I had another girlfriend (laughs)
Did you go straight to UNILAG from King’s College?
No. I worked for a month supervising my dad’s business- Nigerian Tobacco Company. We had bicycles and we were distributing cigarettes all over Ile-Ife, Osogbo, Ede and the like. But the irony is smoking never appealed to me.
How much of you did UNILAG shape?
I entered in 1971 to study Business Administration. I could no longer show my interest in music because it was very rare in the university to find a band. But one thing I did was that I instantly became the chief cartoonist of a magazine. We used to call it “Bugging Magazine” in those days. We used it to abuse erring members so as to make them change their ways. That was what motivated me towards publishing. I remember a particular drawing. There was a man called Pa Owoeye, who talks while eating and spittle would come out from his mouth (laughs). In fact, after I drew him, he was away from school for three days. I also met my wife there. We were in the same Department of Business Administration. I think we entered at the same time. We started reserving seat for each other and so we became friends. I left UNILAG in 1974, but she had some courses to do.
What was your special ‘toasting’ line?
Normal things now. You may start like ordinary friends and it goes deeper, deeper and deeper. You check on each other at home. You go out to see movies. You receive your first kiss and all (laughs).
She isn’t of your ethnic stock. Any family pressure?
There was nothing like that on my own side. They accepted her. She is from Bendel then. It was a civilised family; they accepted whoever you love. However, there was initial resistance from her parents, regarding the experience her father had in Ijebu while he was a police officer. But, everything was later settled by one of his brothers.
How was it from UNILAG to stardom?
Well, I had these talents but the only one I exhibited in UNILAG was drawing. The magazine was very popular and it was heavily sold. So, when I left UNILAG, the idea of starting my own magazine popped up. I started collecting jokes and making cartoons for my own magazine and that was how Ikebe Super started in 1976. I employed people and I told them what I wanted. What I studied really impacted on the exhibition of my talents in my business.
Why the name ‘Ikebe Super’?
I was into cartooning in campus and the magazine was selling widely. So, on leaving the campus, there was this thirst and hunger in me to start something like that for the larger society. When you look at comedy, jokes about women sell well in the public. They are the most popular all over the world. And then, what informed the name was when I was doing my NYSC in Benin. They were teaching us local languages. So, someone now asked, ‘what do you call a woman with a big yansh’? The teacher now said “Ikebe” and everyone laughed. So, when the idea of magazine now cropped up and I wanted a funny name, I told my wife I would call it “Ikebe Super”. She laughed and I told her that so far you have laughed, that is what I would use. I wanted a name that is indigenous. I didn’t want to use English name. I left university 1974 and I went for my NYSC in 1975 and the magazine started in 1976. I used the youth service to gather jokes.
So, sex has been selling in the media for so long…
That was when we had the nude papers war. Every newspaper in Nigeria used to have a page 3 girl, where her boobs would be showing. They got that idea from London. So, the page three girl was selling and was bare-breasted. When Idiagbon and Buhari came with the concept of War Against Indiscipline, that pornography publication was banned. That was when we stopped. But Ikebe Super laid unbeatable records in this country because we were printing 600,000 copies at a go every month. But as the inflation bit harder, sales was coming down because papers were costing more and more everyday and prices were going up. So, I created all the characters In Ikebe Super on my dining table and I assembled the concepts. Then, I was not even using pencil to draw. A year after, we added “Super Story” in 1978. By 1982, the business was already big. I hit my first million naira in 1977. By 1978, I already built my house in Ejigbo. In 1982, I took N10,000 to Volkswagen of Nigeria and I bought three new cars. I also collected change. One car was about N3,000 then. I bought my two lands, where Binta International School is in Ejigbo for three thousand naira each. In the same 1982, I bought a Mercedes Benz for N6,000. Even in 1981, naira was stronger than dollars. Pound sterling was even one to one because I remember when I produced my first film (Papa Ajasco and Company) in 1983 or 1984, pounds sterling was one to one.
The debut of Super Story must be memorable.
It was fantastic. I can’t remember the title of the story, but it should be in library upstairs. It was the story of one boy that was dating two sisters without either sister knowing. By the time Taiwo discovered that he was married to her Kehinde in Lagos, she was already pregnant. She didn’t tell him that she has known. So, when she had the baby, she killed the baby and used it to make stew for the man. When the man finished the food and he started asking of the baby, she told him that you have just eaten your baby and bla bla bla. People started saying ah Wale the story is too much and that it is too gory. That was the first story we did.
An artiste said Wale Adenuga put bread on artistes’ tables in Nigeria.
Feed? How? No, that is what every producer does (laughs). I think he said that because we are more frequent and we have a practice of more than 30 years that when you work for me, you get your money before you leave the location. Other producers will be saying the show has not been aired yet and so they can’t pay now. Ever since I started business, my workers receive their salaries last day of the month. This is because I can’t stand it when I owe you three months and you come late and you now embarrass me by saying I went to borrow money from one of my uncles, in the presence of people.
“We are nothing but pencil”. How did you come about the signature tune sir?
I actually did not create that statement; it was created by a philosopher that I read and I fell in love with the content, because I saw myself sitting perfectly into the definition of the pencil that the man spoke about. The brain of the pencil is in the head of the person holding it. So, I see myself as having no brain but in the hands of God. The pencil also has an eraser, which means if you draw something wrongly, you can still clean it. This means I have the opportunity of turning a new leaf as a human being. But the most important quality about the pencil is that the most valuable part of the pencil is this black thing inside a valueless wood. Do you understand? Just like the most precious part of your body is your brain. So, if you see any man going after designer clothes, designer shoes, that person lacks something in the brain and he is trying to cover up by wearing designer stuff. You will never see Wole Soyinka wearing a shoe. He wears those Hausa’s slippers and his presence will still be felt. So, when I say I am nothing but pencil in the hand of the creator, I mean it is God holding me and that I am just a pencil in his hand. He is using me to create all these stories. I am a lover of quotations. If you check all my magazines, you will see quotations and the quotations will meet up with what is happening. I love quotations because they summarize things you want to say.
Sir, what is that thing that makes you shed tears when alone?
A lot of things make me shed tears, particularly when I remember my mother is no more because she died when I had nothing. You can imagine if she was around now, I could afford to buy her a house. So, that kind of things, brings tears to my eyes. I still give thanks to God anyway. Is it about some sicknesses that almost took one’s life and at the end of the day you don’t know how you came out of it. Another is that I have an attitude of gratitude. When I pray, I don’t ask for anything. This is because I know He knows my needs.
Which of your traits did you inherit from your father?
Business acumen. He was able to manage so many businesses at a time. He taught me a lot of values in business. He taught me honesty and not to owe workers. I should not cut corners. The only thing I didn’t take from him is polygamy, because 15 women had children for him. We the children are about 30 something. My mother was like number four or so. So, I did not take that from him but he was lovely to everybody.
And your mother?
I took humility from my mum. My mum was very humble, even from both of them. Sometimes, you just see my daddy in the house chatting with the security guards as if they are friends. So, he doesn’t overlook anybody. That is why my children don’t look down on anyone.
Any embarrassing moment?
I have been embarrassed so many times before people realise who you are. This happens on a daily basis. In Nigeria, people respect you by what you wear, the type of car you drive and so on. Sometimes, I go to the supermarket with slippers like this (showing off his feet).