Not many can immediately put a face to the name: Chief Olalere Osunpaimo (MFR) until the veteran thespian is called by his popular name Lere Paimo, or better still his stage name, “Eda Onile Ola”. The legendary Chief Paimo, who just celebrated his 80th birthday, in this interview by SAM NWAOKO speaks on a variety of issues around himself, the arts and theatre industry in Nigeria. Excerpts:
It’s been a while you appeared in videos and many were wondering what might have been the cause. Some say it’s like “Elesho” who was quoted to have said that he left mainly because of indecency in modern-day theatre. Why have you been away for so long?
The first reason for me was the injection of politics into our business. It got so bad that they said don’t invite these old man for roles anymore. And they carried out this decision without realising that it is cursed, because when you stand in the way of someone’s daily bread, you have sentenced the person to death.
However, I thank God because despite all the ills and plots, we are still standing strong and His providence has been our mainstay. They took their jobs and payments, but the merciful God provides for His own in His own miraculous way.
Secondly, the mode of dressing in the theatre industry; their language and delivery – which sees a mother or father cursing a child; a husband placing a curse on his wife – and so many other untoward things added to the desire to step aside and watch from a distance. Whenever I consider such things, I find it difficult to fit into many of the modern-day scripts. When I’m invited, I scrutinise the script and if it fits my level of decency, I will play the role and take part.
Going by this, would you say the Yoruba genre of the Nigerian theatre industry is on the right path. It is the belief in some quarters that the new generation has abandoned the foundation laid by people like you. What future do you see for the theatre in this part of the country?
The best that I think should happen is for the modern-day practitioners to retrace their steps before we all retire finally from the stage. Without this, chances are that they would ruin everything and destroy what our fathers in the trade and we have built from the past. This business should not be destroyed because of its importance and usefulness to the life of the Yoruba race and Nigeria as a whole. We are however beginning to see signs that some of them are retracing their steps and are willing to listen to people like us. With this, we are hopeful that there is still light at the end of the tunnel by the grace of God.
Comparing the era of legends like Ogunde, Afolayan, Oyin Adejobi, Moses Olaiya Ogunshola (I-Show), your humble self and the likes of the celluloid era to the home video, does it not seem to you that quality has been affected in modern day recordings?
I don’t think so. Home video present to us all – market men and women, cloth merchant and leaf hawker and all **** the opportunity to see our works unlike elite we refer to as “Alakowe” that mostly visit the cinemas to watch movies and relate. Elderly people for intrance, who cannot ordinarily go to cinema houses, have the opportunity of home videos which also have the quality. All these are supposed to be the work of arts and by the grace of God, this will still happen.
When people hear the name ‘Lere Paimo”, they would pause a little to place a face to it; but when you say ‘Eda Onile Ola’, there’s no pausing and thinking. How did this alias come about?
When I was still with my boss, the late Chief Duro Ladipo, in Osogbo, the duo of Ulli Beier and Susan Wengar, the Adunni Olorisa, brought a job to us. The script was entitled: “Every Man” and was written by someone in Wenger’s country. The script was written in English and our job was to translate it to Yoruba Language. By our translation, we referred to “Every Man” as “Eda”. The role of “Every Man” or “Eda” was played by me. He was a wealthy man and also hardworking and industrious. That role from the scrip gave me the sobriquet and since then, many people came to know me as “Eda”. It has become so popular that some people don’t even know my real names and many people know me only as “Eda Onile Ola”.
And as children, we saw “Eda” perform in that epic movie known as “Ogbori Elemosho” the huge success of that work has made it one of the benchmarks in the industry. How much of real spiritual powers was at play in that work, because many still hold some of its lines in awe and utter amazement?
The Lord really blessed that work and I am still grateful. However, there was no juju or spiritual powers in its acting and production. I acknowledge that there are powers – really potent powers that are still in force – but we did not engage any of such in Ogbori Elemosho.
May I explain that when one wants to engage in sorcery, magical powers, spirituality, charms, medicine or juju, one must be knowledgeable in them. You don’t just dabble anyhow into such. You must be well-prepared and know the meanings. There are those to be swallowed, those to touch the lips or with the tongue. But we did not do any of such. We were only working to teach morals and highlight lessons for humanity. Those costumes and props, as well as the lines were all made up to serve as an avenue to educate, not that we licked some form of charm before the incantation and actions.
Before Oba Koso, an epic by the late Chief Duro Ladipo, which took notable artistes like you to many countries, which other plays and works you partook in that you think are also remarkable?
There were many of them. Some of them are plays like “Oba Moro” with which we started. There was “Ajagun Nla”, there was “Moremi”; “Aare Akogun”. These works preceded Oba Koso, which took the theatres by storm and went round the country and the world.
Before your Duro Ladipo days, you were with Chief Oyin Adejobi. Tell us a bit about Adejobi. Did he also record some of his works on celluloid?
Baba Oyin Adejobi did not record his works on celluloid. It was a travelling theatre. God blessed Oyin Adejobi with so much talent in the theatre that many leaders in the field would come to him for lessons and advice.
Those of us under him, who were managers and artistes would travel from one town to another for shows, then we would report to him. Because he was a man that was physically-challenged, he could not join us on the road as such. But he would work on his scripts, give them to us, teach us what he wants us to learn about them and we would set out after rehearsals for performances. However, he featured in some of his other great and popular flicks like “Ekuro Oloja”, “Orogun Adedigba” among other works.
, Lere Paimo
It is known that you had a robust relationship with other legends like Chief Hubert Ogunde, Akin Ogungbe, Ade Afolayan and so on. What about Moses Olaiya (Baba Sala)?
I had a very good relationship with him. He would visit me and I also usually checked on him when he was alive. We shared some professional ideals too and benefitted from each other in this regard. As a leader in the industry, we gave him his due regards as we did to other leaders, because he was also on top. Back in the days, we knew and recognisd who the bosses were and respected them even just for their being the bosses or our own contemporaries. We never belittled them. For instance, whenever, Akin Ogungbe had a job, and we already knew that he was the boss of I-Show and Jimoh Aliu, who were my contemporaries, I have nothing other than the same amount of respect for him (Ogungbe) as my director’s boss, Duro Ladipo or Oyin Adejobi. That was how we operated. That was how we related and it was a healthy relationship and there was mutual respect.
Osogbo – where we had many legends and arts icons including Ulli Beier and Susan Wenger – stands tall in the life of the arts and theatre industry. How do you see the town now, looking back?
The place of Osogbo cannot be relegated when issues of arts and theatre are being discussed. Imagine the two white people who left their countries to settle in Osogbo for the sake of culture, arts and theatre? Osogbo could easily pass for the home of arts and culture. After Duro Ladipo, Kola Ogunmola and Oyin Adejobi who were the movers of theatre arts then, and were based in Osogbo, compare the popularity and influence of the Osun Osogbo festival. There are not many festivals in this country which can rise to the standard and popularity and influence of Osun Osogbo.
You waded through an illness that slowed you down in 2013. It was said to be ‘stroke’. How was this patch of your life and what really happened?
It was not stroke per se according to what I was told, but I will say that as humans we all take ill sometimes and get slowed down by the elements. It was an ailment and we also believed that when you take ill, you get well and continue with your life. That was what happened because since then, there has been nothing untowards and we have been thanking and praising God.
You were once on the “Who Wants To Be a millionaire” Show and it was a successful outing for you. What was the experience like?
That was one pleasant experience too. When the man came – named Mr Akinlabi and invited me to ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire”, I was happy to be their guest. There, I met several other people with whom we interacted and had a healthy discussion. I was asked questions by a panel and after the question and answer session, they organised something for me. Even though it was not a lot of millions, but the little they gave me, I appreciate and I thanked God for His blessing because His mercy has been sufficient in all ways.
On Susan Wenger and Ulli Beier, a former governor of Osun State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, built a centre for Black Arts and Culture as a way to entrench the arts and sustain the works done by Wenger and Beier. Do you have any links with the centre?
By the time the centre came up, and long before the government of Prince Oyinlola, my boss had moved to Ibadan and I came with him. So, I don’t have links with the centre as a person, because we had left Osogbo.
Your 80th birthday celebration comes with a lot of celebration’s especially by the people who love the arts and what artistes are doing. What are you hinging this landmark on?
We are, first of all, grateful to God and we should be hinging it on giving aim thanks. Celebratory thanksgiving is the key.
Secondly, we are launching the Eda Onile Ola Foundation to mark the epoch. That is why we invited traditional rulers, arts and culture enthusiasts and patrons; lovers of what we do, our fans, friends and well-wishers to support the effort to preserve what we do and sustain the legacy. We need to preserve our culture and make conscious efforts to do this. That is why we are seeking their support for the Eda Onile Ola Foundation.
You were awarded with the honour of the Member of the Federal Republic (MFR) by the government of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
Yes and I thank God for the recognition. Before the MFR, I had long known Chief Obasanjo because he was a friend to my boss. Duro Ladipo. I’ve known him since he was a captain in the Nigerian Army and he would always come to Osogbo to see my boss.
They would chat and play and make merry. He would say “Duro, take care of Eda, he is a good person” and my boss was always doing that until his transition. After the exit of Chief Ladipo, we maintained contact and our friendship and relationship continued. We still remain friends until I was awarded the honour of the Member of the Federal Republic (MFR), which happened to be when Obasanjo was the President. So, the occasion was a pleasant concidence.
This profession has taken you around the world. Eda Onile Ola is, therefore, a known brand all over the world. Looking back, what is that one occurrence you would say this profession has given you that has made you to look back in special thanksgiving?
I praise God all the time for what I am because when providence smiles on you and you realised that it is providence, you would also acknowledge the fact that it is not merely out of your own doing or hard work.
In those days when we saw people travel out of the country and back, I had thought it was only those that chose academics as a career or those elite in the white collar sector that we refer to as “book people”.
Before we started to travel for performances and events, we thought those were the only people who would go outside the country to make the country proud and come back home with laurels. I never thought this job would take us to the far corners of the world, where we made the country proud.
Even within the country, people recognise us and never call our bluff when they see us. It is worth being grateful for. You know it is not proper for people to raise their voices and demand for recognition. It is God that grants that. Once you have been destined for recognition and fame, you will attain those heights and there is nothing anyone can do about it, and the world will always recognise you and people will always give you that prominence.