In the comedy business, Atunyota Alleluya Akporobomerere aka Ali Baba, who is married to a director of Heritage Bank, is a worthy king. In this interview with OLUSHOLA RICKETTS, the indigene of Delta State speaks on to calm frayed nerves in Niger Delta region, the need to prioritise education, how comedians make money than actors, among other issues.
More Nigerian comedians are now moving into films; is it that there is no money in comedy again?
We are not doing that because we can make money off movies, I need to correct that. We make more money in stand-up comedy than movies. The time you will spend to play in two movies in three weeks, you make the same money just for a show. So, where is the money there?
We are not delving as you painted it. But for every entertainer, you look for all platforms to express yourself. Jamie Foxx went into music and won Grammy while he also went into acting and won an Oscar. Do not forget he is a comedian. So, all comedians will express themselves in different ways. Will Smith and Kevin Hart were comedians-turned-actors.
I have been acting for a long time. I did ‘My Guy’ in 1997 and I was part of a television series, ‘The Honourable’. The only reason I stopped acting was because there was no money in it.
If somebody sees me holding a photography exhibition today, they would ask questions but I started taking pictures since 1978. I started drawing from secondary school and I was the third runner-up at a dance competition in 1981.
It is when something becomes popular that people know it. Someone told me that a particular comedian was the first person to perform in an airplane in Nigeria but I told him I did it in 1993 with the Nigeria Airways across Africa. People did not know because it was not reported. There are also jokes we have told in the 90s that a comedian who was born in 1994 tells now. But for someone who does not know, he or she would think they are new jokes.
Since you could act, dance and draw well; why did you settle for comedy?
Comedy was and is still making money than all of these. I was a young boy who people did not believe would make it and I wanted to prove everyone wrong. Also, people thought that being a comedian was a job for dropouts. I made people to realise that it was not just about the art, it was service delivery. As soon as it was clear that we were delivering service, a lot of people embraced it.
When I was charging N50, 000 in 1993, most actors were not earning as much. As a matter of fact, I made my first 1.6 million in 1995. And at that time, we had actors who were yet to smell such amount. I went for a tour and I made the money. People then did not know that we were making money, which also explains why they said that I married someone because of money. When it dawned on them that there was money in comedy, they now began to write on ‘how comedians smile to the bank.’ Once you don’t know a story, you write all the nonsense you want to write.
When someone wanted me to host a dinner, I demanded a million naira and he wanted to know why. Until now too, people thought makeup was not anything worth doing. When they started seeing how much it generates, they want to join the industry. It all depends on how you package and present yourself.
Do you think the country is making the best use of her oil?
As a people, we are not used to managing resources and when we get free funds too we do not know how to manage them. That is the same reason we do not know how to service debt. We can borrow N25 million but how to service it becomes a problem after we take it.
The oil is like a savings account; unless you take from it and use it for infrastructure, it is wasted. All the governments have been taking oil from Niger Delta and you could see that Oloibiri that should be like the headquarters of Shell and NNPC is underdeveloped. There should be a school in the place to teach people how it all started. The history of oil should be told from that place. A Petroleum Institute should actually be in that local government.
Since you grew up in the Delta region, how would you compare life then and now?
The thing is that we have planted the seed of failure from the beginning. If you do not teach a child well, he would fail during examination. So, we have failed to train the people in the Niger Delta and we are blaming them for not understanding how government works? If you train a child the way he or she should go, he or she would not depart from it.
Anytime there is a protest, they muscle out the person who leads it or bribe a few people and that is it. If about N200 billion was spent on am nesty, can you see the reflection of it in the Niger Delta? If they had taken half of it and developed Niger Delta, people will not take to arms anymore.
“We have planted the seed of failure from the beginning. If you do not teach a child well, he would fail during examination. So, we have failed to train the people in the Niger Delta and we are blaming them for not understanding how government works? If you train a child the way he or she should go, he or she would not depart from it”
Are you saying the amnesty programme was a fraud?
The amnesty programme is a wasted fund. What you see now is that all the boys who benefited from it live large, while the communities they used to front their battle are still underdeveloped. So, I call it divide and rule. The few people who did not benefit from it are angry and expect the government to call them for a meeting and settle them as well.
This is the same thing I said when the issue of piracy started. We do not need money from the government. What people did was to ask money from the government to deal with piracy. But when they collected the money, they did not deal with it. What would make piracy die is to invest in cinemas. Instead of sharing N500 million, build cinemas and revamp the National Theatre. Also, set up antipiracy mobile place squad.
If all things are put in place, people would begin to make money off movies. AY made N350 million from ‘30 Days in Atlanta’ and he only spent N75 million. What does that tell you? It means that if everyone makes such money, there is no need to demand money from the government. When election comes up, we could even support politicians with funds just like the likes of Oprah Winfrey and others.
People complain that journalists are not well paid. Instead of Nigerian Guild of Editors to fight for them, they would rather go for their personal interest.
On your pa1rt, what are you doing to ensure things are better in the Niger Delta region?
First thing is that you cannot tackle a situation from a point where it is damaged. You begin to tackle it from the foundation. When your house is cracking, you do not start painting it. There is no point painting it because you may soon lose the house. What you need to do is to start laying proper foundation for the next building. We have started teaching children the need to learn. Today, some people are in business because they managed to obtain primary school leaving certificates. Non-education is the biggest problem we have in this country. Once you cannot read and write, it becomes as issue.
So, the problem we have is foundational development. The people who messed us up in this country are the military. When we gained independence, a lot of people joined the army, including the literate and illiterate. The illiterate started plotting coups and gradually they became the leaders of the society.
We have continuous process of people who are not educated, people who do not like education or do not think it matters. When they started seeing that education matters, they stopped using Nigerian institutions to train their children because they know they did not invest in it.
When University of Ife (Obafemi Awolowo University) was built, hostels were built for a thousand people and it had about 25,000 people that they took yearly. Did government plan for those 25, 000 people? No, they did not. But government plans for the senate and before the House comes back, they would have renovated everywhere.
Is it true that Goodluck Jonathan’s administration did not favour easterners in terms of establishing institutions?
We do not need to build any institution; what we need to do is to develop the ones we already have. OAU and other universities have land; instead of building new institutions, upgrade the ones you have and build more structures. The vice chancellor’s office is still the way it was since 1972, but the National Assembly is not the same anymore.
What happened was not about Jonathan; it was something Jonathan met and left. It is not about the Igbo alone, is Niger Delta developed? The Igbo may have brought in money for the country but not as much as the Niger Delta region.