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Babasala: Celebrating Nigeria’s Cultural Heroes While Alive

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In this report, SAMUEL ABULUDE examines entertainers who are aging and the challenge of facing ill health while proffering solutions.

In the entertainment industry, which dates back to the era of late Chief Hubert Ogunde in the 70s, it was a thriving industry where passion was the order of the day. Musicians owned bands and performed as the resident bands in a particular club as well as travelling to perform at various gigs. The night life was bustling and people hung out at various clubs. In Lagos, Bobby Benson performed with his band while Pa Chris Ajilo and the Cubanos serenaded fans at another club in Lagos. Victor Olaiya too showcased the beauty of high life and good music.

The travelling theatre also existed and made sure actors had their crew who went from city to city, showcasing stage productions. Then entertainers tried to take care of their health, maintaining balance between work life and living.

Over the years, heroes and celebrities had emerged due to the popularity of these entertainers; thanks to television and a growing fan base which made their purses swell. What is being done with the money entertainers of old make is a different issue as some say it is spent on the production team, band while they went ahead to marry another wife.

Fast forward to the 21st century and the hustle gets thicker while the veterans suddenly realise that times and technology have evolved. The entertainment industry, though largely unstructured, is a gold mine as celebrities and stars have emerged from her. Music has become more lucrative as technology has helped advance the reach of musicians to their fans as the big stars or unique artistes get brand endorsement. Actors, by virtue of diligence and creativity, become celebrities and begin to oil their wealth. Only a small percentage of the actors or musicians in the sector, get the big chunk of the wealth available to the entertainment sector. And there seems not to be a policy to make the industry work and cater for the veteran actors who may have retired or are on their way to the retirement phase of their career. One only makes money when your ‘ovation is loudest’ and the life span of a musician isn’t as long as people think.

The news of a veteran actor critically ill, down with kidney failure or a particular disease and the plea for friends and the public to come to his aid, is becoming rampant. It saddens that our heroes and celebs, who reigned on the tubes, suddenly are not relevant again and are relegated to money being donated on their behalf.

The case of ‘Cock crow at Dawn’ and October 1 lead actor, Sadiq Daba comes to mind. The actor cum broadcaster, who suffered from leukemia and prostate cancer, had to come out late last year to seek financial assistance to get treatment abroad. When the politicians or wealthy Nigerians could not come to his aid, Sadiq, with the help of friends and colleagues, Azuka Jebose and Sony Irabor, pleaded with ordinary Nigerians to give at least a thousand naira to a dedicated account as a thousand good-hearted Nigerians giving such amount will help to realize it.

This scenario leaves a bad taste in the mouth. An average actor or musician is not wealthy enough to take care of himself when his or her health breaks down. Veteran actor, Olumide Bakare, also resorted to making a plea for funds to treat his ailment. The list is growing of entertainers who have passed through this ordeal. The late music producer, OJB Jezreel also went through such as funds were raised for him for the kidney transplant.

Poor Medical System Induces Cases Of Veterans Dying

The argument is that the poor medical system is the reason veteran artistes are dying and that tens of people drop dead daily and only the celebrities’ cases are being talked about and brought to limelight.  The late actor and producer, Obi Madubogwu, who played the role of King of Masanga in the same titled movie, was reported to have had a relapse of Kidney-related ailment and passed on last year August. It seems that in every three months, the news of a veteran artiste battling for survival gets to the public domain.

All these scenarios play a negative picture on how not to retire as an entertainer since there isn’t any retirement benefit except the personalities have worked in the civil system or a reputable corporate firm. So, it behooves on stakeholders to seek for a way out to reward veterans when they are not in reckoning as everyone will reach that phase at a time in life.

Babasala’s Story

Veteran comedian and actor, Moses Olaiya’s health is frail presently and a part of the media has reported his death thrice this year. The 80-year-old entertainer, who blazed the trail in the WNTV now NTA Ibadan, with his drama series, ‘Waki & Die’, is showing the effect of stroke. In a media brief that aims to publish a biography on him. Titled ‘The Triumph Of Destiny’, the biography, which is about a 200-page book on Babasala’s triumph and travails, looks at his motivations, from being a musician to an actor and then a comedian. One intriguing thing about Babasala, regarded as the grandfather of comedy in Nigeria, was the blows, pains and stunts inflicted on him while interpreting his roles for there was no double then during his days as he performed the stunt himself.

It was revealed that his business empire has gone as the veteran no longer had any investment that could fetch him money except his productions which was badly in need of conversion from the outdated format to the new DVD technology. Awada Spot and Alawada Standard Hotel in Ibadan and Ilesha respectively, had been sold to offset the debts he incurred when his movie, ‘Orun Mooru’ was pirated by an insider in the 80s. “It is pertinent that Baba no longer has any investment again as all have gone into paying the debts he owed. It is his children that have been taking care of him and we believe that, as an icon, he’s supposed to be honoured and celebrated when he dies. Babasala visits the UCH Ibadan every month for treatment. A sitting governor in a South Western state promised to help but he hasn’t fulfilled his promise. Baba is 80 years but could look healthier if he gets the required medical attention. Baba has hotels, recording company, photo magazine company. Unfortunately, managerial decisions wrecked the business totally,” says Babatunde Akinola, one of the authors of the book.

The sad story of Babasala ought to be a lesson for industry stakeholders and the copyright council who should have put measures in place so that piracy does not continue to reap from the sweats of content providers. Since the movie was pirated in 1982, what has changed?

Scourge Of Piracy    

Another veteran actor and producer, Adebayo Salami aka Oga Bello, also narrated that pirates had feasted on the movie industry and government agencies ought to have nipped it in the bud. He said, “Pirates have been reaping from our sweat. You go and produce a movie for N5 million and you cannot recoup your money back because the movie has been pirated. You talk of online sales, which is good, but the greater population still believe in the cinemas and DVD format of movies. We should not be talking of pirates now because they have been there. My movies have been pirated times without number. That is the reason some will not release their movies immediately and they do part 1 to part IV in order to stretch the content of the movie and recoup their money. If not for God, there is no future for veteran actors who have laboured all their lives. Government has a major role to play, creating an enabling environment and reducing entertainment tax will go a long way in alleviating our pains”.

Solutions

Also, lack of a united front on the part of musicians and film makers or actors has made it easy for perpetrators to have a field day using the ‘divide and rule’ method. The PMAN seems to be in comatose, the AGN or ANTP is largely factionalised. When will these guilds get it right? A comprehensive insurance scheme has been talked about for years now but its workability to cater for the medical needs of entertainers has been in doubt, not forgetting that musicians and actors indulge or have indulged in excessive smoking and drinking which later tell on their health.

 




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