At 72, ace actor, Oludotun Jacobs, popularly known as Olu Jacobs, remains an evergreen in the nation’s entertainment industry. In this interview with OLASUMBO OTAGBO, the artiste, who has put in many years in the make-believe world, shares his experience. Excerpts:
NIGERIA of my childhood. My name is Oludotun Jacobs. I am 72 years, I am an actor and I have been one for almost 50 years. I am a Nigerian, my parent are from Ogun State. I had a good fortune of going round the world, and I see how the others live. You will see that our leaders have to buckle up because it will be very sad if by tomorrow we pick up placards and begin to match against them. We believe they can do good. There is a kind of reawakening at the moment and I hope it continues in a positive light. We are suffering quite a lot, majority of the people in Nigeria have to cater for their own water, light, road, they build their own roads and the government will come and say they should pay tax. Even when we get some funding from international source, they disappear; they come in and disappear and nobody asks any question. It is very sad, I grew up in a country where I thought it can only be second to heaven, if America or Britain were better than how Nigeria was then, then it must be like Heaven. Nigeria was a wonderful country and you are free to go anywhere. And wherever you went, you were welcomed, north, south, east or west, you were welcomed. Being a stranger in that land wouldn’t worry you because will get the best, they will welcome you and introduce you to people who will assist you if you need any assistance. When you are going on annual holiday, you come from Lagos to Kano, Jos, Port-Harcourt. These were holiday spots we had within the country by rail. It was wonderful, you look forward to it. At the end of the term, you go straight from your school to the station where you will board train home. Everything was fine, it was safe. I remember the riot in 1956, a stone hit my dad in the elbow and we were complaining that my dad had an injury. Some people were crying because their own men were dead. That was the first time I experienced tear gas. I thought I was dead because it was choking, I didn’t know I would survive it.
My experience as a child
Growing up in Nigeria was wonderful. There were many Southerners in Kano, and wherever you go, there were Ibo, Yoruba, Itsekiri, Urhobo, Calabari and so on. During Christmas, masquerades come out from every community and they gathered at the stadium ground. What we are doing today is not the same thing.
My journey into the world of make-believe
I was very close to the church. I was a member of the choir, the dancing group and the drama group. We had festivals every year in the church and I was the only male in the group, but that didn’t stop me. In fact, I made more money than the girls did and it was quite fun. Even in school, I did that and my parent were always coming to see what I was doing because I would nag them to submission. Then after a while, they too began to come willingly. One day, I was sent on an errand and I heard this music coming from the back of a lorry. I picked one of the leaflets and saw Ogunde Concert Party. Then I put it in my pocket. When I got home, I called my mother and said I saw this, and she said they always come every year. I said I would go, and we all went. It was played in one hotel called Colonial Hotel. They were dancing and talking and everywhere was booming. My dad and the family were talking, but I didn’t talk. I was watching the atmosphere. Then the light went off and the stage light came up. And they did what Ogunde called the opening glee (beginning of the show). That was the point I made up my mind I would be an actor.
What was your father’s response?
When I told my father I wanted to act, he said act? What? Is play work? If play is not work, how can you say you want to play. As if that was not enough, I told him I wanted to go to England to study acting. He said no and tore my application form. But fortunately for me, my brothers were processing their own passports too, so they helped me secure my visa. The day I was ready to go, I was with them all morning, the train to Lagos was 12pm and I had smuggled my suitcase out the night before. By 10:30am, I left home. But I was afraid my father might call my uncle in Lagos to stop me. But nothing happened. That was how I went to London. When I saw somebody going home, I sent a letter to my father with a tobacco and three pipes. But unfortunately, I never saw him again.
I have been married for over 28 years. We work together and she is achieving her goal, while I am also achieving my own goal. When we sit down together, we have something to talk about. And if there is any advice needed, we give advice to each other. So, we are partners for life.
Raising our children
We thank God for the nature of our work. We were able to take them to rehearsals, theatre and do some jobs. And when the children grew older, we got maids for them. They have at one time or the other featured in our plays. There are other parts of the business that they are into. There is the acting side, managing side. For example, Soji, my first son, is the General Manager of the academy, I am the Chairman and my wife is the MD.
Efforts to bring back the theatre culture
It is unfortunate that theatre can never be the way it was because it is too expensive. You spend the same amount to make a movie and at the movie can be watched over and over again. But for the play, each time you want to produce a play, it must cost you the same amount of money. Most stage productions now, apart from school productions, are done for the public. They must have sponsors for them to be able to produce. But we are trying to bring it back through the academy. We are concentrating on the various instruments that one needs to be a good actor.
The secret behind my fitness
I make sure that I do at least 30 minutes exercise every day. The exercises include press-ups, breathing exercises and I halved everything I used to eat. I also try as much as possible to rest.