Hafeez Oyetoro is a comedian who has excelled in his calling and profession, he is an actor, he is an MC, he is a lecturer and he is also a dance professional. He is a thespian that has done so well in his field. He is one of the few Nollywood actors that have been appearing constantly in both the English and Yoruba movies. Megasblog sought after him and caught up with him after a long chase which of course happened because of his very busy schedule and here is what he had to say:
HO: My name is Hafiz Oyetoro. I am from Iseyin in Oyo state. I was born in 1963 to the family of Oyetoro in Adegbola village, a settlement where people from neighbouring communities around Ibadan, Abeokuta, Lalate, Eruwa, Iseyin, Awaye and so on come to have their farms and carry out trades for some time and go back to their communities. My parents had their own farm and used to come to trade like others in Adegbola until they decided to settle in Adegbola and I was given birth to in Adegbola until I was nine years old. At age nine, I started my primary school education and went Baptist Day School between 1972 and 1978. I later graduated and went to Koso Community Grammar School, still in Iseyin between 1978 and 1983. I did the final exams and passed all my papers except English language in which I had P7 (laughs), so I had to go to Ibadan where I did extra lessons and did my papers again and passed all this time. I wrote my JAMB, passed and was given admission into Unife, now O. A. U., where I had my first degree in Theatre Arts between 1986 and 1990, I finished service and stayed home for 2 years doing theatre works and later went to U. I. where I had my Masters degree from the Institute of African Studies. From there, I went to LASU for my Postgraduate studies in Education and I am presently pursuing an M. Fil. PhD programme in U. I. I started lecturing in 2001 and I am presently a lecturer in the Theatre Arts department at the Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education.
M: Is your name a stage name or your real name?
HO: Saka is my stage name.
M: What is your real name?
HO: Hafeez Oyetoro.
M: Tell us about the family you grew up in.
HO: My father had 2 wives initially and I don’t know how but later the number just increased to 3 (laughs). Well, I like him because he didn’t have too many wives. He had 9 children, 2 died and now we are 7. I am number 4 but out of the 3 wives, only my mother had 1 child and that is me (laughs again). Now is the time for me to say this. Almost all the stories I have heard about polygamous homes and people from those kinds of homes have not been good stories but my case is different oh! I never experienced the negative side of a polygamous home. I did not know my mother until I got to primary school. The most senior wife was the one I knew as my mother because she was just in control of everything and it was perfect, she died about 3 years ago. Since her death, everybody in the family has been feeling her absence. She was the one that would prepare our food, prepare us for school, take us to school and everything. My mother was just there to do other things. Ah! They were so close, very close like sisters and since the senior wife died, my mother has not recovered. So, I never experienced the negative side of polygamy. In fact, I enjoyed it. At a later point in my life, I was taken away from my parents by my uncle (my father’s immediate younger brother) to Iseyin. He took me to school, took care of me and nurtured me to growth. He is a very strict person who never takes nonsense and he misinterpreted our fear of him then for respect and reverence. You know how when you shout at a child “sit down there” and he runs and sits, shaking. You’re happy and you say “ah! That boy is obedient”. Well, that’s a lie, he’s just afraid of you. My uncle actually liked that, we would be playing in the house, all jovial but whenever we heard his horn from the front, all of us would scurry to our rooms, gbrigbri, gbrugbru, kurukurukurukuru until he came and shouted again “where are these children? Won’t they come and greet me?” Then all of us would rush out, prostrating and kneeling and collecting whatever he was holding, drop it quickly and dash back into our rooms before he started calling us for anything. Mind you, my uncle was never a bad person and is not a bad person but I’m just using this to tell people that fear is never the same as respect. Now, I remember those things and I laugh (laughs for long).
M: Did you always know that you would be an actor?
HO: Ah! I didn’t know oh! I never knew I was going to be an actor actually. I used to really fantasize that I would be a Pilot. Anytime a plane flies by, I would run out and wave my hands frantically till the plane was out of sight and I would tell people that when I grew up, I would become an aeroplane driver and be waving back to the children waving at me but as God would have it, by the time I got to Secondary School, I started liking drama and started participating in all these end of the year drama performance. I was a very active member of the dramatic society and we used to take plays all around other secondary schools in Iseyin local Government. I stayed with my uncle who is a very strict person and nobody really bothered me when I said I wanted to go and study theatre arts. My interest to go for this course was kindled by OGTV then in their first year of transmission and they showed a movie. Although I can’t remember the title, I loved the movie, the actors and everything about it, I still remember the soundtrack, they used a song by Dolly Parton “Jolly Jolly. Don’t take my Husband away…” I got carried away and that night, I decided that I was going for this course.
M: How did you get into the industry? What were the motivations, inspirations and circumstances in which you got into the industry?
HO: Well, you see, it’s very simple. I always say that there was no special story to how I got into the industry. Unlike some people that went to location mistakenly or something interesting happened. Nothing interesting happened in my case. I got in like you do any other work. Just like a carpenter learns his carpentry or a tailor and starts to practice, it was like that for me. You have the passion for it, start training and while you are training, you are becoming a professional and you start practicing. It is very simple but it is hard work. It was like this. As a student, I was a member, a founding member of a comedy group called KPP (Komic Palace Productions). I was a very active member as a student and we used to take shows around which means that even as a student, I was already practicing. I finished my first degree in 1989/90 and didn’t start my masters until late 90s and all that while, I was organising shows all over campuses. I was staying in Ibadan that time and I was with Tunji Fatilewa Productions (TF Productions). He was doing a popular soap opera in Oyo state then and I was part of it. The soap was titled “414 Connection”, the first recognized soap opera that I took part in as a professional and the producer is still owing me N1,700 (Laughs). That was how I got into drama. I had a passion for it; I didn’t see myself doing anything else. While my friends and colleagues were going for advertising, banking and all that. Anytime I wanted to do other jobs, I just couldn’t. I just found myself doing it without any extra efforts or anything. That’s just it, there’s no special story at all, I can’t pretend, there’s no special story…., mtchew…, I’m just doing it. Some people had the dream of acting, I didn’t have any dream, my dream was to drive aeroplane. I just discover that as I am growing up, I am doing it. Thanks also to all my lecturers. I have had some very good lecturers, from primary school to University and I know that where they are now, they will be happy. I also pray that any of them that is dead will rest in peace. I will never forget Chuck Mike, my black American lecturer in Ife. He took me like his son, his baby boy. I performed so woefully in the very first audition I did in Ife but Chuck Mike didn’t give up on me, he felt I could be good. Therefore, he spent his time, his money, his resources, and his brain on me. I had a speech defect then, so he took me to U. I. to a Speech Therapist. She too was also very wonderful; I went to U. I. every Saturday throughout my four years in Ife. You see, by the time I entered Ife, I was a loner because of my Uncle. The fear we had of him was so much that so many times, we never left the house, and we would just be in our rooms all day, not talking to anybody, not playing. I didn’t enjoy that period of my life at all, so I became withdrawn and on my own. That first audition in Ife, it was just my expressions that impressed people, nothing else and that was why Chuck Mike took me as his son and tutored me. He also took me to do some special courses to change my psychology. I don’t blame my uncle at all. People in this part of the world want their children to be disciplined, hence the fear/respect mistake. However, the good thing is that, because of my uncle, I am disciplined, I have self control and I am rugged. People also say I can bow to a lizard, I respect people a lot.
M: What has been your best performance? What did you consider in deciding it was your best performance?
HO: Ah! None, I enjoyed all. I always like performing. There’s nothing as interesting as being on stage or on set for a play or a movie. I so much enjoy it, when I’m on stage, or set, or writing, I enjoy myself so much. I thank God for the privilege to be able to impact and add value to my society. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I just perform.
M: What has been your most challenging performance? In what way did that constitute a challenge?
HO: “Head of State”! Written, directed and produced by Jimi Odumosu, very professional, very meticulous. The production was being shot during the rainy season, I had things to do in school, it was so tedious for me and because of the details in it, it was professionally challenging for me. However, I learnt so much from this production. When I play this movie now, I feel fulfilled. I see the actions, expressions and lines delivery, so good. You remember I told you about my speech defect, ehen, so watching this movie and hearing myself clearly fills me with so much joy. All other films too are challenging, just not as challenging as Head of State.
M: What awards and how many have you gotten?
HO: About fifteen now, I can’t remember them but they are about fifteen, just google Saka and you might see them. I don’t keep record of awards anyway, I just want to perform.
M: What has the industry been like for you?
HO: Very interesting, very promising. Although very difficult because of the societal attitude to artistes. It’s like this, “Hello, how are you? What is your name? Ade. What do you do? I’m a Carpenter. Ah! Very good.” “Hello, how are you? What is your name? Taibat. What do you do? I’m a Tailor. Ah! Good, you are a good girl.” “Hello, how are you? What is your name? Hafeez Oyetoro. What do you do? I’m a Theatre Artiste. Ah! Balabala, Alawada, Unserious beings.” That scenario was the attitude before now but these days, it is getting better. It is not over yet but better. People are beginning to understand it and understand us, corporate bodies are stepping in, banks are coming in, although not much because so many artistes cannot afford to go to banks where they will be asked to bring in their father’s first wife or mother’s first husband as guarantee and they cannot supply. The industry is moving, productions are better. We are presently second best, second largest producers and second most watched. However, in those days, the stories were better, people were not doing it for money but to impact the society, people were committed and dedicated and not after money like today. The difference therefore is that there is money today and more technology but the industry is moving.
M: You said in a publication sometime last year that you didn’t like people calling you Saka, why?
HO: No, I was misquoted. I didn’t say I don’t like people calling me Saka. What I said was that I get embarrassed and I don’t like it when people call me to ask me annoying questions. For example, when I’m driving and you are calling Saka, you shouldn’t expect me to give you full attention plus I am a very shy person and some people can be really annoying. I am walking on maybe very fast somewhere and someone beside the road suddenly calls “Saka, come here, come and greet me, come and sit down here”. Haba! Then, there is this thing that people do, I get somewhere, see a lot of people and greet them all but they are never satisfied, some of them want you to came and greet them personally. Even as a child, when you get somewhere and meet about 20 elders, you don’t prostrate and greet them one by one. I’m using this medium to apologise to the people who say I snub them, I am sorry. I am a very shy person and very quiet, sometimes when people call me like that and I don’t know what to do, I run from the place. Maybe that is why people feel I don’t like being called Saka. What I don’t like is people embarrassing me. I like being called Saka but not being insulted. I’m sorry if I’ve offended anyone
M: What is the difference between the real you and you on set or stage?
HO: Saka is playful, unserious, funny, jovial and anything you see on set or stage. Hafeez Oyetoro is very shy, very quiet, does not like stress and is always looking for a way out of stress.
M: What makes you and your style stand out? What makes you different from the others?
HO: God! The giver of all talents and gifts. Now, you see, Okocha is a very funny person, very likable character but when you bring him on stage to be funny, he will not be as good as Hafeez. Hafeez can also play ball, like running after the ball and kicking it but if you train Hafeez for twenty years and let Okocha sleep for twenty years, Okocha will still play better than Hafeez. It is because of the talent. Then I also thank God for the teachers I have had from primary to Secondary school. I was taught very well, especially by my lecturers in the University. My friends, my colleagues, my students. All these people, I am happy to meet them, they have taught me a lot, interacting with them makes me better and my children too. Apart from these, everything I have done has been in the theatre. My first degree is in Dramatic Arts, my second degree in African Studies, presently my M.Fil. PhD is on Performance Studies. So, the talent, the training and the people around me have shaped.
Megasblog will be posting the concluding part of this interview tomorrow.