More Pips For The Legendary Oga Bello'
HABA, this man doesn't age at all. I have been watching him on screen since the 80's and he has not changed that much. Na wah ooo," said the dark skinned lady in her late 40's jocularly as she sighted the legendary actor Chief Adebayo Salami. "Na wa o, money is good. See how well fed and well kept he looks' she said again to another lady sitting by her who had earlier asked for a photo opportunity with the veteran actor and producer of many credit who is clearly one of Nigeria’s living screen legends.
Venue was the Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Abuja and the event was the eleventh edition of the National Council of Arts and Culture (NCAC) Distinguished Honours Lecture and Award Series, an event that aims at celebrating Nigerian culture by recognizing, acknowledging and paying homage to identified personalities that have contributed in the development of Nigeria's collective heritage. So every year, the leadership of the NCAC identifies and celebrates personalities who have distinguished themselves in different aspects of human endeavour including the performing arts and this year, the leadership of the NCAC revealed that the selection panel had no difficulty in arriving at the choice of Oga Bello as recipient of the 2014 honours award.
A founding member and at a time President of the Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (ANTP), 'Oga Bello' as he is fondly called by colleagues and associates began his acting career in 1964 as a member of the Young Stars Concert Party. He revealed that he was inspired to try out acting after watching several episodes of a long rested television programme 'Village Doctor'.
The Young Stars Concert Party, run then by the legendary theatre artiste Ojo Ladipo was reputed as the 'only happening theatre company' for both the old and young. Anyone who wanted a sound training in the performing arts would head there to be trained by the master artiste Ojo Ladipo. However, Oga Bello joined the group without the consent of his parents. They wont allow him if he had sought their consent. So he enrolled as a member amidst threats by his parents to disown him. According to him "they were not interested in any of us becoming a performer. They even threatened to curse me if I don’t give up my interest in performing arts. In protest, I left home and squatted with a friend until my parents looked for me and gave me their blessings".
Years later, the group transformed into the Ojo Ladipo Theatre. They performed stage plays and took them round with Oga Bello as a leading performer. In between, he took up paid employment as a library assistant in 1970. He resigned in 1974 but was later appointed Personal Assistant to the Federal Commissioner of Works Alhaji Femi Okunnu. When Alhaji Okunnu left government service, he recruited Oga Bello to work in the law chambers he set up. Oga Bello credits Alhaji Okunnu for supporting the growth of Ojo Ladipo Theatre through his moral advice and financial contributions. He also revealed that he used part of his earnings to support the work of the theatre group. "I recall spending my first salary to print posters for our production" he said.
However, he gave up the job in 1976 for a full time career in acting. In no time, he was appointed to assist Chief Ladipo in running the group. When Chief Ladipo died in 1978, Oga Bello emerged the obvious successor. "I owe everything I know in the arts to Chief Ojo Ladipo. It was under his tutelage that I developed myself and stayed on. We were passionate about the arts. It was the joy we derived from performing plays and not the money we earned that was the motivation for most of us" he said.
Humane, jovial and accommodating, Oga Bello got the appellation 'Oga Bello' when in 1969 and as a member of the Ojo Ladipo Theatre he featured on the comedy segment of the long rested variety show on national television 'The Bar Beach Show'. Chief Adebayo Salami played the role of the flambouyant office executive 'Bello' in the 15 minutes comedy sketch. "That was how the name stuck and later people added Oga to the Bello and it became Oga Bello".
An actor's actor of vast credit, Oga Bello has featured in so many television drama programmes and home videos. But he still considers his effort in "Ogbon Gbemiga', which was staged at the 1970 edition of the Lagos State Festival of Arts as his most memorable. "People liked the production and we won the first prize with it" he said.
Currently focusing on running his entertainment company UBEE Media Network and School of Performing Arts, in Lagos, Ogun Ajaiye, Omo Orukan and Eri Okan are some of the celluloid productions he signed as producer. "We worked majorly on celluloid until home video came and we joined them reluctantly" he noted.
A recipient of the 2014 edition of the Legend of Nollywood Award (LNA), Oga Bello's children Femi, Sodiq, Tope and Rilwan are all in the business of movie production. Sodiq is a production manager and producer while Tope writes, produces and directs. Femi is an actor and writer and Rilwan is a production editor. "I didn't force any of them to take after me and I didn't discourage those who showed interest. However I insisted that they must all be educated and they were all allowed to decide what to study. Femi is a lawyer, Sodiq is a geologist and Tope and Rilwan studied computer. I am particularly happy and grateful to God for his blessings" he said.
Born and raised in Lagos, Oga Bello hopes to play a long game in the movie.
"There is no retirement for me. Artistes do not retire. Even when they are old and frail, there are roles they can play. I know I am going to keep acting for as long as I live" he said.
And how will Oga Bello who did not enjoy the privilege of university education want to be remembered? The elder artiste who enjoys listening to music and who takes pride in celebrating Nigeria's rich culture said 'I want to be remembered for the good works I have done. I want to be remembered for touching and affecting lives through my work as a filmmaker".
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