Sola Fosudo, is a popular actor in the history of the Nigerian movie industry. In this interview with our REPORTER, Sola Fosudo, speaks on his career and lifestyle.
Can you tell us how your journey into stardom started?
Well, thank you very much; I am humbled to hear that I have journeyed into stardom. It gladdens my heart to hear that. You know the way some of us feel about what we are doing, we are not attached to stardom or whatever appellation you give to the outcomes of our effort. Personally, I believe that I am just doing my job and my feeling is that the nature of my job requires a form of public attention; it is in the public purview. Unless we are saying that everybody working in either television or radio, or doing anything that projects you to the public is a star. If that’s what you are saying, then I am happy to hear that I am a star.
I went to Emmanuel Primary School, Ijebu Ode, Ogun State; Nazareth College, Epe, Lagos; Teachers’ College, Surulere, Lagos State; Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State and the University of Ibadan, Oyo State. Throughout my education, I was actively involved in cultural activities in the school. I remember that as early as when I was in the primary school, my friends and colleagues then used to call me Baba Sala, who was a legendry comedian. I wouldn’t know why, but maybe I was funny in a way to be making them laughing or doing things that were comic in the class. I remember also that when I was in the secondary school, I was a member of the dramatic and cultural society. My college participated in the Lagos State Festival of Arts and Culture and we came third. We also went to participate in the National Festival of Arts and Culture. These are all part of the build ups.
By the time I entered the teachers’ college, that was the turning point because we did a school play and the director of the play happened to be the wife of the late Bode Osonyin, who is a theatre artiste, a playwright and a director at the University of Lagos then. She invited her husband to watch the play and after the production, Bode Osonyin called me and said, ‘young man, do you know you are a man of the theatre. I want you to consider theatre career or profession for your future’. I didn’t understand him because like I said, throughout my primary and secondary school days, I was just having fun and enjoying myself as a young person. But for the man to now make a kind of prophetic statement concerning my future or a career was surprising to me. I was amazed and also delighted to hear some of those comments, even though I had other plans. I wanted to read history because I was a good historian when I was in school. But some of the plans I had failed, I also wanted to go abroad to study something else. All of them failed because God wanted me to be in this. So I went back to that man (Osoyin) after two or three years of pursuing these other plans to no avail.
He advised me on what to do and directed me to the University of Ibadan or Ife or for some short programmes in theatre arts education or dramatic arts. That was exactly what I did. I entered Ife in 1980 for a certificate in dramatic arts. From there I moved to Ibadan for my first degree, masters and eventually, PhD. So it’s been a long journey actually for me being within the academic environment, studying this same profession. I have had the opportunity of combining whatever talent that I might have had with a sound academic training, which is very important in any profession, if you want to excel. All these put together is what I believe had helped me. Of course, the angle of God is also very crucial in all of these. When God is part of your life project, then a lot of things will fall into place.
What would you say are the pains and gains of stardom or being in the public glare?
I must let you know that as you see me here, I am a very modest person, and to a very large extent, an unconventional person. I do a lot of things that a lot of people might find baffling or surprising. For instance, the same bukateria or mama put where a lot of people go to eat, you can find me there. A lot of people will be looking at me and greeting me and I will answer them because that is what and where I want to eat at that particular time. Nothing should debar me from enjoying life the way I want to.
But all the same, I understand what you mean. A lot of people feel that certain things or certain places should not be. Well, if the places are places that are not honourable, if they are places that can demean your personality, then naturally, I shouldn’t even be there. But if they are places that other human beings go to and they feel free going there and doing what they should do as human beings, then I will also like to exercise my freedom to do those things without necessarily subjecting myself to the prejudice of what anybody will say or think. And to a very large extent, that has helped me to live a scandal free life.
And how have you been able to stay scandal free?
That is what I just said. I don’t deceive myself and I don’t pretend. You will discover that most people who pretend; they do a lot of underhand things. When they are trying to makeup or hype up their lifestyles, you will find out there are a lot of skeletons and secrets in their lives. But I have chosen to exercise my freedom and I enjoy it being free and modest. But, I am also very strict and disciplined on the choices I make. It is not because I say I decided to be free, that I am loosed. Freedom to the extent that I don’t deceive myself or pretend to be what I am not. That makes me live a naturally normal life just like anybody in the street.
Looking at the movie industry in Nigeria, do you think that where it is now is where it is supposed to be?
I would say yes and I would say no. The industry itself went through a process of evolution at a time in the history of the country and it is still evolving and so many problems are there to contend and solve along the line. Unfortunately, most of the people who are practicing within the Nollywood industry are not really professionals. Many of them are roadside people who just came in and found it as a veritable source of living and employment and decided to stay there. They are just doing all kinds of trial and error to forge ahead. But a few people who are educated, who know the direction in which the thing should take, are not given opportunity to be part of the leadership of the various organisations and associations going on, because they are very political. If you are not in their caucus, then you can’t find a space and they are just doing it the way they know. In that sense, the industry is not where it should be.
But in the sense that Nigeria itself is a developing country and most of our national sectors are also going through the process of development even as I am talking now. So we cannot take away the Nollywood sector from the national outlook. To that extent, we still had to look for a way to develop within the Nollywood industry. There is no way Nollywood in Nigeria would have been like Hollywood in America. We still had to look at the factor of the Nigerian state and our economic growth.
But be that as it may, I know that there are other industries that have organised themselves and perfected whatever they needed, to make their industry better. That is absent in the film industry in Nigeria. They have gone beyond the stage of trial and error. Take the banking industry for instance, the people who are occupying leadership positions there and who direct the course of policies and development there are bankers, accountants and the financial people.
The people who are occupying leadership positions in the advertising industry and those in charge of the process of development in that industry are public relations people, advertisers and marketers. That is not the same situation with Nollywood that is one of the reasons why it has been a topsy turvy situation.
I also want to distinguish between the theatre and the film because they are different. As I am speaking to you now, there is no film department in any institution in Nigeria. Basically though, what they do in theatre is production and what they do in film is production but the medium differs. The techniques also are different but the outcome is production, which means that the process of writing a play, acting and costuming the actors are the same thing in both. As an actor, I can find relevance in film and if you are trained as a director in theatre, you can also find relevance in film.
But there are some other aspects of film production that we don’t learn or train people on and that makes there to be a vacuum. When you are in a profession that is not backed up by intellectual content, then there would be something missing. That is what is missing in the Nigerian film industry today. Most of the people who occupy key positions in Nollywood read history, biology, economics and a host of others. These are the people also taking decisions about the future of the industry. These are some of the things that some of us are advocating for that we need to establish training institutions where film and movie graduates can pass through and go out to practice and establish laws and regulations. Let’s also not put aside the problem of infrastructures, which is conspicuously there.
With all you have mentioned, some people are of the opinion that there is a dichotomy in the industry. What is your take?
There is tribalism in the industry and that is a result of multilingual and multi-ethnic set up as a nation. We have several regions and languages. And some of the ethnic groups make their own films using their own languages. We also have the official language that we also produce in that medium. You have all kinds of films such as Yoruba, English, Igbo and Hausa languages films and you are calling all of them Nollywood. At some point some of them started separating themselves from Nollywood. That is the reason why some of us are not totally in support of the name Nollywood.
We should not be following the West. We need to look at our own situation and create our own unique ideas. If you go to California and say you want to go to Hollywood, they will direct you there. It is a city where most of the stars live, and they have studios and structures there. If you come to Nigeria and say you are going to Nollywood, where will they take you to? So why should we call our own Nollywood. The industry is bereft of intellectual content. They are just moving without direction and purpose.
One should also commend the general efforts of all the people who started the industry. I am one of the people that gave it some valves in the early 1990s when the early video films came out. But at some point, some other people just came up and hijacked it because they felt that some money can be made in the business, so they went ahead and over-commercialised it forgetting that we are dealing with the arts; that there should be a consideration of the importance of artistic creativity, apart from the business aspect of it. There should be a marriage of culture and commerce. But people there are only concerned about the business part of it, which is why they do all kinds of things such as pornography, use of gutter languages and so on, as if that represents the Nigerian lifestyle.
In your own opinion, how has government’s funding helped in the growth of the industry?
What is government funding, they are not funding anything. Or are they? What has government funded? I don’t know. I think some of the associations and guilds have been making some overtures to government to support the industry, though I don’t know what they are collecting the money for. Do they use the monies to shoot films? We don’t get to hear about it. Or are they using the money to build our own Nollywood, we don’t know about that. Are they using the money to create structures for the film industry? We have not seen anything. Government itself should know that some people are just being smart and collecting money to enrich themselves. I mean, what is the agenda of all the groups that have been collecting money? Some of us don’t know because they don’t invite us. Like I said, the people who are occupying leadership positions in the industry are just opportunists.
How do you shuttle between lecturing and acting?
It is just like asking me or any other person who is a professional how he manages between theory and practice. Is it possible to teach from 8am to 6pm? How did you manage to get me interviewed? Everything is by appointment and time. I am just from somewhere else to do something and I am here now granting this interview. If I have to teach I give my students appointment and that is it.
Teaching in the university is not like the experience in the primary or secondary school that the teacher will sit down in the class like a headmaster. Sometimes, my students fix lectures on phone. They just call me to remind me and we meet.
The truth is that recently, I have not been doing much in the area of acting. I am more or less like coming here every day. In fact, the people there don’t call me often any more. They say ‘that man, leave him o!’
Like I said previously, I try to be a very simple, modest and natural person, and I do my things in that light. Apart from cases of rascality that you find young people doing, I don’t involve myself in anything that is not honourable.
Do you feel fulfilled so far with the things you have done?
I am a happy man, though, I am not done yet. I am still relatively a young man and I believe that there are still a lot of things that I can still do to contribute to the Nigerian society in whatever capacity. The contribution is still on. I have not even reached the peak of my career. By the grace of God, I am still here in the university and we are still going to be working to make LASU a better place. Being a Lagosian, we are still going to work to make Lagos State generally, a better place. So far, there has been some impact on the contributions we have made in the areas of film and culture. We have received awards in UK and the USA for contributions to the growth of theatre in Nigeria and Africa.
For instance, I am the founder of the department of theatre arts and music here in LASU. When I came to LASU in 1994, I joined the English department, three years down the line I told the university to give us a department. So they created the department of theatre arts and music out of the English department because of some of the activities we were doing. Every year, we produced some of the convocation plays and they felt that they were boxing us up and not allowing us to realise our potentials. With the help of one or two of my colleagues that I called together, we developed a curriculum for theatre, submitted it to the university, went through the process of sending it and they gave us a department. That is just one of the contributions.
In LASU, I have been assistant director of a campus, currently I am a director of information of the university and I have also been sub-dean of the postgraduate school.
Should a young aspiring artistes walk up to you for advice, what would you tell him/her?
I think the young people of today should imbibe the virtues of hard work, be focused, be dedicated to duty and assignments, be patient and also trust in God. There is need for Godliness in everything we do in life because if anyone thinks he is the possessor of the power and skills of the things we do, he or she would be deceiving himself. There is need to acquire quality education, as this is very important for anybody who wants to be a successful artiste, so that you can be discovered. Everybody needs to be discovered. There is need to be developed, in the process of developing, you realise a lot of things as you grow in life. That is when you need all those virtues of forthrightness, dedication, commitment, honesty, diligence and seriousness. When people see you as a serious minded person in life, their attitude to you will be different from others. Even if they have not met you before, probably, they have heard your name before, the kind of friends you keep, the places you go to and the kind of things you do. All these things are important, but some of our younger people who think that drinking and living a rough life is the way, they will soon find out that it is not.
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