Popular actor, Saidi Balogun, speaks with TOFARATI IGE, about his career, turning 50, politics, Nollywood and other pertinent issues
You recently won the award for Best Actor at Independent Newspapers Awards. How did that make you feel?
Wining that award is the best thing that has happened to me in this decade. I almost shed tears when I was receiving the award on stage but I quickly controlled myself. I made the first two-cast film in Africa, yet, I did not win any award with it. The movie was released in 2008 and as of 2018, people are still talking about it and commending me for a job well done. It was one of the films that transformed digital movies because of the way it was shot. I also made the first ‘ankara’ movie and I did not win any award with it too. However, I got many awards and was recognised internationally for those movies. For Independent Newspapers to look at my antecedents and my performance in the movie, Banana Island Ghost, and give me the award is commendable. Mind you, it is not just about giving me the award but the fact that it was presented to me in the presence of governors Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State and Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State; Ooni of Ife (who has always stood by me); Otunba Gbenga Daniel, and several distinguished personalities. That award made me happy and it gave me hope that God still exists and that I should continue to work hard. After I made the two-cast movie, I did not produce any film again and that’s because I felt it wasn’t worth it.
For an actor of your calibre, one would have expected that you would have won many awards. Do you think that the industry does not appreciate your contributions?
I don’t want to be anybody’s enemy neither do I want to be anybody’s friend. I would just say God gave it at the right time. I am a message to a lot of people not to ever lose hope. Keep doing what you believe in and someday, you would get your reward. Those are some of the things the Ooni of Ife told me. The monarch said he had watched a lot of my films and that he likes me. He commended me for bringing a Caucasian to speak Yoruba in one of my movies and he said I should always come to him whenever I need assistance. However, I told him I was tired because it all seemed not to be worth it but he said I should never be tired; so people like him give me hope. Perhaps, if I had won the awards in the past, some things might have happened. Now that I have gotten the award at my golden age, I think it is fitting. I celebrated my 50th birthday last year and I won a golden award this year in the presence of important people.
Now that you have won an award, would you continue producing films?
The past administration of Goodluck Jonathan did very well for the entertainment industry and we must give him kudos for that. The current Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, goes to every function and he is very accessible. I am using this opportunity to appeal to governors that when they encourage people in their states who are doing well without politicising it, a lot of creative people will be encouraged to come out and there would be a reduction in the number of youths engaging in fraud and other illegal activities. What I am looking for now is structure in the industry. They invited the heads of different associations in the industry to the Motion Pictures Practitioners Council of Nigeria but no hard law was passed on piracy. They have turned us to a debating society; we just talk without getting any response. There is a particular movie that featured American actor, Bruce Willis, and its producers wanted to shoot part of it in Nigeria but due to the lack of structure here, they had to go to Liberia. By the time the movie was released, it portrayed us in a wrong light.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan made some money available to Nollywood but some people feel the funds were largely mismanaged. What’s your take on that?
The money was not embezzled. He didn’t give individuals money. The money was in NEXIM Bank but it is now in the Bank of Industry. People should stop saying what they don’t have accurate information about. BoI has a structure and if you meet its criteria, the bank will grant you loans. Jonathan only made us aware of the money because of the love he has for entertainment; it has been there for a long time. Even (former President Olusegun) Obasanjo spoke about the money during his time but nobody listened to him. However, like I said, the problem is not about taking the loan, it is about paying it back.
Have you benefitted from any of these funds?
For now, I have not. I’m still working on my proposal. If I qualify, they would give it to me.
You once said that Goodluck Jonathan treated entertainers like school kids. What informed that view?
I didn’t exactly say that. I only said that we (entertainers) always went to him as if we were doing birthday parties. Instead of us pleading with him to help solidify the structure in Nollywood, majority of our people just went there to smile with him without demanding anything tangible. It is what you ask your father for that he would give you.
You recently turned 50. What lifestyle changes have you made?
I have forgiven all those that offended me. I could be short-tempered but I control it a lot now and I try to get along well with everybody. I also advise people based on my experience. I have resolved to pray more and to say things the way they are.
Why don’t you appear in English movies?
Movie has no language. If you are watching a football match on TV and the volume is turned down, you would still understand what is going on. That is the way a good movie should be. However, people embrace English more because it is our official language and you can reach more people with it than Yoruba. India, China and other countries make movies in their languages and they pass their message across with subtitles. However, I was born in Enugu. If anybody invites me, I would heed the call. Meanwhile, I recently went to Enugu to direct two movies for the Aneke twins. I also directed a Hausa film in Jos. Art should be borderless.
Is there any role you would love to play but have not had the opportunity to do so yet?
I have not really appeared in traditional films as I would have liked. Probably because of my complexion, people may think that I wouldn’t fit in for that kind of movie.
You campaigned actively for Oyo State Governor Ajimobi in 2015 but you don’t seem to be close again. Did he just use and dump you?
People often ask me this question. Yes, I campaigned for him and we were together for about four months before the election. Right now, he is doing his best in Oyo, and I am doing my thing. We need someone, who is erratic, to handle my state and he is doing well. As regards standing for election, I may be a fantastic orator but I may not be a good leader. However, if people see that I have what they want in me and they call me, I would yield to them. For now though, I don’t see that happening. If you want to be a politician in Nigeria today, put N10m in a bag and set it on fire. If you don’t cry, then you are ready because in politics, you have to spend a lot of money.
Can you recall which movie led to your breakthrough?
I would credit that to three movies: Ologbo Dudu by Kola Olotu; Enu Orofo by Rasaq Ajao, aka Araosan; and the third one was Omo Alhaja, produced by me.
What personal qualities helped you to get where you are today?
It is solely the work of God. I believe in young ones and I respect talent a lot. Even if I don’t like your face and you make a fantastic movie or give a wonderful performance, I would be the first person to greet you. I also take corrections from people, regardless of who you are. I have helped a lot of people such as Toyin Abraham (Aimakhu), Abbey Jimoh, Allwell Ademola, Muyiwa Ademola (who directed his first film through me), and many others. When I see these people shaking the industry today, it makes me very happy and fulfilled. Other people’s success keeps me going.
What misconceptions do people have about you?
People think I like women a lot because I played the role of a womaniser in many movies. Some people also think I’m hardened because of some of the characters I have acted in movies. Meanwhile, I joke and play a lot. These days, I’m always reluctant to play bad boy roles.
What has fame robbed you off?
A lot of things actually! For example, someone hit my car on the road and as I got down, people started begging me that I should forgive the guy. If I don’t forgive the person, different things could be said about the incident in the media.
How would you describe your fashion style?
My mood determines the way I dress. I believe that it is not about what I wear, it is about the impact I’m able to make on people.
How do you relax?
I unwind by watching TV and playing with my kids. I also listen to local music by Yusuf Olatunji, Wasiu Ayinde, Shefiu Alao, Malaika, Yinka Ayefele, among others. Their music always touches me and gives me inspiration.