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I used to get embarrassed because of my skin….. Actor Afeez Oyetoro

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He is largely celebrated for his comic roles in the Nigerian movie industry, but Afeez Oyetoro, popularly known as Saka, came to the public eye mainly because of his controversial modelling engagements. The Oyo State-born, who is both a thespian and a lecturer at the Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, left an indelible mark in the memory of many Nigerians after his role in the 2013 MTN advert, which caused a lot of debates as well as critical acclaim and recognition for the actor. In this interview, the actor, who is a principal actor in one of Wale Adenuga’s movies, Knockout, coming out this Easter, shares some of his stories with AFRIKANBAZE..

Do people still call you Saka?

People still call me Saka and I don’t mind it.

By virtue of other works you have done, do you sometimes think that Saka should be replaced by another name?

It is a brand. Saka has come to stay. As an individual, I think I should work harder to sustain the brand, to make it a renowned brand instead of to replace it.

Some people describe you as a scholar /comedian. How do you feel about the combination?

Comedian, may be because I play comic roles, but I would rather they call me scholar only. I am an academic for now. I am trying to become a renowned scholar by virtue of being a lecturer for close to 20 years. I think the reason for the two names is because I play so much of comic roles together with being an academic. But it is all right, as long as they are not calling me a thief, I think it is not bad.

You were featured in “Knockout”, a movie coming out in the cinemas this Easter. What should movie buffs expect from you in Knockout?

People should expect very high quality entertainment laced with didactic takeaways. ‘Knockout’ has a galaxy of stars, who are much better than Saka, those who were our seniors and colleagues for years. Wale Adenuga Production (WAP) has over the years done so much in building stars. Wale Adenuga has been very relevant in the movie industry; he has been putting bread and butter on the tables of so many actors and artistes. So, Knockout, the movie, is a gathering of star actors and celebrities that Wale Adenuga Production has built over the years.

From what I saw, you will be engaging Gentle Jack in the final boxing match…

I just happened to play one of the principal roles. It was a privilege and honour to be part of that production. It gave me the opportunity to be on the same set with those super stars. It is going to be a knockout. The film is going to knockout box office this Easter.

I was going to ask, do you think “Knockout” will appeal to the Nigerian viewing audience?

The truth is ‘Knockout’ is about ambition, it is about love, it is about survival in the midst of hard economic situation of the country, it is about suspense, it is about the determination to make it in life, and it is fun. It entertains, it makes people laugh. Why they are laughing, they will learn few things about what makes us Nigerians tick.

In your opinion, how has comedy helped in shaping the patronage of Box Office materials in Nigeria?

It has been a great instrument. Comedy spans various areas of our lives. People like Ali Baba, Basketmouth, AY among others have raised the bar when it comes to comedy in Nigeria. There was a time in Nigeria when live show was dying and losing patronage. Ali Baba introduced standup comedy into live show and that changed the game.

Today, live shows are flooded with audience. Truly, comedy has been used not just to entertain us, but to communicate our virtues, vices, foibles and nuances to greater audiences. People like to laugh. This love for comedy has also been helpful in the resurrection of the cinema culture in Nigeria. Today, almost all the movies in the box office try to introduce elements of comedy in their productions.

And before you watch five films in the cinema, at least four will be fully comic or rom-com. It has been a source of income for some people, a source of motivation, and a means of resuscitating the entertainment industry in Nigeria. The Nigerian situation does not need any unnecessary emotional task. What we need in Nigeria is to be emotionally stable and creative and productive to make Nigeria move on in spite of enormous odds. Comedy happened to be one of the principal means of achieving this. So, in term of creating jobs, enhancing the attraction of the public to the movie industry, and economic productivity in Nigeria, comedy has played a very vital role.And do you think comedy is the reason you came to the limelight?

There is no problem as something will just bring you up. You see, when you are building a house until you put the last finishing touches, people will not notice it. People may not notice when you are laying the foundation or when you are putting up the blocks. Comedy is part of the artistic attributes that brought me to limelight. But most importantly, the favour of God did it. I believe that so many people are out there who are better or more talented than I am, but God has given me the grace to be exhibited the way I was. So, I thank God for that.

One will recall that earlier in your career you played roles such as a young school teacher, headmaster among others, but today you are predominantly a comic actor. Do you see yourself returning to non-comic roles?

I direct, I teach and I do some other things in the theatre that are basically not exhibited. And I can basically play other roles. I play serious roles. It is just that in Nigeria today and because of the situation of the country, producers and directors prefer to give actors materials that they are used to. That is why an actor plays the same role over and over again in other productions.

Do you think you have been largely stereotyped?

No. No.

Are there other non-comic roles you have played recently?

Have you seen Taxi Driver, Oko Ashawo?

Yes.

You will discover that I can play other roles that are not comic. If you come to my office today, you will find lots of scripts that I have diplomatically rejected because they are so familiar with roles I have played before. Comic roles are very, very demanding. It takes more creativity to pull them off. For instance, I am not an alcoholic, but I can play a drunk very well. It, however, takes a lot of artistic creativity to be able to make that role naturally convincing. To make people laugh in Nigeria is a great work.

You said you diplomatically reject scripts involving comic roles. Should we assume that you are trying to pull out of the comic shell? Would you like to shed more light on this?

What I don’t want is to get unnecessarily stuck or stereotyped. If I play a particular role now and somebody summons me for the same role, I would not like to do it, because as far as I am concerned, every character is a new character and as an actor you must give it a new touch. So, that one character will not be the same as the other. So, when people want to regurgitate my character I reject it. For instance, if played a gateman that stammers and you hand me a script with the exact same role, I will not like to do that, but if you give me a different role or one slightly the same, I will consider it because it then will be challenging and will add value to my profession. That is the reason I reject scripts.

How was growing up in Iseyin, Oyo State, for you?

My parents were farmers. My father died at age 98. My mother is still alive. She took care of me. I was born in a village called Adegboola. I am a hundred per cent paki (ghetto) brought-up. I drank river water and agbo. I am not an albino. I have a fair complexion. So, it was not difficult for my parents to bring me up. At age 9 when I left my village, I was taken to my uncle’s house in Iseyin where I started my education. My uncle was a cleric. So, I was not a street boy either. I was brought up under a semi-buti (middle class) environment.

Talking about your skin colour, did you get any nickname?

I got so many: yellow pawpaw, oyinbo pepper, afin, among others. As a child, I used to get embarrassed because of my skin colour, but growing up, I realised that God had a purpose for creating people. I read in the Bible and in the Qu’an that everything that God created is beautiful. So, I see myself as beautiful. These days, I call myself those names more than anyone else because I have grown up to realise that it is not an abuse. If someone calls me afin (albino) do I not look like afin? So, this is the reality of life that we cannot run away from and if you refuse to accept it, you will just give yourself unnecessary emotional distress.

On a lighter note, were you also given a nickname because of your open teeth?

Yes. Of course, they called me Ejiwunmi. For me, I do not see any offence in names that directly relates to my nature. Unless I want to deceive myself, I thank God for giving me these unique features. This is how God created me and I am grateful to Him. For instance, even now, my skin colour is an added advantage to me. It brought me good tidings.

Like the MTN campaign deal? Joining MTN was like a match made in heaven. How has it been since then?

It has been wonderful. I want to thank MTN for the opportunity. Being MTN ambassador makes me feel youthful and unique. It is a great opportunity. And I will forever be grateful to MTN. This is my 6th year with MTN as an ambassador and I have never regretted any second. Being in MTN was an added advantage. I got more privileges within and outside Nigeria. I got more opportunities and recognitions. It added to my career as a theatre practitioner and a lecturer.

But some say that your movement from Etisalat to MTN was a coup d’etat. Would like to shed some more light on that?

Well, let me clear it now: I have never been an ambassador for Etisalat. I was just a model to an agency, who was handling Etisalat account. I never signed any contract with Etisalat as an ambassador. I have never had any direct interaction with Etisalat. So, it was not as if MTN came and poached me from Etisalat. When I finished for them, MTN came and they said they needed an ambassador, that was how I signed with them.

Between negative and positive, how was the reception of your MTN move?

Of course, I got about 90 per cent good reception and the rest negative reception. I did not except everybody to like it, especially those who were followers of Etisalat, who do not know that I wasn’t an Etisalat ambassador. Most people reacted the way they did because they thought I was a bonafide ambassador of Etisalat. And I didn’t want to talk at that time because it would create a lot of controversies. But l believed that the media dug out the fact about the Etisalat issue.

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