…Baba Sala told Saturday Telegraph 11 months before his death
Even before the latest rumour of his death, Moses Olaiya Adejumo, had identified being constantly rumoured dead as a burden he is not willing to carry anymore having had to bear it for the past few years. As he sat across a few journalists somewhere in Lekki where the main thrust of the discussion centred on a biography of the man who took comic acting, either on stage or on screen, to the zenith, it was easy to identify him as a man in need of utmost care.
Being one of the very first theatre practitioners whose characters assumed larger than life images, Baba Sala hardly needs any introduction, except when in conversation with those younger than 20 by time the new era of television and film had taken over.
At a briefing held recently on his forthcoming biography due for presentation on December 14, the 82-year-old legend spoke with difficulty as one of his wives, Mrs Funmi Adejumo, who accompanied him to Lagos from his Ilesa, Osun State residence, said the octogenarian is not suffering from old age but lack of funds for medical treatment.
Garbed in a white Buba and Sokoto with a red cap to match, the foremost producer and actor looked frail and found walking difficult while his breathing was laboured. And when he did talk, it came out in gasps of strenuous efforts. “I am alive. But I’m sick. I am too weak to talk and I can’t walk. I don’t want to be confined by paralysis. I don’t want to die like this. Nigerians should please help me,” he managed to utter words that evoked a lot more than pity in every letter.
Being a pioneer on the Nigerian comedy scene, Baba Sala was the toast of millions across the southwest where the Yoruba language he used for his performances, was widely spoken from as far back as the 1960s until the 90s. As a total performer, theatre was not his only forte; he was also a good musician renowned for taking the now legendary King Sunny Ade through the basics in music.
According to Collins Oyedokun, who penned the biography of Baba Sala along with Akinola Babatunde and Kunle Ajayi, that Baba Sala is first among equals is a fact no one can dispute. Titled Triumph of Destiny, the foreword of which was written by a foremost academic, Professor Gbemisola Remi Adeoti of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, the book captures the life and times of Baba Sala for posterity as published by Sunshine Consult.
“The book chronicles the pride of place that Baba Sala has in the Nigerian theatre industry as a comedian and consummate entertainer,” said Collins who said they were also moved by the actor’s health challenge in writing the book.
“It captures the antecedents and essence of the creative energies of a comical trailblazer,” Oyedokun said of the book whose proceeds he and his associates hope will be more than adequate in taking care of the health and life of the ace comedian.
“The book chronicles the pride of place that Baba Sala acquired for himself in the Nigerian theatre industry as the first comedian and consummate entertainer. It captures the antecedents and essence of the creative energies of a comical trailblazer,” Oyedokun added as CEO of Precision Edge Limited, Mrs. Bidemi Ojoawo Oladoye, who facilitated the parley, said while requesting the support of young musicians and theatre practitioners.
“A legend doesn’t deserve to die like this. People like Davido, Wizkid, 2Face Idibia, Kunle Afolayan among others can and should help Baba Sala in any way they can,” she said. Pre-empting the thoughts of Nigerians who might wonder if Baba Sala did not have any investments at all, his first son, Reverend Dele Adejumo, said they have all been wrecked by circumstances with enormous debt incurred in the aftermath.
Going down memory lane, the younger Adejumo said the pirating of his film, Orun Mooru, many years ago by an unscrupulous businessman led to the collapse of his businesses in Ibadan and Ilesa in Oyo and Osun States. To buttress his points, his son mentioned some of Baba Sala’s investments which unfortunately are no longer viable.
“He had hotels, a recording company, a photo magazine company as well but those in charge of management wrecked it all. In those days, they invested their own money and even borrowed money to do projects but he is now left with nothing.
“Among these are the Awada Spot in Ibadan, Alawada Standard Hotel in Ilesa and Alawada Records and Ibukun Alawada Photo Magazine which were also in Ibadan. He had investments but they have all been wrecked by mismanagement,” the reverend said.
“He also had a three-storey building in Mushin, Lagos, which he had to sell to offset debts incurred when his work, Orun Mooru, was pirated. We still have some of his recorded works not in the public domain yet but machines that will be used to transform them to an acceptable format are not readily available. We do not have the kind of money they are charging us.”
Speaking of what needs to be done for the legendary Baba Sala to get off the sick bed, he added: “We have been told that baba needs a lot of money for medical treatment abroad. He is suffering from a stroke and other ailments. There are many people of his age who are not like this. We are trying our best as family members. We take him to the teaching hospital every week but he needs proper medical attention. It is quite unfortunate that somebody of his pedigree should be forgotten and abandoned just like that, that is why we feel he should be celebrated while alive.”
Making a reference to the Nigerian political terrain, Oyedokun said: “When Chief Obafemi Awolowo died, late Dim Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu said he was the best president Nigeria never had. Baba Sala is the first notable comedian in Nigeria.
“We also have many of his recordings but most are not compatible with new technology except you transfer them to new formats.
Hardly able to speak when he was given time to, the theatre icon called on President Muhammadu Buhari and governors across the Nigerian federation, especially those of the south west, to make their presence felt at the launch of his biography coming up later this month, December 14 specifically, in Lagos.
As the countdown to the December 14 date begins, one can only wonder and hope that this destiny should ultimately triumph.”
Footnote: This feature, focusing on the life and times of legendary actor and comedian, Moses Olaiya Adejumo, better known as Baba Sala, was published 11 months ago just days to its presentation in December 2017. The iconic comedian died on October 7.