For more than three decades, Solomon Abiodun Majekodunmi, popular known as Baba Kekere, has remained faithful to his first calling: Acting. He’s undoubtedly one of the glittering stars in the nation’s entertainment industry. In many ways, Majekodunmi, who also worked in First Bank Plc for 20 years, is a delight on stage, on TV and in movies. Talk of a round character in movies and his name will ring very loud. In this engaging and revealing interview with BABATUNDE SULAIMAN, this respected actor and producer talks about a lot of interesting chapters in his earthly sojourn, among other issues I know you are on TV, on stage and in movies.
So, does it mean you live solely on acting?
Yes, for now, I live solely on acting. But before now, I wasn’t because I worked in First Bank Plc for 20 good years. I joined First Bank Plc in January 1981 and retired as a senior officer voluntarily in 2000.
Why did you voluntarily resign from First Bank Plc?
Thank you very much. You see, I was acting even when I was still in First Bank Plc. But having served for 20 years, I thought it was time I left so that I could face film productions that I am also known for. In other word, I didn’t want to retire from First Bank Plc when I would no longer be useful to do any other thing.
I wonder if you were fulfilled as a banker.
Yes, I was. That I retired from the bank doesn’t mean I was fed up. Was it a hard decision for you to take, knowing very well that working in a bank comes with a lot of good things, so to say. It was a good decision I made and it wasn’t hard for me to take. Since I left in 2000, I have not had any regrets. I am in a profession that I know very much about and I had been practising it before I joined First Bank Plc. So, when I retired and came back to it, it was not new to me again. If I had not resigned from First Bank Plc, I don’t know what would have happened to me. A number of my colleagues in the industry would have left me behind and it would have amounted to me running to them for help. I didn’t want that to happen to me.
Could you recall your worst experience while you were in First Bank Plc?
(Takes a long breath) I don’t know.
Are you saying that throughout the 20 years you spent in First Bank Plc, you didn’t have any difficult time?
You see, I have been a very hard-working person. I didn’t go to the university. After my secondary school, I joined a construction company and I later left there for First Bank Plc. I was in the International Banking Division Department and it was very challenging; so, I couldn’t but be hard working. Then, a number of my colleagues had passed some professional examinations like the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), Chartered Institute of Bankers (CIB) and so on. But it will interest you to know that I was at par with all my colleagues who had passed the professional examinations. In fact, I can’t think of any person that surpassed me then.
But why didn’t you sit for any professional examination to enhance your career? Thank you.
You see, we used to write internal examinations. As I told you earlier, my boss knew I was acting. So, the first time I was to go on a course (supervisory promotion course), my boss, Mrs. Atitebi, called me and said, “Eh! Baba Kekere, you must pass the course; otherwise, don’t come back to this department.” And usually, but before you could sit for the course, you must have attended some technical courses. But I never attended one. It was a big challenge for me. The cut off point was 50%. I went for the course and came second. Apart from this, I can’t remember if I had any other serious challenge when I was in the bank. I was regularly getting promotion while I was in the bank.
So, how did life as an actor begin?
Immediately I left secondary school, some friends and I (the other two popular ones today are Yinka Quadri and Fatai Adekanbi) formed a theatre group, Isale Oro Theatre Group, in 1977. We were about 19 in all.
You mean without any training in acting?
Yes. You see, because we had no experience, we had to invite the late Taiwo Olayinka, popularly called Agbodorogun, to lead us. After some time, he left us; so, we had to face it squarely.
How could you have gone into a profession you were not trained for and what was the attraction in acting?
Okay, today, when people come to me to say they want to act, I tell them that I am not against their going into acting, but I always enjoin them to first pray over it. But at the time we were forming the group, there was nothing like that. I think that’s why out of the 19 people that formed the group, only two or three are still well known today. The rest are alive, but they are not acting. Looking back now, I don’t need anybody to tell me that I am on the right path, career-wise.
How did your parents react to your going into acting?
They were just indifferent to it. I am saying this because they never told me not to go into it. At that time, parents didn’t usually allow their children to go into acting because it was believed that there was juju and all that. But we have had instances when some actors had suffered some nasty experiences on the stage or died in mysterious circumstances. Yes, it was rampant at that time, but I am not in the position to tell you now that it was because of juju that some people were vomiting blood on stage and all that. So, I would say only God knows what could be responsible for such things.
Today, don’t people still talk about juju?
Well, I am a Christian and I believe that when it is your time to die, you will die. So, for me, when you get to the last bus stop, you must get down!
What were your parents into?
My mother, who is from a family of talking drum players, is into petty trading, but my father worked in the LSDPC for some time.
What is your position in the family and where do you hail from?
(Laughs) Today, I happen to be the only child of my mother. Actually, I had an elder brother. But, at some point, my mother and father had a little misunderstanding, so my mother left him. She left the two of us with my father. But, at a time, my brother died during a brief illness. I knew him very well. Consequently, people around my mother told her to take me away from there. So, I was brought to Lagos to live with some of my mother’s relatives. That was where I had my primary and secondary school education. My father later got married to another woman who also had a child for him. Though the woman is dead, the child is alive. So, where is your mum now? Yes, she is alive. But I can’t call the boy my younger brother because my second child is even older than he is.
But he is still your half brother?
Yes, he is, but in Yoruba, he is my son.
How old were you when you were taken away from your dad?
I should be six then.
Looking at your background, how has the experience impacted on your lifestyle today?
I feel sad whenever I remember my growing up because I didn’t really enjoy both motherly and fatherly care. It would have been a lot better if I lived with my mother rather than her relatives. I went through a lot, but I will not be able to talk about it in this interview.
But could you share a particularly unforgettable one with me?
One of my mother’s relatives had a child who is older than I am. Whenever we woke up, I would be the one to do all the chores, while her child would be playing about. That’s not good. If my mum was there, that kind of thing wouldn’t happen.
But why didn’t you live with your mum and where was she then?
Thank you very much. My mum left my father and got married to another person.
Was it immediately she left your father?
No, it took a while. You know I was young at that time, so I wouldn’t know what was happening. But all I knew was that she was not with my father and I didn’t know where she was. At six, I ought to have been registered in a primary school. But I eventually started when I was eight. So, it was much later that I knew my mum was with another man; maybe that was why she didn’t want me to live with her.
So, when did you reunite with your mum?
Well, she was always coming to visit me at Lafiaji in Lagos. Could you recall some of the initial challenges you had as an actor? Part of the challenges was the juju we talked about earlier. We had our first stage performance, Ori ti o ma la, in Obalende, Lagos, and I was the lead actor. But, at that time, if you were not good, you would tremble on the stage, especially because of the issue of juju we are talking about. Then, some people would do all sorts of things just to make sure that your performance didn’t turn out well.
Did you experience that?
Yes, I did. When I got on the stage that day, I couldn’t sing at all. It was very devastating because it was our own production. I ran to the back of the stage and my colleagues were afraid. But Agbodorogun knew what was happening; so, he gave me a charm that I put inside my jacket. After I had done so, I went on the stage and sang successfully. It was strange because I had rehearsed so well before I went on stage.
Did you ask him what the charm was meant for and were you always having it on you during subsequent productions?
No, it was the first and the last time. I didn’t ask him what it was meant for. All I knew was that when I got back on stage, I did what I was supposed to do and left. So, I don’t know whether it was the charm or God’s intervention that saved the situation. I returned the charm to him after the production that day. I knew your actress wife in the 80s.
How did you meet her?
I met her during our first production that I just talked about. She was living in Obalende and one of our people, who was also living in the area, invited her to watch our play. She attended Okemagba High School, Epe, Lagos, and she had some experience in acting too. So, after our first production, I saw her discussing with Fatai Adekanbi and I went towards them. She was actually pointing out some mistakes in the production. Later, I brought her into our group in 1979 because I realized she knew some things about acting too. So, you started out as friends, then colleagues and lovers. So, how long did your courtship last before you got married? We got married in 1981, so our courtship lasted two years.
What really attracted you to her because certainly you must have met some other ladies before then?
Yes, I was in a relationship with a lady at that time, but along the line she messed up. So, when I saw her (my wife), I knew she would be an asset to my group and she eventually turned out to be an asset even to me.
How did you propose to her?
(Laughs) I don’t know how you want me to explain this. You see, after the production, I got to know where she was living in Obalende. Then, she too was always coming to our rehearsals. So, it got to a stage that I said, “Let’s be one.” She asked me to give her some time to think about it because she already had a child for someone at that time.
Was she married?
No, she wasn’t. It was a love child. When I asked her about her past, she told me everything. She told me why she couldn’t marry the father of her child, but I may not be able to tell you her reason in this interview. My colleagues got to know that I was interested in her, but they were not happy.
It was mainly because she already had a child for someone else. They liked the other lady and they got on well with her. But I told them that the lady was not serious with her education and that my parents wanted me to settle down in time. When they complained about the fact that she (my wife) already had a child, I said it didn’t matter. I told them she loved me and I loved her. Although my explanation didn’t go down well with them, I told them that they would not live my life for me or manage my home for me. So, they had no choice but to let me follow my heart.
And what is it like being married to a fellow actor?
It is very, very good and I think it is the best thing to do. Now, she knows I am here for a rehearsal. Again, if I go back home and tell her I am going for a recording that will last two days and that I will be staying for two days, she won’t complain. Even if I end up spending four days, she will not frown at it because she is used to it. One thing I have observed about her now is that she’s so corpulent, unlike when she started out.
I wonder if you like her looks now.
Yes, you are right! I don’t like it, but she caused it.
You see, when you sit down at home doing nothing and all you do is to instruct people to do everything for you, then, you are likely going to turn out the way she is. That was the beginning of her problem. Frankly, Yinka Quadri and Jide Kosoko have complained bitterly about it, but she wouldn’t listen. That is one of the things that contributed to her big size now. So, what are you doing about it? Nothing! I don’t like it, but what can I do?
So, she may not be as romantic as she used to be.
(Laughs) Don’t let us go into that. But it is a question. Of course, you have answered the question. Somebody who is as big as that (pauses)…In fact, no man would like any woman who is as fat as my wife. So, that has been my complaint to my second wife.
I even wanted to ask if you married a second wife when you realized that your first wife had lost her beauty.
No! No! No! She was not as fat as that when I got married to my second wife. When was that? It was in 1990.
In what circumstance and did you plan to be a polygamist?
Eh! Eh! Not really. I developed interest in her, but my wife later got to know about the relationship. She was not happy about it and I wouldn’t blame her for that. But she did it to the extreme. If she had folded her arms to see what would be the outcome, probably I would not have got married to that lady. I am not saying I might not marry another person, but it might not have been that particular lady. But I believe very much in destiny. I believe it has been destined that I would get married to her; so who am I to say no? I don’t have any regrets getting married to her.
You said your first wife went to the extreme. Could you expatiate?
No, you should understand now! You are Yoruba and you should know that she would naturally react. But she took it to the extreme.
And you were not afraid of the consequence?
Ha! Well, she was not pleased and I went through a lot, but I will not tell you the details now. I was not happy about it the way she reacted. But as I said, if it was not fated that I would get married to her, I wouldn’t have succeeded.
Ordinarily, if you had your way, would you have been a polygamist?
So, now that you are one, how have you been coping with the challenges involved?
Yes, initially, we had little problems. Of course, that could happen to anybody. But today, with God’s intervention, everything is perfectly okay.
Do you all live in the same house?
No, my second wife is in America.
She has been there since 2002. But do you go there once in a while?
Yes, I do and she also comes around. How about her children? The three of them are with me.
How many does the first wife have?
Four. But what kind of arrangement is this? I mean you are in Nigeria while one of your wives is abroad. It is okay for me. You can’t compare the life in America to the life here in Nigeria. To me, it is better you raise your children here in Nigeria, at least up to the secondary school level.
What normally attracts you to a woman because many people don’t believe you are romantic?
(Laughs) Am I? I can’t explain it, but my wives can explain that. I believe if I am not good in bed, they won’t stay with me.
Where are your children now?
My first child, Kikelomo, read Theatre Art at the Lagos State University, Ojo; my second child, Adenike, read Biochemistry at the Olabisi Onabanjo University (formerly Ogun State University); my third child, Lara, will be graduating in Business Administration this year also from OSU; and my fourth child is in the same university.
So, your first wife has female children.
Now, I understand why you had to marry a second wife, obviously because you wanted a male child.
That was not the reason. Before God and man, some other reasons contributed to my getting married to the lady, apart from destiny.
Are you saying it was not because you wanted a male child?
No! No! No! I married her because I love her. She has two female children and one male child for me. So, if the first wife had reacted so strongly, as you said, then, it’s understandable. You see, when she gave birth to her first child, Omobola, I was very happy. But when she gave birth to her second child, I felt bad. I said if God had given me a male child, I would have been most happy. Eran ara nlo mi ni igba yen ni (I was just being human). I said, “God, what is happening?” My brother, I don’t want any more children again. But that is where destiny comes in again. So, I told her to let us do family planning! She agreed with me and she did it after her second child. But it got to a time that my mother, father and one woman called me differently and said I should let her have another one because she’s still young. I was mad at them. I said, “Why are you saying this? Will you be feeding the baby for me and will you be responsible for her education?” But I didn’t know what was happening; my wife went to remove the family planning device without my knowledge. On a certain day, I slept with her, but I didn’t enjoy it because she forced me to make love to her. A month later, she said she was pregnant. I told her, “Are you mad? Are you serious? How can you be pregnant when you are on family planning?” She then said, “I went to remove it.” I replied, “What do you mean? Remove what? If you love yourself, go and terminate it. Before you did it, it was an agreement between the two of us, so don’t you know you have to inform me before removing it?” So, that actually led to a serious problem. But I didn’t know that time that a male child was coming. We went to my fathers in the Lord and they told me to leave her alone. We were not friendly through out the period she carried the pregnancy. But as God would have it, she gave birth to a male child. That is destiny again! I don’t hope to have another one again and that is why I call him my last born. But I am not God and I don’t pray to make any mistake again.