Multiple award winning Actor and Producer, Bayo Bankole gained critical acclaim for his role as “Boy Alinco in Wale Adenuga’s long running TV comedy “Baba Ajasco”. In this interview with our correspondent, FRANCIS OGBONNA, Bayo speaks about his life; career; family and his latest venture. Excerpts…
Can we meet you?
My name is Bayo Bankole, I am a movie maker, of course I have produced a movie, so I can say that I am a producer. I have been opportune to direct one or two movies, so I can say that I am a director. I have acted in several plays on radio; television and movies, so I can also say that I am an actor. So altogether I would say I am a movie maker.
Can you tell us a little more about yourself, for example, how you started acting?
I was born about 40 something years ago at Ebute Meta; I attended African Church Primary school, Bethlehem at Ebute Meta. Later I went to St. Timothy College, Onike-Iwaya in Yaba. I didn’t make all my papers at once, so I went to stay with my Aunty in Akure for a year. I returned back to Lagos and attended Nigerian Railway Technical School. Afterwards, I worked a bit at Radio Nigeria (FRCN). But before then, I had started acting in church, while a member of the African Church Youth Association (ACYA) of African Salem Church, Ebute Meta, as a greenhorn. But professionally, I started acting 1988/89, when I had my first shot at theater. I had auditioned for and was fortunate to get a role in the play “Emene: the Tragedy of a rebellion”, written by Zulu Sofola and that was the beginning. I, however got to the mainstream 1989/90 when I started appearing in seasonal plays e.g. that organized by Chuck Mike. Later I worked with Sola Fosudu; three of us actually ran Centre-Spread productions. Our major thrust was Concert Theater. I went on and in 1995 I got a role in “Owoblow”, directed by Tade Ogidan, then thereafter Papa Ajasco came to be in 1997, that’s how I got the role of Boy Alinco. So with “Owoblow” and Papa Ajasco, it was a “combo” for me. That period, 1997 marked the beginning of stardom for me and I have been there since. Glory be to God.
Before we go to Papa Ajasco, you had mentioned Radio, TV and Movies, in which one of them do you make your strongest appearance on? Which one of them would you say is your forte?
Being an actor is like being a soldier and to a soldier every battle is a battle. So you face each war the way you should. Yeah, people would always say stage is more challenging because it is usually live performances and you don’t have the opportunity to correct your mistakes. So to avoid making mistakes, you have to rehearse for at least a month so as to perfect your act before you get on stage. However for TV, it is a cut and join thing, every mistake is corrected before the final job is aired. Just like we say, in stage you are far from the audience, so the ability to carry them along must be there. It actually takes a lot of effort and expertise, because they are watching you from afar. Your performance must be perfect and your expression has to be so loud, that the people can be carried along with you. For TV, you are closer so there is this relationship between you and the audience, so it requires lesser effort for interpretation.
So stage is much more challenging?
Yes, much more. Radio is similar to stage. You may think it is simple, but like stage, radio is live, so you have to sound convincing to the listeners, because for every word, there is a meaning and African drama is different from European or American drama. So your performance must be very precise and you must also have your own style. But all in all, like I said earlier, its like a soldier going to war, you handle each battle the way they come.
For how long were you on set Papa Ajasco?
For 9 years (1997-2006).
That’s quite some time, so what happened, why did you leave?
Oh God, it’s a story that I don’t like going back to. It’s over six years now, but the question keeps occurring. Yeah, its just business, we couldn’t really reach a compromise. It’s all over now. We have resolved it; it’s just that, it’s not quite easy. The boy playing Alinco now is not doing badly, so there’s no need sending him packing, let him enjoy his moment.
But do you sometimes feel nostalgic? Do you sometimes wish you could go back to being Boy Alinco?
Why? I think in my chosen career, I am not doing badly either. It was just a phase in my life that has passed. It’s part of a life that I have lived and thank God, I lived it well. I enjoyed it then and I am still enjoying it now, which is the beauty of the business. We grew up watching “Cock Crow at Dawn” and when I see Sadiq Daba on set now, it is nostalgic. The experience is so great and a source of fun for me. But you know, he’s left that role behind and till date some people still know or refer to him as “Bitrus”.
So you don’t have any regrets leaving the Papa Ajasco show?
No! Because, forever I am Boy Alinco! You know, my friends even joke with me now and say you are no longer boy Alinco, but Man Alinco. I know its something that I played 9 years ago, but “emi ko loso, awon aye lon so” (the people said it and not I) that I played the role very well; it’s to the glory of God.
Since you left the Papa Ajasco set, which was predominantly an English drama, you seem to have done only Yoruba movies, why is that so?
You pitch you tent where you are accepted just like the proverbial Israel. It is so, basically because of the current situation in the industry. Much value is placed on tribal sentiments. If you look at the movie industry now, you would see that you have the English; Yoruba and the Hausa movie sections. I read recently in the paper, where a young man of Igbo extraction was asking what was wrong with Igbo actors, why are they no longer shooting Igbo movies. I want to believe that that era has gone. People know that the movie industry has moved from that point. The Igbo players have seen the handwriting on the wall, it is a silent revolution. Credit should be given to people like Kunle Afolayan and a host of other guys who are producing qualitative and standard films for Cinema. There’s no doubt about it everyone must come together to produce the best for us all. It shouldn’t be about what ethnic group was represented, it shouldn’t be an English movie done with a heavy Igbo accent and you call that an English movie for international market. So the standard is being introduced, real people are being used for real roles and not based on tribal sentiments. The game has changed from when people in upper Iweka and Idumota controlled things. It’s a jungle of course, a new world and I am part of it and we are doing quite a lot. Now you have good hands coming into the industry and doing the right thing, but then I have to pitch my tent with my people. At the same time, the number of appearance I make in Yoruba movies has reduced. It is a gradual process and we would surely get there, where the best hands will pick the role.
You seem to have conquered Radio, TV and Movie, so what next?
I don’t really know yet, but as far as the media is concerned, electronic media I mean, to God be the glory, one can do it and of course I spent four years studying drama. So I look forward to a certain period in my life where I will focus on “content provisions” and perhaps once in a while direct. I tell you that’s the next line of business in Nigeria. Many people are not really paying attention to it (Content provision), because by the time TV goes digital, not many people would be able to adjust. It would be difficult for some producers, because now independent producers are going through hell to produce qualitative programmes. Because you look at the situation where you invest N 3 or N 4 million to produce a drama for a quarter and now you have to go and look for several other millions to pay again for air time or to put it on TV. However when that time comes, it will be the TV stations that will be looking for contents. Creative and business minded people would have greater opportunity in that area I am trying to look into. Of course, there are loads of ideas, what is left is getting them actualized.
If Bayo wasn’t acting, what would he have been doing?
I am still wondering, I don’t know. At times, when I am broke and there was fuel scarcity, I wish I were a petrol attendant (he laughs). Nigeria is a great country, so there is nothing you will do and do very well that you can’t make a living from.
So you don’t see yourself someday dropping the movie industry for something else?
Well right now, I am marketing Nigerian University Games (NUGA), as you can see my car is branded with NUGA. We are trying to market the games, actually I graduated from OAU, Ife and now Ife is hosting the games. It’s a wonderful experience for me; an eye opening of some sort. I really like what I am doing now. One of the people in charge, even said, he finds it hard to reconcile between the person standing before him and the Boy Alinco that he knows and if it were possible they (his company) would have taken me in as a business development manager. This I appreciate, so I think it wouldn’t be bad going into marketing.
What was growing up like?
Fun! I grew up with my grand parents, but wasn’t really spoilt. It was a little tough, but I would say I got proper up-bringing. They didn’t so much as beat me, but I didn’t always get what I wanted. It was what they believe was good for me that I got. I think I got all that was good for me.
You said something earlier about an existing demarcation among the Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo speaking film sections as it were. How do you authenticate this, seeing that some other people have said that Nollywood is one?
Nollywood can not be one! How can Nollywood be one? I’ll give you an example; they say they are celebrating 20 years of Nollywood, what are they celebrating? What exactly is Nollywood that they are celebrating? The challenge is that the film industry in Nigeria dates back to the 1960s, which I believe that the first movie ever produced in Nigeria was the “Kongi Harvest”. And you have great movie makers that have played their parts before now. For instance, Ajani Ogun was a movie producer in the 70s/80s, before Ogunde even came on the scene. Ade love, Ladi Ladebo, Ola Balogun, these were great movie makers, that have played their part and have been doing movie long ago. Living in bondage did not start the industry; it did not set any standard. Ask NEK who started it all. Even back then, before Living in bondage, we used to have some Yoruba actor at “Mieran” who NEK discovered and would go there with VHS camera and record what they were doing. If they say they want to celebrate “Living in Bondage”, let them celebrate it, do you understand me? They shouldn’t just say Nollywood. The success of the Nigerian movie industry did not just start in 1993. And that’s the sectional thing we are talking about. More so, who are the people packaging it? What are their interests? Is it the growth of the industry or their personal interests? They should tell the real history of the Nigerian film industry. Wale Adenuga produced Papa Ajasco: the movie in the 80s, so what are we talking about? What are we celebrating? So they have been able to sectionalize the film industry. They have been able to create that distance. When they even mention Nollywood, they don’t call everybody in the industry. They call only themselves, I don’t want to sound tribalistic, but they only call the so called Igbo actors. I respect them a lot, but at the same time they should know that it’s a big industry and that it can only thrive, if we can come together as one. The problem of the industry is the proliferation of association. You have AGN; ANTP and NANTAP, you know? It’s annoying. Look at the way they shared the money (N50 million) Governor Godswill Akpabio gave the industry and the resultant wahala. The person they called to represent the Yoruba movie sector, Jide Kosoko was given N1 million (can you Imagine, N1 million for the Yoruba Movie sector? Common!), I was really sad when I heard that. Yet some other people took N5 million; N 15 million and so on. So there is a big problem in the industry and not until we deem it fit to bring everybody together before we can change things. Anyway, it’s just like what is happening in Nigeria. You know now? Nigeria is celebrating its 100 years and they want to have a National conference, if Nollywood really exist, maybe Nollywood should follow suit, since she is celebrating 20 years, she should have her own conference (he laughs).
Would you say Bayo Bankole is rich?
To God be the glory, I am rich. I don’t go anywhere or go to anyone to beg for money to eat. My family and I are living well. I can fill my car tank, what else do I need? I eat what I want to eat, if I want to travel, it’s no problem for me, so what else? I have the ultimate wealth in life, which is peace. You know? You can’t buy peace. Once you have peace, you have it all, not the glamour, the Photoshop look, that most of the practitioners present. It’s beyond that. Wealth is the ability to walk tall; you know raise your head above all the thorns and remain unruffled.
What is you wife like?
Pretty, beautiful woman. She’s great and a woman I am proud of any day.
How many kids do you have?
We are blessed with two lovely kids.
Does your wife act?
She loves acting and I am not really stopping her from acting. However, of course, both of us can’t just be on the field. The kids need to be taken care of. She studied agric economics, but she has interest in acting. I live in Abeokuta, so it’s an opportunity for her to do some plays.
Has she acted in any movie?
No just a few plays in Abeokuta.
So how many films have you done in a whole?
I can’t really say, because I don remember.
What is your advice to upcoming acts?
They should not think that what the see is all there is about the industry. It is beyond the present, the industry is bigger than what it appears to be. They should come into it prepared. I am not saying they should just come with their talents; there are a few rudimentary things they need. It is a process, a tough task, so they would need to learn how to put their talents to proper use. Film has its own style, acting has its own techniques, you know? You need to know how to apply these techniques. It’s not necessary that you go into the class room or take up a course in theater arts, you can also learn on the field. However, it is necessary that you have knowledge of acting before you get into it.
Thank you very much
You’ve mentioned it (he laughs).