Veteran actor and President of the Golden Movies Ambassadors of Nigeria, Saidi Balogun, speaks to EMMANUEL OJO about his career and 2023 general elections
You are one of the biggest names in Nollywood. How long have you been in the industry and how will you summarise the experience so far?
I have been in the industry for more than 40 years. I will say the experience has been wonderful; and I will always say, ‘God, thank you’.
Having been acting for all these years, what gives you the spark to keep doing it?
God is my biggest inspiration. I try to do my research and work hard. I don’t hold any ‘beef’ against anybody and I respect any new thing that is coming up which the Lord has approved of. I believe this why I am still relevant.
What do you remember most about your growing up?
While growing up, my mum used to always say that I would go into entertainment. She believed in that and she kept saying it since I was about two years old. I have cousins, both paternal and maternal, that were into entertainment and I used to watch them.
I started working since age 10. I started with stage plays, which we used to call ‘ajota’ (dancing for money). Then we started to get invitations from TV stations for auditions and they would give us (acting) slots.
During my second year in secondary school, I used my school fees to print posters for a play we wanted to stage in a school. We went to three schools but we lost (money); and we came back with nothing. In fact, we didn’t have transport fare to return home. The driver took us to the police station and we were locked up. It was my brother that came to our rescue.
After leaving the police station, I was confronted with the problem of how to pay my school fee. I started struggling and I had to start praying that NTA Ilorin would pay me for the five-minute comedy that I did for them.
A day to the commencement of exams, I was told that I couldn’t participate. So, I went out to cry under a tree. I then took a stroll of about 11 kilometres to NTA. On getting there, I heard someone saying, ‘Mr Balogun, come and sign; your envelope is ready.’ They apologized for paying me for 10 episodes, instead of 15 episodes. But what I was paid was sufficient to cover my school fee. I immediately took a taxi back to school and paid my school fee. In the examination hall the following day, my friends were surprised to see that I could participate in the exam.
Another experience I can’t forget was when my uncle refused to identify with me when he saw me dancing in the market. I was working with the Kwara State Council of Park and Culture and there was an event where a bank was being inaugurated and I was to perform. Even the following day when I saw my uncle, he still insisted it was a madman that he saw at the market. He said, for him, it’s only a madman that dances in the market.
Apart from acting, have you ventured into any other business?
Well, I consult for people; and that’s what I do a lot these days. I don’t do much of business. Entertainment is like a jealous woman who does not want a rival. Out of every 10 theatre practitioners that do other businesses, only about two are lucky. Entertainment is like a jealous woman, it doesn’t want to share you with something else. So, if you are into entertainment, you have to face it.
The actresses appear to be richer than the actors; we see them on social media flaunting luxury cars, huge mansions, going on exotic trips, etc. What is responsible for this dichotomy?
Ahh, well, na you talk am o; me I don’t know o. I am comfortable with what I have. If you think they are richer, well, maybe they are getting their game right; but we, men, are rich too; we are rich in the Lord (laughs). I wouldn’t want to say anything or run anybody down because I’m the President of the Golden Movies Ambassadors of Nigeria. Everybody is doing well. What I know is that when some people make money, they make noise about it. Many men don’t (make noise) because of bukata (responsibilities).
The ladies too have responsibilities, don’t get me wrong. And this is just my personal opinion.
Divorce seems prevalent among Nollywood celebrities and many have blamed it on the negative impact of the social media. Can you give us an insider view on this?
Probably because they (the couples) are not ordained to be together. I wouldn’t say more than that because a lot of people who are not celebrities divorce too and we don’t get to hear about them because they are not in the limelight. I wouldn’t want to talk much about that.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I have a lot of things at hand. ‘Finding Ireti’ is coming to the cinemas, where the youths that are new in the industry are showcasing their talents.
In your over 40 years in the industry, which of the challenges you’ve faced do you consider as the biggest?
For a lot of actors, we face challenges these days. If we are trying to follow any politician, people will attack us, as if we don’t have a right to our own opinion or choice. That’s a challenge – to express my political views. We have a right to advertise for whosoever we want but people keep abusing us. And these people that are abusing us easily forget that 99 per cent of the politicians are recycled politicians, changing alignments. A politician will work with Asiwaju (Bola Tinubu) today, but tomorrow, he will go and work with Atiku (Abubakar); and then, thereafter, come back to work with Asiwaju – same circles. They all dine and wine together but just because they all want to lead, one goes to A, the other goes to B and another goes to C. So, if I decide to follow A, you start attacking me because you are supporting C, forgetting that C used to be in the same circle with A and that there is no difference between them. This is one big challenge that artists face now when it comes to politics.
In America, you see Kanye West openly declaring the person he wants to vote for and nobody is attacking him. It’s his personal opinion. Yes, we have followers but we have a mind of our own too and we must speak. A follower can love me but might not love my movie. If the movie is good, he will clap for me; but if it’s not, he will not. If I support A, my fan shouldn’t hate me because of my choice. They are also free to choose their own candidate. That’s why we didn’t all study the same course in school; and that’s why we don’t practise the same religion.
Another thing I would like to talk about is that the youths today are investing their energy in the wrong place. A lot of things are happening; the use of social media, we should use it well and channel it positively. We shouldn’t burn our data on unnecessary things and that’s what the movie, “Finding Ireti” is all about. The youths should learn to respect what should be respected. They should stop using the social media for wrong things.
In what ways would you say the youths are using the social media negatively?
Someone would see fake news and jump at it. Someone would do something that is stupid and they will jump at it. Someone was using his social media handle to abuse politicians because he is supporting one politician. I then told him that he was wasting his data; he asked me ‘how?’ I told him the politician he is supporting was a vice presidential candidate to someone in the same circle. This ex-presidential candidate left that person and suddenly became a saint. The politician was a vice presidential candidate to the politician he was abusing, saying that he can’t win because a certain candidate had left him. So, I said the good thing the person you are supporting saw in that man that made him follow him then, you didn’t see it.
Let’s think deeply. I’m a deep thinker. The youths should think deeply. That social media, they should use it well and be more creative. I can throw a challenge now on social media that will make people more creative or make them think deeply; not the challenge of shaking the backside.
Talking about the social media, recently there was a trending report that you rejected N20m offered to you to support the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi. Were you really made that offer?
Ask Google. I told you at the beginning (of this interview) that I will speak to you only the way I want things to be presented. With due respect, don’t go to that area. When I am discussing politics, I know what to say and what not to say. The only thing I can tell the youth is that they should think deeply before supporting anybody. The youths should please allow other people to support their preferred candidates. They have their PVCs; so, they shouldn’t be spreading fake news because of anybody. My advice to them is that they should use the power of their PVC. As they have the right to support any candidate of their choice, so do I. You are becoming a dictator if you are trying to force me to agree with your choice. I can only preach and exhibit or promote what my candidate has done or will do. You can buy into it but if you don’t, it’s fine. You’re free to present or show me the beauty of your own candidate too; and I may possibly buy into it. It is not for us to resort to abusing, cursing or fighting one another.
And I need to say that it is important that when we see a piece of news, we should try and verify the authenticity before we start rebroadcasting because fake news travels fast.
Is there a candidate you are endorsing or giving your support ahead of next year’s general elections?
Are you not on social media? That, I will answer. I didn’t want to support anyone; I stood aloof and some people came to tell me that I’m a coward; so, I came out to support Asiwaju (Bola Tinubu) and they asked me why. I told them that in Yoruba land, everybody you know who has been this and that, he (Asiwaju) was the one that brought them out – counting from (Babatunde) Fashola, (Yemi) Osinbajo to (Akinwunmi) Ambode. He (Tinubu) was the one who brought them out. When he picked these people, everybody was asking questions, but when they got there, what Asiwaju saw in these people, everybody started seeing too. So, why are they now crucifying the man?
In my films online, I have brought to limelight actors that people had not seen before; Asiwaju too has that style. I had to sit down and observe to see who has my kind of style; and it’s Asiwaju. If I follow any of the rest, then it means that I’m not thinking. What he is doing that is not good? I don’t know. All I know is that I have always seen the good things he did and I decided to support him. It’s my personal choice.
A lot of leaders are there, they can’t even point to 20 people that they have made. They can’t show us what they have turned around and the impossible that they have made possible. Here, we’re talking about someone who made the vice-president. I am sure that 95 per cent of Nigerians didn’t know that name (Osinbajo) before now. I make bold to say it. Osinbajo is a very good man but Asiwaju brought him out for you to see.
I came out to say that we are BPI – Black, Proud and Intelligent – and we are truly the giants of Africa. Not by words but by the action. I have talked about the good things I see in my own candidate; you’re free to talk about your own candidate. I may feel that mine is the best but by the time you start preaching about yours, I may see a different aspect to it. So, it’s my personal opinion.
Asiwaju seems to think the same way as I do; so, I decided to give him my support. His good deeds that I know of are what I am talking about; and that’s me. Whosoever you support, it’s your personal choice and I don’t have to fight you over it.
Beyond presidential candidates, who are your other preferred candidates?
I have said mine, Tinubu for the presidency. Someone also asked me who my candidate for the House of Reps is and I said Desmond Elliot, of course. Who else? He is in my community as an actor. If he fails, I fail; if he wins, I win. I have a lot of them like that that I will support.
Someone asked me why I am supporting (Governor Babajide) Sanwo-Olu. I said whatever he might have done, I don’t know, but before he came to power, we were campaigning and he said to me, “Saidi, what can I do for you?” I said, “Sir, give us free loan that won’t follow the structure of a normal loan.” He said, “The Federal Government will give you structure.” He came into power and he gave a loan of N1bn. People have accessed the loan and that was what Saidi Balogun requested for during a one-on-one discussion with the governor on stage in Ikeja. He gave me what I wanted. It is left for my people to now use the loan well.
Someone raised the issue of #EndSARS and they said 10 persons died or so, but no one has come out to say that he or she is a family member to any of the people that were said to have died. Some people in some ministries might be messing up, they will then put the blame on the leader but the best thing to do is to fish out those people. Those are the people I am supporting.
My stand is my stand and nothing can change that. I am an extremist. If I am your friend, I do it to the end. That is me. I don’t look back. Continue Reading