His fame cuts across local and international boundaries. Tajudeen Oyewole aka Abija is an actor but eight years ago he almost lost his life in an auto crash. Since then, he tells Taiwo Abiodun, in this interview that he has been living from hand to mouth
You probably do not know, but Chief Tajudeen Oyewole, popularly known as Abija in the Yoruba movies genre now limps. This much The Nation found out during a chance encounter with the renowned actor recently. Also, you almost wouldn’t recognise him, as the usually vibrant defender of the oppressed, who is always quick to take the battle to the witches and wizards and other negative spirit forces in the movies, now cuts a pitiable sight no thanks to a ghastly auto-crash he was involved in sometimes in 2007.
But like a leopard who can never change its spots, the actor’s countenance changed right after the initial introduction, and with raised voice and eyes bulging, he began chanting incantations and gesticulating, as if in a trance or on stage, acting.
How he got the stage name- Abija
Oyewole said he derived his stage name, Abija from an engineer. “There was a construction company called Abija Construction in Oshogbo; the company was owned by a respectable old man and when we wanted to do a13-week play, we deliberated on what they should call me and the name of the construction company came to my mind, and I said ‘Abija’. We had 25 episodes in the play and I was asked to use the name – Abijawara Bi Ekun. Later, we simply called it Abija.
“Before that time, I had been using other stage names, but none earned me popularity as when we used the name ‘Abija ‘ in the series ‘Opa Aje’. The name also became my trademark and shot me into limelight. Today, only a few people know my real name.”
Opa Aje, facts behind the story
Said Abija, ‘Opa Aje’ was shot long time before it debuted on TV and it was a surprise to the entire crew that it became so popular. He said “the story line is about three villages and the ‘Opa Aje’ (prosperity staff). The mysterious staff was owned by Lasigun Village (his mother’s village) and it was agreed that it should be rotated round the other two villages: Bilagun and Telude, but Lasigun refused until Bilagun took it by trick and it resulted into a war; Telude also had to resort to force by waging war against Bilagun, to collect the staff from her. Abija a powerful juju man and warrior was asked to rescue it, thus it rotated among the three villages.”
Interestingly, he said it wasn’t until recently that they found out that the story was indirectly referring to the Nigerian nation’s battle for power and resource control.
He confesses that despite the fact that he played the warrior roles in movies, there are some costumes he dared not put on without offering certain sacrifices and atonements to the gods. Also there are some that a woman dares not meet him on the way or even make an attempt to embrace him. “We don’t just treat these costumes anyhow; if there is need to perform rituals or offer sacrifices before wearing them, then I must humbly comply. If not, the side effect could be fatal. I know this because my paternal and maternal line-ages are both from Ifa priesthood and Babalawos. So it means I inherited the act of Ifa from the two sides. Aside this, I am also from the family of hunters. No woman could embrace me while returning from a hunting expedition because of what I may have on my body. If I need any animal, I only need to go into the forest to kill it. The power is there.” He said, beating his chest in confidence.
How rich is Abija?
Despite all his fame, Abija revealed that it hasn’t translated to money. “I am not rich; I don’t have a roof over my head, which is part of measuring one’s wealth in this part of the world; I don’t even have a land. And it’s not because I am not serious or that I’m a prodigal son; the money realised from acting is just not much, or even enough, as people out there or our fans think. I am prudent and I have only one wife. But having said that, I cannot say that I am not a rich man, because I have children higher institutions, although I may not be rich in cash.”
Asked why some male artistes tend to keep a harem of wives, Abija said “it is because of the perception of fans and the general public that female artistes are wayward; so the male artistes prefer to marry them and use them as actresses in their works. If you look at it, this is even economical for them, as they may not have to pay them exorbitant fees they’d have had to pay for independent actresses.”
The auto crash
Abija who is still limping as a result of the ghastly motor accident back in 2007, says he is just lucky to be alive. He said it happened on his way back from a film location: “I went with my crew to shoot my new film ‘Ibinu Abija’ and on our way back late in the evening; I hit a big brick road divider along Canaan Land, which position had been changed by the road constructors, without any sign. I ran into it with my Toyota Camry. But thank God, I was not speeding. My hip dislocated, while the lady, an artiste sitting by the driver’s side died immediately. Another woman sitting behind me was seriously injured. I also thank God for Otunba Ajawesola Ayinde Busari, who assisted me, and stood by me. That film will hit the market soon, and believe me; you will learn a lot from it.
Betrayal from friends
With a forlorn look, the artiste said he has been let down and betrayed several times by his so-called friends and colleagues that he now finds it hard to trust. “I have been disappointed by a lot of friends. There was a year a man wanted to sponsor my film; I called one of my best friends to accompany me to the negotiation. But would you believe that this friend of mine went behind me to the same sponsor a week later, and negotiated a lesser and ridiculous amount? My friend later invited me to star in a film for him, and I obliged, not knowing that it was the same film I should have owned. On location, I invested all my energy and I almost killed myself to make it successful, not knowing I was a fool. When I later went to meet the sponsor, he began dilly-dallying. He later showed me the VHS my friend had produced. He accused me of demanding for higher price on the film, lambasted me and told me my friend had done the job.
“And this is a film I had invited my fellow artistes from Ondo, Abeokuta, Ekiti and other places and even lodged them in hotels in preparation for. In the end, the film did not sell, while my so-called friend and the sponsor became enemies. The sponsor even reported him to the police for fraud. I was the one who again went to beg the promoter to let my friend go.”
On his rumoured death
Abija said the rumour of his death, which spread like wildfire some years back, was as a result of the accident, as many feared he had died or could not survive it. “You can see that I still limp. The accident was fatal, but I thank God that I survived it. I spent about two and a half years in the hospital and later at home. I also went to a trado-medic for bone setting, as my hip was badly affected. The accident happened eight years ago, on the 10th of September, 2007. However, I don’t believe it was caused by enemies or that I was being haunted spiritually as some think. I see it as what it is, an accident. No more, no less.”
On current Nollywood films
Abija denounced the present crop of home video coming out of the industry for low quality. He said too many movies are being hurriedly put together and said it was not like this when he was active. “We never met it like this and we were never taught like this. I was in Dakar, Senegal with some of our CDs and they only picked two. The films they watched were condemned because in some of them, the ladies were half naked and they detest all these.”
“We need to work harder. The films being produced now are of poorer quality. In Yoruba land, we are known for producing films that educate; thought-provoking films that are well-researched. That is why we are called prophets
“As for those who think our culture is dying or that it is fetish and ungodly because of their religion, I can tell you that they are coming back to it.”
“I was born over 50 years ago. I attended only primary school at Local Authority Primary School, Oniyere in Ayedun Agbo Bi Ekun Village, Osogbo, Osun State. My parents actually sent me to school but I was a truant. That is why I did not go beyond primary school, but it pains me now. At the moment, none of my children is into acting, but one of them edits. As for me, I think it is education first for children. If they place acting first, their future could be ruined. It is lack of education that almost ruined me.” He admitted.
I need help
“I want Nigerians to help me in my career. I need sponsors. I am not a greedy person. I believe in Allah. People interestingly call me Alhaji, although I am yet to visit Mecca. The only car I own was condemned in that accident. As I speak, it probably would have been towed away by government agencies. I will appreciate every help that comes my way.