Hafiz Oyetoro popularly known as Saka, has certainly become a Nollywood icon. The actor cum lecturer has built a career in entertainment spanning three decades, getting his start at the University of Ibadan. The MTN I Don Port brand ambassador speaks with Samuel Abulude about his grass to grace story, his personal life and how he was fortunate to have been tutored by the best hands in Nigerian theatre.
What has Saka been up to lately?
I have been acting and imparting my students at Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education (AOCOED). I have been travelling around, doing what I love doing for decades now. My production titled We We, a TV comedy series with my students, is still in the works as a fire outbreak in my office destroyed the scripts and other vital documents. However, it should be out before the end of the year. I also compose songs; apart from TV commercials that I’m known for. We just did the MTN Yello jingle last month and as regards movies, they are numerous. I was part of a movie by Afiz Owo and Abelejayan, the sociopolitical comedy will be back soon with fresh episodes.
How was growing up like?
Growing up in a village setting was a bitter-sweet experience. I grew up in the home of an uncle who drove fear into me when correcting my mistakes. My uncle misconstrued respect as creating fear and I became so timid that I carried that baggage into the university. So ,on the Ife campus, I was a loner and could not socialise.
In my year two or so, we needed to do a departmental stage production and I was given a role, but because of my usual timidity-I could not deliver and this became a concern for me. E pass stage fright my broda. Thankfully, one of my lecturers, Chuck Mike, an African American scholar, came to my rescue. Mr Mike, a revered threatre practitioner in the 80s, tutored and mentored me and many others. He took me to University of Ibadan for speech therapy and I had to see a speech expert- Mrs Ajayi- every Saturday.
In 1986, I was part of a departmental production tagged ‘A toast to Wole Soyinka’. My first major production was in UI and it was a stage play titled, Raisin In the Sun. Wole Obadeyi, Yinka Akanbi and Gbenga Iwindapo were my colleagues then. The first theatre group I was part of was Akewi-Ebedi Theatre Group. For my final year project, I looked at theatre in Nigeria using Babasala as my case study. I met him at Orisun Cinema in Abeokuta. I appeared in my first home video during my 300 level as a student and was paid N1, 500- big money then.
Considering how timid you were, did you date during your university days?
I couldn’t ask women out during my undergraduate days. I was that timid; but I did have two failed relationships. My past relationships haunted me and I decided not to have anything to do with women, concentrating instead on my academic career and stage plays. I was part of Comic Palace Production, where Yinka Akanni, Muyiwa Amodu were my colleagues in 2002. I used to do a one-man drama as that was the only way I could express myself.
I met my wife, Olaide Saidat (Oyetoro) in AOCOED and finally got married at the age of 40. My wife was a final year student when I first met her and for me, it was love at first sight. She had come to my office for something and I got her name down. Later, I spoke to her saying, beyond being her lecturer I would like to be her friend. She said okay, thinking I was unserious. What attracted me to Olaide was that she looked humble and appeared to be a good Muslim. She is a graduate of mathematics and has made a great home for me and our two kids. I love her so much. My friend, Gbenga Iwindapo aided in assuring her that I was the man for her. God has given me a woman who shares my vision. I don’t joke with my family.
Why did you “port” from Etisalat to MTN?
Does teaching theatre arts add to your professionalism as an actor?
Of course it has a lot of advantages! I act and I go to class to review my performance. Even my students criticise my performances, telling me the mistakes I made and what I could have done to make it better. Acting and teaching is fun for me. My success story is inseparable from AOCOED, who took me in as a lecturer. My friend, Gbenga Iwindapo aided in getting me into the college. He was part of House Apart. Iwindapo brought me to Lagos and he was my HOD.
I have become better and fulfilled since I got here (talking about lecturing at Adeniran Ogusanya College of Education). I’m a product of different distinguished scholars who molded me into who I am today. Chuck Mike found me and bailed me out of timidity syndrome; Professor Femi Osofisan, Wale Ogunyemi and Professor Wole Soyinka all tutored me.
What are the challenges facing actors in this clime?
They are numerous. We are not given the respect we deserve here. Apart from the poor pay, actors and moviemakers go through a lot to get their movies out there. The law governing piracy is weak as well as its enforcement. We need a body, a unifying body that we can call our own. The MOPICCON bill has been there and when it is passed, we hope it solves a lot of issues and gives the movie industry a blueprint. Producers should go back to school and stop begging for money from marketers. They should know their worth and act likewise. We need to come together.
Again, there is a disturbing trend in Nollywood, especially in the Yoruba movie industry. The issue is disturbing for us, the theatre practitioners who went to school to study this trade. Marketers have hijacked the role of movie producers and directors. Marketers should not determine for us who plays this role or that. This issue has reached a disturbing height and unless these marketers are put in their place, we will not go far artistically and technically. Marketers should focus on hyping and sponsoring movies!
Yes, some marketers finance our movies like in the Yoruba genre of Nollywood. but these people have become demi-gods, dictating to directors and producers how a movie should go. This is wrong. In business, buyers determine the price of your commodity and how they want the commodity to meet their needs, not the other way round.
What are 3 things people don’t know about you?
I want my fans to know that I’m not a snub; unlike what some people think. I’m a very shy person but when I’m on stage, I’m a different person and I was the Outstanding Actor Of the Year in 1981.