My life with Hubert Ogunde, his regrets
Fourteen years after the death of the doyen of African theatre, dramatist and filmmaker Chief Hubert Ogunde, one of his wives Rev (Mrs) Adekoya Ogunde in London spoke on late sage’s greatest regret and his last moment on earth before he departed for the great beyond at the London Cromwell Hospital.
Chief Hubert Ogunde, musician, theatre icon and film producer, produced the famous trilogy, Aiye, Jaiyesimi and Aropin’N’ Tenia and later featured in Mr Johnson to crown his over forty years of theatre, drama, film production and acting. He breathed his last in April 1990 following a brief illness.
Before his death, Ogunde over the years towered over African theatre and film production like a colossus and received many international recognition and awards for his production. He however died after completing his act in the film Mr Johnson shot at Jos location in northern Nigeria.
Recalling his greatest regrets before he died, Rev (Mrs) Mary Adekoya Ogunde who was on his bedside with another of his wives, said Ogunde was already anticipating the impact of Video VHS, Cassette production and compact disc revolution. “He said it was unfortunate that his health was failing just when all these new developments (video and compact disc) are making filmmaking more profitable.” Through out his lifetime, although his music was recorded in long playing albums (LPs) none of his production was ever recorded in VHS for sale. The major works were in celluloid.
Recalling further Ogunde’s last moments, Mrs Ogunde noted that she was with him till he breathed his last. “He was acting in the film Mr Johnson in Northern Nigeria when he was brought to London after he fell ill. I was already in London and my son called me to tell me he was on admission at Cromwell Hospital. I immediately left for the Hospital and was attending to him and sleeping at the Hospital with the other wife. In the first few days he expressed his regret that it is when new things like Compact disc and VHS production were advancing that his health started failing.”
According to his wife, in spite of his condition then, he requested to be flown to Jos Northern Nigeria to complete his acting role in Mr Johnson film.
“I refused to let him go but he pleaded with me that he had to go because he did not want to breach the agreements of the film makers who had already paid him.”
By the time Ogunde came back after he was flown away for two days in a chartered jet, his condition had taken a turn for worse, Mrs Ogunde explained. She noted that inspite of the late dramatist condition he was able to reconcile her with her son.
Subsequently he could not eat; at a point he fainted and later stopped talking. Speaking on the last day of the doyen of theatre Mrs Ogunde said that it was a Wednesday in April 1990 at 5.45am. “I was lying sown near his bedside and just stood up, I look at his face, his eyelid fluttered momentarily and it went down.
Then the position of his hands changed and he started breathing heavily. I immediately alerted the doctors, they tried to resuscitate him, but he was gone. They certified him dead and told me and my son to adjust him the way we wanted him in death.”
Mrs Ogunde who is the seventh wife of Chief Herbert Ogunde went on memory lane to recount how she got in Ogunde theatre and eventually married him.
“I was in Igbobi primary school then and later advanced to standard one. Then I use to follow my elder cousin, Dele Oloyede and her friend Abike Taiwo to watch Ogunde at Glover Hall. The film, “Garden of Eden” was popular then.
Not long after we’d been going to Glover Hall, Ogunde Theatre advertised for interested artistes. So my cousin and her friend joined, later I use to follow them to Glover Hall to help handle their costume. Then the artiste had to bring his or her own costume. This was from 1946 to 1947 when the cousin followed Ogunde to London.
“Then the late Adesewa and Somi were the fifth and sixth wives of Ogunde. Reverend Mary Ogunde later featured in Ogunde’s plays like Garden of Eden, Taiwo and Kehinde, Aduke, Strike and Hunger, Herbert Macauley, Slavery, Police Brutality and Princess Jaja, all of which were shown all over Nigeria and other African countries including Ghana and Sierra Leone.
The turning point in her life came when she was struck by a strange illness while she was about to play the role of princess jaja at Glover Hall in Lagos. Earlier, according to her Ogunde had been warned in a church that one of his wives was going to be struck with a mysterious illness and that he should look for the cause within his household.
“On the faithful day at Glover Hall in 1954, I put on a wig that had just been procured at Kingsway by late Ogunde to complete the costume of princess jaja. But suddenly my world turned upside down. I became ill and had to be taken away for protective hiding at Ogunde’s hometown Ososa. There was already a hall packed full of fans that wanted to watch the play. All their monies had to be refunded.
“I was treated at Ososa for a whole day and I became well. Because the play had been re-scheduled for the third day, I was persuaded to travel to Lagos to join the troupe for the act. The next incident was worse. I became so ill that I was taken to a renowned medical practitioner in Abeokuta for treatment. He however advised that I should be taken back to Ososa. For over six months the traditionalist investigated the sickness and could not find a cure. At a point all the witch doctor refused to attend to me. It got to a stage even Ogunde was fed up when all efforts proved abortive, I knew his heart was deliberately turned against me.”
“The gratifying thing was that both his parents stood by me because of my previous good deeds, so they sought solution from far and wide.” She recalled that when she became well she became afraid of taking part in any play. The next time they were leaving for a theatre performance she bluntly refused to follow them. “They waited for two days hoping I will join them. I did not.
Ogunde sent two of his wives to search for me at my mum’s place at Makoko, Lagos hoping they would persuade me. I had to hide and later left the house through the back by canoe. This created a crack in my relationship with Ogunde. Eventually we had to separate.”
Narrating her fondest memories of Chief Hubert Ogunde, Rev. Ogunde recalled that he was always impressed by the efforts she put into her acting. The fact that she learned her lines so quickly compared to other wives. “Late Ogunde was a frank man, he loved me so much he could not hide the fact from other wives.
He always compare my efforts at plays to theirs. This was not diplomatic of him. It was partially responsible for the envy and jealousies of other wives.”
On the source of Ogunde’s artistic prowess, she recalled that “late Ogunde use to tell us that his grand father was a powerful herbalist and he patiently understudied, investigated and monitored their peculiar language and actions at their meetings. He claimed he memorised many things and stayed constantly in touch with the elders.
According to her, Ogunde also possess God bestowed wisdom initiatives intuition and talent. She recollected that the artistic icon was never into occultism. “When I was there, he had no secret. I used to wash his cloths, his mind is so open. He had nothing hidden anywhere. We all have access to his cupboard and very personal things. He was like open book that you could read and see everything.”
However I know his mother protected him and advised him a lot. I know that during our association that spanned from 1949 to 1960 he always rebuffed dark things.
“After he died, they claimed he had joined Ogboni cult. That surprised me. I think it must have been in the 1980s that he joined them. Prior to that he was a devout Christian.”
Till he died, people always spoke of a chain that he put on his neck. This was nothing strange. It was just the Star of David.”
It was God that gave him all his talents and abilities. He was very modest helpful and kind with the use of the talents. Whoever ask for his assistance provided you can be patient, he will help you.
He was generous, abhors hatred and ill feeling. She under scored the fact that before Ogunde died he became “born again.” Later my cousin and her friend left Ogunde and settled in Ibadan.
I had to go with them. As little as I was then I love dancing, and I was always thrilled by the antics of dancers on stage. Because of my interest in the Ogunde’s troupe I decided to go back to Lagos. Then the troupe was based at Strachan Street. There I started with them. Later we moved to Ebute-Metta.
Because of my interest in the cultural troupe and dancing was to the detriment of my education, this made my late father Patrick Adekoya to engage in a running battle with Ogunde.
On discovering that her daughter had left Ibadan for Ogunde’s fold, Late Adekoya reported Ogunde to the Child Welfare Department. The welfare Department withdrew me from Ogunde’s fold and kept me on observation at my father’s place.
I opted to stay with my mum who was then separated from my dad. Right from my mum’s place, I went back to Ogunde and this time he took me from the Cemetary street base to Ososa near Ijebu-Ode Nigeria.
“My worried father went to report Ogunde at the Juvenile court and he was heavily fined. My dilemma then was that I love to read but the theatre show was more appealing. It was then that tap dancing was getting popular. During Ogunde’s trip to London he sent his troupe members to learn tap dancing and they started teaching us back home.”
Subsequently Mrs Ogunde took interest in music. The late drama icon had employed one Mr Adebesin, Mr Johnson and Bobby Benson to involve them in his plays and help in giving tuition to the artistes.
My interest started with Thrombine, Clarinet and Trumpet but I later specialised in Alto Saxophone.