Well respected thespian and Barrister, Tunji Bamishigbin, in this interview with NollywoodReel bares his mind on issues affecting the Nigerian film industry
Q: A lot of people were surprised when you decided to quit your banking job for acting. Is there any regret so far?
A: I don’t have any regret at all. Even if I’m asked to come back to the bank with the offer of N1 million per month, I don’t think I will accept it, because money does not determine things that I do. Though I need money to operate, money is not my determining factor at all, because I know the danger involved when money is the basis of your decision. I look at the money offered compared to other things involved.
To be honest, I don’t see banking job as a challenging one. I don’t see it as anything that has to do with creativity. In the banking industry today, it’s a matter of you knowing who has money to give and you will become a whiz kid. If you know where to get money and bring it to the bank, you can use that to negotiate a higher position in the bank. That’s what is happening and it’s the same thing everywhere. There’s no special thing, I have seen whiz kids and so many things.
I’m a creative person. I live by creation. I recall when I was in the bank, I used most of my time writing scripts, even before I left, I was already tired because it was a stopover for me.
After my law school, (1992), after my call to bar, I started with a chamber. I was working with my friend, Prince Adetimoye, but I was so convinced that I wasn’t cut out for that profession. It was almost the same time that I was directing Fortunes with my colleagues, Charles Owoyemi and Ralph Nwadike.
So, my wife said, “why don’t you settle somewhere and know exactly what you want to do?” because she saw that I was not settled. My friend would expect me in the morning to go to court but I would be at the rehearsals or sleeping. Because I would come back from location by 3a.m. or 4a.m. When I moved into the banking sector, I thought it was going to be for a year or thereabouts, but it was after two and a half years that I decided that it was time for me to move.
Q: When did you discover the creativity in you?
A: I think very early in life. I probably wouldn’t have noticed it that early but did because of the area I lived during my childhood days. I grew up in Lagos Island and we had communal relationship. We knew one another. We lived area by area: Ofin, Isale Eko and so many other areas. That was where this idea of area boys emerged.
I grew up in Ofin and we had communal relationship, through sports, especially, football. There was a big field, where some of the great players that emerged like Muritala, used to play.
That time, in the evening, we normally gathered where there were street lights left by the colonial masters. The ladies would be busy playing games and the boys would be singing among themselves. I used to be the centre point then, as everybody would gather around me, listening to my jokes. Even some of the elderly ones, who like to be around kids used to join us.
There was one man who used to give me money depending on my performance at the end of the day. Sometimes he would put half penny on my head. I used to have up to 2 kobo and that was a lot of money for me to buy things.
I think it started from there to my secondary school. I wrote my first script when I was in form three and gave it to my teacher then, Mr. Alayomade. He looked at it and asked me if I was the one who wrote it and I said I was the one. He just made grammatical corrections but he was satisfied with the storyline.
By 1976, I became a professional theatre person. There was a play I featured in that was headed by Mr. Taiwo Ogunade. We were called for audition by him, Tayo Ayorinde (Head of Drama, NTA), Justus Esiri, who just came back from Germany then.
When I went to the University of Ilorin to study History, I changed my course and lost a year to study theatre arts. While I was in school, I wrote my play in 1980, it’s called Octorush. It portrayed all activities on campus and it was staged in 1981, which I directed and acted in it. And up till this year, they still perform the play on stage in the university. Of course, it has been staged in all other campuses.
Q: Having started with stage performance, how do you feel seeing the home video taking over? There’s this belief that people who have the knowledge of stage play are more professional.
A: That does not disturb me. It’s what has happened to the entire system that is my major concern. If you have been on stage, you’re a total performer, because it is a live performance. He has everything embedded in him and any mistake must turn to part of the show, but a lot of things we see on TV are finished products. There are some terrible actors that I’ve worked with over the years. I don’t want to mention names.
One of the major problems we are having in the film industry now is that charlatans have taken over. I’m not saying that it is those who did not go to school, because the people of ANTP are core professionals. Having raw talent is one of the ways you can use to develop yourself in this industry then you can just brush up by going for training or to the university.
As for me, I have the raw talent and went to the university and of course, I also practised. People like Jide Kosoko, Adebayo Salami, Yinka Quadri and Antar Lamiyan have practised overtime and are professionals, but when the door was opened for all new people, the problem started.
The industry has no check and balance; it is not the same thing with other professions like Law. There are certain qualifications that you will expect a lawyer to possess, and when a lawyer is talking, you will definitely know that he is a lawyer. Same thing with doctors and others, but this is an industry that practice an open door policy for everybody. That is why people like me, Tade Ogidan and Tunde Kelani decided to stay at the back and watch people with little or no background claiming to be authority in the field.
The issue of tribalism is another problem in the industry. I will give you the example of a guy called Bayo. He came out with second class upper from the University of Ilorin.
He is not only sound academically; he is a very good actor. He is a big actor in Canada today and also a lecturer in one of their film schools. But when he was in Nigeria, he was turned down at auditions by some people who claimed he is not outspoken
Meanwhile, the person, who told him that, has an Igbo accent and all that. But I can tell you that it is only a charlatan that will allow such (tribalism) to happen.
Q: If you are given the chance to make a change in the film industry, where will you start from?
A: Firstly, I will implore the government to create an enabling environment, not necessarily giving out money. The problem we usually have with sound in our productions is because we don’t usually have light. Let’s assume you keep your own generator far away to avoid noise, what about the buildings around you? And of course, making institutions available for our use.
Where people use as campuses in our productions does not give this country a good image. Some people use the sides of kiosks as campus simply because they don’t have access to one. Besides, there are university boys who behave like area boys. When you are in their school, they’ll tell you they want to take ‘owo ile’(money).
Our guilds should also be empowered. I must also say this, Nigeria can only have a position in the film industry of the world, if we really make use of our indigenous languages.
Q: So, what makes the Nigerian movie industry the second largest in the world?
A: I hate to hear people say that. Largest of what? We are not there yet. We’ve only made effort to at least gain recognition. If we are the second largest in the world, does that reflect in an average actor?
I want to achieve what my mind, my thought brings out and that means to produce.