Kwara State-born actor, producer and musician, Saheed Balogun, is a household name in the Nigerian movie industry. Fondly called James Bond or Walata by his fans, the friendly and likeable actor has had his fair share of the good, the bad and ugly sides of life. A while back, he was involved in an accident that almost cost him his life. As if that was not enough, his marriage to actress, Fathia Balogun crashed. Rather than be broken by these calamities, he has moved on with his life, taking things in his stride. He spoke to Adia Ukoyen, in Lagos, on the way forward for him and on his relationship with God, among other things.
You are a cross over actor who seems to have abandoned the English movies. Why have you chosen to stick with the Yoruba movies?
I resolved to act in English movies to prove that many of us in the profession are also literate. As a professional actor, I speak good English and I believe other actors like me are equally educated. In fact, I have featured in so many soaps, including Waste of Destiny, After the Sun and some English comedies. My breakthrough came with Winds of Destiny, followed by After the Storm on the network. The Yoruba came in and, as you know, that is my root. They taught me a lot of things so I had to stick to them. But once in a while, my very good friend, Charles Novia, my senior in secondary school, Chico Ejiro, a lot of people do come to invite me for English language movies.
Have you had a clash of interests from either side?
The Yoruba producers are professionals and I love them for that. They understand you and let you be, because they know you are going into a world that is not basically yours. I once had a Yoruba production running at the same time as I got an English movie role. And after the day for the shoot had been fixed, I called the Yoruba producer to explain myself and he was like, “Ah don’t worry. I will postpone mine till next week. Go for your English production. You know it is not your terrain and I won’t want you to mess up. Let them know that we are professionals.” You see, that is the kind of understanding I am talking about. So for me there has not been any conflict.
Are you and your ex-wife still on talking terms?
Please, let us leave that aspect of my life out of this interview. I would not want you to probe into my private life. I wouldn’t want to concern myself with the private life of others too. But we certainly are not and cannot be enemies.
What did you learn from the fatal accident that almost cost you your life?
In recent times, I have become close to Almighty Allah, the creator and governor of the universe. My faith in Him is so strong now because He has shown me how merciful and benevolent He can be. He has rescued me from my ordeals and taught me, at the same time, some lessons about life. As a Muslim, I believe whatever a man goes through in life is predestined and not accidental. Now I am closer to Him and willing to serve Him the more. I now observe the five mandatory daily prayers for Muslims and I pay my tithes regularly. I think I learnt one or two things. The experience taught me to be very close to God. You wake up in the morning, you make plans but without God’s support and approval, those plans remain just plans. I had made plans but stayed on a sick bed for three months; what became of those plans?
What exactly happened?
I was on my way to record my movie, Gbogbo Ere, a three-cast movie. There was a scene we went to shoot in Erin-Ijesha in Osun State. The cameraman was sitting in front and the driver was driving. I was fast asleep. I didn’t even know what happened. By the time I opened my eyes, I was in the hospital, and that was three weeks after. We’d been at Erin-Ijesha the night before. So I was fast asleep in the car. The car was a write-off.
What of the story that you jumped out of the car in an attempt to escape?
If you had seen the car, the way it got damaged, there was no way I could have jumped out of it. That’s just rumour. All I remember was an impact that I had no control over; commotion more or less then waking up in the hospital.
What was the support like while you were on your sick bed?
It was awesome. Starting from the governor, to well-meaning Nigerians, to colleagues and friends, it was simply amazing. They all contributed money to make sure that I stayed alive.
Before the accident, did you have any premonition of evil lurking around?
I would not call it a premonition as such. I remember myself walking into a church, Ori Oke Babalola, which is very close to Erin Ijesha. I just walked in there and I prayed before I left.
What was growing up like?
I was daddy’s pet. He allowed me to do the things I wanted to do, and that is why I am doing the same with my son. I am trying to give him enough freedom to do as he chooses. As far as my father was concerned, once you were brilliant, educational wise, and very honest, then there was no problem.
Why did you choose to become an actor?
My father was more or less an actor, though not for commercial purposes. He used to make people laugh. So, I took it up from there and decided to do it professionally.
Do you have any regrets being a star?
No, but there are certain things that have happened. There was one day I was surrounded by some area boys numbering about thirty, demanding that I must pay the sum of ten thousand before I would be allowed to pass. But, I said to them: “If I have that kind of money I won’t be driving a Mercedes Benz 190, rather I will be riding a Hummer Jeep”. Everybody sees us like we are very rich and I pray we get to that level. Aside from the attendant attention given to our lives, especially our private lives, I have no regrets.
What is the secret behind your success as an artiste?
My success is the result of being positive. With God, I believe everything is possible. I am very versatile, as I am not limited to just acting. I am an all round artiste. To be a complete entertainer, you must be capable of other art forms. I started music as a raga singer, When Shaba ranks visited Nigeria, I was among the few raga musicians who performed for him.