The father of Nigerian comedy.
That title, earned over five decades in the entertainment industry, suited legendary comic actor, Moses Adejumo, popularly called Baba Sala, best.
His demise at 81 on Sunday signaled the end of a significant chapter in the history of the Nigerian film industry.
He alongside other dramatists like Hubert Ogunde, Kola Ogunmola, Oyin Adejobi and Duro Ladipo popularized theater and television acting in Nigeria.
The late thespian also laid the foundation for theatre and comedy that has taken Nigeria’s creative industry by storm.
One of his sons, Emmanuel Adejumo, told PREMIUM TIMES that his father died in his sleep on Sunday evening in his hometown.
While his comic and drama series are viewed stereotyped in terms of delivery, it was widely accepted by fans including those that couldn’t communicate in Yoruba language.
Years after he dominated the theatre landscape, Baba Sala’s name remained synonymous with comedy even in death.
Short-lived music career
Born on May 17, 1937, Baba Sala started out as a civil servant and a sanitary inspector.
He also worked as a part-time teacher and in the late evenings, he would transform into a highlife musician.
By 1964 he was the head of a group known as Federal Rhythm Dandies. The band was the toast of Nigerian elites.
The comedian discovered, tutored and mentored the lead guitarist who would later become known as King Sunny Ade. By 1969, Moses Olaiya had become a full-time professional theatre comedian after he disbanded his Moses Olaiya Concert Party. He founded the Moses Olaiya International Alawada Theatre Limited shortly after and together they travelled extensively round Nigerian towns and cities.
“Drama was in my blood. I was a drummer. Sunny Ade liked playing guitar. I taught him how to play guitar and he was very good at it. I am proud of him. Sunny Ade’s ambition was to play drums. He said that it was not in him to act. I felt that I should concentrate on acting and leave Sunny Ade to drumming and playing guitar. That was why I gave him my drum and musical instruments,” he revealed in an interview with PM News in 2011.
KSA also acknowledged the late comic actor as his mentor during his 70th birthday party in 2016.
“Baba Sala is my boss and he would continue to be my boss for life. I owe him that gratitude for life. I was playing percussion in his band and he was playing guitar and a couple of instruments. I was in charge of the music in the drama section, playing Conga. He actually prompted me to go into music with a proviso that I should go and if after nine months, I found it tough, I should come back. He told me, go and try and that if does not work, come back.”
The Breakthrough Years
On the instruction of the then Premier of the Western Region, Obafemi Awolowo, the comedian got a one-year contract of drama sketches at the Western Nigeria Television, WNTV. He berthed with Alawada Series on WNTV and later on NTA Ibadan every Wednesday between 7:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. In a short time, his fame knew no bounds.
The legendary actor wrote all episodes of his drama series and also took on lead character regularly.
Baba Sala’s relationship with Mr. Awolowo was enviable; the sage ensured he got him his first telephone amongst other privileges.
“My first telephone was a gift from Awolowo. There was a time I went to Lagos and I saw Awolowo and he asked me if I had telephone. I told him that I did not have. He then said that it was bad that I did not have a telephone. He then bought a telephone for me and asked the NITEL people to go and install it in my house. That ensured that the two of us spoke any time we wanted,” Baba Sala told PM News in an interview in 2011.
The legendary actor had several drama series on NTA Ibadan. They include ‘Orun Mooru,’ ‘Aare Agbaye,’ and ‘Mosebolatan,’ which starred late magician, Professor Peller.
The family man
During one of his most famous interviews, published in PM News in 2011, he revealed that he had 18 wives and 50 children. But nonetheless, he was a family man to the core and a doting dad.
His son, Emmanuel, told this newspaper that his father was a ‘selfless dad.’
“My dad was a very nice man who loved all his children equally. He always wanted the best for all of us (his children), he was always ready to give up anything for his children. His name also opened doors for us and we are thankful for that.”
Piracy deals heavy blow
The comedian sank into the background after enjoying patronage and limelight for decades owing to ill health and dwindling fortunes.
His health condition came to the fore in November 2017 during a press briefing organised in Lagos to shed light on his biography.
The book, ‘The Triumph of Destiny,’ which was co-authored by Babatunde Akinola, Collins Oyedokun, and Kunle Ajani, was launched at the Eko Hotels in Lagos December 2017. The turnout was unimpressive.
Baba Sala was also one of the first Nigerian filmmakers to be affected negatively by the activities of movie pirates.
Premium Times had reported how his first movie, Orun Mooru released in 1982, was pirated and how it affected him adversely.
He said then, “Initially, we did it on 36mm and later reduced it to 16mm. This film, unknown to us, was dubbed by some wicked people and pirated as original. I had never experienced such a disappointment in my life. I was shocked to the marrow and only God knew how I survived paralysis at this period. I was cheated and left shattered. For the realisation of this dream, I had gone to borrow over N1.5 million from a bank to see me through the business. You can imagine how much that translates to in the present day, I automatically became indebted, and I sold most of my properties to settle the debt.”
His oldest son, Deji Adejumo, listed the Awada Spot in Ibadan; Alawada Standard Hotel, Ilesha; Alawada Records, Ibadan; and Ibukun Alawada Photo magazine as some of his father’s investments which had to be sold off.
An almost forgotten national hero
Baba Sala, picked the first award for his film Mosebolatan, at the Performing Art Awards Night (1986 edition). The Nigerian Television Authority and the then Concord Press of Nigeria organised it. His other blockbuster movies include: Aare Agbaye, Agba Man, Obe ‘Gbona, Return Match, Diamond and Ana Gomina.
In 1978, Nigeria’s then military head of state, Olusegun Obasanjo, conferred him with the Member of the Order of the Niger (MON) title.
Like most Nigerian legends, the late Baba Sala did not earn the much-deserved recognition during his lifetime.
“The Osun state government last paid him attention about 10 years ago,” his son revealed.
“But, recently the government has not done much for him despite repeated calls. Piracy really dealt him a heavy blow and set him back. My father moved on with life and brought happiness into many homes. I want people to remember my father for his good works and comedy. That’s all.”