These days, many producers call on her to pick up roles. Just like many young actors, she acts back-to-back. She moves from one location to the other, playing different elderly movie roles, especially that of a mother. And she does it effortlessly, not complaining about anything.
That is why Iya Ereko is everybody’s favourite in the Yoruba Movie Industry. She is 72. But there is no slowing down for her. Day in, day out, she gets invited to various locations to act and she never turns anybody down, even if the pay looks unattractive. She loves to act. It runs in her blood. She loves to be busy. She also likes to roll with all the younger ones in the Yoruba movie industry, so she likes to honour their requests. She has a free spirit. She is bubbly by nature and she spots this permanent smile all the time. With Iya Ereko, there is never a dull moment. She not only likes to act, she likes to dance too. She is in tune with all the latest dance steps. She dances shakushaku so well. She relates with a lot of music artistes both in the Hip Hop and Fuji scene. She is particularly close to Pasuma. She is like a mother figure.
How did she get into acting? How did she get her stage name Iya Ereko? “My real name is Morenike Alausa Sulaiman aka Mama Ereko,” she explained. “The name Mama Ereko was given to me in a movie I acted. It was a movie about Politics. One person represented a rich man like late M.K.O Abiola. There was another rich man representing Bashir Tofa. The Abiola character is that of a philanthropist who helps everybody. At that time some shops got burnt at Balogun market that year. So I acted the role of one of the traders who owned one of the shops that got burnt. I now came to meet the rich man (Abiola) in the movie for help. I didn’t meet him at home. I met the wife. I told her I came to meet Chief from Ereko, where I sell things. My shop got burnt and I came for help. The wife now welcomed me very well. She said I should wait that her husband will soon come. Truly he came and the wife now introduced me to him as Madam Ereko. I told him about my plight and he now promised to help me.”
“At night we would gather to watch the preview copy in the parlour. It was VHS that we were using then. That is how they started calling me Iya Ereko from what they saw in the movie. I told them not to call me Iya Ereko. I get angry each time they say it. But they refused to stop calling me Iya Ereko. That was how the stage name stuck. That was 1993, around the June 12, 1993 elections.”
How did she start acting? “It runs in my blood,” she explains. “Once its in your blood there is nothing you can do about it. When I was young, they used to act in the house next to us. They used to do rehearsals at night. My parents were tough then. They must not see us. But we would sneak to go there to watch the rehersals.”
“After I got married I used to read Atoka. It was sold for 10k then. I bought a lot. I didn’t go to formal school. So I cannot speak in English like you. I went to ile iwe Alabidi. I was taught Yoruba and I was good at Yoruba. So I will buy Atoka and read. I wanted to act but my husband won’t allow me. By 1982, I had become a matured woman. I gave birth to my 2nd to the last then. That was how I went to join kokonsari then. We would have endless rehersals. There was no opportunity to record. There was no video then. We depended on television. We depended on Channel 7 and Channel 8. They didn’t record us. And my children no longer had a father. I was the one taking care of them solely. When I come back my mum will tell me no one has bought your wares ooo. Since you are not here to take charge of it. Why don’t you sit down and face your beauty business instead of this Theatre business that does not bring you money. And we lived around the garage area. So, I thought that it was wise for me to stay back and supervise my kids. So, I stopped. But I was always tempted to go back to it.
In 1993, I went back. I went to join Dehinde Egbebunmi. That was when they did Gbongbo Ese (Part 1). I joined them to do Part 2 That is how we continued.
So, I started acting, had a break and I went back. I also did a bit of business. I was also good in business. They know me in my area, I sell all sorts to make money. I am happy that though I didn’t go to school, all my kids went to the University I thank God for that. After I joined in 1993, I stopped going again in 1994. In 1996, I decided to go into producing my own movie. I went to meet one of the producers who edits at Kadupe in Palmgroove area. I wanted to do a film then. The title was Iyawo Oga in 1996. It didn’t come out well because of lack of funds. There was no money. I promoted PASUMA in 1996 at the National Theatre. It was 3 shows 12-3pm, 3-6pm and 6pm to 9pm. But the MC made a mistake to announce during the 12-3pm show that people should keep their ticket so that they can use it for the next 2 shows (which was wrong information). That was h ow we didn’t sell. I got angry. I was frustrated and I said no more entertainment business. I am no longer doing the business again. Both acting in movies and music promotion I am no longer interested.
So, I started going to Cotonou to buy fabrics to sell. In year 2002 I began to feel the urge to go back to Theatre. In 2003, I came back finally and I have been there fully since then”. Where is Mama Ereko from? “My father was born in Lagasa Village in Ibeju Lekki, after Awoyaya in Lagos. My mum is from Epe. From Oke Paso in Epe, Oke Balogun in Epe. I grew up in Bariga at Buraimoh Street in Bariga. There are 2 Buraimoh Streets in Bariga. There is Jimoh Ali. But our own is Buraimoh Abule Okuta facing the market.”
How come Iya Ereko didn’t further her education? “It was my dads fault,” she explained. “He didn’t believe in sending a girl-child to school. At that time, going to school was not top priority for a girl-child. The believe is that if you send her to school she will end up in the kitchen. So my dad asked me to go and live with his mum who was sick. He said he won’t let his mum suffer.”
“If I had continued my education I would have taken advantage of many opportunities that came my way.”
“Many people came to beg my dad to let me go to school because I was brilliant. At some point they came to call me from Primary one to come and read on the black board and teach Primary 2 students. Each time I do it, the teachers will give me a cane to beat all of them for not knowing what I came to teach them. But I won’t be able to cane them because they are older than me. It pains me that I wasn’t allowed to go to school, that I didn’t have the benefit of formal education. That’s why I didn’t like my dads mum, who I believe changed the course of my career. She is the one who didn’t let me go to school. Do you know Simi used me for a role in her video. I was angry with Falz at that shoot which was directed by Clarins Peters. My role in that video shoot boosted my career. So the English people started calling me to come and act. That is how they invited me to one big shoot and I had to tell them I can’t speak English. A lot of the younger actresses wanted me to pick up that role and do it.”
“They begged me to go for it but I was scared. I used to be scared then because of the fact that I know I can’t speak in English. So I won’t be able to act well. Not being able to speak in English will dull me. So, I didn’t go. If I was educated this job would have taken me to greater places. The little I am doing that people are praising me is because of self-effort. I had to take a decision to step up my game myself”. It seems she likes Pasuma. Why is this so? “Yes I like Paso,” she confirmed excitedly.
“But he is not the only one. All these fuji acts are my sons and friends including Hip Hop. I like all of them. But Pasuma Alabi is a different breed. I have known him since he was nobody, living at Olorunsogo. He was living in a Boys Quarters as at then. When I tried to promote him then he was living in the Boys Quarter. I like him. I like others too. They are all my children”. She does not look 72, what the secret? “Its the grace of God,” she explained. “I am a free spirit. I roll with all ages. I relate with the young. When we are on location with these girls, I usually come down to their level. I play with them and they are free with me. No call me aunty or call me Mama. They go straight. They simply call me Iya Ereko. Thats why they like me. They always tell movie producers please invite Iya Ereko to your set ooo because whenever she is on location the place comes alive, it won’t be dull. I am playful. Even when I finish playing my role they won’t want me to go. I dance to all these Hip Hop tunes. I dance shakushaku. In my life, I don’t leave room for negativity or regrets or worry. I don’t let little things bother me. I live each day as it comes. As you can see me, I am always cheerful, I am always full of life. I am always bubbling. I don’t know how to go to bed thinking of a problem. I don’t take my theatre people as smaller than me I see all of us as colleagues. I come down to their level. I joke a lot. I have gained a lot from this lifestyle.”
Does she plan to leave acting anytime soon? “I really don’t know,” she said. “When we get to that bridge we will cross it. My colleagues don’t want me to retire. They feel I am still relevant and I really don’t charge them. I work with their budget and I collect whatever they have to offer. I provide my own costumes. I don’t depend on their own. I am ever ready for them. I am always prepared for them. I am their mother. I pray for them. I did a broadcast in support of Ayefele, over the demolition of his studio. It has gone viral I encouraged him not to despair. Over 50,000 people read it. Many commented”
What has life taught her at 72? “A lot ooo,” she said. “Life has taught me a lot. If I decide to shoot a movie with my life story I will do a movie that will have part 1, 2 and 3. My dear Seye, my eyes have seen a lot in life. I suffered in life. My dad was a tough man. My mum couldn’t stand up to him. She accepts whatever he says. She has other wives that came after her. My mother was a good mother. I liked her a lot. When my mother died I wept for 3 years. I wept a lot. Uptil now I still weep. Once I think about her, tears will start dropping. It helps my acting. Whenever I want to weep on set I will just take my mind to my mum. I will think about how she’s no more and I will begin to weep. She has only 2 of us. We are women. The 1st born of my elder sister is Prof. Anthony Akintunde Kila. My mother suffered a lot. But we all came out successful. All our kids are also doing well. I was born well and I also decided to train myself to succeed in life, to be determined. I trained all my children from Nursery to University level. I have an Inspector as a son.”
Why didn’t she remarry? She smiled. “Who told you I am not married. I have so many husbands. They are over 10,000. Seye Kehinde is also my husband. I have so many husband in the Yoruba movie industry”.