• Talks About His Many Spiritual Battles
Everybody calls him Abija Wara bi Ekun. That is his stage name. It is a nickname that is popular in the Yoruba movie sphere. Those who watched movies in the 80s and 90s are familiar with this epic actor who kept most people glued to their television sets during those weekly sitcoms on national Television. The first epic soap that brought him to limelight was Opa Aje in the mid-1980s, followed by Koto Orun. Both movies were produced by Alhaji Yekini Ajileye.
Abija-wara-bi-ekun has a dwarf-like ghommid known as Ajan. Abija was like Spartacus in the field of battle. What fascinated most people was the pattern of Ajan’s telepathy. The deity and Abija-wara communicated in such a way that left me bewildered as a child with the hope to reincarnate such a trick.
Abija, whose real name is Tajudeen Oyewole is one of the pioneers of indigenous Yoruba movies. He was born 64 years ago. He read only Primary Six from Local Authority Primary School, Oniyere in Ayedun Agbo Bi Ekun Village.
In this interview, Abija narrated his journey so far and all the hurdles he went through to keep his head up amidst the challenges. Read Excerpts.
How did you come about the name Abija?
Yes. Back then when Alhaji Yekini Ajileye wanted to shoot Opa Aje, we had been working together before then but in this movie, Alhaji said he wanted to have a very powerful power-fortified man and his name will be Abija wara bi ekun.
But before then, there has been a construction company in Akure, called Abija Construction Company Limited. The company had existed for many years before we even coined the name of Opa Aje cast.
Alhaji Yekini just spiced up the name as Abija Wara Bi Ekun. In the movie, Abija was a very powerful man that has a spirit messenger called Ajan… The Ajan will call him and notify him whenever there is danger and tell him what to do. That was the idea of the movie. The sequel went on and we did Koto Orun and so on.
Opa Aje did not only birth but Abija also gave names to many actors that are still popular today. It birthed Oyiboyi, Koledowo, Adeola, and many more.
How did acting start for you?
Ahh! It’s a very long story. I started acting as one of Pa Ogungbe’s boys many years ago as a very young boy. Back then they came to Oshogbo for stage performance, I was so young and like every other young boy, I followed them around during the period they were in my village. I will help them run around for the awareness and will dance around with them.
When it was time for the show, they couldn’t chase me out. They have seen me with them all through the day, so I was allowed in. I even helped other people come in to watch the show without paying.
It was the glamour that got to me at that time and I felt I can start moving from town to town with them.
So by the time they wanted to leave, I jumped into the bus with them and escaped without telling anyone in Oshogbo.
By the time they got to the next stop in Ondo and everyone was getting down, that was when they saw me with them. They couldn’t chase me back because it was a very long journey. Pa Ogungba suggested I stayed with them until they will go to Oshogbo again. They didn’t go to Oshogbo until after 3 years.
I was helping around with so many things. I was helping them wash clothes, buy food and take care of things, this was how I was getting little change to eat and take care of myself. But really, I had started to regret following them.
Days, Months and years passed by and after 3 years, we were set for my hometown. I did not even wait for the bus to stop before I got down at the border and went home.
When my family saw me, they did nothing, they just went about their normal lives. They sent me on errands and gave me food like I never left. No one asked me where I was for 3 years. I was scared to death because I didn’t know what they might have planned for me.
After 3 months of my return, I did something so minute that was not even worth scolding me for, but my father beat me so much that I could not even stand up for days. This was when I knew he wasn’t beating me for what I did at that moment but for my leaving home without notice for 3 years. The beating was severe.
After many years later, I had become an established driver in Port Harcourt. There was a time the Ajileye Theatre Group came to Port Harcourt to perform and the troupe driver had issues with Alhaji Ajileye. After going back and forth, Alhaji asked someone from my park to help him get a driver that will take the troupe to Ondo. I immediately volunteered, I left my taxi car key in the ignition and dumped it there for the taxi owner.
When we got to Ondo, Alhaji asked me how much I would want to go back and I told him I wasn’t going anywhere, and have decided to join the troupe. That was how I joined the Ajileye troupe.
At what point did you start having issues with Ajileye
I never had issues with my Oga. He was a brother to me, he was more than a boss. He is such a kind man. But once you allow a woman to prevail over your principle, it becomes a problem. There have been conspiracies from day one in the Ajileye theatre group.
Let me give you one instance; while we were shooting Opa Aje. My role was to play Ogunwehinwo, I was not supposed to play the Abija role. It was the director Laolu Ogunniyi, that came those days that saw me and advised that I fit perfectly for the Abija role. And the role of Abija was more like the lead actor of that series, so other members kicked against it. Alhaji also kicked against it. So the director packed all his equipment and left. He said I either played the role to make his job easier or he may have to leave. They refused and so he left.
After some time when it was obvious no one can direct that movie like that same director, he was called back and I was asked to play the role of Abija.
But note that other members, especially the women were all ganging up against me. They believed I bribed the director and the producer with bushmeat. You know I was a very tough hunter too back then. In fact, hunting comes first and acting comes second. I made most of my earnings throught hunting and I loved the job.
Anytime I go hunting, I would come back with various kinds of bushmeat and share amongst the Ogas in the group. So they thought that was how I got the lead role of Abija in Opa Aje.
The man who was originally cast for the role was Alhaji Ajileye’s brother Inlaw, he was an elder brother to one of Alhaji’s wives, so you can see where the conspiracy came from.
We also heard Alhaji Ajileye was angry with you at some point?
Hmmm.. let me tell you something, what happened that time did not even get him angry, as it was a very small issue. But like I said, when a man’s decision is a function of a woman’s directive, it becomes a problem.
My Oga was not angry with me initially. His anger was caused by what happened later.
Some people came to Oshogbo to request that I took part in their movie. Alhaji charged them hugely and they paid. The same way, these people went to Fadeyi’s boss at the time and requested for him. He charged them, and they paid. Both parties were fully aware that I and Fadeyi would feature in that movie. I believe that was the idea in the first place. My boss did not say anything until it was a day to my trip that he said I should reject if they place me and Fadeyi in any of the scenes.
We got to Lagos and that was exactly what happened. I was given my costume, Fadeyi had his costume and we were asked to face each other. And we did!
After leaving the location, my boss got wind of what transpired and did not complain. Even Fadeyi’s boss did not complain. It was when the movie was premiered at the National Theatre that my boss became sorely bitter. His wife had told him he must come to Lagos and witness the movie premiere. She brought him all the way from Oshogbo and he came with a pure mind.
But when he saw the tons of crowd that came to watch the movie, he became physically angry. His eyes were red, the bitterness was not hidden. That was when the trouble began. I believe you can relate to what got him angry. He felt those guys made a lot of money off him before he thought of the idea and the fact that I gave in to pressure at the location.
But what could I have done? I came to Lagos alone. No one followed me to support or guide me. Fadeyi came with someone but yet took part in the scene.
Do you know if I had rejected, they would still have made their money, because I had already worn my costume and so was Fadeyi, they had taken the pictures already, and that’s enough for marketing.
I begged Alhaji for many years. I sent people who were as old as my father to him. And he never showed any sign that he was still angry.
So many years after, Alhaji wanted to shoot Koto Aiye, he sent me a letter to come and be part of the movie. I was so happy and thought he has forgiven me. I showed the letter to 2 of the men I respected as fathers and who were aware of the crisis on ground.
They both said the invitation letter has shown that Alhaji has forgiven me. So I went to Lagos. By the time I got to the location, Alhaji Ajileye told me point blank that my role in the movie is to portray that Abija is dead and another Abija will come in the person of Musibau. I will appear as a ghost and hand over all my powers to him before the world so that people will not reckon with me as Abija anymore. His plan was perfectly carried out, and I played along in that movie.
For those who watched Koto Aye, you will see where I appeared as a ghost saying they will not see me anymore, and that Arole Abija will take my place. It was difficult but I had to do it to please my boss.
But today, I still remain the only Abija that people reckon with. That is a pointer that you are who God has made you to be.
How many movies have you produced?
Ahhh.. I have lost count sir. I cannot recollect anymore.
What should we be expecting from Abija?
I am still very much around. I have got several movies I am featuring in and some that I intend to produce. For now, I have Ibinu Abija, already completed. It was the movie I was shooting before I had that accident that almost took my life in 2007. Ibinu Abija is complete and ready for release. I am currently looking for a reliable marketer to help me push it.