At first, my mother was sad to know she gave birth to an albino –Elesho
Popular actor, Adewale Elesho, has been in the Nigerian movie industry for over 30 years. He shares his experience with Ademola Olonilua
How would you describe your childhood in Osun State?
I grew up in Oke-Ara which is under Ile Ife and I had a very wonderful childhood. My father was the Baale of the village. Today, that same village has a king instead of a Baale and they call their king Alara of Oke-Ara. My father had eight wives and numerous children but with the way we were raised, you would think we were all from the same mother and this made my childhood more fun. One thing our parents instilled in us was the fear of God. We were told to always tell the truth no matter the circumstance. I learnt about contentment from my parents and we were encouraged to always follow our passion. Till today, these virtues are a part of me.
Did you witness fights and clashes that are usually associated with polygamous homes?
It is very natural for people to fight. Once there are more than one person in a place, there is bound to be conflict but we always settled our misunderstandings. Also, there was nothing like the wives going diabolical.
In fact in the past, when a man married more than one wife, there were ways they controlled their wives. While some men took their wives to a shrine to swear that they would not harm anyone in the family, some other men were blessed by God. These men were born leaders and they knew how to put their homes in order. My father belonged to the latter category. There was never a time I saw my father’s wives fight. There was unity in our family.
Is it right to say that your father was quite wealthy?
I would say my father was very comfortable. He was a prosperous farmer who planted cocoa and palm trees and his business did very well. It would be right to say that my father was quite wealthy because he made sure he bought cars for all his children who were into transport business. My father supplied cocoa to some big factories and he made good money. Besides, for someone to marry eight wives, you should know that he was quite wealthy.
Were you a quiet or a troublesome child?
I cannot say that I was a quiet child. I attended Local Authority Primary School and I remember when I got into trouble in primary three. While growing up, I used to hide my money in a cocoa sack in my father’s store for safe keeping. There was a day I was in class and I saw some of my father’s trucks transporting cocoa out of the village. I ran out of the class; although my teacher kept yelling at me to come back. I did not listen to her because I knew that if those offloading the cocoa should see my money where I stashed it, they would steal it and I worked very hard to get the money by helping my father in his business. I was able to retrieve the money and when I got back to school, I received the beating of my life but I was not bothered because I got my money.
Another incident that happened when I was in primary school was during a school play. Normally, we read about some parables in the bible and for that particular play, they chose the story of the prodigal son. I was chosen to act the part of the prodigal son but I refused because there was a part where they expected me to eat from a dirty bucket like pigs as it was recorded in the bible. The teacher tried to force me to play the part but I refused, so she beat me for three consecutive days. The beating was so much that I could not sleep on my back for weeks but despite what was done to me, I refused to report her to my father because it would have put her in trouble. The teacher did not know why I refused to play that part but my reason was simple. My father was the ruler of the town and not only did he invite all his subjects from other villages to watch the school play, he also had a front row seat. I wondered how my father would feel to see me eating from a dirty bucket like a pig all in the name of a school play. So, I refused to play the part. Eventually, the teacher had to choose another passage from the bible and this time, she chose the story of Adam and Eve and I was asked to play the part of God which I happily agreed to do. When my father came to watch the play, he was so proud of me that he kept boasting about me to his subjects. You can only imagine how he would have felt if I had accepted the first role they handed to me. Besides, I was very brilliant in my primary school days as I was one of the best pupils in the school. My least position all through was third. I would say I was a bit stubborn as a kid.
After your primary school education, did you go further?
I went to modern school in Ife after primary school. The issue was that I thought of how best I could earn a living and stand on my own and what I came up with was to be a pharmacist. So I quit school and went to train to be a pharmacist.
Are you saying that you started acting since primary school?
Yes, I started acting when I was in primary school. We did it for fun. I worked for different companies before I decided to make acting a career. I began acting professionally over 30 years ago and that was when I began to use the proceeds of my acting to feed my family and fend for myself.
Were you treated differently while growing up due to your albinism?
My story may sound funny to people, so I always try not to share it. I was the most pampered child among my siblings and it is all thanks to my albinism. My father really took care of me but I never really knew the reason till I became an adult. My mother told me that she became sad when she saw me after giving birth to me. It appeared strange to her how I could be fair in complexion while both my parents were dark skinned. Because my father was a cocoa farmer who interacted with foreigners and also the presence of foreigners in the hospital where I was born in Ibadan, people began to speculate that probably my mother had an affair with a foreigner. She said that made her cry a lot. They later sent for my father but to her surprise, when my father saw me, he was very happy and he began to dance joyously. She said that she was shocked that my father was that elated. He left her to buy all the required items. I was told that my christening was a very elaborate one as well. Whenever my father was going out, some of us his kids would go with him but because I was different, it made me feel inferior. But once my father noticed this, he made sure that I was the only one to follow him. My father so much loved me that he never allowed anyone to beat me or maltreat me in anyway. I was later told my father loved me so much because I had the same skin colour as his mother. Any time my father went to the palace of the late Ooni of Ife, Oba Adesoji Aderemi, I was the only one he took with him. I was always with him to carry his bag everywhere he was going to. I am very grateful to God for my complexion and I am also thankful to God for giving me good parents who took good care of me especially my father. It was my father who took care of me a lot, he loved me so much. When he died, I gave him a befitting burial and every one in Ikirun bore witness to the fact that I buried my father in style.
At what point did you leave Ife for Lagos State?
I left Ife as a young boy and went to Ekiti to earn a living by being a chemist in the 1970s. I settled and opened a shop at Emure Ekiti. I was doing very well as a chemist but the police did not allow me to rest as they frequently came to raid my shop because they said I did not have the licence to sell drugs. There were also some people that I sold drugs to on credit but when it was time to collect my money, they would send the police to come and harass me. It was easy for them to single me out of the crowd because of my complexion; this made the embarrassment constant.
What broke the camel’s back was when they came to pick me up one morning. It was during the Ramadan fast. We had bought chicken and we were ready to celebrate Sallah when they came. I begged them and offered them N20 which was a lot of money back then, but they refused. I went as far as borrowing an extra N30 and gave them N50 but they also refused. They threw me behind their roofless pickup truck and took me to Akure because Ekiti State had not yet been created. As we were on the way, they made several stops to raid some other people. When we got to Akure, the policemen said that we should offer them whatever we had so they could set us free. I was so furious because the sun had beaten me severely all through the journey and besides the fact that I had offered them N50 earlier that day. I told them I could not give them N50 anymore because I had to borrow N30. I ended up parting with N20 after they had put me through hardship. As of that time, I was already feeling the symptoms of malaria. They eventually collected the N20 and set me free in the night. That was when I decided to quit the business.
There was a time that Baba Sala came to perform in Ekiti. I think he came to play for a rich man. I approached him and told him that I was an actor and that I had been acting since when I was in primary school. While I was talking, he kept laughing; so after my conversation, he told me that I had the talent and asked me to come and meet him in Ibadan. Instead of going to Ibadan, I went to Ilorin and that is where I joined the theatre production of Femi Olukoga. That was when I started acting professionally. Ironically, Olukoga is no longer into acting because of the stress involved. Also there was no financial gain; in fact, most times we ran into debt after each production.
But why were the police always after you?
I was selling genuine drugs, not contrabands. During that time, there was nothing like contraband and we bought our drugs from big stores in both Ibadan and Akure. The question the police normally asked was that whether we were certified pharmacists but we were not. The funny thing was that these policemen used to patronise my store and some of their wives even bought drugs on credit. It is just like some mechanics that do not have any formal training but they are good at their craft. Some of them are even better than some engineers that studied in the university. These people were once apprentices; that was the case with me, I learnt how to be a pharmacist from someone as well and I was very good at it.
At what point did you come to Lagos to continue your career?
It was my boss, Adeyemi Afolayan, popularly known as Adelove, that invited me to Lagos. When I was still in Ilorin, the producers of plays used to frustrate us a lot despite the fact that we treated them like kings. They were fond of choosing the finest girls in the group to become their lovers; in fact, if care was not taken, they could decide that they wanted to date the wife of the group leader.
There was a time my younger brother’s girlfriend accompanied me to NTA Ilorin for a rehearsal. When we got to the venue, the producer of the play whom I am very sure has retired now, signified interest in dating the young lady that was with me but I refused. These producers enjoyed to the extent that anytime they came to watch us perform, we would buy chicken to offer them with beer. Once they were done, they could say that the rehearsal was not good enough and that we should come again another time. During the next meeting, they would be given the same royalty and whenever they were going, they could decide to take one of our girls with them. That was how much they enjoyed. Simply because I refused to allow that producer to date the girl, he said that our rehearsal was not good enough to be aired. Even though I was very angry at the man, I offered to get him a commercial sex worker if he was that horny but he insisted that it was that lady he wanted, so he condemned our play.
Unknown to me, Adelove was around and he watched our performance. By that time, he was a prolific actor and a legend alongside the likes of Baba Sala and Baba Ogunde. He probably heard our drumming and came to watch us perform. My performance made him laugh so hard that after the rehearsals, he called me. When I went to meet him, he called me afin (albino) and jokingly asked if I could see very well to find my way to Lagos. I laughed and told him that I was not blind and I would find my way to Lagos. He told his personal assistant to take down my name and also give me an invitation letter. Then he asked me to come along with five of my group members that I trusted. When he was done, I was given N200 as my transport fare to Lagos and that was a lot of money because a bus ride to Lagos then was just N3. I used part of the money to pay for the bus that conveyed our costumes to the venue of the rehearsals. When the producer who was interested in my younger brother’s girlfriend saw that I was talking to Adelove, he waited till I finished. He then sent for me but I did not answer him. He later came to meet me and tried cajoling me but I rebuffed him and said that I was no longer interested in rehearsing under his supervision. He was surprised, so I showed him the letter of invitation from Adelove. I made sure that I insulted him since God had given me the glory. That was how I came to Lagos and I was part of the cast of Taxi Driver and I met with other prominent actors and actresses.
How were you able to handle your female fans that flocked around you when fame came knocking?
It is true that some challenges come with being popular but you have to learn how to behave yourself. There is no entertainer that has not faced such but it is left for you to check yourself before you have so many children that you may not be able to fend for. When I was still a youth, I hardly went to the club but I relaxed and had fun with my friends regularly.
Most of your contemporaries got married to more than one wife, same thing with your father. How come you decided to marry just one wife?
As for my father who had many wives, it was for a reason and they were all helpful to him. They were all helping him in the farm. Likewise my bosses; they all had many wives because of their theatre company. Back then, no parent wanted their child to be an entertainer, so our bosses employed their wives and children. Those that were into polygamy back then did not do it because they loved women or they could not control themselves. They did it because of the nature of their job.
But we read somewhere that you were a taxi driver when you first came to Lagos, how true is that?
I was never a taxi driver. I was in the movie, Taxi Driver, which was produced by Adelove. The film was in two parts and it was a very interesting one.
How did you meet your wife?
I have never made women a priority in my life. My life has always been about my work. The first lady I got married to travelled out of the country and I told her that once she left the shores of Nigeria, she should start a new life because I have never been a believer of long distance relationship. The woman who is now my wife met me in Ibadan and the way we met was quite funny. I went with my friend to shoot a movie in Ibadan and after the shoot, he said I should accompany him to a funeral and I obliged. My wife happened to be the best friend to the daughter of the woman who was being buried. When we got to the venue, the MC was not yet there, so my friend told me to go on stage and cheer the crowd. When I was on stage, I noticed that there was this particular lady hurling insults at me. She kept saying that I was not the one billed to perform but the more she insulted me, the more I was laughing. Eventually, the MC came and I had to leave the stage. My friend later pointed out the lady that was insulting me and we asked her to join us. When she got to where we were, she continued to insult me and I found it hilarious. She later asked me if I had eaten but I said no. She said there was salt in their food and since they say albinos don’t eat salt, she did not know if it was safe to serve me. She said that was why she told them not to give me food. I laughed at her once again. At the end of the day, we became friends and as time went on, we became lovers and got married.