Moses Olaiya Adejumo’s sight was set on huge financial gains when he produced the film, Orun Mooru, literally translated as ‘Heaven is Hellish.’ But instead, by the film, an ingenuous life of comedy would suddenly begin to crumble tragically.
Finally, Baba Sala has his chance to experience directly how swelteringly hot, or otherwise, heaven can be, as he had dramatized in Orun Mooru, his comic film.
Now the drama is over, orun is no longer a thespian act for him and playing comedy with it, has translated into grim reality. For Baba Sala, from Sunday October 7, 2018 when death rewrote his address, Orun Mooru has ceased to be in the realm of some fancy creativity.
Baba Sala was actually Moses Olaiya Adejumo, his congenital identity that had virtually gone into oblivion by 1982 when the doyen of screen and stage comedy in Nigeria shot Orun Mooru. All that had assumed ubiquity, especially in the Southwest, was his act name, Baba Sala. So in Orun Mooru, it was Baba Sala making wide laugh of the blistering discomfort in heaven, having been there and back.
He had written the film to achieve the two ends of spreading laughter into homes and reaping stupendous financial capital from it. But fate would have its own tragic play at him when a string of calamities began to attend Orun Mooru, and Baba Sala’s life gradually went into a spin, from which he never recovered till last Sunday when he died, 81 years old.
Adejumo, born on May 17, 1937, was at different times a civil servant, sanitary inspector, part-time teacher and highlife musician. But it was the arts, as he reiterated in interviews, that was his passion. “Drama was in my blood,” he had said.
Towards the mid-1960s, Adejumo had put together his musical group, the Federal Rhythm Dandies. But it was a musical ensemble with a difference, for it also was involved in drama shows. Luckily for him, a young apprentice, Sunday Adeniyi Adegeye, had joined the group and had been dextrous on the guitar, freeing Adejumo to spend more time on his drama proclivities.
Adejumo spoke of how, while he was good on the drums, Adegeye’s love was the guitar and he wasn’t inclined in whatever way towards acting. “So I felt I should concentrate on acting and leave him to playing the guitar,” he had said.
Adegeye was such a brilliant student that by 1966, he had formed his own Sunny Ade and His Green Spot Band for music, while Olaiya would create his own Moses Olaiya Concert Party for stage plays. Sunny Ade, now 73 years old, would rise to be one of Africa’s most successful musical brands on the global scene.
Adejumo was, however, not done with carving a niche for himself in drama. He was in competition with great acts like Hubert Ogunde, Duro Ladipo and Kola Ogunmola in staging Yoruba plays. As he staged, he began to realise that infusing rib-cracking comedy into his plays, was winning him a special class of audience. At a point, he dared to be uniquely different, pioneering a genre of drama in Nigeria. In 1969, Adejumo founded the Moses Olaiya International Alawada (Comedy) Theatre Limited and began taking his new creativity round Nigeria. Moses Olaiya Adejumo practically retired from the scene and Baba Sala was born.
Fame would quickly smile on Baba Sala. His stage shows in cities, towns and villages endeared him to theWestern Nigeria Television (WNTV) management, which gave him a one-year contract of drama sketches on air. He was also later given a 30-minute slot on NTA Ibadan every Wednesday.
Baba Sala’s fame spread so wide that even the former Premier of Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, grew enamoured of him. In the comedian’s own words, Chief Awolowo himself came looking for him at his residence. But he wasn’t at home. Awolowo then left his card inviting Baba Sala to his hometown, Ikenne, an invitation he honoured.
It was the Awolowo friendship that opened the window of opportunity for him to produce a film. Orun Mooru came alive in 1982, originally in its theatrical context as a rich, but morbid comedy, and, later, as a transmogrification of a tragic turn of events from which Baba Sala never recovered.
To produce Orun Mooru, Baba Sala got a loan from the National Bank of Nigeria, to whose manager Chief Awolowo had introduced him. To get a loan of N500,000 from the bank,he was asked to drop the documents of his three houses. But the bank made him realise that that collateral wouldn’t get him more than a N200,000 facility.
Assistance for him would come from a leading politician then, Chief J.M. Johnson, who released the documents of his own three houses in Lagos to the bank to enable Baba Sala obtain the full loan for the film to be produced.
“So I took documents of six houses as collateral to the bank and they gave me the N500,000, which I used to produce Orun Mooru. He begged me not to allow the money to go down the drain,” Baba Sala once recalled.
That plea was fruitless. A few months after Baba Sala began showing Orun Mooru in cinemas, a brother-in-law conspired with some other people to steal the film, which was pirated. Baba Sala’s hopes went up in smoke, and his travails began.
Baba Sala lamented in an interview, “I could not make money from the film and the interest on the loan kept mounting. I could not repay the loan within the period stipulated in the agreement. As I was trying to rescue the situation, J.M.J died and his children came to me to ask if their father’s houses could be recovered from National Bank. I promised that I would recover them.
“Eventually, my lawyer advised me to sell my house in Mushin, Lagos. I did and the money was enough to pay my debt in the bank and the interest,” he said.
Left homeless in Lagos, Baba Sala had to relocate to Ibadan, condemned to his fate. Luck would one day bring him in contact with Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who had conferred on him the national honour of the Member of the Niger (MON) when he was the military Head of State. Baba Sala explained his poor state to Obasanjo, who gave him his card to take to the then Military Administrator of Oyo State, General Abdulkareem Adisa.
Adisa, Baba Sala said, rehabilitated one of the halls at the Agbowo Shopping Complex, Ibadan, for him to start using as a cinema hall.
He said in an interview he granted some years ago, “He then asked me how much I could pay yearly and I told him N40,000. Adisa said I should be paying N30,000. After three years, during the time of Lam Adesina, they increased my yearly rent to N200,000. I was managing to pay it because I did not want to leave the business.
“Then Senator Rashidi Ladoja came in as governor. He increased the fee to N400,000. I begged him to reduce it because I could not afford it, but he refused. So, I packed all my belongings and left the hall. Because there was nothing for me to do in Ibadan, I relocated to Ilesa.”
Baba Sala had produced Orun Mooru with his sight set on the big pay day. But the name and theme of the film had interpreted themselves so cruelly at the comedian on earth, reducing his living to a pitiable narrative. Baba Sala himself became a living film, a tragedy. Before he finally died, news of his demise had been abroad at least six times, only for the public to learn he was still hanging on. His death finally last Sunday was a welcome relief to many of his fans, who regard it as a deserved rest for a great artiste.