In 2008, dramatist, novelist and broadcaster, Alagba Adebayo Faleti, who passed on Sunday, granted my colleague, DAVID AJIBOYE (now Chief Operating Officer of Yinka Ayefele’s FRESH FM, Ibadan) and I an in-depth interview which was published in the Nigerian Tribune where we both then worked. What struck me during the conversation and subsequent visits to his Ojoo, Ibadan, Oyo State home was his candour, humility and generosity. There was also no pretence with the elder statesman as he would sit right there on the floor of his living room to interact with me whenever I visited. This interview, originally published in the Nigerian Tribune, was Faleti at his best.
Renowned dramatist and broadcaster, Pa Adebayo Faleti, whose contributions to literature and Nigeria’s movie industry earned him the national award of Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON), shared some interesting highlights of his career with Akintayo Abodunrin and David Ajiboye recently. Excerpts
When you began your career in acting, broadcasting and writing, did you envisage that your effort would be recognized with a national award?
I think one should have an aim on that. One wants to be recognised in whatever one does, and this is why you must perform to your utmost capability.
For me, the idea of winning awards started a long time ago. When I was in secondary school at Ibadan Boys High School, I won my first award in Fine Art. There was a time when the Western Region was very well known for festival of the arts and I won the first award in Yoruba poetry and literature for three consecutive years. If I do any work, I must at one time or the other begin to wish that an award be given to me.
As for a national award, that is the prime of it all. It makes me very proud although there may be more awards which I may want to win. But usually, you want to win something when you are busy in that field, that should be your purpose as an artist.
What other awards do you want to win apart from this national award?
The Yoruba say bi a dewu etu logun odun, inu eni ni gbe. That is, do not say all that you know, do not spend all that you have. I know I might want a greater award if I work hard and it relates to my calling. I ‘ve won several awards in film production and acting but this is a very big one, the peak. If it pleases God to spare my life, I might win something greater still.
What made you come into the arts?
It had to do with my father who was a lover of the arts. He was an illiterate but he was a lover of the arts. He knew quite a lot of poets and singers in the Yoruba areas here, particularly in Kwara State. That was where he frequented, and parts of Osun too. And he imbued this in us. He would call me and tell me stories of poets and the songs they sang. He would tell me stories about their background, a lot of things about Yoruba poetry, songs and dances.
Invariably, I became interested. My aunt; my father’s sister, was married to another royal line–maybe in exchange for my mother, I don’t know. So, she was very good in Yoruba oral poetry, particularly in oriki orile and things like that. She sang a lot of this when I was young and I copied it. There was another uncle of mine who was a hunter, who was interested in ijala chants. He would teach me the praise names of animals and praise names of big hunters. So, by and by, I became more involved in the arts.
Are you satisfied with your place in Nigerian arts?
Why not? I am. I might still wish to have a few things done which I ‘ve not done yet, that may be my only grouse with myself. And it’s not that I ‘m idle either. I keep on working, I keep on writing, I keep on acting. So, I ‘m satisfied up to the point that I’ve achieved quite a bit. But there are a few things I still want to do. If I ‘m spared the life to do them, I’ll be happy.
Apart from Magun that was turned into Thunderbolt, how many of your other novels have been turned into movies?
Quite a lot. Basorun Gaa, a stage play has been made into a movie. Idamu Padi Mikailu is a stage play turned into a movie. Quite a lot of other ones which I did not publish. Incidentally, I ‘m lazy in publishing because the publishers are not forthcoming. Sometimes, they keep a script for 10 years before it is published.
There is another unpublished one which has been acted on TV before, Sawo Segberi. Some stories were written for the stage before being put on the cinema; Sawo Segberi and Eye Atoka. Apart from very short pieces, at a time I was running a detective series in Yoruba called Adegboye Detective Series and that’s about half-hour plays and I ‘ve written quite a number of those. About 50 of them have been acted on TV or radio.
What would you say are your contributions to drama and broadcasting in Nigeria?
I rose to the peak of my career, and I think the peak of my career was not when I became General Manager, but when I was head of the programmes department. Now, that has always been my argument: What are your contributions to your profession?. Let me start with translations. I started the Yoruba programme that we had on Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service (WNBS). A Yoruba department was specifically created for me and it meant I had to evolve Yoruba programmes that should be aired.
Before that unit was created, WNBS was transmitting 18 hours a day and in those 18 hours, there was only five minutes of Yoruba programme everyday and that was the news in Yoruba. So, the first thing I did was to give names to all these programmes after Ambassador Segun Olusola, my boss, created a 15-minute slot for me to fill everyday in Yoruba.
In translation, I had to look for the meaning of very difficult words that were not common in Yoruba but which are the words being commonly used now. You want to translate a cheque or a cheque book, how do you do that? I knew that when you take a cheque to the bank, it becomes money. So, I called it iwe dowo and they now call it sowedowo.
How do you call a safe? A safe in those days was built within the wall in a room, ari yara dogiri. How do you translate a president? I coined the word Are which is being used now. In Yoruba culture, Are is the prime man. I was also worried about how to distinguish between a doctor of medicine and a doctor of philosophy. How do you distinguish between a doctor and a professor? I knew all these would come into my translations from time to time so, I decided a medical doctor is Onisegun Oyinbo, a doctor in philosophy is Omowe.
I was using the word kofeso but it was not my coinage actually. It first came from Ogbomoso; the first known professor among the Yoruba was Professor N.D. Oyerinde of Ogbomoso. And people in Ogbomoso called him kofeso. So, my first translation was Kofeso but later turned to Ojogbon which is greater than doctor. These are some of the things I tried to do.
I noticed that during the fasting period, Muslims used to preach all through the night and so when I became a director of programmes, I decided we should broadcast at night for Muslims during their night prayer. That was how I introduced the midnight programme for Muslims.
Father Christmas was only known in the Leventis Group of companies in Ibadan and Lagos, and I said why can’t the village boy know about Father Christmas. So, we sent somebody to England to get a Father Christmas costume and we were the first station to introduce mobile Father Christmas. And I coined its Yoruba name, Baba Keresi which is still in use.
The phone-in programme that we’ve now abused, I noted that our weekend programmes were poor when I was head at BCOS. We had no material for Sunday and we continued playing Christmas music all through.
So I thought we should introduce something. Banji Ojo was sent to the BBC and he brought the idea that we could improve our Sunday programmes if we can phone in. I called our engineers that we need a programme that people can call us live on air and listeners outside can hear. Our engineers were not forthcoming so I told them if they couldn’t do it, I’ll ask Engineers from NTA to come and do it for me. Later, they said it would cost a lot of money, about N65,000 to install the equipments. I said what? Then I called the junior engineers and they said the cost would not be up to that. Eventually, it was done and it didn’t cost me N5,000. That was how we brought in Eyi Ara on Sundays and since then, every station is now phoning in, not knowing what I went through in getting that done.
In those days, all drama programmes were improvised and you had as many dialogue as you had rehearsals and productions. The dialogue at rehearsals was different from production dialogue. So, I said we want all programmes to be scripted and since I said it, I should pioneer it. I told you I was running a detective series and everything was scripted. All the programmes handled by Alebiosu Group was scripted. Only plays in English were scripted in those days but we pioneered Yoruba plays having scripts too.
It was difficult to record a play in those days, every thing had to be recorded in one day, not in bit. And I thought how do we do that? Fortunately, we use two or three cameras, they were heavy cameras so I took the studio out. Within NTA premises, we built sets outside, that’s how we recorded Basorun Gaa and Oba Koso.
You were a broadcaster for several years and even rose to become General Manager of the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State (BCOS). Presently, broadcasting has problems. Presenters pronounce words wrongly, programmes are shallow… ?
What is wanting and this is a note for the broadcast managers, is that there is no more monitoring. Monitoring was done in turns in those days. By the time you have finished a bulletin, a series of telephone calls will be received from various monitors. The following day, you are likely to receive what we called a “Love letter”. Love letter is a query! So, I think what broadcast managers should do is to make sure there is monitoring again. And news should not be personalised, they should read out what is in the news, not put their own translations using idioms which are irrelevant from what the script actually says.
Then, the stations should intensify training. If you can’t go overseas anymore, they could be trained locally. Make training locally, repeatedly. There are now a lot of experienced broadcasters over the place who can conduct trainings in specific areas of broadcasting. If we do that, I think things will improve.
Again, there is no uniformity in the translation of words. Somebody wants to say speaker of the house of assembly, he says Asiwaju Ile, some will say Alaga. There should be uniformity of translations. These are things that should be corrected by the broadcasting houses, especially in the west here where we have Yoruba broadcasters.
This is not particularly happifying at all the way Yoruba translators translate words and even programmes handle their programmes. The way they handle their programmes are too personal, too sluggish and not formal at all whereas broadcasting should be formal.