Actor, producer and director Adebayo Salami, better known as Oga Bello, who clocked 70 on Monday, May 9, has been active since 1964. His institutional memory of Nigeria’s movie industry is phenomenal, having seen it all. Call him a Nollywood institution, and you are not off the mark.
Generations of Nigerians have admired the versatility of the thoroughbred professional who, like old wine, grows better with age. He constantly reinvents himself, playing roles that have cemented him in the hearts of movie buffs.
Commendably, acting is not the only forte of the artist who started with the Young Stars Concert Party, which transformed into Ojo Ladipo Theatre and later Awada Kerikeri Organisation. He is also a competent director and producer, valiantly ensuring that Awada Kerikeri Theatre Group, founded by his mentor, didn’t collapse after he passed in 1978. The leadership mantle fell on him unexpectedly. He rose to the occasion, supported by his trusted sidekick, Aluwe (Sunday Omobolanle) and others.
Who would forget the organisation’s ‘Ogun Ajaye’ and subsequent productions, including ‘Omo Orukan’, ‘Eri Okan’ and ‘Asewo to Re Mecca’, which brought actress Toyin Adegbola monstrous fame? He has since produced 13 other successful productions and earned plaudits from fans and colleagues alike.
In a career spanning some 58 years, Oga Bello has held several leadership positions in the industry. The Ilorin, Kwara State indigene was a pioneer member of the Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (ANTP), which he later served as president. He was also on the Steering Committee of the Motion Picture Practitioners Council of Nigeria (MOPPICCON) during ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure. He is the current Chair of the Board of Trustees of Theatre Arts and Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of Nigeria.
On Monday, there was an outpouring of love from his children, professional colleagues, and fans when he became a septuagenarian. The actor wept for joy when his children presented him with a surprise car gift. His son, Femi, one of the trio who joined him in the movie industry, later disclosed that his father displayed a rare emotion. “I’ve always known my Dad to be a disciplinarian … My Daddy never cries, but today, he couldn’t hold the emotions. I couldn’t also hold mine, honestly. I’m so grateful to Almighty God that Daddy could see this day, and he made it possible for us to deliver this gift. Happy 70th, Daddy. We love you.”
His professional colleagues also hailed him. Prince Jide Kosoko wrote, “Egbon mi Aremu omo Agbogunleri. Iwo na ko, Olorun ni, continue to live your life. Happy birthday to the leader of leaders, 70th is the number. Almighty Allah will continue to be with you and your family. Congrats egbon.”
Actress Bukola Awoyemi wrote, “See who is 70, my Daddy. Hip, hip, hip, hurray! Knowing you have always been a great privilege. The father-daughter relationship is what I don’t want to end; keep being good Daddy. Wishing you long life and prosperity in good health and great wealth in Jesus Mighty Name Amen.”
Though he has attained fame, if not riches, it was not always so for the man with 18 children. He had it rough when he started, with his parents not happy with his choice because the thinking at the time was that acting was for dropouts or never-do-wells. He had quite an exciting journey, going as far as running away from home to live with a friend in a church. He later worked as a library assistant with the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing and as a Personal Assistant with the then Federal Commissioner for Works and Housing, Chief Femi Okunnu. He became a full-time actor in 1976.
Reflecting on the past’s sweet and sometimes sour journey on Monday, Salami said: “I thank Almighty Allah for sparing my life to be 70 years today. This is not a joke after so many challenges I have been able to overcome. I see what God has done to my family and me; I can recall that God has been kind to my children and me, and I thank the Almighty Allah for that.
“Then, at 70, I still have the strength to do my job, and I am still relevant. I thank God for all these. Now, I want to continue to make my fans happy and maintain my character, which has led me to where I am today. It is good to be humble. I pray that God will continue to guide, protect and direct me as usual.”
All of us at TCN say a resounding Amen!