Famous Yoruba actor and producer, Prince Jide Kosoko, who recently clocked 60, shares aspects of his life with FUNSHO AROGUNDADE
How do you feel attaining the age of 60?
I am so happy. I am so grateful to God Almighty for sparing my life till this day.
How are you celebrating the landmark?
I really appreciate the people who, one way or the other, put together various events to mark my birthday. But by the grace of God on 30 March, the emphasis will shift from my birthday celebrations to the public presentation and launch of my book, Warrior’s Lamentation.
Is it your autobiography?
No. It is about my sojourn in the leadership of our industry, especially as leader of the Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners, ANTP. I want to share my experience with my colleagues and public in general. Then I will also use the event to mark my 50th anniversary in the theatre industry.
That means you started acting at age 10.
How come you, a Lagos prince, got into acting at that age?
My first acting gig was in 1964 at age 10. It goes a long way to show you that I was a rascal as a kid. I did everything against the wish of my parents. But to tell you the story, we lived at Alagomeji, very close to Ebute Metta. Our house was just a stone throw to Hubert Ogunde’s. I saw the way people hailed him whenever he was passing by. That inspired me to say that I wanted to be like him. When the opportunity came in 1964 that Dele Toyinbo, an uncle and member of a travelling theatre, approached me for a role, I did not think twice before accepting. It was a lead role in a Yoruba telemovie, Makanjuola. I played the role of a small boy, but the boy happened to be the lead character.
How much were you paid for that lead role?
Money? Who cared about money then? They only gave me transport fare. It was a question of passion. I never really cared about the financial reward as at that time.
What was the reaction of your parents?
They were very annoyed, especially my mother. My father always reminded me that I am a prince that should be entertained instead of entertaining. I ignored them both of them. I remember my first appearance on television. You know in those days, only a few people had television sets in their homes. Then many people watched through windows of neighbours. That day, I was returning from Television House at Bar Beach, Victoria Island, Lagos. As I was coming down from the bus at Alagomeji, you needed to see the way people were hailing me. I was strolling down to our house like a hero. When I got home, my mother gave me the beating of my life, while my dad only advised me to face my studies. But I continued sneaking to rehearsals.
When did you decide to take acting up as a career?
To tell you the truth, I never for once stopped acting. All through the time I was in secondary school and higher institution, I never stopped acting. I was going to school as well as acting professionally. I never stopped till I formed my own theatre group, Jide Kosoko Theatre Company, in 1972.
Can you recall your first production as the leader of your theatre group?
Our debut production was Agbada Ekun. But the production that launched the group to reckoning was Oju Eni Mala. I had a very bad experience with it.
A week to the production, all the members of my group deserted me. For reasons I wouldn’t want to share, they all left me. The painful thing was that the production was being sponsored by Coca-Cola.
Looking back all the years, what would you say has been the highest and lowest points for you?
There are so many. It has been a rollercoaster. The challenges are so numerous. But I thank God that I have been able to face so many battles, win so many of them and still remain standing.
How would you describe the state of the Nigerian film industry?
We thank God for everything. Whatever happened, Nollywood has come to stay and it is waxing strong and stronger.
What about your primary constituency, where a long-running crisis has stalled its progress and denied it the recognition it deserves?
It is the same with our counterparts in the English movie genre. None of us has gained the deserved recognition. If a practitioner has an opportunity to know or meet a minister or governor who gives money, will you consider that a professional gain? No. We are yet to properly sanitise the industry so that we can all enjoy it. On our part in the Yoruba sector, yes we have our own challenges. But you should understand that we are very many. The ANTP is the largest bloc of theatre professionals in Nigeria. In spite of that, we still have some of our people who you can say are very successful professionally. But in a situation where the number of successful people are in the minority, how successful could that be?
One of the challenges facing your industry is the inability of the National Assembly to pass the MOPICON Bill. What, in your own view, is stalling this bill?
It is so unfortunate and very painful that the bill hasn’t been passed. I was part of those who drafted that MOPICON Bill. I recently told Afolabi Adesanya, former Managing Director of Nigerian Film Corporation, that we need to discuss the issue because I need to know what is stalling the passage of that bill by the National Assembly. But to be honest, I will say the practitioners are not doing enough to see that the legislators assist us in pushing the bill to come to fruition. But my wish is to see the bill passed so that we can have the structure where all the professional guilds come under a council and all the professional ethics are adhered to. What we lack now is discipline. But when we have a council and there are dos and don’ts, there will be penalties. Unlike now that the profession is an all-comers affair, with MOPICON, you cannot practise without being a member of a guild or an association.
What are the other challenges that the industry faces?
We don’t have distribution structures. That is a major problem we are having. If we get a good distribution network, everything will be fine. In those days, producers go to locations to shoot; they are not interested in the marketing and the profit that will come thereafter. Someone is looking into that while you concentrate on your production. But things have changed. The producers now think like businessmen. Just like Chief Hubert Ogunde said, a good producer may necessarily not be a good businessman because what he ordinarily focuses on is to shoot a good movie.
Before the last elections, you told us of your desire to join politics. In fact, you were keen on going to the National Assembly. Then we didn’t hear from you again. What happened?
It was the problem of ANTP that made me back off and slow down politically. ANTP is my primary constituency and there was a crisis at the time. Some people were causing trouble here and there. To be precise, I stepped down because of Jimoh Aliu, Lere Paimo and Victor Ashaolu.
How did they make you step down?
They started saying some unguarded things about me in the media. These were things that they could not prove. And you know that in politics, your opponents may use it against you when least expected. I decided to temporarily stay off politics and face ANTP to correct those anomalies and allow truth to come out for all to see.
Do you have any regret at all?
What I can only see as a regret, simply because some people see it as so, is that at this age, I am just finalising arrangement to move into my own personal house at age 60. I should have done that way back but because of my various activities in the industry, I couldn’t put up my own house. However, I have sacrificed a lot and that is why I said it shouldn’t have been a regret. If you look at the positive things happening in the industry now, it was as a result of the sacrifice people like us have made. That is just it.
What next for Jide Kosoko?
I am still looking at the situation where some of the productions that are close to my heart are finally actualised. There are some stories, especially on the history of Lagos, that have been stalled by funding. But as soon as I get the funds, I will commence shooting. Another phase in my life also will have to do with the administration of our industry. Even though I may no longer be playing a leading role, I will surely consistently be contributing my quota to the stability and continuous development of our industry.
–Culled from TheNEWS magazine