Fast-forward to 2016 and five decades after, Jide Kosoko has grown in his chosen profession to become a household name across the country and beyond.
“I started acting at the age of 10. There was a neighbour, he was like an uncle, they had a drama group near our house. And one day, they needed a little boy to play a role, and this man, who had always watched me play with my peers, simply opted for me. That was how I started acting in 1964,” Kosoko said with a tinge of pride.
Young Jide Kosoko’s love for acting began after seeing his hero, the late Hubert Ogunde, being hailed by fans each time he walked on the street. At the time, the movie icon lived in the Yaba area of Lagos, same as young Jide’s parents. And each time the old man appeared on the street, a large crowd of people would gather, shouting his name.
“It was a period when parents didn’t want their children to act or even have anything to do with anybody who acted, because they were seen as no-do-well. But I saw a role model in Ogunde, who lived a few distance away from our house at the time. I loved the way people shouted his name and hailed him whenever he passed by. I think that really got me interested in acting. I wanted to know what job the man was doing that made him so popular.”
Growing up, young Jide Kosoko spent plenty of time at the palace. He would sit and observe how the king, the chiefs and other palace courtiers spoke and the types of words used. And whenever he got back home, he would gather his friends and tried to interpret all the things he had observed at the palace.
“As a young prince, I spent plenty of time in the palace. And so, whenever I came back home to Yaba, where my parents lived, I would gather the children and we would try to mimic all those things that I had seen in the palace. I think that really motivated me to fall in love with the theatre,” he said smiling.
And he began a love affair with the world of make-believe when he eventually found out about the job the man he so much adored (Ogunde) did, an affair that has lasted 52 years.
Asked about the secret of his 52 years’ romance with the industry, Jide Kosoko said his passion and dedication to the job was the main stay.
“We started when parents didn’t allow their children to have anything to do with theatre. But my passion for the job has kept me going.”
But it must be noted that his journey into the theatre did not begin without a hiccup. As a prince, his parents were seriously against the idea of their son being a theatre practitioner, particularly his mother, who did her best to stop her son.
“As a royal prince of Lagos, my mother was always aggressive and she would fight me to stop. Often, she would come to the rehearsal ground to fight the leaders, destroy their drums and warn them not to feature me. But from the point of my father, he was a very gentle man, he would sit me down and say, ‘’You are a prince who could become king one day; you are not supposed to dance or entertain anybody. Rather, people are supposed to entertain you’. However, when he realised that I was serious with the job, he simply let go, and advised me to be serious.”
In 1972, barely eight years after he started, young Jide Kosoko formed his own theatre group. The formation of the group marked a new beginning for him, with his parents finally offering him their blessings.
“In 1972, I formed my own theatre group. At the beginning, I called it Babkok group, but I later changed the name to Jide Kosoko theatre group. From that point, my parents saw how big people gathered to watch my performance. I also had the support from a bottling company, all of which made my parents to finally begin to support me. They were really proud of me that their son was doing something good for himself.”
With his responsibilities increasing, Jide Kosoko needed money to support his group and also take care of some other things. It was also a period in the country when economic activities at the sea port in Lagos were at their peak.
“As a young man, I needed to make money to look after myself, while at same time making sure that my new theatre group survives. When I formed my own group in 1972, I was working with a shipping company in Lagos. It was a period when we had cement congestions at the port, and we were the agent to more than 80 percent of the Greek ship at the port. It was from my salary that I got the money to run the group. But from 1964, till this date, I have remained committed to acting and acting alone.”
Making a comparison between when he started and how modern day theatre practitioners practise now, Jide Kosoko said: “At the time, we practised theatre in totality. As a theatre practitioner in those days, you would be trained in the art of dancing, singing and acting. But these days, that is no longer the case. And don’t forget that acting on the stage is quite different from acting before the camera. You need a lot of energy to act on the stage and you have little or no opportunity for a second chance. I am a complete thespian.”
With the evolvement of the theatre industry from the old-fashion travelling troupe, into the what is today known as the home video industry, Jide Kosoko, and indeed other stakeholders in the industry have displayed a high sense of ingenuity, making use of what was available to them to move the industry forward.
In 1987, Jide Kosoko shot his first movie, entitled ‘Ojiji, on celluloid. “I did my first movie, Ojiji, in 1987. It was done on celluloid, but I later did it in home video. Celluloid is the main cinema, it is very expensive to do, because it involves a lot of technology. But we have gone digital now.”
The need to produce movies in home videos was as a result of the dwindling economic fortunes of the 1980s, forcing movie practitioners to seek a rather pragmatic way to survive. The search for survival marked the beginning of a gradual movement away from the hugely expensive celluloid movies to the home videos industry.
Kosoko was also in the thick of the action when the call was made to further improve on the use of modern cameras for the home videos. Together with the Ojo Ladipo Theatre, Jide Kosoko said they broke the jinx of producing low quality videos in the country.
“Even when we started home video, it was not on digital. It was more of M7 and other low quality jobs. But, we, I mean myself and the Ojo Ladipo Theatre, broke the jinx. I produced ‘Asiri Nla’ on high band pneumatic. It was one of those things that changed the industry dramatically. Later, Ojo Ladipo produced Asewo to re Mecca. Owo Blow and T’oluwa N’ile came later. These films changed the face of video movies in the country.
“You see, in those days, what they did was mostly traditional movies. Most of the scenes were done outside, they cannot light, they cannot do anything in any professional way, because most things were done in a hurry.”
Jide Kosoko was better known as a member of the Awada Kerikeri group in those days. The group comprised mostly members of the late Ojo Ladipo group, including Adebayo Salami (Oga Bello) and Lanre Hassan (Iya Awero).
But, surprisingly, he disclosed that he was not a member of the group, but a guest artiste. However, their collaboration started long before the advent of the home video industry. “I wasn’t a member of that group, I only appeared in their movies as a guest artiste.”
Also, unknown to many, juju music maestro, King Sunny Ade, played a major role to boost the career of the Lagos prince. Speaking about the period, Jide Kosoko said: “Not many people know that Sunny Ade played a prominent role in my career. When I wanted to start my group in 1972, it was Sunny Ade that provided a place for me at the Sunny Cube club to practise. I went to Sunny Ade that I needed a place to practise, and he took me to the owner of the hotel, Chief Ali. He told the man that he should allow me use the place. Those are some of the people that I can never forget for their contributions to making me what I am today.”
Jide Kosoko also tried to douse the tension generated by the controversy over who started the home video industry in Nigeria, between the Yoruba and Igbo theatre practitioners. “This is something that I really don’t like saying any more. But the truth of the matter is that it we started it, indeed, it was the late Alade Aromire that first produced a home video. The irony was that we were not even happy with him at the time. At the time, we believed that he was trying spoil the celluloid business.
“Don’t forget that it was during the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) of the government, and the man could not raise the money to produce a celluloid film. Also, at the time, nobody coud take films abroad for post-production, so Aromire produced a film, Ekun, in 1985. And the first Igbo movie, Living in bondage’ was shot in 1990; that was the same year that I shot Asiri Nla. But there is really no need for all the noise, because we have all succeeded in making a thriving industry.”
He is, however, happy that he has been part of the success story of film-making in the country. Asked about how he feels, Jide said: “I am happy that God used me with some others to make sure that this industry came into being. But I am particularly happy that all the energies that we used have not been in vain.”
With more than five decades of theatre experience under his belt, Jide Kosoko has put pen to paper, to write about his experiences. The book, entitled ‘Lamentation of a warrior’. His decision to write the book, Jide Kosoko said, was informed by his conviction that he has contributed hugely to the success of the industry.
“I decided to write the book because I see myself as not only an actor, but also as an energiser and one who has contributed in no small measure to the success of this industry. The fight and sacrifice that we have put into making sure that this industry succeeds is not little at all. Despite the fact that there was no regulatory body, we have tried to expand the industry.”
On what informed the title of the book, despite his hugely successful sojourning in the industry, he explained: “What it means is that the war has not finished, it is still on. We may have won some battles, but the war has not really been won, as there are more things to do. The truth is that we are still lamenting that despite our efforts, there are still some things that still need to be done. For instance, there is the need for us to regulate how people come into the industry and set a yardstick for entering into it.”
He listed some of his achievements while he was president of the Association Nigeria Theatre Practitioners (ANTP). According to him, he made efforts to improve the quality of movie production by the practitioners.
“If you recall, when I was president of ANTP, I tried to ensure that we improve on the quality of movies that we produce. I implemented a policy, which forbids movie producers from producing more than two movies in a year. What we tried to do was that, it would curtail the production of badly scripted and produced movies. But, unfortunately, the people fought back and complained. I was forced to apply wisdom in the handling of the matter. However, the same people are now agitating for the need to implement the same policy.
“What I was trying to do was to rescue the industry and take it away from people who simply see the industry as a cow to be milked. For them, the industry is like buying a loaf of bread for N10 and selling for N15, and forgetting that this is a creative industry.”
But despite the problems, Jide Kosoko believes that the stakeholders in the industry should be applauded for building an industry that has given jobs to several thousands of Nigerians. “We must realise that the industry is about the biggest employer of labour in the country today. While I may not have the statistics, but I believe this industry provides jobs for thousands of Nigerians, ranging from the actors, make-up artistes, producers and marketers, among several others.
Asked if he is fulfilled as an actor, Jide Kosoko said: “It depends on which aspect of fulfillment. But I cannot tell you that I am 100 percent fulfilled when I am still lamenting. But you must know that it is not about me, or even about materialism. I want to see an industry that is properly regulated before I die.”