Veteran actor, comedian and lecturer at Adeniran Ogunsanya University of Education in Lagos, Hafiz Oyetoro, popularly known as Saka, tells EMMANUEL OJO how his acting career has shaped him
How has the journey of 60 years been for you?
Yes, I turned 60 this year. It’s God. To be honest, I don’t do anything special in keeping a youthful look. It’s just been God. I can’t explain it. I only sleep, wake up, do my job, and go about my daily business. But physically, let’s say maybe because I am happy doing what I love doing. I found myself in the profession that I wanted and I had the opportunity to practise the profession. On the home front, I have a happy home. I do not have any issues with my wife.
What spurred your interest in acting?
Well, everybody has a vision or a mission to accomplish while alive. So, I think that is also God because it wasn’t in my plan to become an actor. I wanted to become a pilot, but when I started school, I found myself in a situation where each time my teachers wanted to do anything (relating to acting), they would select me. When I got to secondary school, I became very popular in the drama group and I thought there was nothing wrong with it, especially, when I heard that it was offered (as a course) at the university and that was why I applied for it at the then University of Ife, (now Obafemi Awolowo University).
Was it the discovery of your natural talent in drama that aborted your dream of becoming a pilot?
I was not that good in all the science subjects, apart from Physics. I was very good at Physics but I wasn’t good at Mathematics. I was struggling to learn it. At that time, I was in Iseyin (Oyo State), and when I visited my friend in Olivet High School, Oyo, I accidentally entered its laboratory where I did a comparison and saw that we practically didn’t have a laboratory in my school and I thought that if I continued with that, there would be a problem because we didn’t have anything in my school’s laboratory. When I left secondary school, I thought it was better for me to go for the arts. I had to reconfigure my mind to that. I had been having the suggestions in my mind to go the arts way because of the struggles I was having with Mathematics, but the laboratory issue in my school gave me the final conviction.
You have featured more in comedy roles than in other roles in movies. Is that deliberate?
Let me explain something. Every profession has what we call an area of specialisation. I guess comedy is my area of specialisation. I’m rounding off my doctorate in Stand Up Comedy at the moment. By the grace of God, I hope to be a PhD holder by the end of this year. I can do virtually everything in theatre arts, from costuming to make-up, and various roles. I can write and I can direct. However, my strength lies in comedy because I had the opportunity to go through various levels of theatre arts, from undergraduate level to postgraduate level, and in Nigeria. You know when you can do something very well, the directors wouldn’t like to waste their time trying to put the person through another role. They just pick the person who can interpret the role. As a matter of fact, in theatre arts, we have directing, choreography, music, writing, acting, and all that. So, if within the context of drama, comedy is my area of specialisation, that’s fine, but I can assure you that I can play any role and do anything as far as theatre arts is concerned.
How did you come about the name ‘Saka’?
Saka is a screen name. My name is Hafiz Oyetoro. My dad named me Hafiz, and my mum named me Adebimpe but as I tell people, hustling and struggling to survive in Lagos brought about the name, Saka.
There was a time when we were trying to do a television production here and there, and my friend, Gbenga Windapo, who is also a lecturer with me at the university, was the one I stayed with when I first came to Lagos. We were together in our undergraduate days and even in our postgraduate days. We became very close. We got a very good idea and we shared it with another friend, Greg Odutayo, and his wife. They had a production company. We told them the idea and they produced it in a film titled, “House Apart”. “House Apart” was reportedly the second most-watched comedy series in the (old) Western region as of that time. I played the role of Saka, while my friend played the role of Setilu and that was the beginning of everything, and at a point, Saka became very popular.
What year was that?
I think it was in 2004.
Was that your first role?
No, I had featured in many other movies before that.
Which movie was your first?
I can’t remember the first movie but one of the earliest movies I acted in was in “Irawo”. It was a Yoruba movie in Ibadan. I cannot remember most of it now.
When lecturing in class, do your students take you seriously or do they always see you in the light of being a comedian?
Well, they are theatre arts students. On a serious note, a lot of people have asked me that question but the fact is that these students are also theatre arts students. So, they understand the difference between acting and reality. Although, in the first and second lectures, they are usually excited and call me Saka, but when the lectures begin in earnest, they know that I am Hafiz Oyetoro, not just “Saka”.
We were trained as practitioners in the university to remove our personalities from the role we play. So, if you meet me one-on-one, you will know that I am a very reserved, quiet, and easy-going person unlike Saka who is noisy and all that. Once I leave the stage, I become Hafiz and that’s the ability to manoeuvre, manage roles and be able to identify oneself in the role one is playing and it’s also a big factor that helps me.
So, usually at first, they shout ‘saka’ but after the second lecture, they see Hafiz Oyetoro. However, sometimes, when I go out and people start shouting Saka, I usually like to dodge because I am a shy person.
Would you also say that you are a disciplinarian?
Well, I can’t say that. All I can say is that I don’t like rubbish. I feel like everybody should do their job. Discipline must be maintained else, one would lose their identity. As an actor, you have to be very disciplined because you are a role model. There are some adverts I will not do, no matter how much was given or paid for it.
It is because I believe I am a role model and I am a teacher and as a teacher, if I tell my students not to take drugs and I encourage the advertisement of drugs, then, I am not doing what I’m teaching. Also for my children, whenever ‘Saka’ is on the screen, me and their mum would sit with them and watch ‘Saka’ on TV.
What’s the usual reaction of your children about your roles?
They are usually excited. I must say that my family, especially my wife, is my very first. My wife makes comments about the costumes and roles and I believe once my wife and children like the movie, it would be good in the market. I usually use them as my indirect critics.
Do you rehearse most of your comical facial expressions before going on set?
(Laughs) Some people even embarrass me in the office. They said whether I talk or I don’t, they would laugh. It is my natural personality. I do not make efforts in those roles. I talk when I want to talk and do anything I want to do effortlessly. I do not make any extra effort. It’s just natural. Sometimes when I talk in meetings with my colleagues, they laugh and sometimes, I even get embarrassed at the reason why they laugh, so, I realised that it’s the way I talk sometimes. I do not make extra efforts on that. When it comes to roles that I play, I prepare for them. One must be disciplined enough to prepare for the roles to play and to be able to interpret the character effectively to the audience.
What would you say is the difference between teaching and practising?
It has been a fantastic experience. There is nothing more fulfilling than teaching and practising something that one loves to do. It’s interesting that after teaching and saying what Aristotle and other philosophers said, I go out to practise it.
First of all, it allows me to know the difference between theory and practice. Secondly, it gives me the opportunity to know that some theories only stay in the classroom but are not practicable out there, so, I live in the world of fantasy of the theory, then, the reality of the theory on the field. It’s been a very fantastic experience for me and I thank God that the school where I teach allows me to practise as much as I can, as long as it doesn’t disturb academic activities.
There is no difference between a teacher and an actor. A teacher is an actor who teaches the students within the confinement of a classroom and an actor is also a teacher who teaches his audience outside the confinement of a classroom. There is something that links the two together and that is dissemination of information. The only difference is that it is carried out in different environments.
Do you still teach your students theories that are not practicable?
I attend workshops, seminars, practice, and all that. As I go out, I gain more experience and my teaching methodology is enhanced, so, when I come to school, I have more experience to teach my students, and my teaching methodology is also enhanced.
Did you grow up in a city?
I was born in Adegbola, which is a farm settlement in Iseyin (Oyo State), where people from Ibadan, Abeokuta, and some other places settled as farmers. My dad also settled there and once in a while, they went to Iseyin for one festival or the other. So, the first nine years of my life were in Adegbola. At age nine, I moved to Iseyin and attended the Baptist Day School for my education and then I attended Koso Community Grammar School for my secondary education.
Later, I attended the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, where I studied Theatre Arts. I obtained a master’s degree at the University of Ibadan in Theatre Arts. I went to study for my master’s then because I didn’t want people to think I wasn’t brilliant. When I saw that my colleagues were going back for master’s, I went for mine too, but at that time, I was already a professional theatre arts practitioner. I guess I was training myself then. The majority of the jobs I got later in life were from contacts I made while in school.
Can you recall how you met your wife?
That’s a long story. I got a letter to work at the Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, which became a university last year, and that’s where I still work. I started my job there in 2001 and my friend, Gbenga Windapo, was there. He was teaching Drama minor in Education. There was a day I was with him and I saw one small, fine girl with a hijab walking innocently. I pointed at her to my friend and asked who she was and my friend told me to let her be, that she had been walking alone on the walkway but I said she was the kind of person I wanted. I found out that she had just concluded her final project and came to submit her written project to her supervisor. I monitored her to a point and I was told that she was in the sciences. So, I traced her to her department and her supervisor. When she left her supervisor, I told my friend, Gbenga, to tell her that I wanted to see her in my office. When she came, I told her she was a good girl. (Laughs) I asked her name and all that. Then I told her that as a Yoruba man, I wasn’t supposed to woo her there at that moment but that she should rest assured that the next time, I would do that. One thing led to the other and in 2003, we got married.
What would you describe to be the biggest challenge you have faced in life?
One thing about challenges is that those little ups and downs challenge you to move on. For me, if one does not experience those little ups and downs, life will be boring. What makes life interesting and exciting is the fact that it does not go one way.
In a couple of years, you will retire as a lecturer. What is your retirement plan as an actor?
Well, a theatre arts job does not have a retirement age. (The late) Baba (Hubert) Ogunde, may his soul rest in perfect peace, worked until his death. In fact, he was on the set when he died. My retirement plan is that I want to be a production consultant and a farmer. My parents were farmers and I have been interested in farming for a long time. I have started farming and I believe that before I retire, my farm would have grown bigger. I intend to start a production company. So, at that time, I will even be busier than I am now. The academic work is slowing me down a bit but I enjoy it.
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