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Beyond laughter, a purvey of Baba Sala’s role in Nigeria’s economic development

By Oyindamola Adejumo-Ayibiowu
14 November 2018   |   4:14 am
While conducting a professional research on the late Moses Olaiya Adejumo, I found that by only emphasising and applauding the icon’s hilarious comedies...

Baba Sala | Ghafla

While conducting a professional research on the late Moses Olaiya Adejumo, I found that by only emphasising and applauding the icon’s hilarious comedies is close to underestimating the contribution of Baba Sala to the Nigerian economy. The economic analysis done in this article shows that Baba Sala’s contribution to Nigeria goes beyond laughter. Although I am a daughter of the late comedian, I am writing this article by virtue of my profession. I am a development expert with 16 years international experience in research, economic analysis, and development management. A graduate of economics, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, MSc, International Development, University of Birmingham, UK and a PhD, Development Studies, University of South Africa. My professional experience includes, the Central Bank of Nigeria, World Bank, UNDP and Federal Inland Revenue Service. I am an author and I need to mention that I am also a gospel artist.

For those who do not know, Moses Olaiya Adejumo popularly known as Baba Sala was a veteran and ace comedian, dramatist, musician, film producer and actor. From 1960s through the 1990s even to the early 2000s, Baba Sala was a household name in Nigeria because of his hilarious TV shows, films and comedy plays. Baba Sala is regarded as the father of the modern Nigerian comedians. Specifically, Baba Sala was the one who created the laughter business. Put differently, Moses Olaiya was a creator, a pacesetter and an inventor. He ventured into comedy business not because there were any government funding or a conducive business environment or a ready large market to take advantage. In fact these necessary factors were absent. To actualize his passion and business idea, Moses Olaiya had to train himself, source for fund by himself, develop strategies to survive an unpredictable business environment and he had to create his own market or customer base. Baba Sala was thus a courageous adventurer and a risk taker.

From the economic point of view, it is noteworthy that Moses Olaiya professionalised comedy in Nigeria. Until Baba Sala went into the Nigeria entertainment scene, comedy was not a profession in Nigeria, Nigeria’s entertainment industry had no significant contribution to Nigeria’s GDP and the sector generated no significant government revenue. However, the determined efforts, resilience and sacrifices of Moses Olaiya Adejumo became the beginning of a positive turn for comedy in Nigeria and for the entertainment industry as whole. Although Baba Sala went through many challenges including piracy and bank debt, his efforts and the efforts of other founding fathers of entertainment was not futile. Over the years, the Nigeria movie industry has grown rapidly to the second largest film producer in the world. It must never be forgotten that Moses Olaiya Adejumo was among those who created the solid foundations that made Nigeria’s movie industry an exceptional global phenomenon today.

IMF reports (2016) says that the movie industry have contributed more than 1.4percent of the Nigerian Gross Domestic Product. Specifically, the Nigerian film industry employs more than 1 million people and generates more than US$7 billion for the national economy. Comedy, film acting and other entertainment works which were not regarded as any noble career especially by Nigerian educated elites have now become a respected profession and a sector where government generate tax revenue. As the federal government continue to aim to diversify Nigerian economy and to reduce the country’s overdependence on crude oil, the entertainment and creative industry is one of the sectors identified in the Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) of the Federal Government as having potential to boost the development of the Nigeria’s nonoil sector.

The implication of this is that the comedy and film industry is a major source employment earning to Nigerian citizens and a large source of tax revenue for the Nigerian government. Moreover, as Nigerian films are being exported to other African countries and the rest of the world, comedy sector has become a source of foreign exchange earnings in Nigeria. These great economic developments became possible solely because in the 1960s, Baba Sala dedicated himself to explore the unknown world of comedy. If Christopher Columbus became a world hero because of his ocean exploration and the discovery of the new world, arguably Baba Sala qualifies to be among the World’s greatest heroes for being the first Nigerian to venture into comedy profession and for bringing into foreshore an industry with great economic opportunities for the people and the government of Nigeria.

Baba Sala also contributed to economic growth by enhancing the heath of the Nigerian citizens. Many scientific studies shows that laughter and comedy can help with depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. Laughter releases hormones linked with reducing stress, boosting immune response and strengthening social relationships. Scientists also show that laughter can increase confidence, self-esteem, creativity, positivity and resilience. These health benefit of laughter underscore the great contribution of Baba Sala’s comedy to the country. His weekly TV shows gave Nigerians free weekly dose of health boosting laughs that must have saved a lot of people from spending money on anti-depression drugs despite a hard economy. Baba Sala was one reason Nigeria was not a sick nation despite unadvanced health care system. Since heath is wealth, and laughter contributes to health, Baba Sala had contributed to the wealth of Nigeria in the 1970s and the 1980s through the laughter-heath channel.

The Federal Government doubtless had several government programs targeted at promoting the small and medium scale enterprises, including those in the entertainment industry. Unfortunately, these supports came after Baba Sala had opened up the comedy industry with his own blood. In the absence of effective government control of rights and access to intellectual property, Baba Sala released his first movie, ‘Orun Mooru’ in 1982. It was a big budget movie recorded on Celluloid. ‘Orun Mooru’ was the first comedy movie in Nigeria, yet this great innovation was financed by the loan Moses Olaiya took from the bank using his personal assests as collateral. In the absence of effective government protection against piracy, an indigenous film maker could only wish and hope in God. Unfortunately, ‘Orun Mooru’ was pirated into VHS home video which had adverse effect on Baba Sala’s comedy business and the huge debt could have sent him to early grave.

If Nigeria had had strong and effective laws against piracy, may be Baba Sala would not have suffered so much losses and setbacks in his career. Baba Sala’s opening of the comedy industry is to the benefit of the federal government through the employment creation, increased tax revenue and the non-oil export earnings opportunities the comedy industry now offers. But the inadequate support of the government, especially in creating a conducive business environment where intellectual property rights were protected was a great disadvantage to a self-made hero. Baba Sala’s tenacity and resilience after the piracy of his first film should be saluted because he continued his comedy business and produced several films after. Baba Sala’s resilience and consistency was the fortification that made comedy in Nigeria a strong industry today.

I believe Baba Sala’s comedy business would have strived better if the owner and those working with him were exposed to better business and financial management skills. But a business school would definitely appear like a luxury for a man struggling to make ends meet. If the appropriate government ministry had provided such trainings to Moses Olaiya or even sent him to Harvard business school, he would definitely have been able to better manage the rest of his business and innovations and his bank loans could have been paid without selling his some private properties like he did. I believe this providing such support to a great innovator should not been overwhelming to government. During his days, many civil servants with no singular business were recipients of foreign trainings including those held at Harvard University.

In conclusion, the objective of this article is to project the immense contribution of my late father to Nigeria’s economic development and the achievement of government economic diversification goals. It is important to reiterate that Baba Sala was not well compensated for his highly impactful innovations which opened the entertainment industry for development. His experience in this regard was really pathetic and it may become a discouragement to other Nigerians with innovative spirits. The good thing is that Baba Sala lived long and he witnessed how the comedy film industry he started has grown into an important sector of the Nigerian economy. But beyond the public rhetoric that Baba Sala was a good comedian, I believe government institutions concerned with economic diversification, youth employment, and revenue generation should also seek ways to recognise how Baba Sala’s creativity, innovation and risk bearing, greatly contribute to the diversification of the Nigerian economy, the expansion of the National Income and the expansion of government non-oil revenue.