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Humour legend, Adenuga lives his dream

By Florence Utor
08 May 2016   |   6:32 am
The story of Chief Wale Adenuga resonates like good music. But most probable for the TV producer and publisher’s tenacity of purpose. Born September 24, 1950, in Ile-Ife, his father was a tobacco merchant.
A scene from Papa Ajasco

A scene from Papa Ajasco

The story of Chief Wale Adenuga resonates like good music. But most probable for the TV producer and publisher’s tenacity of purpose. Born September 24, 1950, in Ile-Ife, his father was a tobacco merchant. He was raised in Ibadan and attended the Ibadan City Academy where he obtained the O-Level certificate, before proceeding to King’s College Lagos for his higher school certificate, where he formed a pop band, which later disbanded. Adenuga gained admission into the University of Lagos in 1971, where he studied Business Administration.

As a child, he wanted to be another Jossy Ajiboye, who was a very popular cartoonist with the Daily Times, before he went into TV. He equally wanted to be like the late Doyen of Theatre in Nigeria, Chief Herbert Ogunde, Ade Love and Wole Soyinka, because they were great filmmakers, but life had another purpose for him.

“It is always good to look up to people for positive ideas and I wanted to be successful like them. During the publishing days too, I wanted Ikebe Super to be like Drum magazine, which was popular too, so I have always aspired to be like the big names who were ahead of me and in some of those cases, I ended up surpassing them to the glory of God,” he says.

“It is always good to look up to people for positive ideas and I wanted to be successful like them. During the publishing days too, I wanted Ikebe Super to be like Drum magazine, which was popular too, so I have always aspired to be like the big names who were ahead of me and in some of those cases, I ended up surpassing them to the glory of God,” he says.

As a student, who was interested in art and drawing, he worked for the cartoon section of the institution’s campus magazine, and was soon made chief cartoonist. The experience inspired him to publish his own magazine. “I was highly involved in the two major campus magazines and was the chief cartoonist for both,” he says. He picks a pen and begins to make a sketch of his guest, as the interview went on. “My drawing ability is innate, it came with me, I never studied anything arts, but I can draw anything very well.”

How he found himself in business administration?
In those days, parents had no say on what their children studied in the university. They just wanted their wards to go to the university. He quips, “I studied business administration, because it was the course I was qualified to read after my HSC. I was an art and commercial student, but the course I studied at the HSC level qualified me for business administration or sociology, so, I opted for business administration.”

In 1975 after graduation and youth service in the then Bendel, his comic Ikebe Super was launched.

Despite tough competition with other magazines, Ikebe proved to be popular among Nigerian readers due to the characters — womaniser Papa Ajasco, illiterate Pa Jimoh, and playboy Boy Alinco. A leading female character, promiscuous gold-digger Miss Pepeiye, was later introduced. Adenuga’s other magazines were Super Story, which focused on satirical issues and Binta, a children’s publication.

Adenuga has a strong passion for comedy, but does not think he would have ended up being a stand-up comedian. “Even within comedy, there are special talents, some are anointed to be stand up comedians, some are comedy writers, while some are actors, I am a comedy writer,” he laughs at loud.

Prior to studying business, he had been doing practical business with his father, who was the main distributor for the Nigerian Tobacco Company (NTC), in Ile-Ife.

“The course was more like doing the theory of what I had known. I combined it with cartooning for the campus magazine,” he says. “I also loved telling jokes, so, the idea of publishing my own comic magazine began right there on campus and the youth service period was used in collecting cartoons and jokes.”

After graduating and serving, he started working with his father as his general manager, it was during this period the magazine began, and in six months, “it became very popular, so, I had to resign from my father’s company to relocate to Lagos to continue full time publishing. By that time, Ikebe Super was number 12 in the market.”

When he was publishing Ikebe Super, people loved it and demand drove the business, as the dream was to satisfy customers. “Two years after, we started Super Story magazine and another two years later, Binta magazine for children followed. The difference between these magazines was, Ikebe Super was just a soft sell containing jokes and cartoons, Super Story was for serious stories like you see on television, while Binta was purely comic for children. Ikebe Super metamorphosed into Papa Ajasco on television, Super Story into Super Story on TV and Binta into Nnenna and Friends,” he explains.

You wonder what made him move from print to electronic media?

“The economy,” he says.

In the late 80s, Nigerian publications were affected by the economic depression, leaving Adenuga with the decision to move from print to electronic. Before the growth of the film industry, Adenuga had released the celluloid movie, Papa Ajasco, which was based on the main character in Ikebe Super, in 1983. Papa Ajasco made history as the first English comedy in an industry, which had been dominated by Yoruba productions.

With wife, Ehiwenma... in their 30s

With wife, Ehiwenma… in their 30s

He continues, “the country went through economic crisis in the early 80s and there was a devaluation of the naira. When we started business, it was one naira to one dollar, but when it crashed, at first, it became N30 to $1 and later N70 to $1. Prices of imported goods went up and we were using imported materials, so, the prices of the magazine kept going up from N1 till it got to N100 as demand kept going up, sales dropped and I began to think of how else to entertain people with my jokes and cartoons since magazines had become so expensive and unaffordable. In 1996, we started Papa Ajasco and Company, Super Story followed in 2000, that was the progression.”

On September 24, 1994, Adenuga and his wife, Ehiwenma, who met as students at the University of Lagos, in 1971, founded Binta International School in Lagos. In 2004, Adenuga opened the Pencil Film and Television Institute (PEFTI). Its courses include Producing, Directing, and Cinematography. The school was recently featured in De Film Industries van Nigeria, a Danish documentary on the Nigerian film industry.

In 2002, Adenuga won five awards at the Nigeria Film Festival for Best Producer, Best Script Writer, Best Director, Best Television Drama and Best Socially Relevant Television Production. In 2009, he was conferred with the Member of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria honour (MFR), as acknowledgement of his immense contribution to the growth and development of Nigeria.

Becoming an independent producer came with its challenges. As a business, Adenuga says, the challenges are normal challenges every businessman faces. As a businessman, you must learn to manage men, machines, materials and money and each of this big Ms poses a lot of challenges. Men will pose human problems, money is not easy to come by, you must learn to maintain your machines and materials, the prices will keep going up but this are normal challenges to me I don’t see anything peculiar to our business.”

Even government policy?

“Government policy is a laissez faire thing. We operate a free enterprise system in Nigeria, if you have your money, register any business and do it as long as it is within the ambience of law; you are not doing anything illegal you are free to practice. I have not really experienced anything that will hamper my progress,” he admits.

In normal business, sometimes, the sea becomes rough and turbulent, but with prayerS and experience, you have to wave through the storm. Like it is very stormy now for publishing, but I believe that when the going gets tough, the tough gets going. Problems don’t last forever. All these hardship now will settle and business continues as usual.”

He says, “the challenge we are facing right now is economic hardship, and this has affected naira and its purchasing power. Printing cost has gone up and the price of products have to increase, meanwhile, the people we are expecting to buy don’t have money or they would have spent all their money on fuel, so, we are praying for these bad times to pass.”

The man notes, “business is like driving, you don’t expect the road to be smooth throughout, so, when you get to a rough spot you use experience to manouvre, and with God on your side, you will reach your destination, the harder the battles, the sweeter the victory.”

Why is he going back to print media, when the people there are looking for ways to survive?
“I will call it a revolution or a protest. I am protesting a lot of things with this magazine. One, there is a vacuum in the cartoon industry. These days, you don’t see any vendor with a cartoon magazine; to those of us endowed with the skills it’s a shame, as big as this country is, no single one. If you go to South Africa, you will read comic magazines, in London, even at the airport, you will read these magazines. God will not forgive me, because he has endowed me with the skills to do it successfully,” he says.

Adenuga continues, “the second reason is that foreign television channels are feeding our children with their own cartoon characters and their animation stories and some of these stories have started instilling poor moral in them. I have seen animation coming with gay stories; so, I said to myself, it is time for us Nigerians to produce our own cartoon characters and animation stories in the nearest future. Our people have a penchant for morals, animal characters such as, tortoise that will teach wisdom and morality, these are some of the things I’m protesting. It has come to a stage where some banks are sponsoring foreign cartoon characters for their banking operations in Nigeria. It is in the absence of our own cartoon characters that these banks or companies are sponsoring foreign ones.”

He confesses, “if you look at the lifestyle of our children, it is only read, read and read. An average child is not free from serious reading until about 5pm in the evening. He goes to school from 7am, school will end at about 1:30pm and lesson begins till maybe 4pm, and when he gets home, he begins lesson till 5pm. I am protesting this too by putting so much fun and relaxation into the magazine. Most of our publications occasionally, have a page for children, and that is not enough, let them have a magazine of their own, where they can read one quarter today, another tomorrow until they are done with the edition. These are the reasons that led to the birth of this magazine.”

Though, things are tough, he has prayed for resilience, courage managerial ability, grace and favour to keep going. But if it means reducing pages in future, or quality in terms of materials, not content, something must give way to keep the publication going. “We will give it anything it requires to sustain continuity and the same level of humour that the magazine needs. Even the Federal Government has acknowledged the turbulence, but people must relax, even while you are at a filling station waiting in the queue, you can relax with the magazine or maybe when there is no light to watch television you can read the magazine and be happy. Seriously, laughter is the best medicine at this time, if you think too much, you will be playing with depression and it is not good, you need a diversion, something that will take your mind off the problems. In fact, government should be paying us for publishing this magazine because we are helping keep people sane, we are trying to make sure people don’t go crazy.”

His grouse with the film producers in Nigeria?
He gives an analogy: “You see a cripple carrying load on his head and you are complaining, Mr. cripple, why is the box on your head bent? He will tell you to look at his legs and you will understand why it is bent. In essence, the reason why our industry is not yet world class is, because there are lotS of fundamental errors.”

For the trail blazer in comic magazine genre in the country believes the movie industry is not structured, not united and it is operating on a tripod and by this I mean the Kaniwood are doing their thing, Yorubawood, and likewise every other wood in the country. Everybody is just doing his own thing, and you know there is power and progress in unity. That is why quality is eluding us and because we are not united, we cannot control what is produced. We don’t have national guilds, all these guilds you hear about are sectional guilds; there is no single guild that contains Ibo, Yoruba and Hausa, everything is done haphazardly. So the end result is what you see in the shoddy products, but the good news is, there is a bill coming called MOPICON, which the stakeholders have recommended to government, the bill, if passed, will enable the industry sanitise and regulate itself.”

For Adenuga, all hope is not lost with the bill. Nigerian filmmakers are in for better times. “If you look at other professions they have their national bodies, doctors, lawyers, advertisers among others, they have their regulating bodies that are able to check the excesses of the practitioners and make sure that the best come out of them, that is what the MOPICON bill is about. It is magical bill that is going to turn around the film industry.”

He is one person, who has found himself doing what he loves, but what really puts him at his best?
“In life, you must not feel complacent, you should always aim higher. The day you feel you have achieved it all, that is the day you begin to die. What keeps you going is the aspiration to achieve more. Creativity, for instance, no matter how much of it you have in your brain, you can never exhaust it. The more you use it, the more ideas come to your head. I believe with all that I have done, I have not even exhausted 10 per cent of what God put there. I am always dreaming of new projects, TV programmes, magazines, no part of my mind is occupied by negative thought; so, the whole space in my brain is always creating positive things,” he concludes.