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Daba: My battle with bone marrow cancer

Before the advent of pay TV, when NTA was the ultimate station that aired family-oriented dramas, where parents didn’t have to monitor what their wads watched, Sadik Daba was already a star in one of the most popular weekly educational and entertainment series, Cock Crow at Dawn. Daba played the role of Bitrus and captivated the hearts of many. His innate flair and natural ability endeared him to his audience and soon he became a favourite, not because of the limited TV choices available back then, but because the message and presentation were captivating enough to keep viewers glued all through. Decades down the line, Daba would prove his mettle beyond comparison, as he played key roles in different TV dramas and then moved onto the movies or Nollywood. Now, however, the man, who brings passionate intensity to his acting to woo millions of admirers, has been battling bone marrow cancer, leukemia. He is grateful for the help he continues to receive, especially from Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, Ile-Ife. The award-winning actor spoke with FLORENCE UTOR at his Ikeja, Lagos residence, on what has kept him going in spite of his affliction and why he would be an actor again if he came back in another life

You started out as a broadcaster. How did you veer into acting?
I can say I got into acting by mistake. I started my broadcasting career from Radio Television Kaduna (RKTV), or Broadcasting Company of Northern Nigeria (BCNN). It was an enterprise comprising television and radio and while there, whatever you did on radio you did on television, because we were one body.

Then the late Halifa Baba Ahmed was doing something he called radio plays. So, I was doing that, but you know that is voice. Acting for the screen actually started when I got to Sokoto, where I reunited with Peter Igho, who was my friend and was also a teacher in Bida.

At the time NTV Sokoto was set up, he was seconded there, as head of drama. By the time I was transferred there, one thing led to another and we were acting in-house dramas. You know, out of idleness you will want to just do something, and that is where I started. I cannot really remember the title of the drama now, but NTV Sokoto that was the headquarters of Zone F, comprising of Sokoto, Minna and Ilorin. It usually had drama competitions within the zonal structure of NTV right across the nation, and Igho, being the head of drama, came up with a drama production that was entered for that competition and he asked me to act for him.

The titled of that drama was Moment of Truth. Lo and behold, NTV Sokoto won the first prize overall and I think that was the beginning. Apparently, I think Igho must have seen something in my performance and since then he never let me go. It was after this that Igho was asked by the Federal Government to produce a drama that would promote and project Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) during Shehu Shagari’s administration, and he came up with Cock Crow at Dawn. I guess there were many beginnings, but this was the real beginning of my problem! (laughs)

I was in the newsroom, but little by little, Igho overwhelmed me and gradually, it was my boss, late Adamu Augi, who felt that they (people) could not relate seriousness with drama, because one minute, people saw me as Bitrus and another, I was reading serious news.

I was therefore gradually removed from appearing on television and was moved to the desk to function from behind the scenes in other categories and was finally removed from the newsroom to production. So, from newsroom to producer, director, drama and here we are.

Should we say that was how you arrived in Nollywood?
Whatever they call it, but I don’t like this Nollywood thing! It is a thespian thing. I keep on asking myself, ‘what is Nollywood sef? Those who are shouting Nollywwod should go and find out how the name Hollywood came about and they will see that they have no business naming the industry Nollywood. Anyway I act, and I act in Nigerian dramas.

From Cockcrow at Dawn till now, the industry has come a long way. Do you think it can compete favourably with other climes?
Even during the days of Cockcrow at Dawn, we were good to compete with others! We have taken several of our programmes to festivals in the past and we won accolades. I know Moments of Truth was taken to Algiers to Union of African Radio and Television and Cock Crow at Dawn won. It got to a staged; the series became a programme for certain theses for certain universities in America. So by and large, Cock Crow at Dawn did.

Don’t forget, if we talk about pioneering, I think Peter Igho and his crew took drama from the studio to outside the studio. Even then, we were basically shooting on celluloid and editing in London. Even the so-called Nollywood was started by NTA producers and directors: Living in Bondage was done by an NTA producer and director, Chris Obiraku. And even before the advent of their so-called Nollywood, NTA has been involved in doing Tele-movies and my brothers at Alaba Market would come and carry these movies and go and sell. But I don’t blame them. I blame the people at NTA, who do not know how to market their products.

Having said that, yes things have progressed, especially equipment-wise. Gone are those days when we carried all these bulky equipment with lights and lamps that burned your skin; everything is soft now. The actors have more money now. When I was doing Cock Crow at Dawn, I was being given N3 and it was not a right because they would tell you, ‘You are doing your job, as an employee of government!’ But the plus is, we loved what we were doing. We did it out of passion. But these days, the actors see the job as a short-cut to stardom and to making quick money. Some even bribe just to appear on television. Apart from the technical side, the human side needs a lot of improvement. But this is Nigeria now, where man know man is what works.

Your role as Inspector Waziri in Kunle Afolayan’s October 1 was applauded by many. It was therefore not a surprised when you grabbed the AMAA award for the Best Actor in 2015. How did you feel after so many years?
I felt great because it was like, for a long time, you have given your all and it’s like nobody recognised you and you sit and watch mediocre get awards. And you ask yourself what they have done that is earning them these awards? I was so surprised when I got a letter informing me I was nominated. Then I got a second and third letter; then a ticket to South Africa before I believed. I remember that on the night of the event, I was seated there, not even imagining that I would win; mine was just to go and have fun and come back.

When my name was announced, I didn’t even hear. Somebody said, ‘it’s your name they are calling’ and I said, ‘who?’ The presenter called my name again. It was then that I heard. By the time I gave my acceptance speech, people stood up and I didn’t know when I started crying because it was like, not only did I win the award, people in the hall were telling me that I deserved it!

After that, I was at the hotel and I saw two of the judges, one from Zimbabwe and the other from South Africa and they congratulated me and they asked if I was surprised to have won and I said, ‘of course, I was surprised’ and they said, ‘we all knew you were going to win, but there was no way we could tell you that.’ And then another round of crying. They said they looked at all the nomination and in whatever way they did I was there.

Some industry stakeholders feel that MultiChoice is short-changing Nigerians with the way they showcase their movies. Don’t you think they deserve better?
Did MultiChoice come to Nigeria to beat anybody to collect their programmes? It is our own people who go to them. Until our producers start getting their heads correct and learn how to do the right thing, then MultiChoice will not stop. You think they can do that to any producer in South Africa? But once our producers hear ‘dollar,’ they don’t even take time to calculate what that will translate to in naira. They just sell their birthright!

What do you make of the future of this industry?
Absolutely great! Apart from your oil that you have so over-abused and over-indulged, there is so much vast room. Nigeria is big, diverse and there is so much story to tell.

What do you think the government can do to help the industry?
Government is trying. Again, it boils down to your producers. Government has tried many times to make some funds available for people to use for production, but when they collect the money, they will not use it for the purpose. Instead, they will buy cars, throw parties and use it for things that do not benefit the industry in the long-run and they start to blame the government.

Though government has started making some laws that will be beneficial to the industry, like the other day, I heard the minister saying that if you want to do any production that involves Nigeria you should do it in the country. For example, why would you call a show ‘Big Brother Nigeria’ and it is been shot in South Africa? Meanwhile, if you bring it here, people will get jobs there. Don’t tell me light does not work. Let’s manage; after all, even in South Africa, they take light. As we complain about PHCN, South Africans complain about their ESCOM. We don’t expect God to come down and help us. Let’s learn to help ourselves, but Nigerians are so bloody lazy. It is always like, if government cannot do it, then we cannot do it!

How about the private sector?
The private sector believes in money now. Now, television is a long time investment. If only our entrepreneurs could put their money there, it will be good. The Dangote’s, the Otedolas and the rest of them should invest in the creative industry.

What do you think stakeholders should do to move the industry forward?
There are some serious producers, who know what they are doing like Kunle Afolayan, Lancelot Imasuen, Izu Ojukwu, and Tade Ogidan. I have never seen any film by those saying part one, two three, to God be the glory!

If you have the opportunity of doing something else, what would it be?
I will never do anything else! Yes, I am not a millionaire, but I know this profession has taken me places. I can beat my chest and say there is nowhere in this country that I go and one or two people do not know me. I was telling you about my illness and the sort of help I got from Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, Ile-Ife. It is because people appreciate me and I love it!


About Lanre Oyetade

A multiple award winner in Economics and business journalism, Lanre Oyetade has served close to two decades in the media industry, spanning different notable stables, where he is privileged to have risen to the position of a title editor. A masters degree holder in Economics from the University of Lagos and doctoral student at the Babcock University, he is a winner of the prestigious NMMA Capital Market Award for two consecutive years (2004 & 2005), and was also a nominee for the body’s banking and finance and money market awards for two years. In 2013, he also won the Most Outstanding Business-Reporting Title Editor award of the National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria (NIMN). A minister in the LORDS’s vineyard, he has been an inspirational speaker and resource person at many corporate and religious fora since early 2004, and has so far authored three books on the capital market; on personal effectiveness, and on personal finance, in 2008 and 2014, respectively.