Madam Abiola Atanda (a.k.a Madam Kofo), apart from carving a niche for herself in the acting world, has also won for herself a distinct identity via her sky-scrapping headgears, otherwise known as gele (by the Yorubas) and ichafu (by the Igbos). In this on-the-spot interview with AZUH ARINZE, she bared her mind on how it all began. Excerpts…
You haven’t participated much in home video productions, may we know why?
Actually, I would say I’ve been very busy doing some other things, getting contracts and general businesses, but unfortunately all the contracts I did for the Osun State government and the Federal Capital Territory, I was not paid. But I thank God for my life. I am still living. Secondly, most of the people currently in the movie industry don’t invite us, especially the English ones. If they invite me, I will participate.
What do you think is behind your not being invited?
Maybe it’s now a cult, that if you don’t belong, they won’t use you. But I feel I don’t have to go to them. I don’t have to beg anybody for roles. When they see me, they ask for my card and I give them, but they don’t bother to call back. Now, I have joined the Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (ANTP) and the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP) because I believe it is the best way to meet others and get involved in the movie business, and I have also been going to their meetings.
Has your involvement with these associations produced any results?
Yes. There is the Yoruba movie by Femi Bright and his wife, Salome called Agbowo Ifeyin (Gigolo) where I played the part of a sugar mummy and I got a lot of response for that role. I must say it is because of my fans that I’m still in the industry because the producers and directors don’t pay you. You do a film for them and they tell you to come back tomorrow. It is also why I decided to rest for sometime, but now I am going to locations; there is a soap on NTA Network that I have just been given a part.
What’s the title of the soap?
Delicate Matters. We are doing rehearsals now and it should soon be on air, maybe by the next quarter. I also did a film for Araosan. All in all, I have done 10 jobs right now. It was actually when I went for ANTP meeting at Mushin that I met him (Andy Abuede, the producer) and I must say I am back.
How do see the movie industry generally?
I think it is growing and I must confess that it is a welcome development because before, we used to watch all these Indian films and all that. But now people are buying our films and watching. Go to the National Theatre and cinema houses and you will see what I mean. It is a welcome development because the market is there, but I will advise that the producers should slow down on the way they release movies in parts, they should put it together as a single movie instead of unnecessarily extending the market and wasting people’s money. This, to me, doesn’t make sense.
What’s your view on the shortage of television serials and what do you think can be done about this?
I think the NTA is thinking in that direction. All those old programmes like New Village Headmaster, Old Village Headmaster, Mirror in the Sun, Second Chance, Third Eye that people are yearning for will be back on the screen soon. I was part of all that then. Although, there was not much money then. All the same, they were good programmes.
What was your highest fee then?
My highest fee was N3 in New Village Headmaster, in Second Chance N250 per episode. It was later increased to N350 or thereabout before it was rested.
Tell us about your love life, what is it like?
I don’t want to talk about that. I don’t want to talk about my love life. But I am married with three kids. Simple!
What’s the name of your husband?
Where did you meet and what was the attraction?
I can’t remember, I don’t know, but Azuh is my new boyfriend (general laughter).
What’s your definition of acting?
It means seriousness and creating an identity for one’s self and I always tell anyone close to me that if you want to be an actress, try as much as possible to create an identity for yourself and not be like some artistes who want to talk like RMD, Jide Kosoko and Liz Benson. It’s all nonsense. Those people have made their names, you make your name. When I started Second Chance, I didn’t know how to tie gele (headgear). Then, the gele concept was not even in the script of Second Chance, it was my contribution towards creating chaos. You know we were an outrageous lot then, always at one another’s throat. I started tying gele towards the last five to six episodes because I wanted it to block those behind me. It was Grace Egbagbe, Peju Ogunmola, Tina Ezeoke and Nnenna Ukoha that tied Madam Kofo’s gele then. But I later decided to learn more about it and now I’m able to tie it on my own and even teach those that tied for me then, because I have added my own style.
What do you have to say to those following your footsteps?
They should be God-fearing; though there is money in it (acting) now, they should try as much as possible to be themselves. People should be able to identify you when they see you. Okonkwo was known for his stammering, Madam Kofo for her gele. They too should try and be known for something and concentrate on acting instead of how good their attire looks on screen.
Who can you say is your role model?
The Almighty Allah is my role model, then Hubert Ogunde, Baba Sala, Oyin Adejobi, Duro Ladipo. I respect them.
Why did you choose these people?
I started with the Ogunde Theatre and he taught me a lot before he died. I got to know most of these people through him and they really taught me a lot.
May we know some of your productions with Ogunde?
I was in Aiye, Jaiyesinmi, Ologbo Dudu. I participated in almost all his productions when I was with him.
How was the relationship and why did you finally leave him?
He was very good to me, but I was not fulfilled. I wanted something that will really take me out. So, I decided to go to NTA where Bayo Awala took me to Alhaji Arulogun who now gave me a small part in Ward 15 where I met Tade Ogidan. I also did The Boys Next Door with him, Mirror in the Sun and Third Eye.
How do you see the experience so far?
I have no regrets. When I started out, the monetary aspect was not good. Though I was a civil servant then, working with the Shomolu Local Government, I spent all my spare time on acting. That is why it is now paining me that those that know us don’t call us, but use other people. Though I am not against them using new faces, I feel if they want to cast people, they should make sure they cast people with talent, that is why in our time, it was the stage because you either make or mar yourself there because the audience had the advantage of seeing you live and also criticizing you. That is why we want to bring the stage back. It is very important to us because when it comes back, you will know who an artiste is. I am not against people coming up, but they should be people with talents, that is why I say it is a welcome development.
How do you intend to bring back the stage?
I am a full member of ANTP and we are doing a play every last Friday of the month, from evening till day break.
At the National Theatre, Cinema Hall 1 (in Iganmu, Lagos). Each local government throughout the state will stage its own play. Not films o! But stage plays, because that is where you discover new talents and people’s response has been very great. I didn’t know people love theatre that much.
When do you consider you happiest moments?
When I had my first baby in May 1986. I was very happy that at last, I was a mother.
I think when they annulled June 12, 1993 election. I remember I cried because I was not expecting it.
What about in acting?
I can’t remember.
Aside acting, what else are you into?
I am packaging a television programme where we will interview people in the industry on food and general matters, but mainly in Yoruba language and it should be on air (NTA) anytime from now.
What’s the title of the programme?
It’s Time (Asiko).
What will you like to be remembered for when you eventually die?
Somebody who came to this world to be an actress and thank God, she was able to make many homes happy.
What’s your hobby?
I like playing lawn tennis and reading books.
What kind of books?
All kinds of books, except horror. I particularly like (Hadley) Chase novels and I have read almost all.
How do you see marital life?
It’s not bad. I have a serious relationship with my husband. He has been very supportive because he believes that you are an adult and as an adult, you know what you want.
How do you combine your marital life with acting?
My children are grown up now, but when I was having them, it wasn’t easy, but now I am free.
How did you really start acting?
Actually, I started when I was in school (Lagos Commercial Academy) where I did Ori eni ni gbeni and the civilian governor then, Sir Mobolaji Johnson, gave me an award in 1969 as the Best Actress. That was how I started and I later acted for Duro Ladipo, Femi Philips and Hubert Ogunde. I did a lot of productions for Hubert Ogunde. In Aiye, I played one of the witches.
The general belief then was that for you to play a witch, you had to belong to one occult or…?
(Cuts in) That is not correct. We were just playing roles then and there was nothing like that because if you are a witch, you don’t tell the world you are one.
How did your parents react to your taking up acting then?
My mother was very supportive.
What’s her name?
Alhaja Humani Iyalode Atanda, but my father, from the beginning, never supported me. Though he later gave his blessing before he died years ago. He never believed that acting could make one successful. He was so against it that one day, he went to Duro Ladipo and told him: “You; do you think you are doing something in life dancing and jumping while all your mates are out there working? A big man like you? Just don’t involve my daughter in it”. But he later gave me his consent. He even began to call me Madam Kofo when he saw that it had tuned out well.
What’s your favourite food, colour and car?
Food, I like eba and vegetable soup; colour, red and wine. Some claim red is bad, but I am just attracted to it. All the things in my house are red. Cars, l like good cars.
Is it true that you are an Alhaja?
Yes, I am an Alhaja. I have been to Mecca twice in 1978 and 1979 and I pray five times daily.
How was your childhood?
It was okay, fine.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Oshogbo, Lagos, Zungeru in Niger State. That’s why I am able to speak a little Hausa.
What do you consider to be your most memorable childhood experience?
It was when I was staying with a relation in Oshogbo, my hometown, and the woman didn’t want me to go to school, but to be hawking eggs. It so happened that one day, I sold some eggs to some school children on credit because I wanted to go to school like them and the woman (guardian) on discovering this, beat me so much that I fainted and was taken to the hospital. My father on learning that it was because I wanted to go school that I was so treated, enquired how much it would cost to send a child to school and there and then, decided to send me to school and I am grateful that he did.
How will you describe Madam Kofo?
She is a money-miss-road millionaire that doesn’t know what to do with her money and feels education is the only thing she doesn’t have.
Who then is the real Madam Abiola Atanda?
Me? I am a pauper and I am in love with Azuh. We are planning to marry very soon (laughing).