“I am broke”- Lewis

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Veteran actor, Dejumo Lewis, popularly known as
Kabiesi in the classic television series, The Village
Headmaster, tells Ademola Olonilua about his
career and love life
What was growing up for you like?
I was born and raised in my paternal grandfather’s
estate in Lagos Island. That was where my father
married and raised his children. Later, my mother
left him and took me with her to her father’s house
in Lafiaji, also in Lagos Island.
Why did your mother leave your father’s house?
They parted ways after some differences and
because I was very close to my mother, she took
me with her. There was an irreconcilable difference
between them and she thought it wise to leave my
father. That is the much I understand about the
issues between them.
Regardless of the rift between your parents, did
you relate well with your father while growing up?
Yes I did and my father really loved me specially.
Of course, there was some detachment when my
mother took me away and like a typical woman,
she had her way of poisoning my mind against my
father; she did that very well. It was not just with
me but all the children she had for him. She also
got involved in some metaphysical ‘remote control’
things.
After some time, I started doubting some things
my mother said about him and at some point, I
went to meet him to ask if he was indeed my
biological father and why my mother left him. His
reply was, ‘never trust a woman.’
Later I found out that my mother actually left him
to have two children for another person. The man
was my father’s best friend. There was so much
between them while we were growing up but we
did not know and that is why I was shocked when
they parted ways.
As your mother’s favourite child, were you
pampered while growing up?
I was not pampered in the sense of getting spoilt
but I was spared from the hard punishment she
normally meted out to my older siblings. I never got
into any trouble because I was a very submissive
child while growing up. I was brought up in a
staunch catholic home and with the catholic
discipline, you could not afford to go astray
especially at that tender age.
My mother flogged me only once all through my life
and it was for an offence that my elder brother
committed and he got me involved in it. I have very
happy and sweet memories of our family while
growing up.
I remember that my mother would rather take me
to a party instead of a girl child and I was not the
last born. I was the fourth born. My mother had 12
children but four died young. She had 10 children
for my father and when she left him, she had two
for another man.
Why do you think your mother chose you as her
favourite child?
She did not give me much detail but at that time, I
was the most handsome of my siblings. I was not
necessarily the most brilliant because all my
siblings were very intelligent but I looked good. If
you consider that I was given a typical Yoruba
girl’s name like Adejumoke, it says a lot. Maybe
she was expecting a girl and I came to this world
as a boy but she insisted on giving me a girl’s
name. I don’t know, I am just speculating. Dejumo
is the short form for Adejumoke.
When I was growing up, I was called Jumoke. After
experiencing some taunting from my peers, I had
to change my name to Dejumo. My friends always
used to taunt me that I must be a prostitute to bear
a girl’s name. I have had very embarrassing
experiences because of the name. There was a
time I went to see a cousin of mine in his office
and the receptionist asked for my name so he
could announce it over a public address system.
When I told him my name, he looked at me raising
an eyebrow. When he called my name over the
public address system, he could not help but laugh
because I was a guy with a girl’s name. I decided
to change my name when I went into broadcasting
because I aspired to be a presenter. I felt it would
sound weird if I bore Jumoke on the television. I
deliberately changed it to Dejumo.
So did you change your name because of the
taunting or because you wanted to become a
broadcaster?
Because of both. In fact, I also wanted to change
the Lewis and adopt my grandfather’s name which
was Osunyomade. I wanted to sound like a Yoruba
Nigerian.
What was your mother’s reaction when you
decided to join the seminary?
She was very delighted when I announced my
intention. As a matter of fact, I was already
admitted to St. Gregory’s College which is the
school all the male children in our family passed
through. My mother and I were shopping for things
that I would take to the boarding house when I
announced that I wanted to become a priest.
Immediately I told my mother, she began dancing
on the street. From her reaction, it seemed that
she was hoping one of her children would become
a priest, particularly her favourite child.
When I became a father I made sure I did not have
a favourite child because I felt it was wrong. Being
the favourite child of my mother earned me some
harsh reception from my siblings. The next day,
she took me to Ibadan to meet her twin brother
who took us to the convent at Ibadan. I was given
oral exam and they found me suitable. I got to the
seminary two weeks after the time I ought to
resume but I still caught up.
What kind of hostility did you face from your
siblings?
It is a normal thing for the older ones to leave
some food for their younger ones especially as it
could serve as an incentive for the younger one
who would wash the plate. There was a time our
second boy left food for me but he put excess salt
in it before giving it to me. I took a spoonful of the
rice before I realised it had too much salt and he
burst into laughter. There were later developments
where he was very hostile towards me. It was very
serious and it made me realise that maybe he
gave me rice full of salt out of jealousy. I would not
go into the details of the hostility that I experienced
from my siblings but definitely, the problem is not
from the first born. He was a very gentle soul; my
friend and confidant.
How did your mother take the news when you
opted out of the seminary?
She almost died. The catholic authorities in the
town tried to persuade her to get me back to the
seminary. I had a very good record and they
planned to send me to Rome. When I left the
seminary, I was not thinking of doing any work.
In the seminary, I participated in some drama
presentations. When I came out of the seminary,
the immediate attraction for me was to join a
drama group and that was when I got into the
Village Headmaster. Before I got into it, my mother
was very worried about me because I was not
concerned with getting a job. She always tried her
best to persuade me to job hunt. When I joined the
Village Headmaster, people were very pleased with
me and they were always congratulating my
mother. Even my contemporaries who were priests
had to admit that I just found my calling. When
people started respecting her as the mother of
Kabiesi, she soon forgot about the seminary.
One day, she told me that she went to the post
office to collect some money sent by my elder
brother, the queue was very long but she had no
choice but to wait in line. Some people who were
from her area saw her and they were arguing if
she was Kabiesi’s mother. The post office clerk
heard them and immediately asked my mother to
come to the front of the line so she could be
attended to immediately. She was so honoured and
that was how she got consoled that I left the
seminary.
Why did you leave the seminary?
It was purely for ideological reasons because my
philosophical studies had turned me into a radical.
It made me to question things that I would not
ordinarily question and they bordered more on
cultural issues. I saw that the church was almost
“anti-Nigerian culture.” I saw that it was mainly
Italian and European culture that was infused into
Christianity. It was when I was in the Junior
Seminary that the Vatican Council II convened and
came out with the decision that the church should
adapt to the cultures of the people wherever they
were. I noticed that the adaptation was minimal; all
they did was to sing Yoruba songs during mass. I
started serious research into culture and the
deeper I went the more I learnt. I had some other
reasons too. I had some butterfly in my belly
regarding some things I found in the Bible. I was a
consummate student and there was nothing else I
wanted to be in life than a catholic priest and till
today, catholic priesthood is my first love. I was
coming up with some radical ideas and I knew that
the church would not accommodate the ideas I
had. I thought it was best to leave on my own than
to be expelled if they saw me do some funny
practices.
At what point in your life did you join the Nigerian
Television Authority?
When I started work with it, it was not referred to
as NTA. It was the Nigerian Television Service
which later became the Nigerian Television
Broadcasting Corporation when it came under the
same management with Radio Nigeria. It was in
1977 that NTA was created to have one
management for all existing television stations in
the country then. I think it was during the time of
Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo as a military head of
state. I started my broadcasting romance not too
long after I left the seminary. I got to television
through drama. I became a full staff in 1969.
I started as a programmer and part of my job was
to prepare the daily programme schedule. I was
kept in that department for long even though I
knew I did not belong there and I wanted to be part
of the production crew. I wanted to be transferred
but they would not let me because I was so good
on the job and I was even better than my boss who
was a woman and she was fond of travelling every
time. If anything went wrong with the log even
when my boss was around, I would be tongue-
lashed. However it was a good training ground for
me especially when I got into production and I
became a manager.
You once claimed that after serving for about 30
years, you were unceremoniously sacked. Why?
I had a stance which was totally professional. I
decided to do everything within the professional
ethics but there were a lot of unprofessional
practices going on and I refused to be part of it. It
was then that President Obasanjo brought in Ben
Murray Bruce to be Director-General of NTA. This
is a man that had never worked within any
broadcasting outfit but he had some foreign
children programmes syndicated on NTA. I am not
sure if he had something against me but it was
during his period that I was laid off work.
Did you know him before he became the DG of
NTA?
Yes I did and he used to call me “Egbon.” I was
close to his family and his father was my friend. I
met him for the first time at his father’s 70th
birthday and he served me drinks because I am
much older. He called me egbon anywhere we met.
Even when he assumed office as the DG, that was
what he called me.
If you had such a cordial relationship with him,
why do you think he would sack you
unceremoniously?
Before he became the DG, I was in Ibadan but I
was re-assigned to Lagos upon his request. When
I came in, I went to meet him that I had been
transferred back to Lagos and he said that I was
needed in Lagos because I was a production man.
I felt happy. I reported at work and asked for
permission to go back to Ibadan to hand over to my
successor but when I came back, I was given a
retirement letter. I really don’t know what went
wrong. I wrote a letter to the government to be
reinstated; I wrote to the presidency and minister
of information.
A few months after, I met Ben at a party and I told
him that I had not heard anything about my
reinstatement, all he told me was that he would
send for my file on Monday. That was the last time
I met Ben one on one.
You became the lead character of Village
Headmaster at 25, can you re-live the experience?
It was a wonderful experience and that was the
peak of my dramatic career. I got attention from
everybody, especially the women and I was able to
cope. Those days, things were so professional and
natural. We were one big family and our
relationship was cordial. We had our differences
but we never took it to heart. It was mostly about
the job and we were never vicious or diabolical like
it is everywhere now.
You were an employee of NTA and also an actor,
how come you are not rich?
My seminary background would not allow me to go
for things that are conceived as improper. These
are the things that were bringing in money to the
people in the media and television. Not that I did
not attempt to get a land from the government for
instance but I was refused. I sent a letter to them
and I was surprised at the response. It was just in
two sentences and they said they did not have any
land for me.
Later when I could afford to get a land, I made
efforts to have my own house but that again was
where sibling hostility and hatred came to the fore
because my elder brother who was involved made
me pay twice for the land and conspired against
me with the land spectators. I had so much trust in
my brother but I don’t know why he disliked me. I
concluded that it had to be jealousy because at a
point, he ganged up with my mother against me. I
would love to build a model African house where
every material would be got from Africa. Since
then, I have not had the kind of money that would
enable me to do that. I tried to have a home so that
I would not need to bother about house rent but
when it did not work out, I forgot about it.
So why did you turn down offers from fans who
wanted to give you a house?
I considered it a corrupt practice. Like the one they
wanted to build for me in Victoria Island, I said that
how would I explain to people that I own a house in
VI of all places. This was before Lekki was well
developed. They said that they would not build it in
my name but in the name of somebody that I
trusted so that they would not take it away from
me. I said that anything that I cannot own up to
openly does not belong to me. The seminary
training is so strong that anything that is improper
is seen as a sin. Some people felt that I was jinxed.
l later realised there was a jinx and I battled it out
of my life but I will not discuss this further. The jinx
was from a network of evil people and I dealt with
it. I am still dealing with it. I don’t own a house
anywhere.
So it is true that you are broke?
I must admit that I have not been rich. I am the
poorest paid actor even though people call me a
legend or an icon. My pensions were not paid at a
time even though it is stipends. You would be
shocked how much I receive as pension. I had to
struggle to pay my rent and my staff. I must admit
that right now, I am indebted to the management of
the hotel that I am staying. I also owe two of my
staff more than three months salary. They have
been so loyal and committed to me. I must tell you
that I have been living on charity and that is why I
have not been able to publish my book or run my
publishing company. It has been very rough and
tough but because of my focus on what I am doing
which would be of great benefit to Nigeria, I have
been coping until things become better. I must
admit that I am broke.
How about your wife?
That is an area that I don’t want to talk about. I am
writing about it in my autobiography because it is
one of the experiences that I have garnered in my
life time and it has made me strong and tough but I
would not like to talk about it on the pages of the
newspaper.
Don’t you feel lonely?
I never feel lonely. I am not lonely when it comes
to women. I live alone and this condition is good
for what I am doing. I am able to concentrate on
my writing. I am able to focus on what I am doing.
Ironically when I get some acting roles, I get
distracted. When I am away from my writing for
some weeks, when I come back, I have to start all
over again. Even without the work, I am never
lonely. My seminary days have taught me how to
meditate and look inwards to solve problems.
Loneliness is not a problem, in fact I welcome it to
the extent that I may not re-marry.
Are you saying that no lady would catch your fancy
till your time comes?
Who says no lady has caught my fancy? Or I have
not caught the fancy of any lady? Marriage is
another thing. I said I will not re-marry not
because of my experience with my ex-wife but if I
am to marry now, I would prefer a younger lady
who would want to have children. At 72, to have a
child is somehow. I know I would live long enough
to see that child marry but I have a mission that
requires my total attention and I cannot
compromise that.
Are you currently in a relationship?
How will I not be in a relationship? Of course I am
in a relationship. I have been into several
relationships; there is no doubt about that. I am not
a homosexual.

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