The name Olaniyi Afonja might not be popular but at the mention of Sanyeri, several home video lovers would readily remember him. His popularity has so grown that he and his partner, Akola Tijani, are two of a kind in the industry. He spoke with GBENGA BADA recently
Has acting been fair to you?
There have been numerous occasions when acting has been fair to me. It has opened a lot of doors than what I expected. I meet kings and administrators wherever I go and they always commend my acting. I’ve been to places I never believed I could go because of my level of education. I thank God for bringing me fame through this profession. I can’t say much about the financial gains because I’m not poor, but I’m not lacking either. I’m just contented in my little way. I believe there is nothing I cannot afford.
Have you ever regretted being an actor?
Yes, but I think I was naive then and now I have realized that no one is perfect. The one I remember vividly was when my wife was about giving birth to our first child. That day, I didn’t have up to N3,000 and the bill was N60,000. I wept because I remembered what my parents used to say when I dropped out of school to act; they felt I wasn’t serious and told me I would regret my action. All the friends I had then were also not okay financially, and there was no one to run to. I felt this happened because of the kind of profession I’m into. I felt I couldn’t have suffered if I was educated and into a profitable profession. I wept bitterly, but God in His way rescued me through the doctor. He said that he knew me somewhere and I told him I was an actor. Though I wasn’t popular then, he felt he knew me somewhere and agreed to do the surgery for N3,000.
Do you see your tribal mark as an advantage or a disadvantage?
My prayer is that these tribal marks should not peel off. They brought me the Glo and MTN endorsements as well as others still in the pipeline.
Can you give any of your children a tribal mark?
No, this is the age of civilization, but I don’t regret having tribal marks.
When you were growing up and discovered the marks, were you happy?
I wasn’t happy because people used to call me different names like Okola, Ojela, Orila; some would even call me Lahila and all sorts of dirty names. I felt sad and wondered why out of all my friends I was the only one being ridiculed in Lagos? I always felt sad because they don’t know that intelligence has nothing to do with appearance.
What attracted you to acting?
I used to watch Yoruba movies a lot, and in 1991, when I was in secondary school I used to be very funny in class. So, one of my classmates then, named Sheriff Lawal, just said you are too funny, go and start acting. I asked him if he knew anywhere and he replied that he was into acting. He took me there during the school break-time. The man he was working for then was Prince Oluseyi Adeoye in Oyo town. We went there but we didn’t meet the man. After school hours, I went back alone, I met the man and introduced myself to him and I joined his group.
What’s the difference between Olaniyi Afonja and the act, Sanyeri?
There is a big difference between the two. Sanyeri is the comedian, Olaniyi Afonja is a human being like everyone else. Sanyeri is a clown and foolish man on stage, while at home Olaniyi Afonja is a no-nonsense man; I am a very serious man.
Can you tell us about your wife?
Her name is Omolara Afonja, she is a trader and we have two boys. I met her at the National Theatre during my first production in 2004. I was attracted to everything about her. I felt she was the person I could marry and have peace with and I was proven right. When I met her I wasn’t popular at all and she agreed to date and eventually married me.
Didn’t your wife complain about your tribal marks when you asked her out?
She is exposed and didn’t mind the tribal marks. She is an Ajegunle girl. When I met her I was nothing and she stayed with me, I just bought her a car recently to appreciate her support.
What’s your relationship with Adekola Tijani?
He joined the industry through me; we were short of cast and he came to me and I begged my boss to use him. I was his role model, I brought him into the industry and he is my friend. We left Oyo together in 1996, a day after Atlanta 96. I remembered the day vividly, I and Adekola lapped ourselves from Oyo to Lagos; it was a long story. We lived together in a room apartment in Ijora. Later, Adebayo Tijani joined us in 1997, Ibrahim Chatta joined us in that one room too and we lived together for many years, thank God we are all big names in the industry.