While music no doubt remains the leading source of revenue generation in the Nigerian entertainment industry, and indeed in most parts of Africa, its effects are less far-reaching, than comedy, in ensuring the well being of individuals, in fostering unity and in creating a stable atmosphere for all to inhabit peacefully. In Nigeria for instance, the citizenry has a lot to be angry about-- bad economy, poor leadership, power instability, the list is endless. In spite of all these however, Nigerians, as evidenced in a recent study, were named the happiest people on earth, and still have cause to be happy. They've literally turned their sorrows into avenues of laughter, thanks to the numerous comedians that now abound. But one man started it all. His parents christened him Akporobomemerere Alleluya Ajunyota, but his fans call him Ali Baba.
Ali Baba was born to an army educator father some 46 years ago. He grew up in the ancient city of Warri, but came to Lagos in 1976, with his father, an army personnel, when the latter was transferred to Ojo Cantonment, Lagos. He attended St. Michael's Primary School, Ojo and Command Secondary School, Ikoyi, and he lived at the barracks during this period, only to return to Warri following his dad's retirement from the Nigerian Army. In essence, he had a quite adventurous childhood which however, still cannot hold a candle to his adult life.
He proceeded to Ambrose Alli University, Delta State (now Edo State) and got a degree in religion/ philosophy which he hoped, then, to use in securing admission to study law, a highly reputable field of study at the time. On graduation however, he found himself at a cross-roads. One road leading to a 'boring' and serious life as a lawyer, and the other leading to a possibly famous, quite unpredictable future as a comedian, a gift he discovered he had while at school.
The decision to be a comedian, according to him, stemmed from two realizations. One being the revenue he accrued while performing from one event to another as a student. Back then, he was getting somewhere between 50 and 150 Naira per show, a sum that was not bad for someone with a paltry 120 Naira monthly stipend. The second reason was the relative ease with which he performed on stages, which made some of his spectators to refer to him as a "natural comedian." He followed this innate ability, taking an unusually bold step, which entailed setting aside a hard-earned philosophy certificate and dabbling in a field that nobody took seriously back then. At the outset, he faced some predictable challenges, the main one being, convincing his folks.
According to him, nobody understandably cared to listen or to accept this seemingly bizarre idea of his becoming a serious comedian, especially since it was terrain that no-one in the entire country had ever transgressed. But having made up his mind, he followed his heart and returned to Lagos in 1990, armed with a new brand of entertainment, that most Nigerians didn't believed in.
The early '90s were not the best of times for the budding professional comedian as he struggled to make ends meet. As Ali Baba explains, expectations were high and failure at any opportunity could make or mar his career, thus he was faced with the challenge of being on top of his game always, if he wanted to be taken serious.
His resources were the news media and he invested immensely in newspapers, TV and radio which enabled him to make his jokes relevant to the state of the nation and improve the quality of his performances. At this beginning, he was earning between N4,000 to N5,000 per event. The fee gradually grew to N10,000 and N15,000 in 1992. By 1996, luck finally started smiling on this comedian, as his fees rose trajectorily to N80,000 per event and he was getting on average, 3 to 4 shows per day because of the paucity of his contemporaries. The rest is history.
His early life shaped who he is now. One such influence was his preferred fraternization with older women. Growing up in the midst of older women helped raise his status among the females as he regularly dated older ladies. For instance, while in Junior Secondary School, he considered the possibility of dating a girl in Senior Secondary School, who was 5 years older than him. He had it rough but the lady finally succumbed, a feat that is quite unusual in the typical Nigerian (and African) context. Still on women, he has an unquenchable passion for 'big women'.
His dream lady, as a must, must be big 'both at the back, and at the front'. This features, according to Ali Baba, would enable him to "touch well, get very close to, and explore her fullness." Funnily enough, he has his hands filled as he recently married Mary, a big banker and engineer who reciprocates the deep love he has for her. Mary, according to Ali Baba, manages the house, while he only takes directions from her.
He recently publicly declared his intention of stepping down to allow the numerous young comedians to have their own shot at fame, while he retires to his newly commissioned comedy house, Excusez Moi. He however, promised his numerous die-hard fans of his shows "if you want my services, you must be prepared to pay my price. I'm establishing [billing] ethics in an industry I built from nothing."