BY LAJU ARENYEKA
His story runs like a novel. From hawking bread and pure water to make ends meet, to cracking the ribs of the high and the mighty in the society and earning millions of Naira for making others laugh, Adebayo Ajiboye a.k.a Holy Mallam has seen it all. He shares the story of his rise from grass to grace with Showtime Celebrity…Enjoy
Why did you choose to be called Holy Mallam?
When I started comedy thirteen years ago, I had conventional names like Mallam Audi, Mallam this and that. At a point, I felt it was necessary for me to have a unique name that would attract attention. But I still wanted to retain Mallam because I started with Hausa intonation. When I started my career in comedy, there were a lot of my colleagues who were exploring different intonations; Warri-pidgin, English-comedy but I was not part of the trend. This is because I don’t like things that are common. That is why when they organise their shows, I hardly attend them. I thought I should brand myself by adopting Hausa intonation. I was inspired by people like Tunde Sawyer who played an Alhaji in “Sunny side of Life” in the 1980s. I was also inspired by people like Patrick Itoye.
What do you hope to achieve in the next five years?
I’d like to empower young people in a greater capacity than I am doing now. In the meantime, while using the platform of ‘Good Hands’, my CSR project, I frequently visit schools to talk to young people on how to use education with their talents to affect their world positively.
What was your growing up like?
My father was comfortable before I was born. That is why I was named Adebayo, because I was born into joy. We used to stay in Festac town, but after a while, things started changing for us. My father had to sell our house in Festac and we moved to Okoko. He could no longer pay my school fees. In fact, I was hawking bread, and sometimes my classmates would see me on the streets and laughed at me. It really affected my self- esteem and brought me face to face with the true meaning of embarrassment and intimidation. I also sold eggs and pure water to make ends meet. There were times we lost the respect people had for my family.
When we relocated to Okoko, I saw life from a different perspective. I understood the intensity of embarrassment as a child, and I’d never like to experience it again. I still feel the shock and grave shyness that was part of me then. But it’s not as bad as it used to be in the past. In fact, it got to a point in my life where I indulged in evaluating myself and discovered what I’m worth.
Were you born a comedian?
Not really. As a child, I never wanted to become a comedian. There were times when I would say something funny among my peer group and they would laugh. But it never occurred to me that I would be a comedian. I think I must have taken after my mum who used to be a very funny woman. Comedy was not really what was in vogue then. You had Baba Sala, Baba Suwe, Chief Zebrudaya Okoroigwe Nwogbo. But there wasn’t really much of stand-up comedy then. I never knew that I would have anything to do with comedy. I wanted to study Law or Mass Communication.
When I completed my secondary school in 1995, I was so frustrated. I did not gain admission into the university on time. We were poor and my parents got separated. I was doing menial jobs, carrying sand, and earning about N100. After a while, I got a job as a teacher and I was being paid N500 per month. My Dad offered me a job as an Office Assistant to be paid N5, 000 monthly but my mum objected my working for him. Later, he introduced me to one of his friends who wanted me to undergo a training on Town and Regional Planning at Lagos State Polytechnic (LASPOTECH). But I did not blend there, hence I refused to accept the job.
I got a job at Consolidated Foods and Beverages as a casual staff for two years, 1996-1998 and I was earning N1,000. But even then, I would speak and people would listen to me. There were times when we didn’t agree with some policies that the management of the company introduced, and I would influence my co-workers to boycott work if I felt we were being treated unfairly. As a result of my charisma, I was sacked. My mother is a nurse, so she introduced me to the USAIDS. I began to attend courses and conferences on that platform and gradually, I started standing out. I did not know that I was being prepared for what I’m doing today. I finished as a Peer Health Educator with the USAIDS in 1999,with the best result.
I had opportunity to shake President Bill Clinton when he came to Nigeria. That was the same year I gained admission into the Lagos State University to study Communication Arts . But there was no money and moreover, it was the same year, my father passed on. Then, I started assisting my mum by supplying pure water for her in bags. It was very difficult because I had to carry bags of water to cover long distance. From the proceeds, she would give me N50 out of which I would use N5 to pay for my transport fare to school. I would use the change to buy zobo and youghuts. Sometimes, campus babes would want me to hang out with them. But I usually laugh at them because you can’t give what you don’t have. I learned how to dodge them though. I did not buy any textbook or handout throughout my university education because I couldn’t afford any.
How did you get into comedy?
It was in 2000 that I finally started comedy. It was in my local church, Ultimate Power Ministries. Comedians used to come around and make people laugh. Then, I was an instrumentalist. I used to play the conga and the drums. I still play the drums at Winners Chapel mostly on Sundays. I used to make the people around me laugh a lot, and they would ask me to do comedy in Church. Most times, I would refuse because I can’t imagine making a fool of myself in the presence of other people. You know shyness is a kind of fear; you’re not sure about what the outcome would be if you take a particular step, so you just hide in your shell.
But after a while, I took courage because I realized that I could do better. The comedians that used to come around would crack dirty jokes, insult everybody and get paid. That was when I decided to step out. Just before the first night I was to perform, I rehearsed with a guy called Chinedu a.k.a Ultimate Mallam. I innocently rehearsed with him. Luckily for him, he was called upon to perform before me. He ended up saying nearly all my jokes. Unfortunately for me, I performed after him so, there wasn’t enough time for me to invent new jokes. But God helped me, I said the few jokes that were left and they laughed.
Thank God, if they hadn’t laughed, it would have been a different matter altogether because there were about 3,000 people there. That was how comedy started for me. It wasn’t even as a career then, but a hobby. The fact that I stood before people monthly and made them laugh gave me a lot of joy. It has been thirteen years now. Then, I noticed that there was nothing like Christian comedy, and I decided to start that. I also wanted to be an MC. The late Dr. Levi Ajuonumah trained me in that area. I met Mr. Yinka Craig, Uncle Soni Irabor, Mr. Bisi Olatilo. I realized that in an industry like ours, you can become obsolete if you don’t develop yourself. That is why I always advise young people to develop their God-given talent. I started building my social capital as well. I would sa
y that God has helped me so far.
What is it like being a dad and a husband?
It makes me want to be more responsible. Everyday you wake up to see them and the older they get, the more responsible you feel. As a father and a husband, it doubles my responsibility because you do not think independently anymore. There are other people now depending on you. My wife and I have been married for eight years now. We are best of friends. She is such a down-to-earth person, and with her, what you see is what you get. We met at a show; she was at the entrance of the hall taking data for registration. I did have an idea that I was going to marry her.
At that time, I was spending all my money to woo another girl that did not have my time. I left my card with her. Then she called me, I saw the call the next day and I called her back. From there, we started hanging out. My father-in-law did not give his consent to our marriage initially. We just kept on planning ahead. But three weeks to our wedding, he gave his blessing.My wife is the closest person to me. I am not really a social person and I do not have many friends anymore. This is because friends tend to back-stab you when you accelerate. My life mostly revolves around my home, my office and the events where I am invited to anchor.
We heard your kids singing and playing with the name Holy Mallam. How do they react to knowing their dad is a celebrity?
I don’t even know. I love my children so much, and to them, I’m just a daddy. Sometimes, they jokingly call me Holy Mallam, but I don’t chastise them when they do so. My wife takes my kids to school, but when she is not around, I help out.
Tell us more about the challenges you have faced while on your journey to stardom?
There were times I even considered suicide because of how difficult things were for. I have been through a lot of things in life and I am just trying to encourage people that because you are going through challenges, does not mean that God hates you or you are about to die. I suffered a lot. There were times people told me they did not think I would go far in life. There were times we had only garri at home without sugar. We were not allowed to buy things on credit, my mum would kill us.
Sometimes, I would buy dry soya beans, mix it with garri, and eat it dry. We did not have a television. In fact, by the time I started appearing on television, I had to leave my house with the permission of my mother to watch myself on television. I started appearing on television in 2001. I used to appear on ‘Humor on Ice’ and get paid N2000 per week. When I was writing my GCE, I would go from Okoko to Ajegunle in my red bathroom slippers. Even in poverty, I still loved red.
When did you finally had your big break?
I was an undergraduate at Lagos State University. The Foursquare Campus Fellowship, then led by Pastor Seyi Jaiyeola organized an event at the LASU car park. One of my Church members knew the pastor, so she introduced me to him. He auditioned me for about five minutes before he gave me the opportunity. I spent about seventeen minutes on stage. It was explosive. From then on, I began to get a lot of invitations to different churches, fellowships and events. There was a particular night vigil where I worked as the Master of Ceremonies and got paid N500.
N500 in one night! I was so excited. There was a time when I worked as a teacher and got paid N500 in a month, but as an entertainer, I got it in one night. The money was given to me in N5 and N10 denominations. I did not want to lose it, so, I made sure I stayed awake in the bus on my way home. There was also another event I went for where I was given N1,000 and a chicken lap. I took the chicken home, and my siblings and I used it to cook stew. We all had that chicken for dinner. I also met someone who introduced me to a programme on NTA where I did about 26 episodes and got paid per episode. That was when people around the country started knowing Holy Mallam. It was during that time I did an event for Nestle in Ibadan and Lagos. I was paid about N60, 000.
What is it that you are very passionate about?
Drumming, I am very passionate about God, 80 % of everything I do is spiritual. I also love drumming, and encouraging young people. I enjoy being a business man too. I sing a bit too, I did a song in 2004, and Lagos state government liked it and made me an ambassador for LASTMA.
How do you manage to stay clean and scandal free?
It took me thirteen years to build a clean brand. I am a brand, and my personal capital is very important to me. I started ethical comedy in Nigeria and I chose to be clean. As for scandals, I’m a very private person.