You are popularly known by your numerous fans as Samanja Mazan Fama, http://nigeriafilms.com want to know how you came about that very name, since your real name is Usman Baba Pategi?
The name Samanja Mazan Fama is an offshoot of my experience when I served with the Nigerian Army during the Civil War. That's where I came about Samanja. It was part of my experience during my short service with the Nigerian Army.
Did you really attend the rank of Samanja, i.e. Sergeant Major or Warrant Officer?
No. I was a Staff Sergeant when I left the service.
For those familiar with the NTA in the 80s and 90s you happened to be a regular face in most of the plays, hence Samanja became a household name in both NTA and FRCN. http://nigeriafilms.com wonder why such high profile drama is no longer seen on NTA. What really happened that you hardly feature?
Well, you know, we have not been getting the usual support we are supposed to get. Secondly, we have not gotten sponsors now. In those days there were so many companies that sponsored our programmes. The last sponsor we had was PTF. After the Fourth Republic came into power PTF was abolished. That was the end of my programme. So, lack of sponsorship accounts for why you have not been seeing Samanja now.
Apart from corporate organisations, are there no wealthy individuals in the North that can sponsor the programme so that you keep entertaining the people?
Well, the problem we are having in the part of the country is that, unlike in the South, the people in the North who can afford to sponsor the programme are not ready to invest their money in that type of business. They would like watching the programme, quite all right, but they are not ready to spend their money on entertainment. So, these are the problems. We don't believe in that kind of investment in this part of the country. I think that is the problem.
Apart from entertainment, do you do any other business as a means of livelihood?
I write a lot of scripts for radio and television plays. I go to places seeking petty jobs so that I can keep the soul moving. That is what I do.
What of your boys, the likes of Mutua Dole, Kwapre, etc, Are they too out of business?
Well, some of my artistes are working somewhere, whether there is programme or no programme, like Mutua Dole, he is a man of his own. Now, he is chairman of Parents Teachers Association (PTA). Kwapre is working with the Federal Court of Appeal. Lots of them are working somewhere. But they take part in my programme.
In the Southern part of the country the entertainment industry has gathered momentum. But in the North it is a sad story all together. What's really the problem?
The problem is that people don't pay good attention to what they are doing. It is now that the young ones are springing up to put more efforts in the field of acting. For us in this part of the country one problem we are having is that we don't have capital to start any business. But in the South you find majority of the people that are fairly rich ready to sponsor many good talented artistes to produce some programmes. We are not getting the same treatment in this part of the country. And I can say lack of capital to start a business is the problem. Like myself, now, majority of Nigerian artistes will only make name not money. That's common. No any Nigerian artiste can boast of N1 million or N2 million. We make more name than money. So that is the problem. You may like to have a project but where is the capital to start it? Anybody you can approach, they will promise you, no problem anything from N1 million to N100 million we are ready to support you. But to go back you cannot even see him, how much more of giving you what he promised. Politicians too are not helping the matter. If you see them looking for you they just want to use you. After using you they throw you over boat. But they are ready to sponsor the yan banga, the political thugs. You can't compare Nigeria with Niger. For instance, in Niger Republic, in all the activities by the government you find that they engage the services of a popular artiste. When they go to market places, to open theatres to perform, to deliver government messages, people will gather around and they will listen. If government talks to the people nobody cares. But when they say Samanja is playing there, or Zebrudaya is staging a play there, I mean those popular artistes, once people have heard that they are around they will go. And through that method government can deliver their messages. Whatever is their programme can be delivered through that performance. How much will it cost them? Just a little amount. Then if you go by television, you may be seeing some foreign films. If you see the amount of money they are spending on the foreign films, bringing them in, showing them on our television, it can last for good two years for local production. The money they will spend in three months, that is one quarter, will last local production for good two years. People are supporting to bring the foreign films because there is some interest attached to it. I think you understand. That's why they are not interested. Nobody is making any effort to support the local artistes. Why? We have talented people in this country, abundantly talented people, and artistes. They are everywhere. But who cares about them? Nobody cares.
Have you therefore ever regretted going into entertainment industry in the North?
I never regretted at all because it makes me popular. Everywhere I go, anywhere I go in this part of the country; I feel I am at home. Because people love me, people welcome me, anywhere. And anywhere I go for any assistance they render the small they can give.
In one of your radio dramas you played the part of a politician who borrowed lots of money to go into politics but he lost and could not pay back the loan. What actually motivated you to stage such play?
You know in Nigeria toady if you don't have money don't go into politics. That's why, among all the politicians now, the only lucrative business you can do in this country today to make money is to go into politics. If you are able to make it, you get your money back. Only a few of them care about those people who voted them into power. All you are trying to do is to make hell of money. But the time you are out you are comfortable. But to talk of the poor man, nobody is interested. Nobody cares about what happens to a poor man on the street because this is a business that money comes to you in millions. That is why politics in Nigeria is a matter of do or die. But that should not be the case. Politics is not a do or die matter.
In U.S.A, popular actors joined politics and people voted for them overwhelmingly because of their fame. As a famous actor in this part of the country have you contemplated joining politics?
Yes, I did. But the problem is what I have just told you, money politics. Now we have already spoilt everything right from the word go simply because we started this politics with money. And that's why if you don't have money don't go for anything, no matter the assurance they are giving to you. What I am talking about is that if now I decide to go into politics today, for instance, I am contesting for a Senator, before tomorrow morning you will find lots of young men in front of this house saying, ***Samanja ranka ya dade. Sai ka yi*** (Samanja may you live long. You must be). You can't push this people to go and do something without paying them. If they are not getting anything from you, two days after you won't see any of them. They will go to where they will get something to eat. That's why you need a lot of money to go into politics because we started by using money to get vote from anybody you wanted his vote. Had it been that we didn't start with money, just like in those days of the late premier, Tafawa Balewa, Awolowo and others, you couldn't buy their conscience. If they are good, you vote for them, if they are not you leave them. Go to anybody you feel is good for you; they would not spend their money for you. If you are good, you know; if they are bad you know. But not the same case today. That's why there has been a lot of problem. That's why anybody voted into any office, after he has gotten to the position always forget about the people. But the only thing I believe is that anything that goes up must come down one day. That's how I take life. If I am alive, may be in future I may decide to go into politics. But the little I have, I have to look after my children. I see that my children are well educated, give them a good, basic education. That is my main concern.
Your plays mostly centered on life in the Army Barracks. What actually motivated you to portray the life in the barracks?
The reason is this; we try to maintain a good relationship between the soldiers and the civilians. And let the civilians know or learn how the life looks like in the barracks. If a soldier comes to the town and misbehaves, may be you don't know what has brought him to take that action; you will like to know why soldiers behave that way. That is why I put lots of things to my programme so that if you see such things happen in military, you will not be surprised because you know the type of life soldiers live. It will not be surprising for you seeing them behaving that way. Like the soldiers too, I try to portray and maintain peaceful co-existence with the civilians. Because everybody is a civilian before he joins the Army. So if you become a soldier today, that does not mean that a civilian is a bloody tool. You are once a civilian before you become a soldier. That is what I always try to portray in my plays.
When you are acting on radio you always sound very harsh; when on television you are stern looking. Here you are looking very simple and gentle. Do you bear two personalities?
Oh yes, they are not the same. When you are on action you are acting, you have to behave in a way people will accept it. It doesn't mean that, that is your actual way of life. As you see me now do you see my moustache? It is not there. You won't see me shouting on anybody. So that is acting. Your acting is not your real life. There is always difference.
So what is the future of the artistes generally, in the country especially the ones in the North?
Well, the future is very bright. Many young men are taking to performing arts now. Some of them are in universities reading arts and all these sort of things. So the future is very bright. The only advice I will give them is that they should not believe in failure because if they do they always fail. Anything you want to do put it solidly on your mind that you will succeed, and surely God will help you to succeed. But if you believe in failure you will always fail because you have already discredited yourself that you will not succeed.
One would want to know how many children you have and how many are into performing arts?
Fortunately or unfortunately, I am having 13 children now with none of them is in acting. My own concern is that I want to give all my children a free hand. I prefer to support them, no matter how much I will spend. Let them do something that even though they don't get government work they can be on their own. Now you can be in journalism, which is a good profession. Anything can happen anytime and you can go and report as a freelancer. You can sell the story to either newspaper, or radio or foreign media. You can learn electrical work or architecture. You don't need to wait for the government. If you have small money in your hands you can start your own. But for me I will not support my child to waste his time studying Political Science, Public Administration, and others. The chances there are very limited, very narrow indeed. Read something that can be valuable to you that you can be on your own without any government's assistance. You can live successfully. But most of the younger ones today prefer to have white-collar jobs, and it is wrong. Prepare to be anything so that you can get something for yourself. You can't rely always on your parents. One day you discover they are no more. Now what do you do? So you have to plan your future. Show them the way. But I don't dictate to any of my children to say they should take to performing art. I want them to learn something tangible so that even there is no government work they can stand on their own. That is my plan for them.
Are you saying, in essence, that performing art is not lucrative?
No. But can they do it as I am doing? That is another question. Instead if there is any of them who feels he can do better in this field I will support him. But if I see that what you want to do is not of anything beneficial, I will not allow you. I will not support you. Instead, I will give you advice that if you do this, it is better because I know if you follow my advice it will be good for you.
You are household name in this country and even beyond. Lots of people don't even know your real name apart from Samanja. Can you give us your brief bio data?
I am from Pategi, Niger State. I am a prince, son of late Etsu Pategi, Usman Patako. I was born on May 20, 1942. I have three wives and 13 children.
So what do you want to be remembered for, since you are a popular artiste in the country?
Well, I would like people to remember me and pray for me, my contribution to humanity. Anybody who remembers me, or sees my programme, let him pray for my soul to rest in perfect peace.