To a first timer, Ajibawo-Osoba, a village in Ilaro, Ogun State, with less than 20 homesteads, might seem like a town frozen in pre-colonial times. Houses at its main square are relics of the past: mud walls, thatched roofs, murals painted at the entrances with deep cultural themes. And there is the fear – inspiring shrines, too. Ancient architectural design seems to be the fad here, even though there are additions with modern brick walls and corrugated sheeting roofs.
But all the ancient relics are not just obsolete architectures. Rather, the settlement is indeed a movie location for most of the Yoruba home movies. That these relics are left long after each movie explains the significance of the little town to film making, particularly in the Yoruba movie industry.
The village may well seem to be in the middle of nowhere. But over the last decade, Ajibawo-Osoba has been the location of many chartbusting movies of the Yoruba epic genre, creating new economic value for the agrarian community.
Akuko Oran, a hit movie shot by Cultural Heritage Entertainment Production, was made in the village. Apart from the flick, many others have been shot on the location but are yet to be premiered. These include OpaAse, by Corporate Pictures and AbeniAlagboOru, also by Cultural Heritage, and a potential chart-busting Yoruba movie, awaiting release this year.
Explaining the significance of having movie making crews come to the village, Pa Adesanya, a farmer, told Armada that Ajibawo-Osoba has reaped so much benefit from the movie makers.“Unlike other villages cut off like us by poor roads, we owe the little infrastructures we have to the coming of the movie makers,” said the elderly farmer. The road leading into the village may be intractable, but among its peers, Ajibawo has fairly regular electricity, courtesy of a connection to the national electric power grid undertaken by a former governor of the state, Olusegun Osoba. But its reputation as a habitat for traditional films predates the arrival of the social amenity. As gathered, Governor Osoba was moved to provide electricity for the village when he was informed that most of the native scenes in many Yoruba home videos were shot in Ajibawo-Osoba. After the connection to the public power grid was made, the village was renamed in honour of the former governor.
Apart from power, its residents insist that the local economy is better off with the coming of the film-makers. The community is largely agrarian. But with poor roads and the big market in Lagos quite a distance, the farmers hardly make enough money by farming and selling its produce. Even with the presence of factories like Dangote and Lafarge cement factories in the vicinity, the residents insist that there are little or no benefits from them. The magazine learnt that the bulk of the factory workers come from Ilaro, the nearest town.
The local economy in Ajibowu depends more on the movie industry. The movie crews have need for lodging, feeding, transport via the use of motorbikes and, of course, provisions. The villagers normally look forward to the film makers coming to Ajibawo-Osoba. In the village, homesteads with complete mud houses and thatched roofs attract good money. “Resident who had money to give the houses some modern touch rather prefer to build new houses elsewhere than pull down the old ones,” said Pa Adesanya, adding that, “Here, modern bricks are hidden from the main square because our rustic look is our source of livelihood these days.”
“We lease our rooms to them at good price,” explained Pa Adesanya’s wife, Iya-Ibeji. She explains that other staples from their farms and other processed food are sold in large quantities anytime big movies are shot in the village. “I have children who also assist some of the actors in small chores for some token,” she said, adding that some of her children have already taking to acting. A teenager, Odunayo Aroba, also resident in the village, told Armada that she often helps the make-up artistes when they come to location.
“I also act in some of the movies as part of the crowd,” she added. She said that she would love to join the theater if she has the opportunity. A lot of the young men also find engagement with the movie, especially in the areas of cleaning and designing the sets.
Taiwo Hassan, a movie actor and producer popularly referred to as ‘Ogogo,’ told the magazine that shooting traditional movies are usually costlier than the ones with modern setting. Ogogo may well be the one who first began shooting movie in the village and he explains why he comes to the village to make movies: “It is less costly to shoot epic movies in villages that match the setting of the script. That way you tend to save more. But overall, you will need nothing less than N3.5 million to shoot something respectable giving the Nigerian standard,” he explained. According to Ogogo, the village plays host to movie makers at least once in a month on the average.
There have been movies with bigger budgets though. For instance, in AbeniAlagboOru, its producer, Omoba Ibikunle, told Armada that of the total N5 million of the initial budget of his movie, he spent no less than N2.5 million on the set design. “Much of the money went into labour and acquiring the materials for building the sets,” Ibikunle, who is also the CEO of Cultural Heritage Entertainment, said.
Explaining further, Saliu Badru, regarded as one of the best set designers in the Yoruba movie genre, volunteers that his materials and workers had to be sourced from the village to reduce cost. “So you see, the people are in business anytime we are here.”
Explaining further, Ogogo, who apart from featuring in the flick, was the coordinator of the entire movie project, said that shooting epic movies like AbeniAlagboOru costs money that would invariably be spent mostly in the village. “This is because we have to recreate a past that has almost been destroyed by modernity. We need to be as close to the people who are still custodians of this past tradition. We need them to help us build a palace, a shrine and so on. And we need to pay them to do it,” Ogogo said. Sunny Mohammed, an actor and production manager for the flick, said that with over 400 member crew and cast of actors and actresses, there is bound to be a boom in the local economy for the duration of their stay on the location.
Badru, the set designer, explained that he had to employ no less than 10 people from the village to help him do one or two, things like cutting down trees and digging holes to construct an Oba’s palace for AlagboOru. The flick, set in pre-colonial South West Nigeria, had some landmark set designs like an expansive oba’s palace, a market square and an eerie shrine with trappings of traditional African religion. Ogogo says that village with its serenity offers all what is needed to shoot good movies with pre-colonial setting. “The people are warm, receptive and they are willing to help out in any small role they are handed,” he explains.
Even artistes who have been to the village once or twice for film making have good things to say about the location. For instance, GaniyuYinka Quadri says that the village ranks as one of the best he has been to for shooting epic movies. “This is why I come here, again and again”. Lanre Hassan, popularly known as Awero of the AwadaKerikeri fame says she loves coming to Ajibawo-Osoba. “As an artiste, the choice of location also determines whether I will take a job,” she said.