Ask anyone who grew up in a household where watching Yoruba movies was a ritual, Abija was one of the most fearful characters you’d ever see on your TV screen. He is a good man and the most compassionate when he is assisting a pregnant mother to give birth to her child, but a raging warrior when he is avenging the unjust death of a loved one.
But away from the world of make-believe and scary costumes, Tajudeen Oyewole is an easy-going family man and devout Muslim with good knowledge of ifa.
Tajudeen Oyewole was born in Osogbo in October 1957 and he became a mainstay in the Yoruba section of Nollywood in the 80s and early 90s. He made his debut in the stage play, ‘Opa Aje’. After he dropped out of primary school, Oyewole became an apprentice as a mechanic. He later tried his hands at commercial driving, but he only wanted to do one thing: hunt animals in the wild forests of Osogbo.
Oyewole says in a 2019 interview with Agbagba TV, “I just wanted to be shooting guns. I had a passion for shooting – at animals. I killed all the animals I encountered in the forest as a fearless hunter, none escaped.”
Fate would later alter the course of Oyewole’s life while running after animals in the forest. He witnessed the late Akin Ogungbe group’s visit to the town of Osogbo to perform a stage play at the Fakunle Major Hall. He immediately started to offer unpaid services to the group, lifting and moving heavy production materials in and out of the venue. Oyewole knew he was not going to escape his parents’ lashes for staying out late, so he smuggled himself into Ogungbe’s group’s tour bus when they left in the morning. He never returned home for three years.
He later moved to Port Harcourt and worked as a taxi driver for years. It was in Port Harcourt that he met and joined the late movie maker, Yekini Ajileye’s theatre group. Oyewole later got a part in Ajileye’s ‘Opa Aje’ as Abija, after the role was taken from someone else at the time of filming and handed to him by virtue of his hunting prowess.
That was the character that would shoot Oyewole into limelight. It became difficult for the audience to separate Oyewole from his Abija character and the name stuck like glue. He would recite unbridled incantations while furiously hitting his bald head, and would shoot guns like his life depended on it.
Abija tells Punch in 2019, “People often ask if I am an herbalist in real life because of my routine roles in movies, even though I have a background in Ifa divination, I am not an herbalist. People in my neighbourhood would call me Abija; they used to be scared of me in real life but I always told them I was not a diabolical and that it was just acting. My roles as Abija were my best performances; interestingly, I can handle any role in the movie industry.
“When I don’t dress in my attire as Abija, some people don’t recognise me.”
Oyewole also gained notoriety for his unconventional style of communication with ‘Ajan’, a trusted ghommid which predicted and notified Abija of impending evil. In communicating with Ajan, Abija would hold a small, red clothed object to his ear, in a manner similar to today’s digital communication style.
As of 2019, Oyewole has acted as Abija in over 50 movies, including ‘Opa Aje’, ‘Koto Orun’, ‘Aro Meta’ and his self-produced ‘Ipadabo Abija’, ‘Ija Eleye’, and ‘Eyinju Akoni’.
The thespian nearly lost his life in a fatal accident in 2007. He was returning from location during the shooting of his film, ‘Ibinu Abija’ when he ran his Toyota Camry car into a road divider on along Canaan land. The lady in the front passenger seat died instantly, while Oyewole and another lady in the backseat sustained life-threatening injuries.
Since his recovery, Oyewole has expressed his desire to complete his own house and go to Mecca for Hajj. And in 2019, he was gifted with another car by a good Samaritan.
Abija remains one of the most iconic characters in Nigeria’s movie industry and posterity will remember Oyewole for his great role in entertaining millions of Nigerians.
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