Alibaba also known in Nigeria’s entertainment circles has emerged as a brand and continues to introduce innovations into the industry. Orji Onyekwere writes
With no air of pride around him despite his towering achievements in the world of entertainment, Alibaba comes easily as a very friendly person who is always ready to say his mind. This much explains why he has achieved so much in the entertainment industry in the past two and a half decades, rubbing shoulders with the high and mighty in the society. Today, Alibaba is known as the king of standup comedy in Nigeria, and one of the people that revolutionised this genre of entertainment with the likes of late Muhammad Danjuma.
Born Akporomemerere Atunyota, Alibaba, changed the face of comedy industry in the country having taken over the baton from the likes of late John Chukwu and Art Alade. Making cameo appearances in Friday Nite live, a potpourri of entertainment programme presented by ace broad- caster, Patrick Doyle, in the early 90’s, the ace comedian began to spread his tentacles by handling corporate events. Today, that marker laid by Alibaba has produced world beaters in the comedy business like Julius Agwu, Basket Mouth; Tee A, Omobaba, De Don, Bovi, Baby Face, I Go Die and AY among others. His words: “I started carving a niche for myself in 1993; then I was able to identify what area of the economy I would pit my tent and I discovered that the corporate world pays more.’’
Over the years Alibaba has built himself as a brand and continues to introduce innovations into the industry. This new direction has seen him handling lesser shows while diverting to other things, though the move has been misinterpreted by a lot of his critics who say he has lost his relevance in the industry because of stiﬀ competition from up and coming comedians. However, Alibaba disagrees with this notion. For him, he has no competition in the industry and can still stand his own anywhere in the world. He only decided to do lesser shows so as to give the younger co- medians the opportunity to develop in the industry.
During the tenure of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the ace comedian became the toast of the presidency as he became a regular face at most events where Obasanjo was the guest of honour. The big break according to him came when he was invited as a comedian during Obasanjo‘s birthday at the Villa.
He explains further: “I got to know President Obasanjo through Chief Bode George, who knew a friend of mine, Colonel Solade. Bode George asked Colonel Solade to invite me over because according to him, Baba likes humor and they wanted to surprise him. So after the church service, we were in the chapel and it was like a cocktail, everybody was standing except Baba, and we had a lot of dignitaries. Don’t forget, for Baba, comedy was like Papa Aluwe, Awa- da, Kekere, New Masquerade, but this was a diﬀerent kind of comedy. I mounted the stage and started picking on a few people around.
Thereafter I turned to Baba and everybody was like you are talking to the president and he is going to take oﬀence. Immediately he started laughing, I knew I had broken the ceiling and that was it, and that was how we became friends.”
His friendship with the ex-president grew with Obasanjo occasionally re- questing for his presence at events he was hosted as guest of honour. Other state governments that knew that Obasanjo liked Alibaba’s jokes started inviting the ace comedian to events where the president would be their special guest. “There was a time Chief Obasanjo was supposed to go to Kaduna, and then Ahmed Markafi was the governor. They called me from Kaduna and I told them that my price was N1. 5million and they shouted ‘No’. The person said how they can pay oﬃcer from the presidency called me to know if the Kaduna state government had contacted me because Baba wanted me to be there.
At that point, the Kaduna State government had no option but to pay me the money and I even told them the price could increase if they continue to waste time. I got to Kaduna and Baba was there. As he was leaving, he asked me, did they tell you I was the one that said you should come? I said yes. He then asked me, where my percentage is? And that’s the kind of person Baba is,’’ he revealed.
For him, ex-president Obasanjo contributed immensely to the growth of the comedy business in the country today as his action encouraged other state governments to start patronising comedians for their events.
A graduate of Religious Studies and Philosophy, Bendel State University, now Ambrose Alli University, the course according to him was a stop course. His initial intention was to study Mass Communication and major as a broadcaster, though his father wanted him to study Law. However, he moved to Lagos where he discovered that he could make money by making people laugh.
Alibaba met his wife, Mary-Bassey Udoh, a banker, by chance and what started as a friend- ship blossomed into marriage years later. The marriage is blessed with six children. “I met Mary by chance and we became friends for years before we got married. As a father, my children don’t see me as someone who is working. Anytime I tell them I am going to work and hours later I come back home they keep asking me the type of work I do. As a father, I give them the best and as a husband, I thank God I married a wonderful woman,’’ he disclosed.
With some entertainers going into politics, the king of comedy says he will not make a good politician as he is not cut out for politics. His reason is that he is not the type that can keep his mouth shut if he sees anything going wrong.
He further stated: “No I can’t be a politician because they will sack me the next day. If I am in politics and they bring money for us to share, as soon as we come out, I will say they gave us N5million and we shared it and this person got this. I wouldn’t last long in politics because I talk too much. I really held myself all these times I used to be among politicians and hear what they say.’’
Alibaba has been a professional standup comedian for the past 22 years. In the past 13 years, he has received several awards including induction into the Johnny Walker ‘Striding Man’ Society in 2009 which recognises men who have achieved great strides in their chosen fields of endeavor and who share the strides they have taken to motivate and encourage others.