I am Peteru

My parents used to live in Bida, then along the line, my dad was transferred to Ibadan and so they came here and made it home. I was born at the CAC Olugbode Mission House, Ibadan and so my background is strongly CAC. Growing up in Ibadan was fun. We didn’t have so much, growing up, but what we had or did not have never defined me. If I was in an environment where kids played in the sand, I would join in. If they were playing computer games, I’ll hang around till I got a hang of the game and I would join in too. So, growing up, I never felt that I never belonged to any strata of society, you could see me roll tyres in Orita Merin this minute, and the next, I’m playing computer games in Bodija. That was what defined my growing up.

Since I could remember, I always made people laugh, consciously or unconsciously. My earliest memory of me making people laugh was as a 13-year-old boy in church. Though I was born in a CAC household and I had a strong CAC foundation, I left CAC and joined RCCG. I joined the drama group in church; anytime, roles were shared to be acted, I was always given unserious roles to play. One time, I was given the role of a father to play; and even though the character was supposed to a serious one, I just couldn’t bring myself to act serious so I flipped the script, and turned the character into a funny one and the church just couldn’t have enough of the man. With all these, people who knew me began to see me as an ‘unserious chap’.

Growing up, I had to hustle and make sure things happened for me. In those growing years, I was fascinated by entertainment and so I began to find entertainment options I could plug myself into. I got involved in all the forms of entertainment at the time just to find where I truly belonged. I played a lot of basketball, I was a singer; yes I used to sing. I was even a dancer too. Many people do not know this but, I was a member of the Royal Dancers, the dance crew that was birthed in Ibadan and brought dance to the church. When Xplicit dance crew emerged, I was one of the pioneer members of the crew too.

Asides that, growing up, I’d never seen myself as small. I had dreams and high-expectations of myself. I always saw myself as a superstar, living the good life, traveling to multiple countries and having a name that would blossom. These things absolutely informed the choices I made, I sought pursuits that enabled me to dream that, someday, I could live that good life. That explains why, I played basketball, it gave me a chance to travel within and outside the country. When I played football, I got a visa and sought to play on platforms that had international prospects and would be a window for me to just fulfil that dream of traveling around and living the superstar life. But while, I was chasing all these, it was comedy that I felt strongly, was my calling.

While it was church that made me see the comic side of me, it was up to me to find a way to make something out of the unseriousness that everyone had attributed to me. Curiosity kicked in, I began to seek opinions, check the internet and study people who were doing unserious things like comedy. At that time, comedians were not taken as serious people and the industry had just begun to have a semblance of form.

There were few people kinging at the top and, if you were just trying to get on the scene, you couldn’t tell where you fitted in or how to begin. In 2011, I decided to embrace the challenge of fighting for a space in the industry that was now emerging and that was how Peteru was birthed. Now, the next challenge was how to make a business out of comedy in Ibadan. At this time, Lagos was a buzzing comedy market and the industry was fully formed. However, in Ibadan, comedy did not look like a serious thing.

In 2011, I was visiting my friends in UI and I saw this form about a competition by Amstel Malta called the Amstel Malta Showtime. At the time, I was a student of the Polytechnic of Ibadan, and, because there were always shows going on in UI, I used to visit UI a lot at that time. I made friends within the space so I could plug myself into their entertainment community and get opportunities to showcase my talent, build relationships and grow myself. I could have done shows in the Polytechnic but very very few shows happened at the Polytechnic so if you were into entertainment, it was just best to connect with the UI community.

At the time, Facebook was the mega social media so I went on Facebook, searched out the Amstel Malta thing and found out that they’d done Lagos, Benin and Port Harcourt editions of the same show and there were winners. That meant that the competition was a legit one. I looked at the first prize – #500K, an iPad and a trip for two at the Four Points by Sheraton in Lagos and Holiday Inn in Accra; beht na that money enter my eye.

I called the winners of the Lagos and Benin editions about the legitimacy of the show, I wanted to be sure the money would be paid. They showed me the credit alerts and I was like, omo!!!! However, they said the trip was being delayed because they wanted to complete the events across the designated locations and then all the winners would go together to the destinations of the trips.

I entered for the Ibadan edition and, believe me, it was just a cruise for me. It was about the easiest competition I had participated in. People were already getting familiar with the name Peteru at this time and so, the members of the audience just kept rooting for me and calling my name every time I had to perform. As you may have guessed already, I won. It was not long after that that I curated my first show and that’s being it.

In all my years of doing comedy, I had an experience that I will never forget. A friend whose child was celebrating his 10th birthday on August 18, 2013 (or 2014, I am not so sure), contracted me to MC the event. We settled the cost, part-payment was made and we were good. On the d-day, I took the centre-stage and began to crack joke, nobody laughed. Ah!!!! Then, one by one, the adults left the room till I was left alone with the kids. I tried to crack more jokes, I was sweating; these kids did not laugh o. I was so embarrassed. In the end, the client did not pay me my balance and me too I did not refund deposit but I cried so much.

That experience taught me that I should develop the art of MC-ing at a wide range of events. Now, often, you find comedians who do not know that their jokes should be tailored to suit their audience. You could see a comedian at a kiddies’ party cracking PG-rated jokes or a comedian at an AGM cracking birthday jokes. I learnt audience-analysis from that experience and it was such a learning curve for me.

In those early years of doing comedy, Ibadan was open to the art of comedy, people would want to come to a comedy show, but they did not see the value of it; they did not see it as something they should part with their money for. Those of us trying to ply the comedy trade too did not know how best to showcase the value in what we were doing at the time so it looked like the industry didn’t exist at the time, save for few names who ran projects in the city. I could have left Ibadan and gone to Lagos, and then maybe I would have made a lot of money and maybe I would have been super-famous but my heart was set on hacking Ibadan.

Through those years, things were hard. The environment just never showed entertainment the amount of love that it deserved. Ibadan is for the resilient, especially if you’re in the entertainment space. It is not for the faint hearted. Ibadan knows that you have good stuff, Ibadan knows that you’re talented but Ibadan will hardly ever give you opportunities to showcase you.

Around 2014/2015, I almost said goodbye to comedy because everything was just hard. The money bags in Ibadan have a big preference for anything that comes out of ‘Lagos’ more than anything homegrown. Wealthy individuals in Ibadan who have the funds to support events would rather look away than commit to growing the grassroot. A big organization in Ibadan will want to run a small project and they might call an Ibadan based act like Peteru, but then when they want to do a mega event, they’d go for the Lagos acts. Not just that, they will pay the Lagos act premium money and then they’d pay we the Ibadan acts almost peanuts.

Even government that was supposed to support entertainers, showcase them, and give them a platform wouldn’t do that. When I began to do my own shows, getting sponsorship was so hard. Imagine if the government encouraged accessibility and supported players in the entertainment space. And, no, when I say, supporting, I am not talking about handing out money alone.

Imagine if, known names in the Ibadan entertainment space could get letters of introduction from the State government to take to corporate sponsors in Lagos. Think of how much ease that would create in getting sponsors for shows that will hold in Ibadan and ultimately put the city and State on the map more prominently. When I had done my best and it looked like there was not impact and I couldn’t get all the support I needed to fly, I just wanted to stop all things comedy and push for a career in soccer, after all, I am still fit to play football. I still go for trials, in fact, as at February this year (2019) I was at a trial session outside the country.

I never gave up and here we are, still pushing believing that things will get better. This is not the end of the story, there are brighter days ahead. If I have a chance to talk to folks from difficult backgrounds or who are coming from a hard place in life, I will tell them: never let your location determine your destination.

Rest in peace, Tobiloba Nifemi Owomoyela

(Ibadan, 2019)


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