There’s no prize for guessing my favourite Nigerian actor. Olu Jacobs tops a three-man shortlist that includes Norbert Young and Paul Adams. I fell in love with Uncle Olu as Inspector Best Idafa in the sitcom The Third Eye and his trademark statement, ‘I wonder, I just wonder.’
But this detective series, where in each episode, a crime is introduced, investigated, and the culprit revealed, ignited my love for detective novels like The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle, Too Many Women by Rex Stout, and several others.
Most private investigators have their sidekicks. Sherlock Holmes had Dr. John Watson. Nero Wolfe had Archie Goodwin. Inspector Idafa’s own was unique – his daughter. I can’t recall her name in this must-watch programme on NTA back then.
Her real name, though, sticks like Lothar Matthäus lifting the World Cup for West Germany 33 years ago or Wilson Oruma hoisting the trophy for Nigeria on September 4th, 1993, three months after the June 12 presidential election.
I wonder where she’s. I just wonder!
We present Olu Jacobs’s biography.
Olu Jacobs: Birth
Oludotun Baiyewu Jacobs, professionally known as Olu Jacobs, was born in Kano State on July 11th, 1942. Though he was 1,129km away from his hometown, Egba Alake in Abeokuta south local government area of Ogun State, Kano felt like home to Olu Jacobs.
There were many southerners in Kano, the commercial hub of northern Nigeria. Wherever he went, there were Igbos, his native Yorubas, Itsekiris, Urhobos, Calabaris, Benins, and, of course, the local Hausa/Fulanis.
“Nigeria was a wonderful country and you are free to go anywhere,” he said.
“And wherever you went, you were welcomed, north, south, east or west, you were welcomed. Being a stranger in that land wouldn’t worry you, because you will get the best. They will welcome you and introduce you to people who will assist you if you need any help. What we are doing today is not the same thing.”
The only time things weren’t the same for him in the north was in May 1953, during the riots in Kano. The ethnic clashes between Northerners, who opposed Nigeria’s independence, and southerners, who supported the motion, lasted for four days between May 15th and 18th.
Officially declared dead were 36 people, while 241 were wounded. Olu Jacobs’s father was among the latter.
“A stone hit my dad in the elbow, and we complained my dad had an injury,” he said.
“Some people were crying because their own men were dead. That was the first time I experienced tear gas. I thought I was dead because it was choking. I didn’t know I would survive it.”
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Olu Jacobs: Education
Olu Jacobs got his First School Leaving Certificate from Holy Trinity School in Kano. He was an active member in the school’s debating and drama group, skills he honed while in the church.
“I was brought up in an Anglican faith and was a member of the choir,” he said.
“The church used to organize an annual programme where children of my age, mainly girls, danced and staged plays. Fascinated by this act, I told my mother one day that I could dance, and my mother relayed the message to my father.”
“When my father finally agreed, he came to the church to announce that his son was going to join the female dancers. I was the only male dancer in their mix. But to their greatest surprise, I did marvelously well, and everybody applauded me.”
Events like that prepared him for what he was about to become. However, the defining moment was the encounter with Hubert Ogunde’s cultural troupe in Kano.
“It was an experience I will never forget,” he said.
“By the time we got to the concert venue, everywhere was filled with spectators. Somehow, we could secure a little space there. And before we knew it, the light went off, and there was light music, dance, what Ogunde used to call Opening Groves.
“Even at that tender age, I could connect to the performance. When the dancers and Hubert Ogunde mounted the stage, I said to myself, this is what I’m going to do for a living whenever I grow up.”
When he told his father that acting would go from being a hobby to a profession and would love to go to England for studies, the man’s face must have gone red.
“Act? What? Is play work? If play is not work, how can you say you want to play?” he recalled his father saying.
His father not only objected but destroyed the passport photograph he gave him. That didn’t deter Olu Jacobs.
“Fortunately for me, my brothers were processing their own passports too, so they helped me secure my visa,” he said.
“The day I was ready to go, I was with them all morning. The train to Lagos was 12 pm, and I had smuggled my suitcase out the night before. By 10:30 am, I left home. But I was afraid my father might call my uncle in Lagos to stop me.
“But nothing happened. That was how I went to London. When I saw somebody going home, I sent a letter to my father with tobacco and three pipes. But unfortunately, I never saw him again.”
And the man also didn’t see his son bag a degree in theatre arts at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, RADA, in England, the United Kingdom.
Olu Jacobs: Career
Olu Jacobs is Nigeria’s most regarded active actor on stage, film, television, and video. But the journey started with a step. After a successful audition, he got a role in his first movie, The Vigilante, produced by AA Production. Many more roles followed as he gradually established himself as an actor of repute in several British TV series and shows in the 70s.
In 1971, he featured in the political tragedy and comedy play Murderous Angels, performed in that year’s edition of the Dublin Theatre Festival. Seven years later, Olu Jacobs played the role of President Mageeba in Night and Day, a Michael Codron’s presentation of British screenwriter Sir Tom Stoppard’s play.
Brilliant performances in Ashanti, Dogs of War, and Pirates confirmed the acting skills of this Ogun State-born actor. He played several roles like a Customs Officer in The Dogs of War, Col. Nsogbu in Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend, and Boomako in Pirates.
His TV series portfolio is quite impressive, too. Olu Jacobs featured in The Goodies (1971), Spyder’s Web (1972), Till Death Us Do Part (1974 and 1981), Barlow, The Venturers (both 1975), The Crezz, Centre Play (both 1976).
Olu Jacobs was Musa Ladipo in Angels (1976-1983). In 1978, he was featured in 1990, The Tomorrow People, Storyteller in Jackanory. A year later, he appeared in Ashanti, Sylvester in The Professionals, Not the Nine O’clock News.
Olu Jacobs was President Gadin in Squadron (1982), African Doctor in The Mad Death (1983), Mr Alabaster in The Witches and the Grinnygog, and Rumpole of the Bailey (both 1983); Play for Today (1984), and Inspector Best Idafa in our intro, The Third Eye.
After 20 years of great exploits in the British film landscape, Olu Jacobs came home to put his craft to work. In 1984, the Nigerian government invited him to help start a television series titled Second Chance. It became a major staple in most Nigerians’ television menus.
When Olu Jacobs embraced Nollywood, over 500 movies were birthed in various capacities. Olu Jacobs had an uncanny ability to morph into Igbo cosmology. He easily typecast a troubled Eze effectively. His imposing gait and a tremulous voice came in handy.
Olu Jacobs was featured in some movies below
Another Love (1996)
Twins of the Rain Forest, Oganigwe, Aba Riot, Endtime (all 1999)
Mission to Africa, Private Sin, The Kingmaker, Ago Kan Oru (all 2003)
Turn Table, Eye of the Gods (both 2004)
A Time to Die, Omaliko, One God One Nation, Opin Irin Ajo, Soul on Fire, To Love a Stranger, Ultimate Crisis, Women in Power, (all 2005)
Royal Doom, The Prince and Me, One-Bullet (all 2006)
The year 2007 was about his busiest, as he shot close to 40 videos that year alone. He started slowing down as he approached 70.
He still featured in a handful, like Power of a Kiss, Bent Arrows, Bitter Generation (all 2010); Sacred Lies (all 2011), Potomanto, Covert Operation (both 2013); Oba Ekpen in The Antique (2014), Oloibiri (2015), as Richard in The Royal Hibiscus Hotel (2017).
But Olu Jacobs would have been an also-ran or an average actor if not for his voice.
“My voice is my voice, and will always be my voice,” he said.
“I always work on my voice. All my students always work on their voices. That’s the vehicle you will use in conveying your meaning; that’s the power you have as an artist, apart from the way you look and your talent.”
Olu Jacob’s Wife
In 1989, Olu Jacobs married Nollywood actress Joke Silva. They met in Lagos when he was back from England.
Love was never on his mind while he was busy directing the premiere of Wole Soyinka’s Jero’s Metamorphosis to commemorate Nigeria’s 21st independence anniversary. But Joke Silva went from being one cast to one on the way home. If wishes were horses, though, he would have popped the question earlier.
“My regret is that I didn’t marry on time,” he said.
“I didn’t meet my wife at the time I was supposed to have met her. Couldn’t have gotten married because I was in England and never wanted to marry a white woman. Would not marry a non-Nigerian. I didn’t come home for a while and it meant that I didn’t have any serious girlfriend.”
A decade before her liaison with Brother Jero, Joke Silva had a major role starring with Colin Firth and Nia Long in the British-Canadian film The Secret Laughter of Women. But Olu Jacobs had a burst of secret laughter for another woman before her.
“When I was in primary four, I fell in love with my class teacher,” he said.
“One day, she came to introduce her fiancée to my parents and when I saw her, I was not happy. As a result, she never saw me in her class for another session. Yes, I would leave home for school, and after the morning devotion, while other pupils were retiring to their classes, I would disappear to God knows where, and never to be seen again.”
Poor Olu Jacobs!
But being in the same profession as one’s spouse may not be a provoker of three things, like Porter explained in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. However, it has its difficulties.
“We are only doing our jobs, and we are coping with its challenges. My wife is often on location, while I’m always on the road. So, we are busy people,” he said.
“There are lots of broken marriages in Nollywood. And it was rumoured some time ago that there was a crack in your own marriage. Why is this so? Because we are always in the eyes of the public, what we do becomes a public thing. The public did not ask us to show our faces on screen. We show our faces.
“Sometimes, we forget that we no longer belong to ourselves. We are owned by the public, and because of that, we have to be careful of what we do outside. Sometimes, we are careless concerning some things we do, and when we show that carelessness, it’s overblown out of proportion.”
What was also blown out of proportion for the duo was why his wife maintained her maiden name from 1989 and beyond. As usual, Olu Jacobs took the criticism in his stride.
“She is her own individual,” he said.
“When I met her, she was an actress known as Joke Silva, so why should marrying me now deny her and her audience her name? She is Miss Joke Silva, who is Mrs Jake Jacobs. It is as simple as that. People now say what they like. They have even written that we are separated and many kinds of stuff. When she is working, she is Joke Silva, but she is Mrs Joke Jacobs at home.”
Gladly, Olu Jacobs and Joke Silva have weathered the storm and have raised a generation of actors and actresses that have taken Nollywood to greater heights.
Olu Jacobs’s Children
Olu Jacobs and Joke Silva have three children – two boys and a girl. And they are part of the Jacobs acting troupe!
“They have at one time or the other featured in our plays,” he said.
“There are other parts of the business that they are into. There is the acting side and the managing side. For example, Soji, my first son, is the General Manager of the academy. I am the chairperson and my wife is the MD.”
The academy he’s referring to is the Olufodo Academy of Performing Arts. It existed informally for many years solely visiting privately owned schools and propagating the values of theatre to the young ones before becoming a full-blown academy.
“We are involved in training medium-class executives of corporate organizations (Lofodo consulting) There are quite a lot of young people who studied Theatre Arts at the University,” he said.
“But while studying, little or no attention is paid to the need for television aspect, which is the communication medium of today and of tomorrow. We only concentrate on theatre, which does not hold any future for us as a people.
“When I was in England, I was involved in TIE – Theatre In Education. I went from school to school to entertain as well as helped through drama to explain things and make them easier for children to understand and follow up.
“And when I returned to the country, I saw the need for me to introduce the same in our school system in Nigeria. When I did, the children in private schools liked it. The schools set a certain time aside, which is not the most satisfying way of doing it. Some parents kicked against it, but the pupils like the drama class that we are taking them on.”
Olu Jacobs’s Awards
Olu Jacobs was conferred with the Prix Charles Mensah award for his exceptional contribution to the development of the film industry in Africa. The award recognized his outstanding lifetime achievement as an actor of local and international standing.
Olu Jacobs is a recipient of all notable awards in Nigeria, including the Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards, AMVCA and Africa Movie Academy Awards, AMAA. In 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan conferred on him a national honour of the Member of the Federal Republic, MFR.
A Lifetime Achievement Award by Africa International Film Festival, AFRIFF, was given to him in 2021.
And it was there his illness came into public view.
Olu Jacobs’s Sickness
A photo collage of Joke Silva and the frail-looking Olu Jacobs during the AFRIFF sent shock waves to his friends and well-wishers. His wife had to clear the air in an interview.
“He is dealing with issues and it has been going on for a couple of years,” she said.
“It is known as dementia with Lewy Body. A degenerative disease that affects the brain, and it is almost like a Parkinson’s type of disease. It affects the brain so you don’t see the shaking. The person is affected.
“It’s been hard on him because he doesn’t understand what is going on and also about family members as well. We have gone through it over the past couple of years and we thank God.
“We have gone through some times and situations recently that I wish I had the old you here, so I don’t battle these times on my own, but we are grateful for the moment of clarity. I miss the times we worked together.”
That time may never come.
Olu Jacobs’s Net worth
Olu Jacobs’s estimated net worth is valued at $4 million. The godfather of Nigeria’s movie industry has paved a successful path for many emerging actors and actresses. He’s worth every cent and more.
Where is Olu Jacobs now?
Rumour had it he died in early 2021, but he ‘resurrected’ in November 2021 to receive his Lifetime Achievement Award at the AFRIFF. The news of his death was grossly exaggerated!
Olu Jacobs’s Social Media Handle
Before his health challenge took a toll on him, Olu Jacobs was very active on social media platforms, most especially on Instagram, where he has over 146, 000 followers. You can follow him on his Instagram handle via _olujacobs. But please, don’t ask things like Olu Jacobs’s burial photos, Olu Jacobs’s sickness, Olu Jacobs’s burial video, Is he still alive? Is Olu Jacobs dead?
The Nigerian movie industry has produced many veterans whose footprints have facilitated the rise of others. However, Olu Jacobs towers well above the rest, both in stature and substance.
This 80-year-old multi-award-winning actor, writer, producer, television personality, scriptwriter, television broadcaster, business executive and entrepreneur with over five decades of his life in bringing entertainment to many homes across the globe has paid his dues in the movie industry.
Olu Jacobs is highly respected and revered.