Interview

INTERVIEW: My purpose at ‘The Johnsons’ has been served – Samuel Ajibola (Spiff) explains why he exits the popular TV show

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Pediatricians say at age 6, parents can’t help but worry if their children are growing at the right pace. At this stage, a child is just being able to follow three commands in a row and string a sentence with five to seven words together. 

But there are some special children who pass the milestone expected of a 6-year-old child. 

And Nigeria’s- Samuel Ajibola is one who defies this logic – Not long after one of his aunties discovered he had that gift of expressing emotions, she drafted him into one of the defining auditions of his career.

She took him to renowned filmmaker Opa Williams, and made him pitch why he was the best child actor deserving of a movie role and that move earned him a place at Williams iconic movie – Tears for Love at the age of 6

That debut kick-started the acting career of one of Nigeria’s favorite characters on television and he has consistently done so for the last 25 years, with three best ‘Best Kid Actor’ of the year and multiple awards – he does not only has the attention of Nollywood movie lovers but has become the reason why some stick to their Television to watch him perform.

Recently, Samuel, known as ‘Spiff’ by millions of his fans for his character on Africa Magic’s “The Johnsons” series, announced that he is quitting the role. Seeking to provide needed answers to the many questions that have trailed the announcement, NewsWireNGR reached out to Mr Samuel Ajibola on the WHAT, WHY he has decided to take a walk from series. 

Here he filled us in on his acting career, his creative process and why he made the decision to quit The Johnsons.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.


  • I’m probably one of the few people to call you Samuel, how does it feel to have been called ‘Spiff’ for the past 10 years? 

Well, let me say that I understand that here in Nigeria one of the things actors suffer is the fact that the audience who appreciate their performance tends to see these actors in the light of the characters they play rather than them being actors.

So I choose not to take offence because I understand it is mostly coming from a place of love. But then you can’t take away these things. It’s just one of the ways they call Funke Akindele – Jenifa. 

  • Where did you grow up and how was growing up like for you?

I grew up in Surulere. I am a regular Surulere boy to the world.

I had great parents, great parenting and had siblings at a very young age. From primary school, I had already developed a very high sense of responsibility. I went to one of the finest schools in terms of discipline and knowledge. Let’s just say I’ve had a very great background. 

I came from a very spiritual background, I have  Christian parents that brought us up in the light. 

  • You starred in a movie when you were 6, what was your earliest acting memory?

Well, I can vividly remember how it started. A child of 6, 7 years-old already knows to a fair degree left from right. I started with an experience that happened in church where I was called on to play the role of Samuel. I don’t know whether it’s a coincidence that I played the role because my name is Samuel. But it so happened that I had a big aunty who was already in the industry that was in my church who was going to realize that I seemed to be blessed with the talent of delivering lines, expressions, and all that. And she was quick to recommend me for my first movie- Tears for Love. 

I remember vividly when I was called upon to the office of Mr. Opa Williams who is the executive producer of ‘Virgin Productions’ which is one of the biggest houses that were making films. 

So I remember him vividly calling me to his office, you know giving me a few scenarios to play. Just trying to see my expressions and I’m very sure he was very proud of my performance and that’s what gave him the decision to make me star in my first film – Tears for Love. 

  • Despite earning a star role at age 6 and working with a-list actors afterwards, you still first went to the University to study a conventional course. So does it mean you felt this acting thing would be a side hustle?

In my opinion, you find out that in the industry, we have some set of actors who actually studied theatre arts you know there are quite a number of actors who didn’t even study anything acting but they got into the industry by virtue of time, being in the right place at the right time or just you being recognised for the talent.

So I would say I was one of them because conventionally, growing up, I wanted to become a lot of things. In my primary school, I wanted to become a veterinary doctor, then a mechanical engineer. By the time I entered secondary school, I wanted to do business administration. But when it was time to enter university, I was offered what I eventually studied- Political Science. 

Somehow I feel like it was something I’m naturally drawn to because right from secondary school, I started offering courses like Literature in English, Government, Commerce, and other art subjects. 

Then again, I still went ahead to get some of the best knowledge that has helped my acting career in Film School and that till today has been the landmark of some of the great characters in which I portray today because prior before then I was just acting myself, you know portraying characters in the way I felt, but acting opened my eyes into understanding the beauty of acting and you know character interpretation and so on.

  • How did you bag your SPIFF role at The Johnsons?

After I had taken a 6-year hiatus from acting from 2003- 2009. I got back into the industry as a young adult. And so I started the hustle back into the industry in 2009. I started with auditions, I started acting, got referred by a couple of people and by 2011, I attended a Tinsel audition . Tinsel audition was like the biggest thing in Lagos back then, so I went for the audition. I wasn’t picked but then I didn’t know I was preserved for ‘The Johnsons’ which was more of a new television series that had more younger characters in it

.

So I got a call from them asking me to come for an audition and I went for the audition and I came back for several calls until I found myself in the final audition. 

I was, I mean I picked the name of Spiff because there was this scenario where. You know Spiff eventually came into the show as an adopted family.

Initially, the whole story was centred around the main family and Efe. You know who was always having issues in school with bullies. And then coming home and meeting a lot of drama and all that.

So Spiff was among them. Spiff was initially supposed to work with Abulu but in the casting, the director just asked me to merge the two and pick one character. I feel Spiff would stick more on people’s minds. So I just picked Spiff to deliver and so the journey started.

  • How did being Spiff change your life? 

Well, to be very honest, ‘The Johnsons’ platform has been up to date the most significant platform I have had experience of portraying myself as an actor. It’s been a big show and I’m grateful to MultiChoice for giving me, it’s been a wonderful ride. It’s a daily show being shown on a Cable Network that has a lot of people watching. In fact, not just in Nigeria. But over there to other African countries. So it’s quite a big platform and it was just the right avenue for me. Just one of the many sides to my creativity and talent when it comes to you know interpreting characters.

I’ve also done a couple of jobs that people have seen, recognised and appreciated the characters I played in them. An example is The Call, a movie by my friend and colleague, Woli Arole. That was also something that gave me the opportunity to display different characters entirely and anytime Stiff fans that watch, they open their mind and say oh this guy is not just this, he can become other characters. This is another unique character but all in all it’s been the biggest platform I got on. It has gotten me loads of my awards and from then till now, it is a , it’s something I won’t forget in a long while. I mean I’ve been on the show for 10 years, almost 10 years. 

I’ve had a decade, so it’s more of a very significant part of my story and my life.

  • The Spiff character is a very interesting character and for some of us who follow back stories of foreign actors, we hear the lengths they had to go through to kill a role. For example, that Joker guy 

Yes, Heath Ledger

  • Yes, he had to lock himself up in a room to get the mannerism needed for Joker. What weird things did you do on the back end to kill that Spiff role?

Well, The Johnsons had already started as a television before I got the knowledge that I currently have on interpreting characters through an acting course in the Centre for Excellence in Film and Media Studies under the tutelage of the late Amaka Igwe (may her soul rest in peace). 

We had done the first season of the show and I just played myself like I used to. Then the second season came and before the second season, I had just come out of that acting course and so my head was still boiling out of knowledge, of things like he mentioned like what actors have done in the past to be able to portray credible performances in characters in roles.

So I for one had studied various successful actors, Hollywood actors because those are where I tend to learn from. I learnt a lot from a lot of great Hollywood actors. For example, Christian Bale and even Denzel Washington. I’ve watched a lot of their movies and learnt a lot about their characters and how they portrayed various characters. Johnny Depp too, another important man. I watch a lot of Johnny Depp movies. In fact, I think I watch more Johnny Depp, more Denzel and more.

So my mind was still boiling with characters, so I sat down and understood that my body is my workshop as an actor because with all of my body, I could just put things together and just come up with a unique character. 

So I sat down and worked on mannerism and so many things. And I put it together and while we got on set in the beginning of the second season, I walked up to the director and I said sir, there is this input I have created for the character. Would you just let me try it and see. He said go ahead and he gave me the freewill. 

While we were still shooting that very first scene, both the co-actors, the crew members, and everyone around, students, were already laughing and I knew it was already a successful one. All I just needed to do was to maintain consistency. And that was what I used over the years to push the consistency to the point where I am today.

  • Why did you say you wanted to move and what next should we expect from you?

It’s very important for one to know who he is and where he is going. These two things can help a lot of people to achieve and become successful things in life. I’m one that knows who I am. I’m very creative, gifted, and talented. I’m not one that likes to you know be in a position for too long. I’m not one that likes to settle down in my comfort zone. I’m always adventurous, looking for new challenges you know and that has been part of me.

So, this decision did not just come up when I posted it about the news. It’s been something I’ve been giving conscious thoughts to for years now. You know, for more than 2, 3 years, if I think about it, I thought about the fans, how they would feel. I thought about the family on the show. I thought about various things but at the end of the day, change is painful but nothing is more painful than staying in a place where you don’t belong. And so, I sacrificed, I gave it my very best and all in terms of creativity, mannerism, giving people some of the principles that even led me to creating those characters, the mannerism of the characters which was pinned in the idea of you know we are going through a lot in Africa, in terms of stark poverty, poor health care systems, you know, bad leadership. If we cannot even afford a proper health care system that can take it to our people, at least laughter is a medicine. It heals people for me and that was one of the driving forces that pushed me into maintaining that consistency. 

I’ve had testimonies of people that told me how the Spiff character has helped them battle high-blood pressure, you know and all sorts of things that may be wrong with them. So while that has fulfilled the purpose, I’m at a point where I feel I’ve fulfilled my purpose on the show. And it’s time for me to go and fulfill other God-given purposes because time is essential to everything. There is time for everything under the earth. So it’s time for people to see me in a new light. It’s time for people to see the other sides of me. I’m not just you know just entertainment and art, I have great skills in leadership, I have skills in so many other things. I have so many other things that are driving me beyond just acting.

I have not quit acting, I don’t think I will quit in a long while because I really do enjoy it. Ehrm, I feel I was also called for it. I’m also moving into other dimensions in the industry. You know, so that is my reason for leaving.

I think I have also mentioned other things that I am working on, no specifics for now.  I mean when it’s time they will all just keep on unveiling, unveiling and unveiling.

  • So there’s nothing you’re doing now, you’re just chilling?

I am working oh. 

  • You’re looking fresh. Does that mean you’re just chilling?

I am more busy now than I have left.

  • What are the things keeping you busy? 

Okay, I was recently at the national assembly’s constitutional review happening in the zonal region. It happened in Lagos.The other day, I went to inspire students of LASU with my story. 

I’m also granting interviews.

I’m working on a couple of projects. But I’m also a child education enthusiast.  I did a write up on children’s day on my page. So I have so many things now that I now have the time to do and that’s what I really want to do myself. That’s what’s really making me happy right now.

  • What was your biggest win in your stint at ‘The Johnsons’?

For me, I wouldn’t say it’s the award I won from the show because I have a twisted orientation about awards. 

My biggest win for me is 2 things. First one is the fact that the character is therapeutic and healing in nature. That for me is a lot because there are a lot of testimonies from people that have really had their lives become better from just watching comedy and laughing.

The second thing for me is about the joy I get when I discover that some or the fans actually think that the character I play is real and when they get to meet me, they see I’m a different person entirely. It means that I have been able to do my work so well as an actor to make them believe that that character really exists. Those two things have been fulfilling for me. 

  • I noticed you’ve been doing a daily series, Dele issues on Samuel Ajibola TV. That’s also a comedy. Does that mean comedy is your forte as an actor?

Well, I have always had a funny side to my own personality beyond the character. I didn’t realise that I had the potential of having a strong contact because prior to ‘The Johnsons’, most of the jobs I had done were not comedy. They were drama, do you get?

But as when the show came in,  I saw that I could milk with this.  I have a funny side and I could just milk this. It now began and then I realized over time. But I’m not one that wants to be stereotyped into a box of just being a comic actor. I am an actor in general and a modern actor to be specific. I can portray any character. I am looking forward to people seeing me act as a psychopath or a serial killer or a you know just something different from what they used to know me and I am that kind of actor that can go well into such characters and bring out the best out of it. So it doesn’t matter. Well, comedy seems to be thriving right now, yea. But that’s not all I can do. I’m an actor in general.

  • Looking back, what were the biggest mistakes you recall yourself making and you would advise people to stop to avoid those mistakes?

Well, If you’re still acting and you’re going through school, I’ll advise that you find a way to finish your education. At least, to the university level or the masters level which I personally would advise any Nigerian because B.sc no dey hold water again for this country. 

I’m currently doing my masters too so I’m currently using that to make people see education as a light. While people might think yes, what are you using this school for?

The way a primary school student thinks and the way a secondary school student thinks is different. The fact that you finished primary school and you went to secondary school, the environment, the people you meet, they would be on a different level of thinking, that would also help you to think that way

The same goes for someone that is schooling in secondary school and someone that is in university. Even if that person came out with third class, his orientation would have changed from someone that just finished secondary school. And it goes further and further ahead.

It also has other benefits to it. There are some certain positions you apply for or things you want to achieve in life and these qualifications are part of the requirement. 

Beyond just education too, another advice I’ll give people that are entering the industry is that you should not live above your means, don’t try to impress people and then put yourself in a box whereby you’re catching up to meet the expectations of people about you.

Be who you are, as simple as you are. Dress simply, don’t borrow clothes, don’t try to impress people. 

Humility is very important in this. Humility and hardwork. I mean if you follow the fastest way up, your success would not last because you don’t have the experience that comes with following a single growth. So following a senew growth would allow you to see all the loopholes in your field of study or in your place or centralisation.

And then most importantly, I advise people to be very spiritual. Hold on to God. He is the best thing that can help you in terms of direction and he can help you too to achieve faster and what he has proposed for you. 

  • Who are your role models in the industry? 

Most of them are in Hollywood and there are a few of the Nollywood that I really do, I would not just say Nollywood but in different fields of study that I really value. But let me look at a few from Nollywood. I can mention some of my Nollywood actors that I look up to here.

I really appreciate the hard work of people like Funke Akindele, Kunle Afolayan, they’ve done great and great things and they are just you know, showing the world that there is so much you can achieve in this field.

I also like Fela Durotoye, he has a fantastic personality. I like lots of Pastor E.A Adeboye, he is a great model. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, he is a great model to me. He is not just you know , he is taking me as a father, he is a mentor, he is putting me in the light of things I’m loving about leadership. So I have so many role models scattered in different places . It depends on the relevance and the things I’m learning from them determines these people as my role model. So there are so many, there are some that might even have not mentioned right now that I have forgotten. Barack Obama is also one of them too. I have met African great leaders and I also look forward to Kwame Nkrumah. There are so many guys I have read about and I am really impressed by what they’ve done for us in this world.

  • When you discuss, I see you have a passion for leadership 

Well, I have a huge concern beyond just being a natural born leader and it is , I’m the first son in my family, I’m a natural born leader. My own personality is one that is self-sacrificing and tends to look for how to make better use of the large population and that kind of person that thinks of a lot of people, not just myself. And because of my passion for children, I’m compelled to know follow up roles of leadership. What does that mean?

I’m concerned about the situation of education in this country. Starting from the fact that we have about 10.1 million children who have never schooled. That figure alone is more than 5 European countries put together. That’s a whole lot of destinies that are being truncated. These kids don’t have the right foundation to be able to come up and become productive people to this society. It takes away from us, whether we like it or not because the current youth that we have are a product of that old educational problem. That was what Obafemi Awolowo was trying to solve when he was in for Free education in Nigeria because he knew that an educated person is an equipped mind to perform in a society.

So I have that passion for that. Also beyond that, the fact that we have some of the lowest budget for education in Nigeria that seems to be the giant of Africa is appalling. Nigeria has been moving between 5-7 percent of our national budget for education when some countries like South Africa have been doing at least 20 percent or so. I’m not really sure about the figures in the last 20 years. This shows that the input countries put into education helps their society to grow. Japan is a fantastic example. In Japan, they have no national resources. What their leaders do is invest in the minds of young people, in the minds of their children through education and technology and right now there is almost nowhere in the world where , almost no building in the world that doesn’t have at least ten to hundreds of Japanese components in them. I’m using my phone to talk, it’s a Japanese component. My watch, they’ve been able to just take over the world and become a global force to reckon with through education and if Nigerians with all innovations that we have because Nigerians are very innovative people. Some of the most educated people, American the other day on CNN announced how many Nigerians in America are quite educated, they are a large number compared to even their own citizens. It shows that we have people that have a very great mind, all we don’t have is good leadership and that has been the problem of Nigeria for quite a while. So imagine the limitless possibilities we can have with being able to tap through the innovation of these youths. So I am desperate, I’m passionate, I’m enthusiastic about leadership and I’m working on saving their future. It’s part of the things that I’m passionate about.

  • It’s difficult to create real change without getting into politics. Are we likely going to see you contest political positions soon?

Like I mentioned, if at all for nothing, I am at least qualified in terms of the fact that I studied Political science in the University of Lagos for 4 years

Beyond that I am rounding up my Master right now in Public Administration. So I have a lot of knowledge to offer. I’m a creative person, I’m very innovative, very analytical. You know I see myself as one of the finest brains that this country has provided through its own educational system, so why can’t I with the voice I have be able to contribute meaningfully to my society? I mean I’m the kind of person that doesn’t think financial wealth or success is the aim of everything for me. For me, what I can impact in the minds of people would be a greater greater fulfillment for me than anything I’ve achieved financially. And that is my aim, that is what’s driving me , and by the grace of God I’m looking forward to making a tremendous impact in my community, in my state and mostly, in my nation.

  • What are those pains you go through to remain a fantastic actor?

I’m someone that does a lot of research. Before I come on set to deliver, I’ve done research on the characters I’m about to play. So that takes time , working on the script and all that. 

Acting itself is a very stressful job. I don’t know if people know about it but it’s very stressful. I mean a scene, just a scene that you guys watch for 5 minutes, we sometimes do it for about an hour. Different cuts, different takes, sometimes we do late night shoots till the morning.

It’s a very stressful job, and it’s not like acting pays like it does in Hollywood. So a lot of people are just doing it for the passion and not what it’s bringing, do you get?  Maybe when you’ve earned a known name, you can now start earning good. But when you start your career, it will be something that should just be part of things that you’re doing to survive, I won’t advise you to take it as the only thing you have running. You should have other business to sustain . All in all, I mean another thing too is how it makes you feel, it takes away your private life. You can’t just wear bathroom slippers and go out and go and buy akara. Some people even judge you for taking and taking. I don’t know why people think celebrities are not to be taking okada or breathing the same air or moving the same ground. You know it just increases the expectation of people towards you. 

  • I notice you shy away from mentioning your age in many interviews. I mean there were many speculations about your age … Why is it that part of your life you left to guesses?

(Laughs) This is a very wonderful question. Well, initially, I didn’t put out my age because I wanted to let a people wonder and also because of some reasons in my career, I kept it away

A lot of people still do see me as a young person even when I got married, people were saying ha is he not too young? 

I like to tell people that I am the Pharrell of Nigeria. I know where the fountain of youth is and that is why I look almost ten years younger than my age. But recently, I came out and told my age on my Instagram page. I am 33 years old.  I was born December 26, 1987, boxing day and that’s that about that.

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