Popular comedian, Atuyota Akporobomeriere, alias Ali Baba and his wife, Mary share the story of their marriage after a long separation. Read below
Tell me about your background
Mary: I grew up in Calabar, in a family of eight, seven were directly from my mom and I was the last child. Unfortunately, I lost my mum to cancer as I was about to get into the University. I refused to go to school for one year because of grief; as a result, I missed out on a whole session in the university. I eventually went to University of Benin to study Theatre Arts. I did my youth service in Citizens Bank before moving to Platinum Bank which later merged with Habib Bank to become Bank PHB.
Ali Baba: I was born in Warri, Delta State to a large family. I studied Religion and Philosophy at the Bendel State University. At a point, my father wanted me to change to Law but law took a long time and I thought there was no wisdom in wasting over six years on a course. When I refused to switch to law, my father became angry and refused to pay my school fees but by then, I was making more money as a comedian than the amount he gave me as pocket money. I did not dream of being a comedian. As a child, I wanted to do a lot of things; a military man because my dad was a military man, a Formula One driver because I used to see a lot of drivers in Volkswagen at that time, a pilot, an athlete and an actor because of Festac’77.
How did you discover your talent in comedy?
Ali Baba: I discovered my talent when I was in the university and I found myself on stage accidently. I always sat in the audience and threw jibes at the people on stage. One day, a particular group organised a show and there was no host, they asked me to go on stage and do whatever it would take to entertain the audience and that was how it started.
You have been in the industry for over two decades, what is your next move?
Ali Baba: I am moving on to the next level, leaving the scene for the young ones. One would not expect Obasanjo for instance, to contest for local government chairman position; no president wants to become a governor or senator.
When I turned 20 in the industry, I decided that I had attained some landmarks and it was time to leave a particular area. I left a particular level, you can’t call me now and say you have a N200,000 show and expect me to jump at it. There are people who need that amount of money. If you are on the level of N5m and you are still fighting with boys who need N200,000, then you are crowding up the scene and making it difficult for young people to grow.
You sometimes tell people that you are squatting with your wife, why do you say that?
Ali Baba: I say that to make fun of people who always think comedians are hungry people. We are not hungry but we like to maintain a low profile. We the older generation of comedians cannot live large, the way the younger ones do because we have other responsibilities.
How has marrying a banker affected you?
Ali Baba: My wife has been a blessing, she is the reason I come out sounding financially intelligent. She really balances me out. She is a thorough banker, who always weighs the opportunity cost and network value of any job I get. She is someone who has handled businesses for billionaires and key players in the capital market, so she knows the pros and cons of economic values and dynamics.
That means if you did not marry her you would have lost a lot.
Ali Baba: If I did not marry her, I probably might not have reached where I have reached and might have squandered a lot of my money. She is a gem.
Where did you meet her?
Ali Baba: I met her in a bank where I had gone to open an account. She was in charge of customer care at the time. Later on, a friend of mine who was also her cousin introduced us, within the same period; Citizens bank started using me for events. From then on, we started relating and she was giving me financial advice.
How did your relationship with Ali Baba develop?
Mary: He was a customer and I was his banker. I was drawn to him because he had the ability to simplify big issues and introduce laughter into difficult situations.
At what point did you see potentials in him?
Mary: Although he is a comedian whose business is to make people laugh, he always believed that being funny is serious business. There was that seriousness in him and determination to turn his laughter business into a major commercial success. As his banker, it was my duty to give him valuable financial advice along that line.
Does that also mean that you were hoping he would make the money and bring it back to your bank?
Mary: Not necessarily. I met him at work, he was a customer, I gave him the same kind of advice I gave to all the other customers. I counsel them on how to properly plan their finances and generate wealth for themselves.
Then along the line, customer and banker developed interest for each other?
Mary: (Breaks into pidgin) Na so we see am
Why did you choose him, out of all your other male customers?
Mary: I became interested in the person that he was. It was not about marrying Ali Baba, it was about marrying Atuyota as a person. I saw his qualities; the fact that he would make a good husband and father. In addition to that, his ability to make me laugh gave him an edge because I love to laugh.
Between being a Calabar lady, financial adviser and a beautiful woman, which of Mary’s attributes appealed to you most?
Ali Baba: I think it is all of them. She has a warm personality and air of availability about her, she is sexy, beautiful, very intelligent, has a great sense of humour and dress sense. She also has people skills. If you see her relating to a lot of people you would understand why she is in the business that she is in and why she is making inroads. She is also a family oriented person, just like me. Apart from that, she has been there and seen me through all my struggles.
And she does not have issues with your children from other women?
Ali Baba: She is like a mother to all of us. Remember I said earlier she is a family oriented woman. I call my her ‘my main man.’
Have you ever fought?
Ali Baba: Yes, we have had quarrels, we have had fights, we have parted ways and come back.
How long did you stay apart?
Ali Baba: We met in 1992, parted ways for several years before getting married in 2006.
He met you in 1992 and separated from you till 2006, in that length of time, why did you not marry somebody else?
Mary: Nobody else came!
Why did you not marry when she gave birth to your child when you were still dating?
Ali Baba: I was caught up in the moment, I was young, famous, I had money and therefore, did not know the people who loved me for myself. I was attracted to the glamorous ladies who wanted to wear expensive clothes and be seen as the queen of the place. I ignored Mary who always advised me on the need to save and invest because I felt that was a laid back idea, I felt that life was to be enjoyed.
You waited for him to come back after separating from you?
Mary: I was not waiting for him to come back but nobody gree marry me now, I go marry myself? And when he came back I said ah ha, you still dey? During that period of our separation, nobody found me.
Were you involved with both your former wife, Patricia Leone at the time you were with Mary?
Ali Baba: No. I was not. I got involved with Patricia in 1998; Mary was a good thing that I missed at first but I was fortunate to have a second opportunity with her.
A lot of people do not know that Mary had been there before Pat
Ali Baba: Mary has always been there. When Pat and I parted ways, Mary did not want to have anything to do with me; she felt I had gone my way, I argued with her that I was not married to Pat anymore. However, Mary and I had remained friends even when I was with Pat because we had a daughter together. I was fortunate to still meet her after the separation from Pat, she would have moved on or been married to another man.
What efforts did you make before she agreed to take you back?
Ali Baba: There were several people who talked to her; Aunty Shelley, Ekaette, Raliat and several others. It was quite tough convincing her especially considering the fact that I was coming from a marriage to Pat which ended in 2003. It took me three years of begging before Mary accepted me back.
Why did you give him such a tough time?
Mary: I just felt that since he had gone before, he was likely to leave again. I wanted to be sure it was not going to be another train ride. I guess at the time he came back, he was sure of what he wanted. I also had to put the child we had together into consideration. My first daughter is 15 years old. She was very happy when her daddy came back.
It must have been hard for you, having a child for a man, only for him to leave you to cope alone.
Mary: No. It was not hard.
It was not hard?
Mary: I moved on then. Dwelling does not help anybody. There was an initial sense of disappointment but thereafter, one has to pull oneself together and move on. You cannot take back a wasted day, so there is no point wasting it on something that you can’t do anything about. My daughter and my work gave me enough to be busy about. One cannot spend time sulking about a choice somebody else has made, no matter how hurtful it is.
Was that the attitude you adopted during those difficult years when friends abandoned you after you left bank PHB?
Mary: That was tough but it all goes to prove that challenges and disappointments are a part of existence.
But what has that taught you about friends?
Mary: Quite frankly, I have not learnt anything new about friendship. Even as a very young person, I have always been very realistic and philosophical about life. Friends, who abandoned me in my difficult moment only to come back when things improved, were human beings and at that time, they had just behaved typically. I don’t bear grudges because I believe that every situation in my life is God’s design. If people disappoint me, then God planted them in my life to disappoint me.
I know a lot of people and the fact that some people call themselves my friends does not mean I regard them as friends from my heart. I know my friends and my friends know me. I don’t begrudge anybody because in truth, I also don’t know what each person is going through. As a person, I have no expectations of people, that way, I don’t get overtly disappointed. There are few situations that will shake me and when something is not tragic, t is just another storyline in my life.
Now that she is your wife, how are the finances handled, do you operate a joint account?
Ali Baba: Yes but she runs the account, she decides what to do with the money that comes in, except when I have to keep some money back for my personal use. Some years ago, she stopped me from buying more cars, she said the children would need school fees and we needed to plan for the future.
What price does she pay for marrying a celebrity?
Ali Baba: It is a given that once you are a celebrity, some people would like your kind of person. My wife understands all that, her first degree was in Theatre Arts. At events, she encourages me to take pictures with ladies.
How do you handle a situation where female fans throw themselves at Ali Baba in your presence?
Mary: At such times I walk away and just watch from afar. I cannot do anything about that. We go for events and people turn up and want to take pictures and all that. It comes with the territory and I give him that space because he needs it.
How do you know when he is serious and when he is doing comedy?
Mary: He can’t act out his comedy in my house. Comedy is meant for the stage.
Tell us about your dress sense
Ali Baba: I dress according to the occasion, but I like dressing formally most times because of the class of people I encounter on a daily basis. It is important in our business that we look presentable at all times.
Mary: I am a great dresser; everything has to fit my body and the occasion. As a banker, my dressing is my selling point.
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