By SEGUN AJAYI
Died wretched, buried with a million naira casket is the saga of a rich fool in a home video entitled, Died Wretched. The flick produced by one of Nollywood’s pioneer producers, Chief Kenneth Nnebue of NEK Videos captures the folly of a young but rich man who watched his uncle and mentor die in penury but turned around to throw a lavish funeral for him.
The above scenario has been the lot of many Nigerian artistes who often die in poverty after giving all they have to their fatherland. Many actors, most especially, the veterans seem to suffer this fate. Legendary playwright, William Shakespeare in his classic, Macbeth describes this set of people, as “poor players who strut and fret their hours upon the stage, and were heard no more”. This is pitiable because these actors toil to put smiles on the faces of Nigerians but at the end of the day, have little to show for it. In a country where corruption thrives, the inspirational line in the national anthem that says, “the labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain” is inconsequential. The case of top actor, Enebeli Elebuwa of ‘Andrew must check out’ fame brings to mind how a nation dumps her heroes when they are needed most.
Here was an actor who inspired patriotism by urging Nigerians to stay back home and salvage the country only to be devoured by the very system he laboured to preserve. Although, ‘Andrew’ refused to check out in his prime, cruel fate eventually showed him the exit door. For several months, Elebuwa was bedridden and incapacitated by stroke in Lagos. In spite of several appeals for financial assistance to enable the ailing actor seek better treatment overseas; help was not forthcoming.
His continued battle with the debilitating ailment took him to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, from where he was eventually flown to India where he died a few weeks ago. Elebuwa’s death was a culmination of a nation’s insensitivity to the plight of her patriots. Another sad story of a country’s penchant for trifling with the lives of its heroes was that of late James Iroha aka Gringory of the rested TV comedy series, the New Masquerade. Early in the year, Iroha, 71, died in his village, Amaokwe Item in Bende Local Government Area of Abia State after repeated calls for financial assistance were unheeded by government.
His demise only reaffirmed that members of the creative community have become endangered species in contemporary Nigeria. Iroha, who created and directed the TV drama that ran for several years on national television, incidentally was the third among the major cast to pay the supreme price lately. Before then, Claudius Eke, (Jegede Sokoya) and his cantankerous wife, Apena (Christy Essien Igbokwe), died in 2006 and 2011 respectively. While Eke died of chronic diabetes, the acclaimed lady of songs passed away after a brief illness.
Even though, the likes of Iroha, Christy Essien-Igbokwe, Sam Loco Efe and Wale Ogunyemi were decorated with national honours, the awards did not put food on their tables. Chief Chika Okpalla popularly known as Chief Zebrudaya Okoroigwe Nwogbo alias 4.30, also of the New Masquerade fame, a garrulous individual, famous for his clumsy grammar, in his appraisal of his national honour once told The Sun in an interview: “I’m MON without the EY”. The tragic fate of some of Nigeria’s creative talents brings to the fore some nagging questions: What are the lives of Nigerian artistes actually worth? Are they only good for airport receptions, entertainment of guests at social functions, and after that heard no more? TS Weekend recalls the sordid tales of some stars of yesteryears who died in distress.
They include Joe Layode aka Mr. Garuba of the Village Headmaster fame, Wale Ogunyemi, renowned playwright and dramatist, James Iroha aka Gringory, veteran actor, Sam Loco-Efe, actress, Remi Abiola, Laide Adewale, Francis Agu, and Pati Obasi among others.
James Iroha (Gringory) Shortly before his death in February this year, James Iroha had sent a save-our-soul to Nigerians over his health and financial conditions. The newspapers were awash with stories of his deteriorating health and his inability to pay his medical bills. At the time, the 1966 graduate of the University of Ibadan was visually impaired. He needed to undergo operations for glaucoma affliction but help did not come. Iroha, who alongside Clarus (who is also currently visually impaired) entertained Nigerians with their roles as clumsy house-helps in Chief Zebrudaya’s house in The New Masquerade, was denied help by Nigerians. In spite of his many cries, nobody cared a hoot. He once told reporters: “There’s nothing between poverty and I; I’m nose-to-nose with poverty”. Iroha eventually died unsung in his hometown, Item, Abia State. Claudius Eke (Jegede Sokoya) As if the New Masquerade cast were plagued by despicable fate, Iroha’s acolyte and support cast in the popular TV series, Eke, succumbed to chronic diabetes some years back. Like his compatriot, Eke was literally living from hand to mouth in his later years. Following the resting the New Masquerade, which gave him fame without cash, Eke’s calls for help when he took ill got no response until his death.
Joe Layode (Garuba) Until his death on December 9, 2006, at 78, Joe Layode aka Garuba of the Village Headmaster fame ruled the airwaves like a colossus in the ‘70s and ‘80s. However, at his old age, the garrulous no-nonsense teacher in Oja Primary School was a recluse. He was holed up in his flat in Iba Housing Estate where he lived with one of his daughters. Although, he told this reporter during an encounter that he engaged in script writing and rendered consultancy services to younger artistes, the jobs were inadequate to put food on his table. In order to put body and soul together, Garuba joined the home video bandwagon, which saw him featuring in flicks like King of Money, Oracle, and Sango. From all indications, Layode was embittered by the nation he once gave his all. He hardly interacted with neighbours and if he had cause to go out, he did that under the cover of darkness.
He would not even open his door for journalists if only to underscore his resentment for the society and its people. Layode finally gave up the ghost in December 2006 and was buried without fanfare. Wale Ogunyemi (MON) Award-winning playwright and actor, Wale Ogunyemi broke into television in the ‘70s with plays like The Vow, Are Akogun (a Yoruba adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth) (1969), Ijaye War (1970), Kiriji War, and The Divorce (1977). Ogunyemi, who was born in Igbajo, Osun State in 1939, will always be remembered for writing Langbodo, Nigeria’s drama entry for FECTAC 77. At the time he appeared in Professor Wole Soyinka’s King Baabu, little did he know that his ailing health could not sustain a world tour of the political drama. He took ill shortly after and died on December 2001 after a brief illness. He was 62.
Efe Sam Loco shot into the limelight way back in 1977 when he played the lead role, Akaraogun, in Wale Ogunyemi’s Langbodo. Renowned theatre scholar and director, Professor Dapo Adelugba, directed the drama. The performance was adjudged the best during the festival. Although, Sam was listed in Nigeria’s Movie Hall of Fame and bagged a national award, but typical of such honours, they lack financial backing. Sam Loco-Efe, who died at 69, only breathed the air of financial freedom with the boom of Nollywood. But what measure of success could be ascribed to a composite artiste who for four decades bestrode Nigeria’s entertainment landscape like a colossus? Sam Loco’s fame and popularity not withstanding, he died a struggling man last year. He was shooting a film in Owerri, Imo State when he slumped and died in a hotel room. Harry Mosco The death of pop legend, Harry Mosco on Tuesday, March 20, 2012 in Egypt where he was receiving treatment for an undisclosed ailment came on the heels of the demise of James Iroha.
Meanwhile, his passage differed slightly from those of his colleagues considering the circumstances. Although, distraught at the latter part of his life, Mosco who led the wave-making Funkies Band in the ‘70s and ‘80s, was heart-broken when his heartthrob, Edugie dumped him for renowned politician and businessman, Arthur Nzeribe. The musician never recovered from the shock as he was literally pronounced dead long before his death.
However, his career had started witnessing a downturn by the time the politician came into the picture. Deserted and lonely, Mosco’s life came crashing when he could not send his kids to school which left him with no option than to allow his estranged wife take custody of the children. He was reportedly shattered by the trend of events such that attempts to re-launch his music career failed. The Sugarcane Baby and Country Boy singer, who was resident in Akute, a border community between Lagos and Ogun States, fell ill before help came through his son who flew him to Cairo, Egypt, for treatment where he died. Remi Abiola Her name gave her away as one of the many wives of the business mogul, the late Chief M.K.O Abiola.
She was a popular face in the Yoruba genre of Nollywood, notably for her motherly roles. The mother of one who lived in Jakande Estate, Ipaja, Lagos State, before she relocated to the United States in 2008 reportedly died of lung cancer on July 29, of the following year. She was aged 56. Perhaps, if Nigeria had smiled on the talented actress, she wouldn’t have relocated to the US at the time she did. Abiola had to square up to the challenges of settling down to a new life as an immigrant, which compelled her to take up a menial job. She was at work when she slumped and went into coma. The actress was rushed to the hospital but she did not make it.
Francis Agu Prior to his death on March 20, 2007, Francis Agu, a suave actor, belonged to the first generation of Nollywood actors who made their marks in the industry. He, alongside the likes Kanayo O. Kanayo (KOK), Kenneth Okonkwo, Charles Okafor, and Bob-Manuel Udokwu featured in Living In Bondage, the chart buster movie produced by Chief Kenneth Nnebue in the early 1990s. Before then, he was a popular face on Checkmate, a famous sit-com produced by Amaka Igwe also in the early 1990s. Agu suddenly disappeared from the scene at the turn the century only for his fans to learn about his ailing health later. Initially, he was hospitalised in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital. Unfortunately, his health condition did not attract any noise such as to attract financial assistance for better medical treatment.
By the time he was transferred to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) in 2006, his condition had worsened. With little financial aid forthcoming, the actor eventually passed away in 2007.
Pati Obasi Remember him? Pati Obasi of the Mammy Water fame. For sometime the gospel singer has been down with renal failure without help coming from nowhere. He passed away last month in Enugu and he’s yet to be buried. Davies Ofor and James Uche It is not enough to roll out the drums after these stars are gone when much can be done while they are alive. Iroha’s screen partner, Davies Ofor (Clarus) has been blind for 10 years in Aba, Abia State. Another actor, Prince James Uche, has been bedridden for more than a year also in Abia State. Isn’t it time for the Abia State government and public-spirited Nigerians to come to their aid and save their lives?