by Onyeka Nwelue
Approaching late evening, on a busy lane, driving into the University of Lagos campus, there are five of us in the car: Dear Mother actor, David Nnaji, Naija Sings debut winner, Jon Ogah, dark-skinned and soft-spoken actor, Seun Ajayi, myself and AMBO 4 winner, Wole Ojo, who is behind the steering-wheel of the Honda car.
Wole looks perky and a bit angry. Infact, he’s angry, but trying very hard not to show it. He’s angry with what’s been happening to the careers of most young entertainers and celebrities in Nigeria.
He feels a bit disillusioned, and this brings up a discussion of the Nigerian Breweries movie, The Child, directed by Izu Ojukwu; starring veteran actor, Alex Usifo, two multitalented actresses, Bukky Ajayi and Joke Jacobs, with a special introduction of Wole himself. For all we know, no one has gone to the cinemas to buy tickets to see The Child.
We try not to discuss it until we get something to eat, for a hungry man is an angry man. We get to a restaurant on campus and order food. When we’re done, we drive to Masaba Close, where Wole lives.
Wole Ojo has an oratorical prowess that makes anyone want to listen to him; he speaks straight from the heart, and you can see the anger spilling from his words. “They make empty promises. We will enter it for this film festival and that film festival,” he begins, “and then you realize they are lying.”
He’s concerned about his career, which is why he’s concerned about the film projects he’s been a part of. He is a great actor, the reason why Tunde Kelani cast him for a major role in his work-in-progress, Ma’ami, an adaptation of Professor Femi Osofisan’s work. “Tunde Kelani is a selfless man. And you will see that this new film is being widely covered in the media and you believe him.”
At the Africa Academy Movie Awards 2010, ‘The Child’ was nominated and won awards, but it seems that only ‘special premieres’ of the film have been held, so, any actor on the project would be permitted to feel perturbed and completely disturbed.
“This is one movie that people are waiting for,” he laments. “When people see me, they ask me, ‘When is your movie coming out?’ and I don’t know what to say.”
Soft-spoken actor, Seun Ajayi begins to speak. But before he does that, I interrupt him to ask a question that has been bothering me since I met him a long time ago: “I understand your room is stacked with books?” I’m bothered because he speaks very polished English with a charming accent that would make any listener turn his head in his direction. Maybe, he doesn’t know this, or maybe he’s acting up like other actors? “You get a car and money and they think you are fine with that,” he says.
This is where Wole bursts open. He is angered by that fact that when he tried to speak to the people at the Nigerian Breweries, they shut him up: “They feel they made you. They picked you up from the gutters. You get two million naira and that means they have done you the greatest favour in the world,” he spits out some more brimstones. “Can you imagine that even until now, The Child is not in the cinemas? And this is one of the best movies of the year?”
Could it be because The Child wasn’t made by an independent filmmaker, who would have been more concerned about recouping his ventures? Of course, Wole wants success and he’s working towards it. He has a serious fear of failure. Now that he has graduated from UNILAG, he has his mind set completely on ‘success’. Would he have to fail, he has himself to blame. The history of filmmaking in Nigeria is littered with examples of actors who don’t reach the summit or those who try to get there and fall off.
Infact, it is a very competitive market, and the best thing any actor can do for himself is to keep himself in the public’s eye. “I thought that by now, we must have seen the movie in the cinemas. What do you get?” David Nnaji doesn’t speak much. He doesn’t contribute, because he’s slightly scared of the recorder. Sometimes actors are skeptical of what they say in public. Or maybe they don’t want to hurt their fans by speaking up?
We get visitors in Wole’s room and I start feeling uncomfortable, for my interview session has been cut short. A bit apalled, I listen to them speak about how degenerating the movie industry has become. It hurts. These feelings are not supposed to be for actors, our entertainers; the people who make us laugh and smile.
“I want to support young people like myself,” Jon cuts in passionately; now we are back in the car and are heading to the party organized by MNet in honour of Uti Nwachukwu who just won the Big Brother Africa Reality TV contest. “I want us to help ourselves. We don’t really need the old people. If we help ourselves, we can get this movie thing going and our careers will be in check. Young people should come together and help themselves.”
I hear him and I’m moved, but I’m more bothered about my IV to gain entrance into the Uti party. Not that I don’t think they’re not bothered too, but they are not showing it. They are stars, they are celebrities, so they can just get to the gate and be allowed in, because their ‘legends precede them.’ So, I’m making incessant phone calls and it seems nothing is working for me. I try to hold myself. Who knows me? And who would have thought of sending me IVs to attend such a party? I was right.
We’re at Rehab on Ajose Adeogun. Wole makes a phone call. Seun has gone to church. He couldn’t come with us. Jon makes a phone call. Their tickets are ready. I just laugh.
Lucky for me I spot a good friend of mine, a professional photographer. He wants to know why I’m standing outside. I tell him why. He sighs, goes back into the building and comes back with two tickets. I want to laugh, but I hold myself back. Now, it’s time to go in. Such is the power of celebrity.
However the question still remains: where is The Child?