Giringori Akabogwu: “Okaa,Sir! my OON isn’t worth a Maggi cube
How may years have you put into this industry?
Well, I started being in the public eye from the age of eight. That was in 1948 and I started from being a member of choir in church and attending school concert until I picked it up and made it a professional thing.
Please, reflect on when you decided to go into the acting business and how easy or difficult it was for you?
I was inspired by my mother. So, it was inborn. Although, my mother was busy, she was a good comedian. She didn't know it. I didn't even know it myself. I was even angry with her until I knew there was nothing else I could do except what my mother was doing. So, it was in the university that it dawned on me and I gave it a dramatic form and it became the New Masquerade.
Which university was that?
University of Ibadan. We were the pioneer students of Theatre Arts.
What year did you finish from Ibadan?
1966. So, I just went into it because I knew it was God's own calling for me. I had to do that to make sure that people got entertained with what my mother was doing unknowingly. So, I couldn't imagine myself doing something else. Even when I was doing a big administrative job in the office.
You want to remember that office?
I was in the broadcasting house. I was the Deputy Director-General of the Broadcasting Corporation of Abia State (BCA). Even with that, I was still doing some acting. When the time comes I just remove my coat and go ahead to perform. BCA was my last station. I had worked in NBC, Lagos. I worked in other places, I was director of Arts Council when we were in Imo State and I moved over to
television when Abia was created.
I want to believe that The New Masquerade was your first television comedy programme.
Yes. I don't know for others but, with me, yes.
What are those memories you cherish about The New Masquerade?
Well, I wouldn't forget the fact that the programme itself was a kind of tonic for people's souls. It offered them a kind of break in their tension - charged atmosphere. People identified themselves with the programme because it was for the people and humanity. So, I am happy. It paid me by appreciating what I was doing, not money, not wealth, but they appreciated me, anywhere I went,... “Giringori! Giringori!!.” Actually I give the honour to my mother and father, who were running a theatre, unknown to them. So, when I got to the university and I was studying Drama, I realised that I could recast my family, my father's house, as a theatre and then all these other congregational friends of his like Jegede, Natty, etc. When they started playing their Ayo game in the evening, my father would be issuing out this malapropism which he called English and he was communicating. So, that's it.
Was your father's name also Jegede?
No, but he had a Yoruba friend. I just had to rename the guy Jegede.
New Masquerade was your baby, in terms of financial remuneration, how rewarded were you by the programme?
I got nothing. I got nothing. The NTA refused to pay me for creating the programme from which they have made so much money. They had an argument that I was their staff. But I didn't create New Masquerade when I was on NTA staff. It was there before I became their staff, because it was at the University of Ibadan that I conceptualized it. I pleaded with them to take it.
They were even afraid, until they saw four cans. After seeing four Cans, they asked me to produce. Those who asked them to try it were more than those who refused. But I was quite keen doing it. And then, it turned out that because I was their staff, I was not entitled to anything and I said to them, “When I was your staff also, I got married and had my children. Perhaps, one day you will come home and take my wife and children.” I am waiting for them.
With the emergence of Nollywood, what are you doing to come to the limelight again?
Yeah! If they call me and they feel it's what I could do, I would start doing it. I don't have to go back to school to be able to fill a good part now. If they call me and say, “Do this, or how do we do this?” I will give an idea. I am prepared to work for Nollywood.
How would you describe the cast of New Masquerade?
Well, they are true to type because I found them for what they were and I wrote for them for what I saw them to be and they acted themselves and they were quite happy. It was my technique, anyway. So, it didn't bother them at all. But they were happy. We were happy like a family.
What is your regret, anyway?
The regret is that I didn't realise anything. But I like the idea of being praised. The nation has honoured me with the national honour of Officer of the Order of Niger (OON). So, that is one thing I found okay. But it is not worth a Maggi cube (laughs).
How much do you miss Jegede Sokoya?
Terribly, terribly. Jegede was very good. I missed him so much. I cried. I have even written a film script and once I get a sponsor, I will no doubt run a tape on it. I titled it: No One Cried because nobody cried for Jegede. Even the press did not cry.
Is that about the only project you have at hand now?
I am designing a programme I want to present to the Federal Government for approval. The way we can attack corruption. We can do what South Africa did by eradicating apartheid. We can achieve that in Nigeria. If they accept my concept, I am sure we can go far in eradicating corruption through dramatic art.