I grew up with my grand mother. It has a very strong bearing on my world view today. A lot of people believe I am very conservative. You can't find me in a nite club or at night parties. You won't see me where people are fighting or having a violent argument. You will never see me in a beer parlour. My grand mother was a very strong Christian. Her name is Imaguelo Ifake who lives in Ohodua, Esan South East LGA. I come from Urowa, a small village near Emu. My grand father was the king of my place so I am from the royal family.
Fond memories of granny
My father is an only child of my grand mother before she remarried to another man. I was sent to her to keep her company. So I ended up living with her. I didn't really know that my own mother was there until I had grown up. Because of living with my granny, I do not drink, neither do I smoke. I have never tasted any of those things in my life. But it does not make those who take them sinners.
Majority of my friends smoke and drink alcohol. In those good old days, my granny would wake me up in the middle of the night when I may have engaged in a quarrel earlier on in the day time and warn me to remember the son of whom I was. She tells me 'your father is in Lagos and had entrusted you to me so don't quarrel with anyone' Each time I want to take certain decisions, the voice rings in my subconscious. She told folk tales to instil good moral and discipline, I remember one particular day, I was assigned to go to evening service. I saw my friends playing so I was enticed to play one or two sets before trudging along. From one set, I did a second, to the third. Before, I knew it, the time was 7.30p.m. The service was over. I started crying because it was a major offence. When she came home, I couldn't face her. Yet she didn't talk about it. She gave me my food and all I needed. I was shocked because even while I was eating, I was still expecting the whip. She woke me up in the middle of the night and told me a parable about a very religious man who went to church every time. But one day he didn't go to church. According to her, it was that very day the man didn't go to church that Christ came and took others away. He was not there. I prayed to God that night to postpone the evil day so I could atone for my sins. So ever since, I have never missed the church, I was seven years old then.
Lawyer or Artiste?
I had always wanted to be a lawyer. I only stumbled on theatre arts, it was by sheer accident you won't believe it. I had actually missed going to the University because I was waiting to study law. I rejected a mass communication admission. Even though I had been a lover of literary studies.
It was when I attended Prof. Bode Osoyin's writer's resort which held monthly at Ijoko, Ota in 1992 that my life and destiny was changed. The special guest for that year's resort was the late renowned environmentalist, Ken Saro Wiwa whose books I had read earlier. We were organised as an amateur play house. As a shy person, I didn't want to be part of it as I didn't find it funny. They encouraged me to try since everyone knew we were not professional. After everything, Ken Saro Wiwa said he loved my acting and believed I could do well if I pursued a career in dramatic arts. He advised that I take some training. I told him I wanted to be a lawyer. But he insisted I go to University of Port Harcourt for a certificate course after which I should move on because the academic year had already started. I went to Port Harcourt to start the certificate course. I didn't leave. I had to do the degree course.
Ken Saro Wiwa
He was a mentor, a father and all I could think of in my academic pursuit. The relationship I shared with him made me participate in all his public demonstrations. My love for his writings increased, I attended his declaration of the Ogoni bill of rights. My regret now is that he is not here anymore to see how fully grown the seed he planted has grown. The government of that time did the nation and the world of literary art a very big harm. They had done a generation of Nigerian scholar a whole lot of intellectual harm by the dastardly killing of that man. I believe that posterity will forever hold that judgement.
After the certificate course in 1993, and my graduation with a degree in 1999, at the same University of Port Harcourt, I came to Lagos. I was very lucky to have a childhood friend who was ready to assist. I am talking of Lancelot Oduwa Imaseun. He made me his assistant director in his productions. The very first movie I did with him as an assistant director was in 2000. But I did production management job for his comedy in 1997, before I graduated. In 2000, we were involved in an epic for Louis Merchandise. We also did Last Burial for Kas Vid. The success of Last Burial together with divine blessings of God made the public to recognise my activities.
In all sincerity, I have lost count of the number of movies I have done since I got involved. I have worked with almost all the big names in the industry as actor and directors. It is one thing to have the training and it is quite another to see it practically. I have worked with Andy Amenechi, Chika Onu, Fred Amata etc.
Nigeria movie industry
Since the industry started and since I got involved, I can see that we have moved towards progress tremendously. Technologically as well, we are still moving on. But we are not there yet. The professional directors even laugh at their old jobs. People are getting more conscious of the quality of their production. No one wants his or her name to be associated with mediocrity. The costumiers, the make- up artists, directors of photography etc. There is serious conscious competition going on. No one wants to be left behind. This is the zeal which makes some of us want to compare Nollywood with Hollywood, that if given the desired funds and condition, we would go far.
But I worry about the copy -cat syndcome. Every one does same story in slightly different ways and with different artistes. Everyone wants to do a movie. Nigerians are crazy about stardom so every half baked production must be shown . This is one of the same reasons which has made reality shows popular in Nigeria. Some one who cannot even make one simple sentence wants to act and so they all fall victims to the several reality show organiser some of whom are not real.
Reality shows are the offshoot of the desperation of those who want to be stars in Nigeria.
This is a character I played in a movie titled Sinners in the House by Isaac Izoya and directed by Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen. Since that movie, most people who see me call me Suraju. However, I don't see myself as a comedian, I am an actor through and through. However if I have acted some comedy movies successfully, I should be credited with that. I have a problem with a comedian who cannot dropthe character of a comedy movie and move on. I see Charles Inojie as a very serious person who could hold his own anytime. I see him as somebody who can make intelligent contributions in intellectual discourse. I wonder when I see people clowning in the course of serious discussion . I don't like to be seen as clowning at all times. I have successfully managed to retain the serious part of my life. I don't like the bastardisation of the word comedian so for Sinners in the House, the story idea happened in my house. It all started like a joke and turned out very well later. We had a workshop with my classmate Michael Ogundu visiting from Port Harcourt. He did the screen play while I wrote my own lines on set.
Movies and theatre have really given me exposure which I do not know if law would have done. The kind of accolade I receive from people is overwhelming. It gives me the interest to try and put my people's name in the spotlight at any slightest opportunity. I hope to get involved in polities to attract development to my people.
Movies Directed: Spirit of life, Inheritance, Johnny Just Come, Police Recruit, Two Bad Boys, Cat and Rat, Inheritance, Reggae Boys,