You'll Die If You Put Women In Your Head - Osuofia

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Sarah Sakutu

Walking into Osuofia's office, one is greeted with so many awards sitting on his table. Call him Marcus, Akwara, Osuofia, etc, but the real man behind all those characters is Nkem Owoh.

Owoh who describes himself as a simple being hails from Enugu state. He had his primary and high school education in Nsukka, after which he proceeded to the University of Ilorin, where he studied electrical/electronics engineering.

Known by many, and admired by most, Owoh could be described as the most popular comedy movie star in the Nigerian film industry. During the period he was banned from being assigned roles in movies, Owoh, popularly known as Osuofia didn't lay back. He went into music just as some other big artistes in the movie industry, and released a hit, “I go chop your dollar”, which he says is to combat 419 (fraudsters) in the country.

In this interview, Osuofia talks about his music, Nollywood, and women.

The name “Osuofia”
I got the name when we were trying to create comedy on television in Anambra broadcasting. I was trying to get a name for the lead actor and the concept I had at the back of my heart then was a man who leads the others. Osuofia means path finder. And back then the name was meant for television. So when I wanted to start my own production, the name came back to my mind and I said okay. I used the name for myself because I was playing lead and that name was supposed to be for the lead character.

I am married with four kids. I introduced my wife into acting but somewhere along the line she couldn't combine it with other things. She was taking her final exams in the university then, and she also got pregnant. So she couldn't go on with acting.

Humour talent discovery
I always knew I had the talent, right from primary school, where I started acting. I later discovered that whenever I talk, people laugh. When I was in primary and secondary school I never took the humour aspect of me serious. Even at a point when asked to pray – and I take my prayers very seriously - I could just say “In Jesus Name” and then people would start laughing. It had to be about the way I said it. That's when I discovered that there was more to it than just acting.

The beginning
When I was working on television, I went to this guy named Prince, who was a producer then. I asked him if we could give me a little time segment which we would call “The Star Comedian Corner” and he did.

It became a weekly programme of which I was the presenter. That was where I really started from. Then “Basi and Company” came up. I wrote and edited for them. I was fully employed by Ken Saro Wiwa. We stopped production just before he was killed. So I had to look for something

else. . From there I got hooked to “New Masquerade”, where I started writing for them. As a matter of fact, most of their hits were written by me. But since I was behind the cameras, people didn't know me back then.

Back in Enugu I wrote for “Network News”. Even while writing scripts I was still doing comedies for television. So you can see I was combining the two.

The genesis of “Osuofia in London”
I had recorded something similar on cassette before and sold them to radio. Back then I called it “Osuofiason in London”. About four years ago, I met this guy and talked him on putting it together in video. I told him that I did this thing for radio, why don't we put it in video.
He agreed and started contemplating on where we could create London. I then told them that we were not going to create London; that we would actually have to go to London to shoot. And even though the guy was skeptical, he took my passport to get me a visa. After about one week he returned the passport without a visa, and that was the end of it. A year later, after that incident, I went to my friend's office and I told him about the idea. I told him we could do this in London and that's how we did it. We moved to London and we shot.

Selection of roles
I'm very selective because I found out that when they see you are good with a role, they tend to stick you with that character. But I never want to be stuck with a character. Before selecting a role, I go through the script. I started with acting 'drunk'. I was given drunken roles all the time. And trust the Nigerian audience; they started saying I couldn't act any other role except “the drunk”. I then took up “pampam”. When given a role, there's got to be something about it that is different before I can accept it.

Favourite movie
I don't think I have any, because all my films have their different values. “Osuofia in London” is cross cultured, because it has to do with the African and the British culture. While “Ukwa” features what happens in a typical Nigerian family. So also do all others have their own morals and values.

Which local actors and actresses will you raise your hat for?
You see, I like people who act natural. It's either you are there or you are not. Omotola Jalade is one good actress. We also have Genevieve among others. Among the men, I happen to like this crazy boy, Jim Iyke. Also Richard Mofe-Damijo and Pete Edochie. We have lots and lots of them, but I just named a few.

What do you think about Nollywood and how will you rate their works?
I think Nollywood is a good concept, but if it's not handled right, it's going to go no where. It is not just a one-person concept. It combines so many fields. Actors, producers, directors, marketers and all.

But what we see now is that everyone is trying to do his own separately, trying to see who is the boss and all that. In this industry, we all have to work together. If not, we'll see the producers quarrelling with the directors, the directors' association fighting the Actors Guild, and all that. If we can use one umbrella to cover all of us, then I think we would do really well. Nollywood is very vast.

The Chinese are even upset that Nigeria is being given a special recognition better than them in this area. They started with their Kong-fu films. But now, we are third. After Hollywood, Bollywood, then Nollywood. So I think Nollywood has achieved a lot. A lot of work has to be done by everyone and there has to be respect. The producers will have to respect the actors.

The directors will have to respect the producers; the sponsors will have to respect everybody. It has to be a mutual thing.

Negative aspect
The rush. Because everyone is in a haste to make money they forget all the right things that they have to do. They come out and they produce junk. Some people who don't have jobs come into acting not knowing what it entails, and they come in and act rubbish. Some people even call me asking to make them stars. Everybody is in a hurry to make money.
The actor is in a hurry to finish a film to go and feature in another one that is waiting for him, forgetting that some people invested money in that movie. The directors have other jobs, so they're in a hurry to go and direct other movies which are waiting for them.

Do you write your films?
I create and write them.

I've always been into music. All the theme music of my films I sang myself.

What question makes u crazy whenever asked?
Did you go to school? They just look at me like someone that didn't go to school. In fact, a press man asked me if I wanted an interview in Igbo or in English. And I answered him, however you want it. And he keeps on stressing me about which I'll be more comfortable with. They begin to act as if I did not go to school. Maybe they think since I went to school I shouldn't be acting village films. Maybe I am expected to act like the white. I do not intend going to Hollywood. I'll rather bring Hollywood politics to Nigeria. Even if I go to Hollywood like the industry is planning, I will not stay there. I will come back and see how I can make ours that standard because I know ours will get there.

Does Osuofia relax?
I relax on my job. Most times I try to create time for my kids. When spending time with them, I turn off my phones.

What people don't know about Osuofia?
People do not know that I go to church. Because of the drunken roles I play. When I go somewhere and render a prayer people get surprised.

I don't think I can say specifically how many I've received. But I think I've gotten about twenty so far. There are three that I am still yet to collect. I've been getting calls from the organizers to pick them up, but I've not even had the time.

When will Osuofia quit smoking?
No, the question should be when did Osuofia start smoking?

No, when will he quit smoking?
(Laughs). Well, it's a habit. When I finish the day's job, I hang out with my friends and colleagues, and most of them are smokers. So it's something I can't avoid. But the truth is that I'm not much of a smoker. I am not someone you could call a chain smoker.

Fans, female fans
Every star has that problem. But the most important thing is managing it. I love my fans. But I have to be careful. You don't just say because you are seeing too many women you will do as you want. Otherwise, you would die. If you put your head there you would die.

I want to leave footprints. Do something that I can be remembered for. I'm still at the genesis, but will get there some day. I also have a very strong relationship with kids. I have at the back of mind doing something for children. I'm thinking about a trust fund for the needy and helpless. But when the time comes I'll let you know.

About the ban which was just lifted, Osuofia simply says “I feel elated”.