The luxury is complete. Fast cars, big houses, fat bank accounts and pretty girls…at least in the movies. But the real lives of many Nollywood actors and actresses do not reflect what they portray on screen. The Nation's Seun Akioye examines the real lives of the movie stars.
Whoever has seen Kayode Odumosu, known widely by his stage name Pa Kasumu in any of his numerous films, would believe the veteran actor epitomises the perfect life. Sometimes, he was the rich and influential father and at another time, he rose from grass to grace. But most of the time, he was the voice of reason, intelligent, a disciplinarian and an honest fellow. Many envied him and thought that Pa Kasumu, now 60 years old, must be very rich.
That was Pa Kasumu, the veteran actor in Nigeria’s make-believe world called Nollywood. To know Kayode Odumosu, you will have to alight from your day dream of cozy world of wealth and glamour, the mansion in Lekki, fine clothes and easy life. You will have to descend into the often dangerous and perilous streets of Mushin, a ‘ghetto’ in Lagos where even the average Nigerian may not contemplate as a place of permanent abode.
Alayaki Street is one of the hundreds of streets in Mushin. The street begins from the junction where Odulami Street crosses into it. There are about 70 houses on the street, nearly all of them built in the ‘face-me-I face-you’ fashion which has become the preferred choice for Lagos poorest. Around 4 pm on Christmas day, several parties were underway on Alayaki. Loud fuji music blared from loud speakers deliberately directed at the road and passersby.
The inhabitants of this street as well as all the adjoining ones are tough-looking young men and women. As they danced in the streets to the music from the parties, they cursed each other using some of the slangs taken from the songs being relayed. The old were not spared; some of them engaged the young people in a game of wit and argument. This combined with the cacophony of sounds coming from several generators placed strategically at the back of the rooms, which complete a picture of chaos.
The house numbered nine is a non-descript storey building. But judging from the dilapidated state of the other houses, number nine fares better and it looks cleaner. There are 12 rooms downstairs and four others are joined to the main house at the back. There are 10 rooms upstairs; this is because the first two rooms serve as kitchen. At the back is a one-bedroom apartment. Though it has its kitchen, the occupants of the room share the toilet and bathroom with other tenants. In this house, tenant number 10 is Kayode Odumosu, also known as Pa Kasumu.
In October, Pa Kasumu was in the news. His family raised an alarm about his failing state of health and their inability to fund his medical bills. The family said he needed N12million to undergo medical treatment abroad. Failure to raise this money would endanger the life of the veteran actor.
Many Nigerians who heard this were shocked. But the greatest shock was when the media focused on the house where the old man lives. Many do not understand how such a man who had lived all his life on the screen, bringing joy to many homes would be in such terrible state. For them, N12million is a small deal for Pa Kasumu, but for Kayode Odumosu, it is a life-threatening sum.
No Christmas for Pa Kasumu
The reporter climbed the staircase two at a time and at the top came face to face with a budding youth. On enquiry, he directed the visitor to the last room by the left.
“That is Pa Kasumu’s room,” he said.
For those who never lived in such apartments, it may be difficult to appreciate the conditions under which this veteran actor lives. The living room was crowded, a result of trying to fit in too many furniture in a small space. At the north was a 14-inch television set, which stood on a shelf, also housing an old VCR video player and radio– which from all indications are not working.
There were four seats in the room and on the longest, a child slept peacefully oblivious to the chaos and noise of the environment. A small centre table completed the modest furnishing. On the table was a black nylon containing bread-the Agege variant- while at the back of one of the seats was the dining table moved closely to the wall such that it could only accommodate one chair. The dining table also played host to several books as well as the microwave.
On the wall were several self portraits of Pa Kasumu. There was one with his wife and another with Chief Lateef Jakande, the revolutionary second republic governor of Lagos State. Another picture revealed Odumosu is a member of the Police Community Relations Committee (PCRC).
“Pa Kasumu is at the backroom, you can wait for him if you are not in a hurry,” his daughter, who received the reporter, said. Twenty minutes later the actor arrived; he seemed to have difficulties walking and he could not keep his eyes straight for long.
“You want to see me? Please wait for me, I will have to take my bath,” he said. The bath took a whopping 25 minutes and when he arrived, he had a white kaftan on and blue slippers. His hair and beard had been finely combed and he smelled nice. He took his seat on one of the single seat chairs, wiped the water which was forming on his brows with his left hand and apologised for taking so long in the shower.
Since his illness was disclosed, Pa Kasumu has received many visitors in this humble abode, but on this Christmas day, the old man was alone– save for a couple of young fans who came to see him in the morning. He spent his Christmas in bed, no feasting, no killing of chicken or any of those festivities. For the Odumosus, Christmas was just any other day.
Rich industry, poor practitioners
Honest Nollywood actors would admit that the Nigerian film industry preceded the 1992 release of Living in Bondage by NEK video link owned by Kenneth Nnebue. In the 1960s, 70s and 80s, filmmakers, such as Hubert Ogunde and Ola Balogun were involved in film production. But Living in Bondage set the stage for the blockbuster that is Nollywood. Since then, movie producers have not looked back, churning out about 2,000 movies a year.
In 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) declared Nigeria’s Nollywood the second biggest film industry in the world after India’s Bollywood. The industry took Africa by storm and also soon dominated the world. The Ghanaians, seeing the enormous opportunities in Nollywood, joined the bandwagon. Today, Nollywood is reputed to be worth between $200 and $500 million. True, over 21 years, Nollywood had turned out several millionaires and had changed the lives of many. But these are mainly the directors and distributors as many of those who act have remained poor and frustrated. The bulk of these could be seen in the Yoruba section of Nollywood.
Femi Brainard, Bayo Bankole, better known as Alinco, and Wale Adebayo, better known as Sango, are three larger-than-life Nollywood actors. If the creative works to their credit are anything to go by, they should be ‘swimming in money’. But the reverse is the case as they are barely managing to live well. They are neighbours in Mende, Maryland, Lagos where they live in rented apartments. A source said their homes are not one of those modern edifices often associated with their Maryland neighbourhood, but old apartments in serious need of face-lifts.
But they are the lucky ones. Many of their colleagues cannot even afford to live in highbrow areas such as Maryland. They live in Lagos suburbs such as Alagbado, Ikorodu and Agege. The likes of Babatunde Omidina, better known as Baba Suwe, have houses of their own but in Lagos suburbs. Their houses in Ikorodu do not measure up to their inputs in the industry. They have been in the industry for many decades with little to show for it.
The lowly lives of these Nollywood practitioners are hardly known until they are plagued with one ailment or the other and have to cry out for financial help. That was the case of Ngozi Nwosu, who dazzled in the popular television soap opera, Fuji House of Commotion. For many years, she entertained Nigerians on the popular show. Then early this year, news of her ailment filtered in the media as she begged Nigerians to save her life after she was diagnosed with kidney problems. Kind-hearted Nigerians raised the N6million needed for the life-saving operation in a United Kingdom hospital.
She said of her colleagues: “I don’t have friends in the industry. When you are rich, they are your friends, but when you are not, they leave you. Most of them are a flash in the pan; so, I can’t keep them.”
She survived the ailment and is now back on the beat. But not so lucky was prolific actor Enebeli Elebuwa, who died in December 2012 in an Indian hospital after he underwent treatment for stroke. For many months, the actor battled for his life but was always hampered by funds. One of the most sobering moments of his ordeal was when he was shown on a hospital bed appealing for funds from kind-hearted Nigerians. It was difficult for many to reconcile this Elebuwa to the one they saw on television with fast cars, big houses, fat bank accounts, pretty girls and abundant Moet champagne.
The case of ace Yoruba actor Dento was heart-wrenching. After many months of being bedridden, he cried out to Nigerians for a paltry N250, 000. Many Nigerians responded with disbelief initially but rallied round him, but few months into his treatment, he lost the battle.
‘Why we remain poor’
Many of the actors, especially those belonging to the Yoruba genre, readily admit that not all that glitters is gold. Kareem Adepoju, known as Baba Wande, said his only regret is the poor remuneration which usually followed the hard work actors put into their work.
“My only regret is the way we are being treated by the marketers. We do a lot to prepare a story. We look for money to shoot the film and go through all sorts of sufferings at the various locations to shoot a movie and at the end of it all, getting to the market, you will not be paid; that is my only regret. Every now and then, I just sit back to think on what can be done because we just toil and we don’t reap the fruit of our toiling. It is really sad.”
Many observers agree with Baba Wande over the treatment usually meted out to actors, and because the reward for their hard work is meager, many of them live in abject poverty, a sharp contrast to the roles they portray in the movies. The Nation learnt that the average fee of Yoruba actors and actresses ranges between N150,000 and N250,000. And that is for those on the A-list.
According to findings, apart from stars such as Adebayo Salami, Funke Akindele, Bukky Wright and Odunlade Adekola, most other practitioners earn only peanuts per movie. This has made it extremely difficult for them to live a reflection of the lives they live on stage in real life.
Baba Wande said: “Most of the times, once the ‘area boys’ (street urchins) sight you, they will rush at you telling you that they want to ‘eat’ out of the money you have made. They always think that the way we act in movies is the way things are in real life with us, which is not so at all.”
The lucky few
Mention Nollywood actors such as Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, Genevieve Nnaji, Mercy Johnson, Richard Mofe-Damijo, who is now a commissioner in Delta State, Jim Iyke, Desmond Elliot, Kate Henshaw, Rita Dominic, Ini Edo and a few others and not a few in and out of the industry will agree that these guys are members of the elite club of Nollywood. Jalade-Ekeinde was recently listed by Time as one of the most influential people in the world. Nnaji has featured on the Opra Winfrey show, in which she was described as the Julia Roberts of Africa.
These men and women live in good neigbourhoods such as Lekki and Omole Estate. The popularity they have earned in Nollywood has also brought them money through other sources such as product endorsement. Like their colleagues in Hollywood, they are also getting paid for being product ambassadors. They have become brands and the money keeps coming from sources other than acting.
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