From his towering height, to his fine-tuned baritone, Nollywood actor, Alex Usifo Omiagbo, is one veteran who stands out. His sojourn into the make-believe world spans over three decades; years which he says have been a blessing to him. He takes OVWE MEDEME into his world of being an actor, a father and a businessman
You have been acting for over three decades. Looking back, how would you say these years have treated you?
Acting is something I love doing. I have a passion for it. Today, I’m also a producer/director. The industry has been a blessing because it has given me the opportunity to express myself in terms of what I like doing. Of course, like any other business or profession, it has its challenges and excitement. One of the excitements is that people see you and appreciate what you are doing.
One of the challenges is that money is never enough because the tougher the economy, the more you want money. That’s the thing too. Even in terms of excitement, the time that people see you and recognise you and appreciate you, they might also be taking your time when you are in a hurry. They don’t want to know whether you are in a hurry. They don’t want to know whether you are sick. Maybe you are dashing off somewhere to keep an appointment. If you do not acknowledge their recognition, they tend to get angry. These are some of the challenges.
Talking about money not being enough, does it have anything to do with why some veteran artistes die in penury?
The truth is that a good businessman, even if he has N5,000, would be able to do something with it. Some of us were more excited about the show, we didn’t remember the business. This is show business. It is a combination of two words. If you follow the show alone, you are in trouble. If you even follow the business alone, you are also in trouble because there must be something you are enjoying.
And to keep the business going, you must be enjoying the show. They are inseparable. All I’m trying to say is that if I don’t have enough money today, it is not the fault of the industry. It is not because I have not made money in the industry. I have made millions in the industry. That, I can also say concerning those who have such problems. We have seen cases where somebody would tell you that he had only N5,000, started small, but today has expanded. I think it actually depends on your vision and what you want to be.
But at some point, there are other people who have a responsibility towards actors and actresses…
But even those people who invest their money in the industry also have responsibilities. They have wives, they have children, they have dependants, they have friends who are dependants; they contribute to the society in terms of developing the industry. I just think it is your business sense that would determine how rich or poor you are. It is not whether what you are doing is not giving you enough money.
Some hold the perception that it is irresponsible for artistes to have to ask for public goodwill. Where do you stand on that?
I don’t think it is irresponsible because anybody can ask for help. If you want to judge people by their mistakes, then you are not going to help anybody. How many poor people do you see on the streets who beg for money and you start asking what the cause of their poverty is? If I feel touched, I just bring out something and give to the person. When somebody is dying, it is not the time to blame them. You heal the person first, let him get well then you can begin to say whatever you want to say.
But if you say because it is irresponsibility, then you won’t help the person, then you are actually wicked. It is like maybe you don’t have, even when it seems that you do. Because, if you have, releasing money shouldn’t be your problem. Since the person has also contributed his quota in terms of making people happy and in terms of the GDP of the country, I think his case should be looked into.
Governments go broke. So somebody who has made money at one point in time can also go bankrupt. If we want to start analysing, we should look at it broadly. There is no basis for annoyance. There is no basis to just conclude that it is irresponsible to ask the public for help. If the person is asking for help to eat, then it is different from having to do with health. In the first place, how well has the government done in terms of healthcare? These are the things we have to look at. If we have the necessary things to make them well, then they won’t start thinking about the money that would take them outside Nigeria for treatment. If people in government go out for treatment, then anybody can also ask for help too.
You are one of those who made TV viewing a delight, but today you are doing feature films. Which would you say has favoured you more?
They have all favoured me because they all have their excitement and challenges. You cannot separate how we started from where we are. How we started certainly must have contributed to how I am today. That means I have a foundation. I did not start from Nollywood. So if television was my foundation, it means it was solid. That is why I am still relevant. If I now condemn where I am coming from, it is as good as saying that my foundation wasn’t good. I think they are both one. It is a case of the substructure and the superstructure. Where I’m coming from is my substructure while where I am now is my superstructure.
How would you compare today’s movie industry to when you started out in relation to the quality of actors?
The truth is that the industry is growing. In the past, we did not have something as dynamic as this. But I may say that we had more discipline because it was passion-driven. But now it is money-driven and stardom-driven. In other words, people who are coming now may not have that passion. If you have the passion, you do not just end there. You continue to build yourself. That passion will take you to the height you are supposed to get to. I think the past and present are very important. They are all okay.
Even with the talk about improprieties in the industry?
It is usually seen as something very ridiculous when we say such things. Because even in your field, in journalism, it is not uncommon to find an editor wanting to sleep with a potential reporter. In the banking sector, it is not a new thing for the bank manager to want to sleep with a potential employee. It is everywhere. It is funny when people just single out the movie industry and begin to say such things. I think it is a general problem.
It is a societal problem that must be dealt with. It is not something peculiar to the industry. I frown at such things. But again, I always tell people that it takes two to tango. For instance, if I want to employ you and I’m making certain demands, you have a choice to accept or not to accept. If you accept, then you are to blame. If you look at it from an angle of somebody who should be a role model, then you can also blame them. But how many people care about being role models? They tell you ‘to hell with that’ and that it is relative or a matter of definition. What I’m saying is that for such a thing to happen, it takes two irresponsible people.
Looking back, if you had the power to change anything from the past, what would that be?
I disagree with the term ‘if’ because I know I have the power. We all have the power to do anything because we may not be able to change the thing holistically. But, individually, we have our contributions. If our contributions are positive, then that is a change in itself. It could be just one percent; it is a change. So if I put in that one percent and you put in yours, then gradually the change will come.
Any regrets so far?
I won’t say I have any regrets because I always learn from my mistakes and my problems. That is not to say I have not had challenges or problems, but I try to face them squarely. I try to address them. When I’m able to deal with them, that takes me to another level.
How much time did acting take you away from your family?
A lot, but by the grace of God, I have a wife who understands and my children understand too. What I do is that, the time I spend with them is very sacrosanct. I don’t spend all my time working. It is not possible. I try to find time to be with them. I must build my home, I must build my family. No matter how much time I give, I think it is the quality of what I give that matters. The quality of concern, the quality of attention I give to my family, what comes out of what I give them; that is what actually matters. I may spend a whole day with them, if it is not positive, then it is useless. But if I spend two minutes of quality time, it is good.
As a veteran, people expect that one of your offspring should fit into your shoes…
In the first place, I don’t follow people’s expectations. I just let my children grow and desire what they like to. If I want to follow people’s expectations, that would mean forcing my children to do what I’m doing. It is very possible that they are not even interested in what I am doing. If that’s the case, fine. It is not what the people want, it’s not what the people expect but what my children want in terms of their own personal desires and visions. My duty as a father is to guide them and prepare them for whatever they want to do.
Do you intend to retire from acting?
It is very unfortunate that people expect artistes to retire. It is as good as saying that my talent has retired. Talent is dynamic. It keeps improving. It has nothing to do with age. Talent is ageless. The body could age but your talent cannot age. It is just like in sports. It is not the talent of the sportsman that ages, it is his body. That’s just it. The talent is just there. It is potent enough to live till Jesus comes, but the body cannot. As long as that talent is there and my body is still alive, I do not intend to retire.
Are you nursing any political ambition?
A philosopher said man is a political animal. In other words, you cannot separate politics from human beings. The only thing is, you may not be an active politician, but, inwardly, you are actually a politician. It’s just that people may say if you are not active, then you are not a politician. But what about electioneering? Those who we call politicians cannot do without the electorate and if you want to look at the subject of government, the subject of politics, elections and government are inseparable. In other words, all these make up politics.
What is the most memorable role you have played?
I don’t have any favourable role. As long as I’ve accepted a role, then it is favourable. I look at a character and I think about how best I can actually interpret the character. That is what I do