Chief Chika Okpala, aka Chief Honourable Zebrudaya Okorigwe Nwogbo, is the iconic and legendry anchor of the now rested famous comedy ‘New Masquerade’, aired nationwide on the NTA between the 1970s and 1990s. In this interview with Daily Trust Saturday, the popular comedian speaks on the entertainment industry as well as his private life.
What is your assessment of the entertainment industry in Nigeria?
Is there any entertainment going on in Nigeria? What you have now are people who are just trying to talk for the sake of entertainment. You can’t have real entertainment when there’s high insecurity problem everywhere. If you are an actor going to Lagos, Abuja or Kaduna for a show, you would be worried, whether you would arrive safely without kidnappers abducting you or armed men attacking you or not. The high rate of insecurity in Nigeria has affected the entertainment industry so badly that I will say the industry is now at zero point.
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What do you think can be done to remedy the situation?
The only way to improve on the industry is to resolve the problem of insecurity – banditry, kidnapping, Boko Haram, armed herdsmen, gunmen or whatever they are called. Unfortunately, the government which promised to resolve the insecurity challenge in the country has not done that yet. We voted into power the present government of Muhammadu Buhari mainly because of his promise to tackle insecurity, but the reverse is the case today. The situation Nigerians are witnessing today is not what they expected from this government which assured and reassured that it would solve the insecurity problem. No actor or producer who values his life would dare go where there is insecurity problem. If the government resolves the menace, the entertainment industry will bounce back.
People say Chief Zebrudaya doesn’t feature in Nollywood films. Why is this so?
But I feature in the current comedy ‘The Johnsons’, which is aired on television nationwide and even beyond. Don’t forget that we started it all in the early 1970s when I was in ‘The Masquerade’ that was aired on the NTA nationwide. Like ‘The New Masquerade’, ‘The Johnsons’ has the objective of correcting certain societal ills. The idea is to make the government and citizens take corrections and amend certain things where necessary for the good of all and progress of the larger society. I recall that during the military era, an episode of ‘The New Masquerade’ made the then Anambra State Military Governor, Group Captain Emeka Omeruah, to build public toilets in Enugu.
Some of your fans believe that you are a polygamist, considering your role in The New Masquerade. Are you a polygamist?
Yes. Chief Zebrudaya is a polygamist. At a time, I was married to Celena who used to operate a restaurant where I used to go to cool off after a hectic day’s activities. But she is now overseas with her real family. After Celena, I got married to Getrude and later Magdalene and then to Ovuleria Uredia Nwogbo. In all, I was married to four wives, but they were not living with me in one place at the same time. This one would come and go, while another one would take over. However, Chief Chika Okpala is married to only one wife.
Where is Ovuleria now?
Ovuleria Uredia Nwogbo, my darling, is in the USA with her children and family now.
Is any of your children interested in joining the entertainment industry?
Occasionally, two of them join me in shooting films. They do what I may call hit-and-run kind of a thing and go back to their jobs. One is working with the National Universities Commission (NUC), while the other one works at TETFUND. Whenever they join me during shooting, they help in carrying equipment and arranging things and all that. However, you cannot conclude now that they are into the entertainment industry or not until they finally make their decision. There are some parents who encourage their children to take over from them. I wish my children would take over from me. But then, you never can say what the future holds for any man until he decides where to settle down finally. Today, you are a journalist, but tomorrow, you might become another professional.
How successful is Chief Zebrudaya in terms of education, exposure and material achievements?
I was able to do my first degree in Mass Communication at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
I later did a Masters degree programme in Mass Communication at the Anambra State University of Science and Technology (ASUTECH) now Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT). I also did another Masters Degree in Business Administration at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN). I graduated on the same day with former President Olusegun Obasanjo. We sat together at our graduation ceremony in Abuja. I believe there is no age limit to education. We should continue to learn till we enter the grave. Knowledge is what makes a man or woman. You will leave behind all your material acquisitions, but you will enter your grave with the knowledge you have acquired.
At a time, you were an ambassador of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN). What does it entail?
The idea was for me to advocate continued education or learning for knowledge acquisition, using the NOUN platform. The idea was also to create awareness about the NOUN and the fact that once you are healthy and have the resources, you can go to school, irrespective of your age. From my advocacy, most people who had earlier thought they were too old to go back to school later changed their minds and enrolled at NOUN. Today, the population of NOUN has grown very well. President Obasanjo and I really inspired most people to go back to school. We demonstrated that there should be no end to learning.
What circumstance led to your visiting the USA for medical treatment?
I was invited to America for a show. Based on my assessment, I was quite healthy when I travelled. But on getting to the venue of the show, it became extremely difficult for me to disembark from the car. I couldn’t believe it. In fact, the White people around began to suspect that it could be one of those Nigerian pranks. They tried to help me out of the car, but it was difficult because I was in severe pains. So, they rushed me to a hospital. After X-ray, they discovered that the upper part of my spinal cord had decayed. So, they asked me if I had an auto accident. It was difficult for me to recollect. But I later remembered that on one occasion I was travelling to Owerri, Imo State, for a performance and my Mercedes Benz 200 (flat boot) had a head-on collision with another vehicle. I had a deep cut on my right eye brow. It was so bad that the flesh that got torn covered my right eye. Later, I was taken to one private hospital around Okigwe where I spent seven hours waiting for the doctor who was coming from Owerri by public transport. When he arrived the hospital, he apologized. Without conducting any test or x-ray, he stitched the wound.
Then, he told me it was okay and discharged me. I thought it was actually okay and left. The accident happened in the 1990s. But just about three years ago when I went for a show in the USA, the problem resurfaced in full force.
White doctors said that had they not detected the fault and corrected it, my people in Nigeria would have attributed it to witchcraft attack. If it was in Nigeria, I would have died. The doctors said that it was an accumulated problem arising from the impact of the crash on my spinal cord. Initially, I never went to America for medical treatment. It was an unforeseen circumstance. I thank God who heard the prayers of the late Prophet TB Joshua of the The Synagogue Church of All Nations. He and doctors were able to detect the problem. For months and years, my staff in Nigeria suffered because they were not paid. However, my hospital bills that ran into millions of dollars were paid by a certain NGO which later got to know that I am a popular artist in Nigeria. I asked them how much my hospital bill was and they said, “chief, we won’t tell you. If we tell you the amount, you will faint. I thank God.”
TB Joshua of The Synagogue Church of All Nations who died recently was your friend. What lessons did you learn from him?
One lesson I want people to learn from him is that nothing in this world is permanent. Chief Zebrudaya used to say that everything is in temporal. I said this in the 1980s. That means that in whatever situation you find yourself, it is temporal. Even life itself is temporal. Therefore, everything is temporal and that’s the lesson I want the world to learn from the death of TB Joshua.
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