Nollywood Producer/Actor, Emeka Torino Ojukwu, who has been managing ailing actor, Prince James Uche, spoke exclusively to LIB, giving an update on the state of the actor who has a kidney disease.
According to Ojukwu, the Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme, Prof Usman Yusuf, Senators from Abia state and others, including AGN President Emeka Ike and Nollywood actors have frustrated moves to help the ailing actor get adequate medical care. According to Ojukwu, the actor has stopped receiving donations and only does his dialysis twice a week now due to lack of funds. Read the interview below...
LIB: What’s the update on ailing actor, Prince James Uche’s health?
Emeka: There is no update on the ailing actor, for now, other than that we have stopped receiving donations. The little money we have now is being used to manage him; like pay part of his hospital bill, going for Dialysis, getting him his injections and all. There is this supplement we give him almost every day, so he is taking it in the hospital. We gave the doctor almost N370.000. We took him for dialysis, bought all his drugs but for now there is no donation coming in anymore.
LIB: What hospital is he currently in?
Emeka: He is in God’s Power Hospital in Festac, 321 road, B close.
LIB: How about Nollywood actor, Desmond Elliot’s social media campaign to help raise funds for him?
Emeka: Desmond came to visit him in the hospital last year, and tried to reach out to his colleagues for help, but nothing came in. I now took a picture of Prince Uche and sent it to him to help raise funds, about 2 months ago which he did but nothing came in.
LIB: So what other avenues are you currently exploring to raise money?
Emeka: I just left Abuja now. I went to meet with the Minister of Health, because we are trying to get money in bulk, so we went to the ministry to assist us. The Minister of Health sent us to National Health Insurance Scheme in Abuja. When we got there, the Executive Secretary (ES) said we should go and get a doctor’s report before he can act on the minister’s letter. We should also take him to the hospital and get him enrolled for the National Health Insurance Scheme. So we went back to Lagos, got him enrolled into the Insurance Scheme, got the doctor’s report and went back to Abuja. On getting to Abuja, we met the ES, submitted everything, and he said Okay, he will get back to us. We were surprised that when we went back to them to follow up the letter, the ES said he has cancelled the programme. He said that what benefit would he get, or what benefit will the ministry get for saving him from dying? Well I said to him, he is a normal actor and a human being like every one of us, but he said no. So what I want to do right now is get to the media to launch a campaign against this. People are suffering, and that’s a fact. Now if the government’s establishment which is into health is refusing to help the citizens to whom it has been created for, then I don’t know. I have spoken to all the senators in the country. I went to the National Assembly, and I went to their office one by one including Senators representing Abia State. I brought the letters which I wrote to them one by one. I went to the Governor of Abia State, Okezie Ikpeazu, he signed everything, so that when I start releasing press release, some people would say, they did not hear about it. They think it is fraud, I have all the letters from the Ministry of Health. I have the entire letters from the senators written and signed with acknowledgement copy.
LIB: So are you saying that there hasn't been any donation from the Abia State government?
Emeka: Nothing! I have all the documents with me. I went to nine senators. I went to the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, he didn’t answer me, to the Deputy Senate president, Ike Ekweremadu, he didn’t answer me. If you want the copies I will show it to you, and prove to you that the country we are in Nigeria, they are not helping.
LIB: But have you also tried reaching out to the Nollywood actors, the very big ones. What are they saying or doing?
Emeke: Genevieve has been helping us since May 2015 when Prince Uche was taken to the hospital for his Kidney illness. Since that May last year till now, Genevieve Nnaji has been donating. Desmond Elliot has also been helping. I have the list of people who have been donating. But the thing is, the monies don’t come in bulk. For instance, after three months, you receive N200.000, after a month, we get, N50.000. But this man feeds every day and out of this money, we pay for his drugs, hospital bills, do dialysis check-up and all.
LIB: So the support he has been getting from his colleagues, has it been encouraging or discouraging?
Emeka: It’s not been encouraging because, they come in little amounts, say for instance, 50000, 20000, 10000, and so on. They actually respond, but it doesn’t come in bulk, it comes in bits. Meanwhile, if it should come in at once, we can fly him out and treat him instantly without spending money out of it to sustain his life until we can get all the monies needed. So the problem is that it doesn’t come in such an amount that can be put to realistic use and then it takes months before the donations come in. There was a time I had to borrow to feed him and pay for his hospital bill. We started doing dialysis in clinics because we could not afford the hospital. The records are there in clinics.
LIB: How about the Actors Guild of Nigeria, what is the response from that end?
Emeka: My dear, Actors Guild of Nigeria, Abuja, where i was, has been giving me Letter Headed Papers only to enable me write letters. Actors Guild Lagos, they only took him to the hospital and promised to send money, everything is on video, they didn’t do anything. All they do is just seat down there, and if the government calls to come and collect money, all of them will rush to collect money, but are not helping the members. I wrote 3 letters to Lagos State Governor, Ambode Akinwunmi, I wrote to the commissioner IT, Minister for Information and Culture. I followed it up for three months, nothing happened. Top Nollywood actors, Segun Arinse and others, I have been calling them for a while now, they know. Nothing has happened.
LIB: How about the former president of AGN, Ibinabo Fiberesima, how favorably did she contribute?
Emeka: When she was the AGN president, she did her part. Ibinabo brought something out even when the government had not paid them. That period, Prince Uche, had High Blood Pressure and Diabetes, so she did her part, but that was before the Kidney issue surfaced. I took over this thing last year, when they kidney problem started. The whole thing started 2009, he will go to the hospital, after a while he will be ok, and suddenly the illness will come up again, that was when Segun Arinse was the President, in 2009. So Ibinabo took him to the hospital, but the bills were not paid. He was abandoned there. I wasn’t in the picture then. I went to Cameroon, to bury my sister in-law but when I came back I got a report that they have abandoned this man and that he has totally gone blind, that was when I took it up in April last year. So we now transferred him to the current hospital in Festac. He was initially in Arisonac before. We took him to Eko Hospital for the first and second dialysis; it was successful before we now took him to Festac. It was Peace Anyiam-Osigwe of AMAA Awards that actually directed us to the Festac hospital. The owner of the hospital is her uncle.She contributed N300,000.00, and after that she said she wasn’t giving any money again, we should go and meet other Nollywood artistes. That the reason she sent us there was to know the truth and the true position of things through her uncle who is a surgeon. Desmond Elliot came to the hospital to verify, he promised heaven and earth; that was before he became a law maker. He came to the hospital, spoke to with the doctors and up till today, it is only when i call him or disturb him that he will tell me okay, that he has so many things to do. Why I am doing this is because he is my friend. He was there for me. We have known each other from Germany. To do his dialysis was a serious problem. The doctors will shout on me and say, this man will die here o, I will tell them I am trying to raise money, help him, he will not die and all. Then we use to do dialysis 3 times a week, then it moved to once a week, and then to 3 times a month. Now it is twice a month, because there is no money. I just thank God who has been faithful through the supplement I have been given him. His leg is okay now, the only thing he needs now is a kidney transplant. After an operation on his eyes, the doctors said it will take care of his sight. For the sight, the blood pressure was so high that it affected all the capillaries that supply blood to the sight.
LIB: So he is not blind?
Emeka: No, he is blind in that he just cannot see one’s face, when he tries to look. He only sees shadows of your cloth. It is just now that he started seeing shadows. But the doctors said that it can be rectified, by the Grace of the Almighty.
LIB: How about his wife, how is their relationship like now?
Emeka: Well the children do come to the hospital. You know that they had a bit of an issue and separated. But I keep on talking to her, begging her and all. She does come to the hospital, sometimes when she comes I give her money to cook and bring to him. She brings food every Sunday. When some little change comes in, I do call her, ‘madam, take this to cook and take care of the kids. I give her some times, N50, 000, sometimes, N30, 000. If she complains there is no money at home, I give her money. She comes to the hospital every Sunday. One of his son is with me in the hospital. The senior one is in University of Lagos. When he comes back from lecture, he exchanges with the other son, so that’s how we have been managing him for almost a year and eight months now.
LIB: We understand that you also reached out to Babatunde Fashola, the current, Federal Minister of Power, Works and Housing? What help has come from his end?
Emeka: I went to Fashola, I even met with his Ministry, Power, Works or Housing, which ever you call it. I have even met with his Chief of Staff. I told him that we have written letters to Fashola, the letters are with me, he didn’t say anything. I have even sent him text messages, nothing. I also went to the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi. I have his number, I called him. He said he doesn’t have money that Julius Agwu is sick. He wants to go and take care of his brother first, and that’s what he told me. But I don’t hold any grudges against anybody. He sent me to meet his P.A, to drop the letters that when he has the money he will call us. I dropped the letters. They said they will get back to us. I mean, i have tried on that part, but i thank God, he will not die.
LIB: How about the current AGN president, Emeka Ike, what help has come from his angle?
Emeka: No, no, no, no, no. Please don’t call Emeka Ike. That guy is a criminal. Emeka Ike is not my president. If he was, he would have taken this case up to Abuja. I was in Abuja to seek audience with the senate president. They said one Senator Dino Melaye and Emeka Ike were trying to seek audience with the Senate President and that if my visit was for an appeal, they would channel it to the right authority. Emeka Ike just gave N10, 000. He is only going around trying to make money for himself, because if he was the AGN president, he will not say all those rubbish in Abuja. He said, Nollywood disappointed him during his rally, only Francis Duru came and other small artiste. That was how it ended. I saw him in Abuja last week, and said okay, i should go, i should drop all the documents that he would get back to us. Now the issue i want to raise, is that of the new ES, the Executive Secretary of the National Insurance Health Scheme, the man is refusing to help us. He is refusing to honour the letters from the Ministers so that they can help us. I met with his P.A, and his P.A said that the only person i can talk to release funds who was even abroad at the moment is the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Buhari. So he was like it was Buhari that employed him, so it’s only President Buhari that can intervene. So it’s the ES that is delaying us now because he has not approved the letters so that the ministers can help us.
LIB: So what you are saying now is that, the executive secretary of the Nation Health Insurance Scheme is preventing Prince Uche, from accessing funds from the federal government?
Emeka: He said it is not within their scheme to do that, that there was a program that was run earlier by the old ES to cater for issues like that, but that the programme has ended. But we now said, how about the memo that was there on your table before you resumed office, he said no, that they cancelled the program. But why did he ask us to go and enroll him when he knew he could not do anything to help a dying actor? After we took all the stress and the pain to get all the documents, enroll him in the scheme, only to get back to you in Abuja as agreed and you say you cannot continue? The letter of apology he wrote to us is here with me. The minister of information, etc, i have all the letters, all of them refused to help. He said we should go and do a concert. So if all the ministers in Abuja have refused to help, what do you want me to do? I leave them to God. The minister of information said there is no money; whatever I am saying I have proof. Minister of Transport refused us, Fashola refused us, Senator Mao Ohuabunwa refused us, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, refused us. Senator of Abia State, Orji Uzo Kalu, refused us. Even with all the reminders, they did not respond. The Governor of Abia State, Okezie Ikpazu last year pledged N1million for his treatment but till today, the money has not been released. We have been going there; all the actors in Umuahia have followed us to the place. Till today, they haven’t given us the money.