Older Nollywood actors are living in poverty – Akposheri

6 years ago

Nollywood Actor, Tony Akposheri, aka Zakky, speaks with JAYNE AUGOYE about joys and pains of his career

Tony Akposheri, better known for playing the character, Zakky, in the rested Nigeria Television Authority drama series, The New Masquerade, has spent the last 40 years in the Nigerian film industry. Although this should naturally call for a celebration, the actor, who is native of Delta State, has yet to reap the fruits of his labour.

Lamenting his present condition, he says, “I am not sure I have enough, in terms of personal wealth, to show for the years I have spent as an actor. But I am happy to be alive and in good health. I love the fact that I am appreciated as an actor. I can’t quit acting, in spite of the odds. That is why I am also involved in other things.

“The people suffering in Nollywood are the older generation of actors, not the younger ones who are making money today. When we started acting, we did it with much passion and commitment to the arts. Money was not the motivation for many of us at the time. We were involved because of the need to address the ills in the society. Now that there is money in the industry, we the veterans have been forgotten. Many of us are living below the poverty line. I may not be rich, but I wish I had more money to show for my labour and commitment to the arts.”

Although the light-skinned actor is a regular face in many Nigerian soap operas and movies, his role in the most popular situational comedy/drama series of the 1980s, The New Masquerade, has permanently endeared him to millions of TV viewers in the country.

Over the years, some members of the cast of series, including the creator, James Iroha, a.k.a Gringory; Christy Essien- Igbokwe, best remembered as Apeno the wife of the cantankerous character Jegede Shokoya (played by Claude Eke) have passed on. However, their untimely deaths have left the one-time NTA employee very unhappy.

Akposheri says, “My humble self, Chika Okpala (Chief Zebrudaya) and Lizzy Eveome (Ovuleria) are still alive. But Romanus Amuta( Natti) is bed-ridden while Davis Offor (Clarus) has been blind for many years. Others have passed on. Obviously they died in abject poverty. I feel so bad about this because they still had so much to give to the industry. Their death is the most painful aspect of my acting career.

“The drama series packed up because there were no sponsors. It is only in Nigeria that TV soap operas run for two or three years and then get yanked off the air due to lack of sponsorship. But the situation is different in a country like the United Kingdom. There, soap operas may run for as long as 20 years. Our fans keep asking us to bring back the show and I feel hurt because The New Masquerade was produced to inform and entertain Nigerians.”

Asked how the surviving cast of the drama series have assisted their troubled colleagues, Akposheri replies, “The question you should ask is if some of us have money or we are just struggling to survive. All we have been doing is appeal to the government and fans to support us. Thank God, the President of the Actors Guild of Nigeria, Ibinabo Fiberisima, has been able to get the support of President Goodluck Jonathan for the film industry. There is not much we can do because many of us are living in poverty.”

Challenging the stakeholders in the arts and entertainment industry to revive the popular TV series, Akposheri, who cut his teeth as an actor at the National Arts Theatre, Lagos, says The New Masquerade also helped to interpret government policies to the understanding of the ordinary people, thereby bridging the gap in communication between the leadership of the country and the people.

But the actor admits that his acting career has had its fair share of happy moments, too. He says, “My first stage production took place in the 1970s at the Museum Kitchen in Lagos. Also, I was a member of the first National Dance Troupe founded by the NTA after the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture in 1977.

“My career has also taken me to different parts of the world. Two of my children have taken to acting and they are doing well in Nollywood. I met my wife on the set of The New Masquerade where she played Chief Zebrudaya’s secretary in the 1980s. She stopped acting on her own volition.”

Frowning at the quality of soap operas produced in Nigeria today, Akposheri says, “What we have now is glamour and the imitation of the western culture. You can’t blame some politicians for funding movies. The truth is that many actors cannot afford to live the kind of luxury they play out in films.”

The actor’s greatest desire is to secure sponsorship for his works-in-progress. “I have a couple of drama series I have been unable to produce and broadcast because I don’t have the funds to do so. They run into millions of naira,” he says.

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