From Spotlight to Struggle: The plight of Nollywood veterans — Terh Agbedeh

The glitz and glamour of Nollywood, Nigeria’s vibrant film industry, often mask a harsh reality for many of its actors. While some stars bask in fame and sometimes, even fortune, others, particularly veterans who paved the way for today’s success, find themselves facing financial hardship and fading into obscurity.

The recent medical emergency faced by Zack Orji, who was in critical condition at the Abuja National Hospital ICU, brings the issue once more to the frontburner. A viral video showed him bedridden, unable to walk or talk. Orji was said to have been rushed to the hospital after he had collapsed. Thankfully, he is reportedly responding to treatment. 

This calls to mind recent cases like that of veteran comic actor John Okafor, popularly known as Mr Ibu and a host of others.

Mr Ibu’s health struggles and financial difficulties have garnered public attention, sparking conversations about the need for better social security and support systems for aging actors in Nollywood.

Zack Orji

Mr. Ibu sought prayers and financial help after undergoing several surgeries, including the amputation of  his legs.

Mr Ibu’s story is not an isolated one. Acclaimed Nollywood actors are facing dire health challenges, prompting heartfelt appeals for assistance. 

Amaechi Muonagor, a veteran actor at 61, disclosed grappling with paralysis affecting his left leg and hand, while seeking financial aid for undisclosed medical expenses. 

Ifeanyi Ezeokeke, famed for his role as “Ugo Shave Me,” is facing an undisclosed illness and has appealed for financial support amid abject poverty.

Duro Michael, a vibrant Nollywood actor, has been battling diabetes since 2020, leading to the loss of a limb and reliance on charity. 

Sule Suebebe, an actor, confronts a mysterious leg ailment, drawing support from Pastor Agbala Gabriel and his team. 

Then there is Hanks Anuku, who may not be bedridden but has revealed his prolonged unemployment in a video circulated on social media. Despite his status, a clip showed him working as a fuel attendant in Delta State, Nigeria prompting him to make a plea for assistance from Governor Sheriff Oborevwori and his fans. Anuku emphasised his legendary status and years without employment, appealing to Nigerians for recognition. He directly addressed the state governor, urging support and called on fans for help, stating, “If you truly love me, may God help you all to help me.”

Several factors contribute to this unfortunate situation including the fact that the industry has largely remained unstructured maintaining its informal nature since inception when passion led filmmakers to begin assembling the building blocks that have made it one of the largest in the world.

This informal nature results in the lack of structured contracts and pension plans, leaving actors without financial security in their later years.

The industry’s fast pace and constant influx of new talent is also at issue. This can quickly render veteran actors less commercially viable, leading to fewer roles and dwindling income.

The physically demanding nature of acting, combined with the lack of health insurance for many actors, can lead to significant medical expenses that further strain their finances.

Stigma attached to seeking help in the Nigerian society makes it difficult for actors to openly discuss their financial struggles and seek assistance until the 11th hour.

The plight of these Nollywood veterans highlights the need for urgent action like the establishment of stronger guilds and unions as it would seem like the existing ones have failed their members. Stronger ones can advocate for better contracts, residual income and healthcare benefits.

Government-backed initiatives or tax breaks for film productions could incentivise the inclusion of older actors and provide financial security.

Private foundations or crowdfunding platforms dedicated to supporting veteran actors could help bridge the financial gap, and raising awareness about the challenges faced by Nollywood veterans can foster empathy and encourage public support for initiatives that aid them.

The struggles of Nollywood veterans are a stark reminder of the human cost behind the glitz and glamour of the industry. By acknowledging their plight and taking concrete steps to support them, we can ensure that those who paved the way for Nollywood’s success are not forgotten in their time of need.

It is important to remember that these actors are not just entertainers; they are storytellers, cultural icons and role models who have enriched the lives of millions. Their contributions deserve to be recognised and rewarded, not only during their peak years but also throughout their lives.

The applause must not fade into silence and the veterans of Nollywood should receive the support and dignity they deserve.

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