Monday, August 8, 2011

You don’t quit acting except you are dead- Sam Loco Efe

Flash back on S.L.E

Loco @ interview with

Sam Loco Efe is well known for his ability to make people laugh. On Friday, January 15, just before the “30-minute interview” began, Efe told the reporter of the need to go to a more quiet place – away from the noisy bar where he and his friends had been enjoying a drink. That made sense. As they both stood up to leave, Efe told one of the men: “Umuota, if you don’t see me in 30 minutes, call the police.” Everyone burst into laughter. That was vintage Sam Loco Efe. But the man does not like being called a comedian because he believes he has a whole lot to offer beyond humour.
In this interview with, in Enugu, Efe spoke about his early years as an actor. You were made the special guest of honour at the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas, NLNG Scienceand Literature prize last year. How did that make you feel?
Efe: It came to me not just as a surprise but as a very pleasant one. Some of us have actually paid our dues, you know. But the part of the world we belong to probably has not gotten to that level of appreciating such effort. More than 30 years back, I played the lead role for this country in FESTAC 77. This is January 2011. You can imagine how long it has been………. You were part of FESTAC 77?
Efe: Not only part of it but I was the lead character in Nigeria’s own lead drama entry called Langbodo. I think the guys at NLNG found that this man has done this several years back. If it were footballers, after just one small silver or bronze medal, government would offer them houses, buy cars for them and give them dollars and pounds and so on and so forth. But that was a world festival of arts and culture, not only Nigerian or African; it was a world black arts festival and we came out first in drama entry and I played the lead role. And it was very well competed for.
The federal government at that time invited all the so-called best actors from the Federal Republic of Nigeria to come to Ibadan, which, at the time, was the home of theatre arts, for audition. There was no godfatherism. Just go in and do your show. We were doing audition almost three times a day. That was some 34 years ago. But it’s a shame that those of us who conquered Festac were not even given houses in Festac. It’s a big shame. But boxers attend commonwealth games and come back to receive duplexes, footballers got theirs, including the 1980 team that won the Nations Cup. People came from nowhere and got buildings in Festac but those who actually made Nigeria proud in 1977, who worked to uplift the image of this country were not even considered for such. It’s a pity. I had thought of going to court over this issue, but on a second thought, I said well, our country is not too bad anyway, it’s just that we are too slow at arriving at certain decisions. But it is on record that we did FESTAC 77. Nigeria had only one drama entry which did the nation proud. To the point that the then head of state, General Olusegun Obasanjo, who did not come for our premiere, when he learnt of our feat, decreed that Langbodo must be shown every morning before the news broadcast and on every public holiday. That went on for a long time. The whole world knows about Langbodo-written by Wale Ogunyemi.

"It is difficult to quit acting because, all over the world you don’t quit acting except you are dead." So at long last………….
Efe: At long last, NLNG paid me back for what the federal government of Nigeria did not do. Because if you look at what the NLNG said, they said they went back to the archives and found that this was the man who did Nigeria proud thirty something years ago. So, when I read what they wrote about me – I didn’t write that about myself, I felt so proud and I shed tears of joy. I’ve received awards several times but this was the first where I thought excellence was put at the front, first and foremost, and it was a unanimous decision by their judges. You didn’t solicit for it?
Efe: I didn’t even know until I received a letter saying come, we will make you a special guest of honour. When I got there, I said well, I’ve just taken my pride of place. I thank them. Did you set out to become an actor?
Efe: From the beginning, yes. But that question has a two pronged approach. In primary school, I was fascinated by the word, Political Science. But I found that in my quest for excellence in Political Science, I probably, inadvertently, went into acting. I was in standard six when I did my first show on stage. I was the first Nigerian, I think, who produced, directed and acted a live show in Nigeria. That was in 1960 when I did Julius Ceaser. The district officer for Abakaliki province was in attendance. But it was a competition meant for higher institutions. We inadvertently put in for it. We came last. There’s a noticeable trend about Nigerian films these days. Ghanaians now feature in Nigerian films. Why is that so?
Efe: I wouldn’t know, to be honest. I’m not a producer. I can only hazard a guess. Some Nigerian businessmen believe that the end justifies the means. They don’t care how that end comes. I think they want to widen their tentacles. Nigerian market is getting narrow and unsafe due to piracy. So, if you want to sell both in Nigeria and Ghana, you go and bring Ghana artistes to supplement. Now, some have even started going as far as Sierra Leone. Some even induce musicians to come and act. So that when you sell only five thousand copies in Nigeria, you may even sell ten thousand copies in Freetown. It’s not too healthy but that’s what they’ve been doing. But they invariably put our own people out of job, and that concept ‘‘wholy Nigerian’’ is perhaps being eroded.
Efe: That’s right. The whole thing is now a chemistry of sorts. And it’s all money driven. There has been this lingering crisis in the actors guild. You hear of different groups here and there. What’s really the situation?
Efe: The AGN, Actors Guild of Nigeria, is like PDP. It’s a big party, so there must be crisis, you know (laughs). PDP is still in crisis even today that the party’s flagbearer Goodluck Jonathan, has emerged as presidential candidate. So, I think it’s the same thing that’s happening to AGN. And unfortunately, we the senior stakeholders are either discouraged, or we don’t have the will power to wade into these problems. But there’s also a generational shift which brings about change. But we must be very careful as we seek a solution to the crisis. Part of the problem was that the AGN wanted a paradign shift. Along the line, the young boys came in and these young boys have a problem; they are over exuberant. It’s unfortunate. When they come, they say, “oh, we are the youths.” But give them a chance, they go and mess up the whole thing. If the younger ones cannot even sit down and dialogue as one, then something is wrong. The Nollywood industry has been lamenting that government hasn’t been assisting them. Suddenly, we hear that government has facilitated a N200 million fund for the industry. How do you feel about it ?
Efe: I feel very defeated. I feel damn sad. I feel insulted. I feel assaulted. 200 million Naira is not even up to the budget of a good film in the US. So, what are we talking about? And the money is not only for the film industry. Mind you, it’s for the entertainment industry. Divide it and subdivide, how much will come to the actors guild. However, I have always maintained that government has nothing to do with the industry. But many of your colleagues have always argued for government support.
Efe: That’s their own opinion. The support we need is for the government to stamp out piracy. They have the wherewithal to do that. If you jail two Idumota based guys, this thing will stop. A man who is 49 years and you jail him for 60 years, he will not come out anymore. Others will take caution. Does it, for instance, not prick your conscience that a country of about 140 million cannot sell ten thousand copies in their own country. Ten thousand is like Ogui area of Enugu or Aguda of Lagos. In a country of 140 million population, why can’t we sell 4 million? Do you ever hope to quit acting someday?
Efe: It is difficult to quit acting because, all over the world you don’t quit acting except you are dead. If you are playing a man of 80, then you need an old man to act the role of an 80-year-old. You can’t take a young man and make him look 80; it’s difficult because your voice or acting style may betray you. So, acting is a place where everybody has a role to play along the line. But, because I personally have been around consistently since 1960, I’m now planning to build a farm in Abakaliki where I cut my teeth, where I hope to go into aquaculture, teleculture, grasscutter farming, piggery, poultry and fishery. Although I’m from Udeni, in Uhumwode local government area of Edo State, I lived my early years in Abakaliki. By this time next year, I would have gone into semi retirement. That’s to say I would now become a passive actor, not an active one. Once in a while, I will just come out and share ideas with the younger ones. How rich are you?
Efe: I’m rich enough to pick up the bills of my children and my grand children, my nephews and my nieces and friends who are less privileged. I was a victim of poverty. I spent almost ten years in Primary School due to lack of money. I went through hell. Even when I later gained a two year scholarship in college, it was a lot of struggle. So, these days, when I see somebody genuinely in need, from the little I have, I offer support. I’ve told people that, anytime I die, in my epithat, just write something there: this man lived so well, that even in death, the undertaker is very sad.
Written by Anthony Akaeze

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