Osagie Elegbe, ace actor and filmmaker, former chairman, Actors Guild of Nigeria, Edo State chapter, exponent of Edo In Focus, and a member of the Benin National Development, stopped by The Nigerian Observer offices in Benin City recently, where he had a brief chat with Acting Editor, Chuks Oluigbo. Here are excerpts from that interaction.

How long have you been in the acting profession?

I would say as a passion, since 1990, because before now, when you told your parents or guardians that you wanted to be an actor or a dancer or a singer, they thought that you didn’t want to amount to anything in life. So when we were coming up, we saw it as a passion because we couldn’t present it as a profession. So as a passion, since 1990, that is 34 years ago, when we used to do stage drama in churches, Assemblies of God to be precise. But as a profession, since 2002, that is 22 years ago.

Could you tell us some of the movie projects you have been involved in?

They are so many. The movies I have been involved in are so many I cannot even remember. I have done well over 80 Edo indigenous movies and I cannot begin to mention their names. Then on the English side, I have also done a lot but prominent among them is ‘The Blood of Enogie’, a Rock Studios series that went far and wide and, by the grace of God, was able to expose the Edo movie industry to the world; I had the opportunity to play the lead role there, Enogie. That movie was directed by Charles Uwagbai, I think.

There is this slogan that has been trending recently, ‘Edo to the World’. What does it mean to you?

You cannot separate the Edo man from his culture, from his tradition. It is part and parcel of us, even when some other people still see us as archaic. They say, ‘The world is modern now, let’s talk about something else. What are you still doing with these things?’ The Edo man is born like that, naturally. Our tradition is our pride. So whatever we do, we attach our tradition and culture to it, and wherever we go, we want it to follow us. So saying ‘Edo to the World’ is telling the world about who we are, and you cannot separate who we are from our culture.

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You were recently on a tour of the UK. From your experience there, what do you think Nigeria is not doing right?

Well, the UK is a place that has been built over the years, so there is really no comparison. But again, there is something that is lacking here that they have over there. It is called system. There is a system there that even if you are stubborn, even if you are the most recalcitrant person, you don’t have any other choice than to obey, but here we just get away with everything. Like I was talking to my mechanic earlier and I got really pissed. Look at the price system, for instance. In the UK, if you bought something 10 years ago, if you go to price it today it is almost going to be the same, or around the same price, but here in Nigeria it’s different. Every day you hear that the dollar is crashing, but prices are still going up. When you juxtapose the continuous rise in prices of goods and services amid the crashing of the dollar, it is unimaginable and disheartening. Thanks to the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Federal Government for strengthening the naira against the dollar, but unfortunately, the effect is not being felt in the market. Even the smallest of ice fish is as high as N2,000. Their reason for this hike in price was the high cost of dollar, but now that the dollar is crashing, what next? Before I travelled to the UK, my car had a gearbox problem and I was told that the cost was N2 million. I just came back and my mechanic is telling me it’s about N2.4 million now. While the dollar is crashing, the price is even going up. I guess the traders will say they have not sold the stock they bought at high prices, so what about the stock they had before the dollar increase that they had to hike the prices immediately despite being old stock? Nigerians seem to love usury, looking for every loophole for excessive gain. The government must as a matter of urgency come to our aid; many are dying silently. This ‘happiest people on earth’ that was once ascribed to us has its limits. Nigerians should be fair to one another while we pray and work towards government being fair to Nigerians.
We lack system here in Nigeria, whether price system, structural system, all kinds of system, and we are hoping, working and also praying that government should look into it and build a system where we as citizens will not have any choice than to obey.

Recently, there was a boat accident involving some movie cast and crew which, unfortunately, resulted in loss of lives. A lot of opinions have been expressed about it. What are your thoughts?

You know, you asked me earlier about how things compare between the UK and Nigeria. There are no comparisons. There is Hollywood, there is Bollywood, there is Nollywood. Nollywood has never really gained anything from government. I am not talking in terms of finance now because all of us talk about finance, but in terms of laws. I am talking about the legislative side of government, not the executive side of government. Nothing has really been done in terms of enacting laws. As I said before, you must create a system for people to obey. If there is no system everybody will just do and get away with anything. So the legislative side of government in Nigeria has not done anything. In Edo State, for instance, the government has put a lot of things in place to enhance movie productions. Very commendable. I was a part of all that from the onset, but that has its limits. Whatever the Edo State government has done will not prevent anybody from not wearing life jacket or having an accident and all of that, but if there are laws put in place, the producers will obey, the actors will obey and things will go on smoothly. Abroad, movies are done carefully, but here we are very careless, not just on the producers’ side but also on the actors’ side. We see it as nothing. If I come here and blame the producers alone because I am majorly an actor, I would be lying. We are all at fault. Call all the big names in the industry, they are all at fault. We have been taking these things for granted. You see, we are not proactive; when you are proactive, you will try to cure an ailment before it even starts, but this one we are singing now because some persons have died, after a month or two or three now, they will forget about it. Tomorrow people will go to location again and cross rivers and say, ‘Oh, that was Jnr Pope, that’s not me’. You know this African thing, we believe in ‘my time to die never come’. We go back again to all of that stuff. So until government and the associations governing the industry – Actors Guild, Association of Movie Producers, Directors Guild of Nigeria, etc – come together and collaborate to create laws, to say, ‘Before you do this or that, these are things you must go into’, things will continue the way they are. Once life is gone, there is no replacement. It is sad that my colleagues just went that way. I remember the experience I had with Jnr Pope, how he told me that I was too good an actor, I should leave Benin and go to Asaba, that I would make so much money, but leaving Benin then was not an option for me. I felt someone built Asaba, why can’t we build Benin? So I stayed.

Are you working on any project right now?

As a producer, no, but as an actor, yes. Since we did ‘The Blood of Enogie’, our name is on the lips of so many producers in Nigeria. So in a matter of days I will be going to Lagos. I have about four movies I will be shooting there. When I come back, hopefully I will do one or two here.