Veteran actor, director and producer, Edmond Enaibe, popularly known as Teacher Chike, because of his role in the celebrated Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) soap, After the Storm, talks about life, career, challenges and other issues, in this interview with TONY OKUYEME
What were the challenges growing up especially because of your interest in art?
You know, in those days in secondary school your parents would fill a column as to what profession they want for their child. My filled “Medical”. But when I would seek admission to the university I filled Dramatic Arts! My soldier father (may God rest his soul) did not raise any objection. In those days the only challenge was the wrong perception of the Artiste as an unserious person. This perception must also be placed in the perspective of a society that did not understand the free spirit of the artistes as custodians and definers of culture. Even the civil service could not appropriately place the artistes in the scale of service progression.
Tell us how your journey as an artiste began.
My first contact with the stage was as a Form 3 student when our school participated in the then Bendel State Schools Drama competition organised by the state Arts Council. My first professional exposure was as an undergraduate with the then University of Ife (UNIFE) Theatre Company in Akinwunmi Ishola’s “Madam Tinubu” in 1979. My undergraduate years also saw me introduced to TV acting when we did adaptations of novellas for Laolu Oguniyi with the likes of Funsho Alabi, Awam Amkpa (now a Professor), Ago Babajide etc. In those days it was all fun.
You are an accomplished actor, voice over artiste, writer, director, producer, and culture advocate. Which of these came first? Why?
They came in the same order you have mentioned them except Advocacy, which started from my Unife days. As undergraduates we were driven by the idea that Theatre should not just be a “window of the society” but importantly a vehicle of “change”. That idea led to the formation of the Nigerian Universities Theatre Arts Students Association (NUTASA) in May 1981 at the University of Ibadan during the inaugural Nigerian Universities Theatre Arts Festival (NUTAF). That idea also set the tone for university young practitioners to be advocates for change in theatre practice, cultural, social, political and other areas of human endeavours.
How do you combine all of these?
The unique thing about our profession is the dynamism practitioners are allowed. Each role is given its deserved attention at each relevant level. Sometimes you are only hired for your acting or directorial skills. But many times the project at hand takes its deserved attention.
You have not done much in Nolluwood. Why? Really!
That may not be correct. I have worked predominantly in the area of stage and television. Some of the programmes I have participated in have left their mark on the Nigerian Entertainment space. Some of us became victims of our criticism of the direction the then Home Video scene (now Nollywood) was taking in the early 1990s. So the roles offer were thin in coming and we concentrated on TV soap operas. As Teacher Chike in “After The Storm” I won awards for my performance including the Nigeria Legends Awards. One of my recent appearances was as Friday Bello in the rave making “The Governor” by Ebony TV now on Netflix.
What is your opinion about: the entertainment industry in Nigeria?
The Entertainment industry is the umbrella holding our practice as artistes. Although there is a measure of success and patronage particularly in music and comedy shows, the Entertainment space is still very far from achieving its potentials. Since the days of Babangida there has been the advocacy for the promulgation of a National Policy on Culture. This policy will harness all areas of culture and its businesses including artistes, workers, historical places, monuments, festivals, organisations (international and national), etc. A well-coordinated Entertainment industry is the bedrock of a country ready to stake its claim to national development. The policy framework already exist since 1985/6. All that is needed now is to shape it to include today’s realities and our projection for the future. A thriving Entertainment Industry will put an end to the many indigent lacks plaguing practitioners and investors because it will be self-sufficient in productivity.
Against the backdrop of Covid-19, what is your advice for theatre practitioners and filmmakers in Nigeria?
I like this question. Covid-19 has sent a clear message to practitioners and filmmakers. It is a wake-up call to reevaluate all engagement contracts with producers and content users. All contracts MUST include the Royalties clause to be paid to the artistes and crew members on films after some years of exhibition and for repeat showing of Season TV productions. That way there would be additional income to practitioners at times like this and after retirement from active practise. The way things are today only rights owners reap all the revenues coming from the rebroadcast of TV productions while the artistes and crew members who were paid for only one station and one season broadcast are left out to roast. My advice is let us start asking for Royalty clause in our contracts.
For quite some time now, stakeholders have expressed concern on the need for federal government to expedite action on the implementation of the National Cultural Policy. What is your opinion about this?
Elders in Urhobo would say :”Ota gba vwrun re, arha vwroh”. Meaning you don’t waste time arguing a fact. The Federal Government should as a national urgent priority cross the ‘t’s and dot the ‘i’s of the National Cultural Policy for immediate implementation. There is no gain saying the advantages embedded in the policy.
You have featured in so many popular stage plays. Which of them would you say was most challenging?
Productions are like babies, they come with their different challenges. As an actor I have come to accept every role as an integral part of the play because telling the story cannot be complete without any character written in the script. So you see, all those stage plays were favourites. However some of these plays stood out in the memories they keep in my heart. For example Ahmed Yerima’s “The Asylum” was written and performed, while we were undergraduates at Unife, at the Nigerian Universities Theatre Arts Festival in 1981. So successful was the production that the mighty Wole Soyinka, then HOD recommended its special command performance for the then Progressive Governors Forum that was hosted by then Oyo State governor Bola Ige…and was transmitted live on radio and television! Another play of note was Ben Tomoloju’s “Mujemuje”. It was my first stage production outside Nigeria in 1992. Perhaps my most challenging stage play would be Eseaba Iruobi’s play “Esoteric Dialogue” directed by Felix Okolo, a National Troupe of Nigeria production…
Who is your favourite Nigerian musician? Why?
Fela. He played original positive music that is ever green in lyrical content and arrangements. He remains Africa’s greatest musician ever!
Which of the music genres is your favourite? Why?
Afro beat, reggae and jazz. Because of Fela, Bob Marley and the deep inflective flow of the jazz rhythms. Let me add though that I love the Ukiri rhythm of traditional Urhobo music particularly the story telling compositions of the golden voice Ogute Otan.
What would you like to be remembered for as an artiste?
I would love to be remembered as an artiste who uniquely interpreted every role he played giving each character its own trait. An artiste who brought meaning and pride to the arts through his acts and advocacy.
I have no regrets whatsoever on the path that I trudged in my artistic journey. Every stop have come with its lesson of life that have propelled me to achieve the many awards that have come my way in over four decades I stepped on the professional stage. I feel very fulfilled as an artiste when I receive complements and favours from fans and strangers who gleefully stretch their hands for a handshake in open admiration for the roles I have portrayed as an artiste. I have no regrets but an overt expression of thanks to God for His favours in my life.
How do you unwind?
I listen to music, read, watch movies, walk and sometimes sit with friends over a bottle of beer.