By Chris Onuoha
Nigeria is a country endowed with human and natural resources, blessed with eco-friendly vegetation. Being one of the largest populated black regions in Africa it has overwhelming human potentials in virtually all areas of endeavour, namely sports, music, film industry, science, business and education among others.
If you recall the statement allegedly credited to Mr. President that ‘Nigeria youths are lazy’ which trended for some time, and elicited massive reactions; a Nollywood actor, Ifeanyi Humphrey Akogo, while in a chat with Vanguard, claims that it is a misconception of the reality on ground. Speaking on issues concerning youths and vices among other things, he stated that the country is one of the most popular entities in the world that has all it takes to build a strong economy if the youths can really think out of the box, explore and channel their creativity positively.
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Ifeanyi Humphrey Akogo is a former banker turned actor and broadcaster, currently anchoring an evening drive show programme called ‘Music and moments on 99.3 Nigeria Info fm. He is also a popular face in the Nollywood industry with series of primary roles to his credit. He played the role ‘Mr. Midas’ in the popular Tinsel TV series on the Africa Magic Television. Beyond that, he has made successful contributions in the Nollywood industry featuring in various popular TV series and movies, like the ‘Battleground’ and ‘Choices’ among others.
Speaking on the strength of entertainment sector to which he belongs, he said: “I see great positive movement in the film industry in Nigeria. It’s an industry that was self-created and flowered into something that has been appreciated across the world. That is a Nigeria project for you. The standard is getting higher and it has evolved. The production quality is such you can compare with movies done in advanced countries despite the fact that it has not gotten the kind of support other film industries across the world enjoy.”
Akogo, using his upbringing as a focal point stated, that no background could be used as a yardstick to measure success if there is determination and focus: “I grew up in a humble family of seven siblings and I am the first. My upbringing was a complex one, but the experience was quite exciting. My parents are from Ukwuani, Ndokwa West in Delta State, but I was born and raised up in Ibarrapa area of Ebute Metta and later moved to Orile Iganmu, all in Lagos State where I stayed with my grandparents at the early stage of my life.
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Initial life challenges did not deter me from forging ahead and as it stands today, success to me is a recount of steps taken from time past,” he said. Akogo also attributed his success story to his grandfather who he calls his idol: “My grandfather was just an awesome fellow. He gave me the room to be me. I was his errand boy and he encouraged the artiste in me. I can truly say that he inspired what I am today. He gave me the freedom to explore life and he also told me stories that sharpened my life. He was a retired Sailor with the Merchant Navy, so he had seen the world across many seas and he told vivid stories too”
Ifeanyi sees every Nigerian youth as potentially endowed and sees no reason such talents cannot create wealth positively. He bemoans the trending “Yahoo, Yahoo” phenomenon that is slowly eating the fabric of the society, and challenged the same to channel such ingenuity to meaningful goals.
“I am a creative entrepreneur involved with creative works on radio and TV productions,” Ifeanyi continued. “My acting experience started in the church. My background basically started when I was in primary school but I never knew that it was a direction I was going to go. I went to St John’s Secondary School in Lagos and finished at Baptist High School, Abeokuta, Ogun State. Back then in School, I was the President of Literary Society where I had lots of acting on stage experience. I was also the school’s dancer and later, went to Delta State University where I studied Health Education. After my National Youth Service programme, I came back to Lagos and picked jobs in banking and financial institutions at various capacities.
Journey into acting
“It was an innate thing because right from primary school, I participated in various drama groups that moved round the country to perform. This was when the interest grew and sharpened my desire to participate on stage plays. I did about 20 stage plays then. I also found out that while I was in the banking industry, the art was brewing underneath me. By the time I left the banking institution in the capacity of an acting head of training, I discovered that I was always at home talking to people or dramatizing events in an expressive way to make people laugh. My class session was always fun because I mixed up teaching with drama.
“I did my first production in 2006 called ‘Choices’. It was a film that was produced under the auspice of the late Pastor Bimbo Odukoya of the Fountain of Life Church, Lagos. She put the story together which comprised a lot of big names in the acting industry and it was the first movie we did commercially, directed by Don Pedro Obaseki. I also featured in a movie, “Tango with me” also produced by the management of Fountain of Life Church; a 26 episode series that ran on local television in Nigeria.
“I got my first break on mainstream TV when I had the opportunity to play the character “Mister Midas” on Tinsel episode in 2015. “Mr Midas’ was a crooked character that had a part of him stealing from the person he was managing. Because he was crooked in the series, he got more attention, and of course, Tinsel is huge, showing in almost 50 African countries – with that visibility people started knowing the face and it eventually became a brand. After that, getting acting offers for films started rolling in. I have done films for Rok Studios directed by Desmond Elliott, and others by Mike Ezuruonye, Iyabo Ojo, and Fehintola Ogunlana to mention but a few. They were all primary roles having major actors in it.
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Describing the projects that brought him to limelight, Ifeanyi disclosed: “So far, the biggest role I have ever played, from my own perspective, was in, “Battleground”. It is a TV series that ran for 2 years. It was an African Magic Production and the second part which was, “Battleground – Final Showdown” which just ended.
In ‘Battleground’, I played the role of “Boniface” who was the General’s henchman, who did all the dirty jobs for him. It was the hardest character I have ever played because “Boniface” didn’t say too many words but he elicited a lot of fear with his facial expressions and body language, there was huge action behind the role. The role I played in Battleground really elevated my status as an actor. It was a great story that people watched and it however gave me an edge because I have been severally accosted by people both within and outside the countries saying “I know this face.” It has increased my visibility greatly.
Watching the casts in the rested Nigeria Television Authority’s comedy, ‘The Masquerade’ inspired me into taking up acting professionally. As a child, I used to love the likes of Claude Eke (Prince Jegede Shokoya), an Igbo man playing a Yoruba man fluidly and ‘Natty’ the hungry guy. He does not say much but when he appears, his expression and body language says much. Another person was the late Justus Esiri of the ‘Village Headmaster’ including other characters in that comedy. The fact that one could live a certain life in a film and still maintain his real life outside film is what inspires me most. In movies, I could be any role and still be myself outside films.
Diverse work experiences and its role in acting profession
I must say that this is one area that helped me in the acting career. In the industry, there are certain productions that would not be able to pay you what you should earn, I mean low budget productions. But sometimes, you do such production because of the names behind it. It is a win-win affair; you have to give this and take that. I have done productions that paid less money but it was done because I needed to be involved with the big names behind the production for visibility sake.
“As an entrepreneur, I have managed funds and time, and when it comes to acting, it helped to check my desire for production deals. In the industry, some actors may take roles regardless of how much they are paid. Some may even take peanuts for a role because there is no standardized mode of remuneration. For me, I was very independent as an entrepreneur before going into acting and that was an edge, because I could be careful in choosing the roles I play.
Attributes to success
“I have been gifted and favoured on that part of the art. It’s been good. I have moved on from doing some sort of low budget films to large ticket productions. When I was chosen to do my first TV movie in “Tinsel”, one of the qualities the producer picked out of me was my voice. I was asked to read a script and well… I can say my voice announced me. The Producer was impressed and told me, except someone has a better voice, you are already chosen, and I was, eventually. I think my voice has some magic that projected me. I have also been able to work as a Voice Artist on many projects out there. Other things are my facial expressions and body language. These things come to me naturally. The producer once commented that he liked the way I handled roles because I go the extra mile to project the character beyond expectations. He said I own every role I play. For instance, when I was given a minor role as ‘Boniface’, I did it so well that the producer kept writing me into the story till the end.”
Having won some awards and hoping for more he lamented that Nigeria Nollywood needs some re-strategizing to help the industry grow further. “One of the things that needed urgent attention is the project planning and logistics process in the Nollywood industry. A lot of time and resources are spent while shooting movies. So many avoidable obstacles impedes quality productions which is not good for the industry. The lack of adequate infrastructure for producing movies as obtainable in other clime is a major burden to the industry.
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For instance, if you are supposed to be on set to shoot for five days but because of the commercial constraints, you work beyond your limit to do it in three days, while other climes, you may be given just one role and you will be paid for 3 months prior to shooting just to research and get into the character very well, so that you can perform flawlessly. Here in Nigeria, who would want to pay you to spend a long time just to get into a character? We have not gotten there yet. However, I am hopeful that these types of improvement will happen soon in the Industry”.