- When things continue like this, the idea of suicide comes up – Chief Kanran
With the fame and name they have made in the past, some Nigerian celebrities still find it
hard to survive. While factors that led to the parlous conditions of some are self-inflicted, it
is hard to explain how others found themselves in such state of helplessness. OLUSHOLA
RICKETTS examines the situation.
It was with great shock that The Point received the news that Kehinde Akinremi, aka Chief Kanran, had been roaming the streets of Lagos, jumping from one bus to another like every ordinary Nigerian. In his hey days, Kanran was a leading Yoruba actor, who always played the role of either a chief or rich man in Yoruba movies. That was how he got his title, “Chief.”
When The Point eventually caught up with him recently in Iju Ishaga, Lagos, it was obvious that life had not been easy for the Yoruba actor. One may not be wrong to say he now lives from hand-to-mouth, going by the outcome of the conversation and meeting. But he still has the stature and charisma of a chief.
Revealing that he had lost count of movies he had featured in, he disclosed that he started starring in soaps since 1992 in movies like ‘For Better For Worse,’ ‘Mirror In The Sun,’ ‘The Eve’ and ‘Everyday People.’
“I cannot even attempt to count the Yoruba films I have featured in. I can only remember the ones I produced, which are 25,” he said.
He, however, pointed out that since he did not know how to engage in drug trafficking, other scams or money ritual, he had been living an average life.
“I am not rich and I am not poor. I have tried my best, but things are still tough for me. How do I eat when I am not invited to locations? When things continue like this, the idea of committing suicide comes up. I now have a registered company. I plan to start going to places to tell people I do general supplies. But must things get to this level?” he asked.
Kanran, however, admitted that he had made some mistakes in life. Then, people would rush to him for one help or the other after being rejected by others.
“I did not know I was only harming myself. If I had stuck to strictly business the way other stars did then, I would probably have been a millionaire long ago. I take things of life easy and I render help to people freely. If I am travelling, I do not need to know you to pick you on the way. But once my car breaks down now, I do not get people to help me. What they only do is to hail me and go.
“There are certain things I cannot do again. No way will I feature in a movie without pay, even if the person is a family. This is the reason people have been saying they have not been seeing my face regularly again. I am no more interested in helping people anymore,” Kanran said.
Since he lost his wife to breast cancer many years ago, Kanran maintained that it had not been easy for him. He has stayed unmarried because, according to him, most women just wanted to milk men and disappear once they’ve achieved their aim and the man is no longer bouyant. “Four years ago, I would have passed out if not for the phone I had with me. I could not go to the kitchen and I could not do anything myself. I called a neighbour that I was dying and he rushed in to help me. My blood pressure was more than 400 and the doctor said it was a miracle I did not give up. I explained my predicament and he was surprised that I had no one staying with me at my age. Three women have had children for me since my wife died, but we never stayed together. For the past four years now, I do not lock the main entrance to my living room because I want people to have access in case anything happens to me.”
He said since he had given so much to the country, he expected the government to rally round such person in times of need.
The Yoruba actor lamented that veterans had not been treated well in Nigeria, adding, “I wonder why we must wait till people are dying before we come to their rescue. If one dies, they would give the person a suitable burial. What did they do to assist him while he was struggling to stay alive? I have been saying this for so long. We should appreciate people while they are alive; when they have teeth to chew and when they have shoulders to carry suits.
“In the 1980s, I played a billionaire in a movie. Things I saw in the house were controlled by a remote and it was the first time I saw a flat screen television, too. I was sober because I did not have more than N500 on me and I was acting rich.”
A week before the death of the popular music producer, OJB Jezreel, in an encounter with The Point correspondent, he attempted to defend himself and other celebrities who were in bad shape. OJB’s situation was quite understandable as the battle to overcome the kidney failure ensured that everything he had went into treating his health problem.
The producer explained, “What people must understand is that 1986 is not the same like 2016. The things you see today are not there when they were dominating. We did not have the likes of MTN, Globacom, Airtel and a host others. By the time showbiz started to boom, 30 years had gone. So, it was not that we did not take advantage of things; we were just unlucky.”
When it was reported last year that Lari Williams was homeless and blind, it became a topical issue in the media. Why it attracted much attention is not far-fetched. He was the first president of the Actors Guild of Nigeria and played a major role in soap operas such as the ‘Village Head Master’, ‘For Better for Worse’, ‘Adio Family’ and ‘Mirror in the Sun.’ And he has also lectured Theatre Arts at the Lagos State University; University of Lagos and the University of Calabar.
But till date, his condition is appalling. His office at the Artiste Village in the National Theatre, which also doubles as his residence, was a mess when The Point visited him. It is really hard to think that one as decorated as the veteran actor in the Nigerian movie industry, is living in such a hole. Even if all the ‘loads’ are moved out, the office is still not habitable.
He explained to The Point that when he returned to Lagos from Calabar, where he was lecturing, his landlord had sold the house where he was living in. And since then, he had been living in his office.
He recalled, “When it was reported last year that I was blind and homeless, it was a bit embarrassing but that is the truth. I have given so much to this industry and I feel I deserve a better deal. I have served this country and the industry for years. I have done everything and I have nothing to show for it. I have lectured in three universities.”
He lamented that great entertainers, who served the country diligently, had died without anyone paying attention to them.
He lamented, “Ambrose Campbell, who was called from England to perform during the independence celebration, died and was buried in England. It is saddening to note that no Nigerian or government official knows his place of burial till today. It is the same with Orlando Martins, the first professional actor, who left the shores of Nigeria to perform in England and the United States of America. He even went as far as performing with the likes of Ronald Reagan (the former President of the US). The late Garuba of the ‘Village Headmaster’ fame died miserably in his house after years of suffering.”
With the rich portfolio of Williams, one wonders how he finds himself in this situation. How about his family? He said his children should be left out of it, insisting that it was not too much for any of the organisations he had served in the past to come to his rescue.
“If I run into any problem, can’t any of these organisations I have worked for help me? I have not gone to India to get treatment for my failing sight and I am also looking for a place to stay. I must say I do not deserve my present state,” he said.
He also queried how the money given to the entertainment industry by former President Goodluck Jonathan was spent, claiming that he was the first person to express appreciation to the former president, an appreciation which he claimed was published in the national dailies.
“I requested that we set-up a hall of fame, which would preserve the history of our artistes and the industry at large and also take care of industry practitioners that cannot work anymore. But nobody took note of that.
“Ageing actors should be made comfortable so that they can keep churning out materials. If I have a comfortable apartment and I am sure of my next meal, I will remain creative and serve the future generations who want to pursue a future in arts,” he said.
Pelumi Lawal, one of the young men working closely with Williams at the Artiste Village, insisted that he had yet to be treated on his failing eyesight.
“He still sleeps in his office. Some people turned up to help him, but I do not know how far it went. He recently featured in ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ and won some cash. But he has not done any operation,” he said. The poet and rapper also stated that during the visit of the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, when a part of the Artiste Village was demolished, the minister said he was aware of his plight and promised to reach out to them.
He told The Point, “Actors and actresses, who cannot do much or who are in need, should not be abandoned. I heard that the AGN was making attempts to relocate Uncle Lari to an apartment, but I do not know how that went, too. If he has enough money, he will get a comfortable place.”
He argued that the fame in showbiz was more than money, while adding that the emergence of home videos did not favour certain theatre arts practitioners.
Lawal added, “Regardless of how many productions you’ve done in the past, once you stop working, the money will finish. Some of their colleagues like Olu Jacobs and Pete Edochie have been so lucky because they still act in different films. The coming of home videos favoured some, while others were left behind. I do not think Uncle Lari has done any major production in the last five years. He has been trying to survive in his own way. The last job he did, I think, was six years ago during the Calabar Carnival. He was given money to present one of his plays. So Imagine!”
Dejumo Lewis is one of the veterans who also lives a secluded life. While speaking with The Point, he did not shy away from describing himself as the poorest paid actor in Nigeria. He said, “Since many people had known that acting was a hobby for me, they always offered me poor packages. “I am the poorest paid Nigerian legendary actor as they call me. But I have no regrets in my life. I consider myself as the happiest man on earth, despite the rough times and many things I do not have.”
There is a school of thought that believes everyone is responsible for himself or herself. According to this school of thought, what becomes of people later in life is a product of how they had lived their early days.
Taiwo Ajai-Lycett actually belongs to this school of thought. According to the veteran actress, the society does not owe anyone anything and what happens to a human being is a reflection of how the person lives his or her life. “I am not saying I am clever than anybody; I am saying that the environment or condition you find yourself is a manifestation of what you have in your head. For instance, how can you start blaming the society for Majek Fashek? He is a lovely man, but what happens to us is our doing. You think the world tells you how to live your life? When you go on a particular path, it could take you down, so you have to be careful.
“Why are you not seeing me in nightclubs or where people smoke? When you start moving with people who take cocaine, you will join them soon. Life is personal or a choice, though it does not mean we should not help people in bad situations. But we are largely responsible for ourselves and we must all take responsibilities for our lives,” she said.
Lawal, however, kicked against Ajai-Lycett’s position on Fashek and others. He insisted that people who talked about Fashek did not tell the world what actually went wrong. To him, people were just guessing and adding up stories.
“It is a different thing when you know what actually happened to someone. No one has given us a detailed account. We all know what happened to Michael Jackson, but some people had attributed Fashek’s problem to mystics. I know people who take drugs more than he did and they still control themselves. If we really know what went wrong with some of these people, it could change our perceptions about them,” he said.