Disquiet about FG’s alleged selective support for ailing veteran Nollywood actors

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For some ailing Nollywood actors, their decision to support any one of the 19 registered political parties in Nigeria, other than the All Progressives Congress, during the general elections in the country may have come back to haunt them.

Prior to the February 25, 2023 presidential election, which analysts say is arguably the most controversial and hotly contested elections in the history of the country, Nigerians had begun to warm up and adapt to political parties whose ideologies appealed to them and Nollywood actors were not left out of this political acculturation.

For instance, a veteran Nollywood actor and comedian, John Okafor, had identified with the Labour Party and its presidential candidate in the election, Peter Obi.

Okafor, a 62-year-old thespian from Enugu State, together with other renowned Nollywood veterans like Patience Ozokwor and Alex Usifo, had in October 2022 endorsed Obi for president and even helped to launch a fundraiser to prop up the campaign finance of the former Anambra State governor.

However, one year after he endorsed Obi, a video emerged in October 2023 of Okafor bedridden with an undisclosed ailment in a private hospital in Lagos State.

In the video, Okafor pleaded with well-wishers to come to his aid financially. He also asked Nigerians to pray for him as his illness might cost him his leg.

After Okafor came clean about his health challenges, several Nigerians began to urge Obi to lend Okafor a helping hand.

One such Nigerian was activist Deji Adeyanju, who appealed to Nigerians for donations and also urged president Bola Tinubu to reach out to Okafor’s family.

Adeyanju also implored Obi, who he said was “aggressively supported” during the election, to use money in the Labour Party’s campaign donations to assist the ailing actor.

“It’s not when something bad happens that people would start showing that ‘Oh Mr Ibu was a good man’. This is the time to really help Mr. Ibu.

“I hear that there’s about N6.5bn in the Labour Party presidential (campaign) coffers from the contributions we made in the last election.

“This is the time to use such money,” Adeyanju said.

An Obi antagonist, Reno Omokri, had also urged well-meaning Nigerians to support Okafor.

Despite the SOS he put out, Omokri added, “However, this is a man who publicly endorsed Peter Obi. He and his daughter danced for Peter Obi and broke the internet.

“They went out on the streets campaigning for Obi – the same Peter Obi who boasted that he is richer than President Biden of the US, who at the time of Peter’s boast was worth $8.2 million.

“After all that John Okafor did for him, perhaps Mr. Peter Obi can support him by paying Mr. Ibu’s medical bills.”

Sadly, Okafor’s leg was amputated in November even though he underwent seven surgeries and former Senate President, Bukola Saraki’s foundation, had cleared all the cost of his treatment at the time.

That month, another veteran Nollywood actor, Amaechi Muonagor, shocked many Nigerians after he, too, told Nigerians that his health was deteriorating. The once versatile and larger than life actor said he was down with a stroke.

The 61-year-old actor from Obosi in Anambra State, who is also battling with diabetes and kidney failure, had kept his health status away from the public.

But he had exhausted his savings on his ailments and may have been encouraged to come forward with information about his own perils by the benevolence of Nigerians towards his colleague, Okafor (Mr Ibu).

That said, little is known about Muonagor’s political affiliations. He is not known to have openly endorsed any of the presidential candidates. There are also reports that he is not a member of the Actors Guild of Nigeria, an umbrella association for screen actors in film and television in Nigeria, which, among other things, seeks the welfare of its members.

The National President of the Actors’ Guild of Nigeria, Emeka Rollas, may have tacitly made reference to Muonagor’s disconnect with the Guild after he approved some money for the sick veteran actor while paying him a visit at the hospital.

Rollas said in a post on Instagram, “I have approved some money to be sent to his (Muonagor) account from the AGN TRUST FUND which may obviously not be enough due to his records with the Guild HMO and Insurance policy.

“I, therefore, use this medium to appeal to young actors to sign up for the AGN HMO and Insurance programmes.”

“But I will not judge the Federal Government using only the plight of those two actors. Nigerians must understand that the president may not even be aware of the challenges they are facing because no one informed him about them”

Other notable Nollywood actors have also visited Muonagor, including Bob-Manuel Udokwu, in the company of Anambra State first lady, Governor Charles Soludo’s wife, Nonye Soludo, who used the Christmas period to visit and show solidarity with Muonagor at the Teaching Hospital in Nnewi.

Some analysts say that the Federal Government’s indifference to the plight of the hospitalised actors is worrying. They have also knocked the Tinubu administration over the neglect of the debilitated actors.

This, they say, is so because of the sharp contrasts drawn between the non-existent attention given to the two actors and yet another Nollywood veteran, Zack Orji, whose recent unfortunate health condition got the attention of Nigeria’s first lady, Remi Tinubu.

Some critics have claimed that the government is “favourably disposed” towards Orji because of his avowed support for Tinubu during the buildup to the presidential election.

Indeed, in July 2022, Orji, 64, said Tinubu was the best man for president and that he would “turn the economy around for the better”.

He also said about Tinubu’s candidacy, “My support for Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is personal. I have lived in Lagos for over 40 years of my life. I have always known this man as a chief crusader for the democratic consolidation of our country, Nigeria.”

Orji was taken to the National Hospital, Abuja, on New Year’s eve after he reportedly slumped in his toilet.

Though his family took him on New Year’s day to a private hospital in Abuja where he had brain surgery, Orji, while at the National Hospital, was visited by the First Lady, Remi Tinubu, wife of the Vice President, Nana Shettima, Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye, among others.

It was the Minister of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, Hannatu Musawa, who eventually disclosed that Orji had brain surgery at the private hospital after her visit there.

“We will do all we can to support him (Orji),” she told journalists.

“We solicit the collective prayers of Nigerians because he is like a part of our families.

“We have watched him entertain us and we see him as a national treasure. So the best we can do is to ensure that we support him to have the best treatment,” Musawa added.

However, a current affairs analyst, Kizito Opara, said Musawa’s proposal for Orji’s welfare had some holes in it. He said Okafor and Muonagor were also national treasures who brought happiness to Nigerians and deserve government support, too.

“I agree with everything the Minister (Musawa) said but why have they not given this kind of attention to Mr Ibu and Muonagor? So, there are holes in her proposal.

“Muonagor and Mr Ibu are also national treasures who brought so much happiness to us. They also deserve the kind of love shown to Orji.

“I suspect that they are embracing Orji because he is a staunch supporter of Tinubu. He supported the president against all odds and I am sure this is how they want to repay him,” Opara said.

Another Nigerian, Ifeoma Ogbonna, on her own part told The Point, “This is why in politics; you must choose wisely those you truly believe would be by your side come rain or shine.

“As for the First Lady and her entourage, I think they didn’t really set out to see Orji at the hospital. Rather, they were at the National Hospital to see the first baby born in 2024.

“They must have decided to pay Orji a visit since he was admitted there at the hospital.

Ogbonna also said he would not judge the Federal Government based on only Muonagor and Okafor’s plight and that Obi might have assisted Okafor privately.

“But I will not judge the Federal Government using only the plight of those two actors. Nigerians must understand that the president may not even be aware of the challenges they are facing because no one informed him about them.

“That said, it is possible that Obi may have privately assisted Mr Ibu or any other sick Nollywood actor. But he has to make such assistance public, at least to silence naysayers,” she concluded.

Messages sent to the Actors’ Guild on the matter were, however, not replied.