By BENJAMIN NJOKU
Veteran actor and advert guru, Teddy Mukoro who played Oghene in one of Nigeria’s most successful TV series, The Village Headmaster, which ran on NTA in the 80s is still in deep sorrow. Three years after he lost his wife, Felicia in an auto-crash in 2010, at Maryland bus stop, Lagos, Teddy still feels the same love he had for her while she lived.
At his Maryland residence last week, the old man recounts the ugly experience of living without his wife at 80 years. He also takes a stroll down memory lane, talking about his role as the first Village Headmaster and why he left the set.
HOW would you describe the experience you had after the death of your wife about three years ago?
When one loses one’s wife after 56 years in marriage and especially when one is already 80 years, it’s not a very pleasant experience. I have always said that even though men are not eager to die, it’s better for a man to die before his wife. In most cases, men are always older than their wives.
In my own case, I was nine years older than my wife. Suddenly, we started mourning. She left home for church service and the next thing we heard that she was dead. It is not easy to adjust but it’s easy for a woman to survive her husband with her children.
After three years of living without your partner, how has life been with you?
Every day of my life I miss her. In fact, it is impossible not to miss her. I thought I was going to mourn her for three months, but by September 2010, I had to convince myself to drop the black clothes. That does not mean that each time, I pray, I always remember her. When I smile, I smile for her. I missed everything about her. I’m now at the mercy of my daughter and her family. She tries very hard to make me feel comfortable. It’s a new experience that I enjoy very much.
But I deeply appreciate the concern and love shown to me by my children and everybody around me. My wife was a very saintly, kind woman who never did anything wrong. At the moment, I don’t feel as if I don’t have a wife. She had gone ahead of me. I believe in the life hereafter and at the end of the race, we will face the judgment of God. My wife was a wonderful woman. I didn’t appreciate her enough. While she lived, I never met her demands but she was ‘not bothered.
But did you really prosecute the bus driver that killed her?
No, I didn’t. Two or three days after her death, a Policeman came to ask me what I wanted them to do with the bus driver. I told him, I don’t have anything to do with the bus driver. My wife is dead and she’s dead. I didn’t want to see the bus driver and I never set my eyes on him.
How did you become the first Village Headmaster?
Each time any of the cast of the now rested Village Headmaster dies, people always come to ask me about that person. The other time, it was Chief Segun Olusola,and most recently, Justus Esiri. But one thing I must state here is that, the man who produced and directed the series, Sanya Dosumu has been abandoned. Dosumu, who is currently the Olowo of Owu in Abeokuta, Ogun State was a very fantastic man.
He came back from the United Kingdom and developed strong interest in the programme which then was produced with low budget. He came across the idea in the archives of the NTS. He was excited when he told me that there was no money to execute the project but he made up his mind to give it a trial. That was when he involved me as one of the writers. I have never written a play before in my life.
He brought me into a team of amateur writers including Alex Akinyele. But today nobody remembers Dosumu. It’s as if he did not exist. I had the option of playing the role of either the Village headmaster or Bassey Okon, which Jab Adu played. But later, Dosumu decided that I should play the role of the Village Headmaster. After we had done the casting, it was time to shoot the series. Dosumu and I were not living far from each other at the Palmgrove area of Lagos.
He came to me one Friday evening and said, Teddy, you are going to write the opening and the follow-up episodes of the Village Headmaster. Responding, I said, “I have never written a drama before.”I didn’t train as a theatre practitioner. But Dosumu was very precise about what he wanted. But I think he wanted some kind of ability to tell a story. And he stood beside me at the dining table. With him, standing behind I came up with a script that night. The next day, two scripts were ready.
The scripts set the tone for
the entire series. I believe that anybody has the right to tell his own story. But the most important thing is to find out who did what, in the annals of the Village Headmaster.
That was how we started the Village Headmaster. I was hopeless when it comes to memorising scripts. The problem I had was not only trying to memorise the scripts but also, interpreting the character very well. I wrote many of the early episodes of the TV drama. At a point, we exhausted the 13 episodes we had but Dosumu insisted that we must continue to produce the series no matter the odds.
Then, we were not thinking about the money, but importantly, how we could make an impact on the society. I could recall that at the time, the Village Headmaster was being recorded, the video technology was in its developing stage. The video system at NTS, WNTV, at ENTV Enugu, RKTV in Kaduna all four stations had different video system . So, we could not exchange program-mes. It was a wonderful experience. But we had the problem of editing, so when we start recording for 50 minutes or one hour and anything happens in the 46th minute, we start all over again.
What prompted your decision to leave the set of the TV drama?
My wife had gone to deliver her baby in my Doctor’s friend hospital.The doctor had called to inform me that although she had successfully put to bed her baby, she suddenly developed swollen stomach(gas) and needed to take some injection.
He expressed the fear that she might give up if help did not come immediately. I returned to my home that night broken-hearted. Gripped with the fear of losing my wife, I went out in search of the injection, and when I finally found it , I went straight to the hospital to deliver it to the doctor.
He asked me to come back around 5 pm and when I did, she had already bounced back to life. However, after this sad experience, we could not record any episode. And there was so much grumbling coupled with my weaknesses in mastering my lines. I think Sanya Dosumu was advised to retire me.
He decided to rest the series for some time and I was waiting for more than one month. Suddenly, somebody whispered into my ears that the Village Headmaster was running again. I couldn’t believe it but as a matter of fact, Mr. Femi Robinson was the person that succeeded me as the second Village Headmaster. I never met him in person but I heard that he had a very high regard for me.
However, I consulted a
lawyer, Fred Egbe with the hope of instituting a legal action against Sanya Dosumu. But Fred advised me to ignore the matter, saying that it does not mean anything to me. That was how I dropped the idea. But surprisingly, Dosumu felt bad and later came back to me. He told me that he was misled and as a matter of fact, he wanted me to star in his new film, “ Dinner with the Devil.”
After pleading with me, I accepted to star in the film, and that was how we became friends again. I must state here that credit must be given to all the cast and crew of the Village Headmaster for the pioneering role they played in the development of TV drama in the country.
What do you think today’s film makers should learn from your generation?
There is something we call directing. We have great directors as well as lousy ones in this country. But it’s amazing even in Hollywood when it comes to how one becomes a director. You don’t need a qualification to become a director. I’m very careful to criticise our film makers. Although, we have bad directors, I think it’s wrong to dampen the courage of those who are into film production.