By Benjamin Njoku
This is the concluding part of our exclusive interview with the movie legend, Pete Edochie. The first part of it was published last week.
Was featuring in ‘Things Fall Apart’ the first production that brought you to limelight?
Yes, it was the production that projected me. I had played other little roles on television such as Segment of Shakespeare, Every Man, Realm of Violence, Resurrection and others. But Things Fall Apart was a full blown production. Because of its popularity as a set book, it was welcomed by a lot of people. They were not disappointed with the interpretation of the role. I feel very happy about it.
For many years now that production has not been shown on television?
It is the property of NTA and I think (I am not speaking with authority here) that some people bought the rights and decided to package and sell the production. A lot of people have the complete set of thirteen episodes. All the same, it is the property of NTA, and if the management of the television house decide that they want to run it again, all they require is sponsorship. But I know that the production is still very much in demand.
A lot of people have visited me from outside the shores of this country to ask for my help to enable them acquire the production. But I told them that the production was the property of NTA. There was a time I was approached by some people who wanted to translate the production into French.
They wanted to pay me a lot of money just for me to give my consent. But I am not used to that kind of thing. I need money but I don’t steal. If I had given it to them, nothing would have happened, but I would have stolen somebody’s property.
It would have haunted me all through my life. I am a devoted Catholic. However, I directed them to the management of NTA, and I don’t know how they sealed the deal.
Among your five sons, Yul is the only one that decided to take after you in the area of acting. Watching his films, do you see your blood running in his vein?
Yes, I’m not really used to watching our movies. But after some people told me that my son was doing very well I decided to watch him consciously. I think he’s doing very well. He has a good voice and he’s a good role interpreter. Actually, while he was in the university, he majored in directing.
But I told him that he ought to be in front of the camera, and not behind it. I assessed him as his father and advised him to go into acting. He did, and I don’t think he regrets it. Also, my other son, Linc, was there before Yul. He is married now and based in Abuja. Unfortunately, Linc didn’t quite make the impression that Yul made on screen.
So, he decided to back out. He is more creative than Yul is, but the latter is a better role interpreter. That’s the major difference. But if Linc has gone into directing, he would have done marvelously well because he is very creative. He chose his own path. I never compelled any of my children to do any thing.
I allowed them to follow their dreams. Yul is an actor while Adam is a Fine artist. Linc also studied Fine Art. My first son did Agric-economics and he’s based in Port- Harcourt with his family. Yul is the person who is flying the flag now.
You bought cars for all your sons. Was it a way of appreciating them for making you proud?
I wanted to encourage them. I said to them that if you guys graduate from the university, I would buy cars for you all. That was intended to be a source of inspiration for them. And they had it at the back of their minds. As they were graduating, I was buying cars for them and I don’t regret it.
Again, you graduate from the university, there is what we call peer group influence. You join your peer group, it’s a very venturesome age. They believe very much in adventure. You want to move around with them, and you see about four or five of the young men squeezing themselves into one car and getting themselves drunk while driving recklessly and killing themselves in the process.
I didn’t want that to happen to any of my sons. You have your own car and you drive at your own pace. Don’t be tempted by other people. Do your own thing in your own way. That’s why I bought cars for them and I don’t regret it.
Your beard is as old as the grey hair on your head. Will you ever shave it off for any price?
No, I wouldn’t, no matter how much you would pay me. It gives me character. I have always played a big man in my movies. If I am not a leader of a cult, I am an Igwe or a native doctor. There must be something inspiring about you. Something that frightens people, that terrifies them, intimidates them when they know that you are coming. When you clean-shave, you lose that character.
For how many years have you been growing your beard?
I started growing beard when I was 23 years.
And you have not shaved the beard since then?
It’s not necessary. I could trim it, but I will not shave my beard. I will carry it till the end of my time. I have a lot of hair on my head, and there is so much power in the hair. You read about the Bible story of Samson and Delilah. Our Lord Jesus Christ never shaved off his hair. There’s so much power in the hair.
IGBOS OWN NOLLYWOOD
Recently, Wale Adenuga, producer of “Super story” and Waptv Chairman alleged that Igbos have hijacked Nollywood. Do you agree with his observation?
Comments are free but facts are sacred. People are free to say whatever they like, but a fact is a fact. Who make up Nollywood? The Igbos. Who started Nollywood? The Igbos. What are the films you remember most in Nollywood; ‘Living in Bondage” which was produced by an Igbo man, “Rituals”, ‘Igbodo”, Ëbuka” among others. They were all produced by Igbo filmmakers. I featured in about 90 percent of these films.
Yorubas have always done productions in Yoruba, so the circulation of their films is limited. If you travel out of the shores of this country today, people would want to talk to you about the Igbo culture. They would talk about the huge bearded man with a red cap and a walking stick.
This is the man they are referring to. When our people went for All African Games in Kenya, Nigerians were winning laurels in wrestling and the Kenyans said, they were not surprised because they came from Okonkwo’s country. And Okonkwo was a wrestler.
There are those who spend all their time trying to run other people down. But like I said, a fact is a fact. Whatever you say about me today, such comments don’t bother me. I am the only actor that BBC has flown into Nigeria to interview, and that was because of my infectious professionalism.
It’s not limited to just the local media alone. When you stay with the English man and you talk to him and he listens to you, he’s impressed. And if you travel out of the country, you will be told that there is no actor in Nigeria who manipulates the English language like Pete Edochie. What can you do about it? Nothing. It happens to be truth. Somebody called me on phone some time ago and said there are only two actors in Nigeria: Pete Edochie and others. I said, “thank you very much.”
ONCE HURT BY THE SYSTEM
I started acting practically before all of them. But I got hurt along the line. During the centenary celebration, my name was dropped. It was deliberate, conspiratorial. I saw it, and people wrote about it in the dailies and called me on phone. Even Former President Goodluck Jonathan was mad over it. Again, it happened, and I did not kill anybody for it.
At the end of the day, it is the way that your audience sees you that matters. AfricaMagic organized Viewers Choice Award and the entire continent said, this bearded man desired an honour and I was given a car. I have never angled for anything. Not at all. I have won more awards than anybody else in the industry. I don’t struggle for these things.
If you think I desire an award, then bring it. There is a university in Ekiti state that wants to give me an award. I keep getting invitations, but I don’t need all those awards. Three university Professors and a team at various times, volunteered to write my biography. But I told them not to worry about it. And I have since apologized to them.
I don’t see why it has to be me, and they said to me, ‘you are the most outstanding performer the country has produced over the years. I have won an award once as the best actor of the continent of Africa in 2001, before all these minor awards started coming my way. The body that gave me the award was based in South Africa. I didn’t campaign for it. Later, the Censors Board introduced an award in 2003, and Pete Edochi was adjudged the Best Actor in Nollywood.
KEEPING THANKING GOD EVERYDAY
I came face to face with death in 1977, when I drove my car under a trailer. It was my first car which I bought in 1975. I survived the accident. Also, there was a time I was driving down to Awka to visit one of my sons at the university, when I cheated death again. God spared my life and I thank Him for that. People wrote some time ago in the dailies that Pete Edochie went to Austria and died there.
They said, he fell off a 50 feet height mountain in Kitzbuhel, Austria and died. I told them that they should stop announcing my obituary because my father died at 95. It’s all part of it. You are doing something, and some people appreciate you while many others don’t. But the great Zik said, “You don’t wish a fellow man death for any reason.”
If anybody wishes you death, you survive that person. It always happens. So, I don’t regret any part of my life at all. If there is second coming for anybody (I am talking about reincarnation), if I come back and I’m given the same opportunity, I will do everything all over again. I don’t have regrets at all.
People always mistake Rita Edochie, the actress for your wife?
In a way, she is. She’s my younger brother’s wife. Her husband is seven years younger than myself.
Is it true that you have a love child?
It doesn’t make sense. I don’t need it. Why?
But a young man from Kenya alleged some time ago that his mother told him you are his father and he was planning then to come to Nigeria to meet you?
Why didn’t he come to Nigeria? I have never been to Kenya before. Where did I meet his mother? I am not a wayward person. Peter (pointing at his PA) has been my Personal Assistant for over 17 years. If I were a sexually adventurous person, he wouldn’t have stayed with me for this long. But each time somebody calls me he picks up the phone. Somebody brought the story from the internet and showed it to me.
One slim character like that. He looked like a cattle Rear-er. He said, “somehow I think Pete Edochie is my father.” Well! Let him come to Nigeria and meet his father. But he hasn’t embarked on the journey yet. Like I said, such things don’t bother me. I got married at 22 years. I have never involved myself in tense extra-marital affairs.
It’s not necessary. We are all weak as men, but you see, if you decide to pursue a torrid extra-marital relationship, what will you be proving to people? However, I don’t involve myself in situations that will make me to compromise my integrity and that of my family.
Could you relive the experience you had in the hands of those criminals that abducted you few years ago at Nkpor, a suburb in the commercial town of Onitsha?
It’s something I don’t like talking about it.
Some entertainers are going into politics, are you planning to do so in future?
I don’t like politics. Politicians don’t speak the truth. Regrettably, there is no morality in politics. It doesn’t justify it. I want people to see me for who I am. If Pete Edochie says this thing is black, it’s black, there are no two ways to it. In the next ten years, he still tells you this is black. It gives me honour, it gives me integrity. But if tomorrow, I join politics and make a statement, people will begin to analyse it.
Whereas, in the movie industry today, I am the most respected actor. All the people who are part of the movies I feature in, respect me as their father. And it gives me a lot of honour and satisfaction because I see all of them as members of my family. So, I don’t like politics. Recently, a new administration came on board in Nigeria. A lot of people have been asking me about my expectations from the new government. And my answer is very simple, ‘Nothing.’
Buhari may stand out as an incorruptible creature. But what about the people under his administration? If Nigeria can be tinkered and rebuilt after Buhari’s image, we will have a wonderful country. But when you are so stuck in-graft, so stuck in corruption, it’s not always easy to get rid of these vices in a single day. I was following the progress of the now ruling party, APC, and I told a couple of my friends that this party has no ideology.
I kept wanting to hear from them, this is what we shall do and this is how we shall do it. I didn’t see or hear anything like that. The best politician this country has ever produced is Obafemi Awolowo. He may have been parochial but I love Awolowo for one thing. He would tell you I’m going to build this house, and this is what it will cost me to carry out the project. This is how I am going to raise the fund, and he went ahead and achieved it. No other politician has been able to beat the record in Nigeria.
What would you like to be remembered for?
Let it be said that, I spent my life giving joy to other people.