From 1975 when Tony Akposheri began his acting career, he has remained constant as the northern star in tinsel town. Popularly known as ‘Zakeu (Zaccheus),’ a character he portrayed in the rested comedy sitcom, New Masquerade, Akposheri who somehow has managed to stay off controversies has overtime witnessed the evolution in the film industry. Now in his 60s with immense contribution to the industry, Akposheri is unhappy with the way veterans are treated. He speaks with SAM ANOKAM about his career, COVID-19, and the secret behind his scandal-free life.
HOW are you adjusting to the new normal?
Just like every other veteran, we are left at home, no palliative, nobody cares how you live but then I just have somebody to say thank you to and that is the president of Ohaneze who invited me and gave me a bag of rice and this Yoruba actress, cant readily remember her name now. I still do remember that when it was so serious two friends of mine; one called from Germany the other from Ghana. The one from Germany asked if the government pay me for staying at home, I said no. He said though he is at home, he receives pay and foodstuff on a weekly basis.
I said well, this is Nigeria for you, we hope and pray that somebody someday will remember us. But then I must tell you we are not finding it easy at all because haven reached this stage, your work, that is your royalty is not paying, so you have nothing to live on. You still struggle like the younger ones. A situation where you are not called for a job, the job hardly comes. When it eventually comes, you will begin to pray for another one after doing the first one. It is pretty difficult but then I thank God that I am healthy and I take things the way they come.
Do you believe the pandemic is real unlike your colleague Mr. Ibu who says the pandemic does not exist?
We get sick every day. People die every day but I believe it is real. I have friends in the U.S. who keep telling me how people are dying there. Here in Nigeria, somebody will say it is only the big men that are affected but somebody like Chief Raymond Dokpesi was admitted into isolation even though he said the drug he took was close to malaria but then it is there. People are dying every day. Somebody once told me that this is a high fever of malaria because the whites don’t survive malaria but we do so. Whatever way it is, I believe they cannot fake but then what the government did and what the people are saying is that this thing is being blown up. I don’t know but I remember a colleague of mine who said he was in Bariga, the son of a neighbor was playing football and he got wounded and when he was taken to the hospital, they registered him as one of the COVID-19 cases. He was given a number. When the mother protested the nurse told her not to worry that her son does not have it but she is only following instructions. I believe it is there because of the way it is going, they cannot fool everybody. Whether people are making money from it or not, the worst is the situation where you see the banks donating money to the government meanwhile their customers are dying of hunger at home. A situation where you millionaires donating money to the government meanwhile the ordinary people are dying at home. In my street, in my CDA, the chairman brought a bag he said is palliatives for them but decided to give it to the poorest of the poor. It is terrible.
A committee was set up headed by Ali Baba for the creative industry. Initially, I thought when this committee was being set up, they are going to look into it and see how they can help the creative industry especially those that their hands are not strong especially those these things have affected so much. We were told to fill the form and this form was filled-till date nothing has been said of what is coming to us.
What do you think would happen to Nollywood and you post COVID-19?
Nollywood would still function just like every other organization. We must roll on. Like I told somebody that this is what I know I can do and this is what I do best. I am not a banker, I’m not a lawyer. If there is any other thing, I should have done apart from Nollywood is Agriculture which I am still thinking of once I have the amount of what I needed. Nollywood moves on. Nigeria will move on. People will move on. The fact is that how we see things we flow. The day you die is the day you stop functioning.
What have you benefitted from fame?
It is just joy. I must tell you, it is just the joy of life. If you talk about money, No. It is a joy because I love doing it and it gives me self fulfillment. I love it when people tell me, ‘you put a smile on my face and you make me happy, congratulations.’ That’s it. Nobody has ever come to say Zakeu of course you know the name Zakeu, very strong during the time of ‘Masquerades.’ To date, they still call me Zakeu especially old school but nobody has called me to say Zakeu how do you cope? How can I help you? After Zakeu, the other project I went into was an MNET series where I played ‘Funto’ in ‘Eji Meji.’ Funto was another household name and people liked my character and I really executed it very well. One other thing is that I enjoy passing knowledge. Talking to the up and coming acts. how they should carry on, encouraging them, tell them the way it should be done.
Today my family, my wife, my children, have a sitcom that we are working on. When my son-in-law and my daughter who is also an actor and writer came up with the idea, we said, let us shoot a series that revolves around the family. We called it ‘Naija Dad.’ We did that, rehearsed but the money we were expecting did not come. I said there is no use waiting for money, let us do what we can, so we turned it into a skit. Every week now I release a skit. But then I’m still waiting for money. A friend of mine Esther Ekanem was in ‘Cockcrow at Dawn,’ and ‘Behind the Clouds,’ advised me not to wait for money asking if I have ever seen who has come up to help veterans. Today the skit is on youtube. But the day that I will really give glory to God is when I get a sponsor. I feel and I know I have so much to still give to my fans, to society as regards quality comedy. When I give, I make you happy and also pass on the message. A lot of veterans are wasting away. I still remember talking to the late James Iroha (Gringory of the New Masquerade) before he died one day, he said, ‘Tony, I am wasting o, I have a lot to give but nobody is coming to help.’ When you talk about the ‘New Masquerade,’ how much where we been paid?
Today I could not come out in my car. I parked it somewhere, then I took a cab. A lady sat at the back of the cab I took. She said, ‘oga Zakeu, you will pay for my fare today.’ But after a while, she said, ‘no you won’t pay because you are not making money and you did not make money in your own time, I will pay for you. I still watch you to date and young producers don’t remember people like you all the time. Don’t worry I will pay for you.’ she had to pay for me. That woman was coming from the market.
This veteran thing that you keep harping on, what should be done about it?
The government and the associations. Let your royalties pay for you just like what Tony Okoroji did for COSON. You cannot just play any music anyhow, if you play it, you pay for it. The life of these people should be taken into considerations. These people have put so much into this industry in time past, how do you honour them? You don’t honour them rather you call one small one that started yesterday and you give him OON, MFR, and all that. But in times past, these people put so much, they make you happy. They are still there. Honour them! All these post humour awards, does it really worth it? I think the government has something to do, the organisations also have something to do. And that is where the Ministry of Information or Art and Culture comes in. Even from your own state, we still have a problem.
Over the years, you have maintained your integrity, how have you managed to stay off scandal?
One, it’s God. Two, there is nothing like humility. What you know should not be done to you don’t do it to others. My mother warned me many years ago. She said, ‘Tony as you are going out, there are two things you must not fall into – woman and money. If you do business with a man or with your colleagues if it is going to bring a problem, leave the money, go. Think of your life first. Then a woman is another thing. Don’t follow another person’s wife. Never involve yourself in any scandal!”
To crown it all is humility. When I kneel down and pray to God to please bless me, what I pray for my children is what I also pray for other people’s children. What I don’t want my children to be I don’t want others to be. I take life the way I see it. Like today I was tempted to call somebody who was owing me. I wanted to tell him that today is one of my daughter’s birthday and I cannot afford to do this or that for her but I thought otherwise. You see prayers matter. Listen to the lines of your prayers. Move with it. So that when you stand up from where you prayed you to follow it so that God will answer you.
What is that experience in Nollywood that you will never forget?
The good is that I am still alive and I am functioning today. Once in a while, they still call me for jobs. Most especially, God still gave me the zeal to remember lines, acting, especially when I step on that set. When you see your mates being called for something you are not recognized for or called upon to earn that money, it is painful. It is not just by acting alone. Abroad they pay for some special appearances but you just discover that some of these guilds especially our guild would not remember you when it comes to that but meanwhile this is where such veterans are supposed to be because they don’t labour so much when it comes to that as the job is not coming. There are so many things on the ground that veterans should be benefitting from. How are they being recognized? How are they being celebrated? They don’t celebrate them.
Like I earlier said, one joy I receive again is passing knowledge to the younger ones. Charles Inojie was once having a birthday party some time ago, I was invited. He said he never believed I would come when he was giving his vote of thanks. He said I am one man he was watching when he was very young and that I am that man that goes on any set and brings himself to a level of every other actor or crew member. I said that is what keeps me on.