Younger artistes should learn from my ugly fate – Nollywood actor Emma Edokpayi down with amnesia for 13 months
The Father’s House, a Pentecostal church in Akute, Ogun State, is a Mecca of sort for the celebrities that live in that community and its environs. Popular actor, Emma Edokpayi, is one of them. He maintains a front seat in the church and his almost completely grey beard and hair stand him out in the congregation.
On this particular day, the reporter’s attention was drawn by Edokpayi’s animated responses to the preaching of the pastor, Dr. Richard Udoh. Until he ran into a health crisis a few years ago, things were really looking up for Edokpayi as an established cameraman and an A-list actor. He was easily one of the golden boys of the era when cinema was just becoming a culture in Nigeria.
Until the ‘Benin boy’ began to experience the other side of life, he never thought that life could be cruel. In August 2004, he suffered a stroke while shooting a documentary on an oil field. He was down and out of circulation for years on account of the ugly incident.
He said: “I came to realise that the stroke affected me not only physically but mentally. It affected my mind. I lost almost every memory. I was brought back to Lagos and I remained in my house. I could not remember my friends. I could not remember any phone number. People came to see me but I could not recall their faces.
“I was more or less hiding from people. I was just a different person from what I used to be. Before then, if you gave me a script, I didn’t need to spend hours studying it. All I needed to do was to read a line and I would get the whole picture and get ready. I stopped seeing people. I didn’t want anybody to pity me.
“At the time I had stroke I had N6 million. I told my wife that by the time we finished this money, I would bounce back. By the time it was six months, the money had been exhausted but I was still not okay.”
At the height of his predicament, he dwelt in self-pity and he became impatient with people. Stringing sentences together became a problem.
“In an attempt to correct it, I messed up. I was avoiding people. People felt my wife was hiding me, whereas I was the one that did not want to see people, because when people were talking, I would not be able to talk, my contribution would be nonsense. I could not articulate. I could not piece two sentences together so that at the end, everybody would just keep quiet.”
Since he resumed from the unsolicited sabbatical, he has participated in a film called Alero, but he recalled that it was a painstaking experience. “They knew that everybody had to relax for me. Most of the lines were patched and towards the end, my brain started grabbing things,” he said.
Edokpayi may not be very active in the entertainment industry right now, but people like Wale Adenuga, the producer of popular TV series, This Life, still recognise his acting dexterity and gave him a role in it.
It is not as if he does not want to act in movies. The problem, he said, is that he no longer gets invitation from producers. He said: “I don’t really select movies. It is just that I’m not sought after by producers. Maybe I don’t go out or frequent the environment or maybe they don’t know about me. If you don’t know where to find this man, you may not look for him when you have production.
“It is a question of producer looking for me and fixing me for a role. I’m living more of a quiet life now. But living a quiet life does not mean that I’m not willing to act. It is a question of me going out again. If I’m beginning to circulate, I will find roles.”
The two-seater cane chair inside his compound is where he spends his time enjoying fresh air and reading the Bible. And he counts himself lucky that he lives in his own house, because many of his colleagues are not that lucky.
“Most of the people find themselves in the industry of glamour and the glamour takes away from them the consciousness of what they should do. In the industry, you find glamour. Everybody hails and patronises you. If you are not careful or God-fearing, you may not realise that you are losing out in life. You have to build for tomorrow,” he said as a matter of warning to other artistes.
Of course, he is well positioned to counsel the younger generation of artistes. He was once like some of the wealthy ones among themcomfortable and rich. At a time that many of today’s A-list artistes were still struggling, Edokpayi could boast of more than four state-of-the-art cars like Mercedes Benz Concorde and SUVs. He recalled that at a time as far back as more than a decade ago, he had started earning between N100,000 and N300,000 per week.
“When the money comes, you want to go high to the top. You go partying and drinking. And because it is a thing of glamour, you want people to see you at your best, even when it is not the best of times for you. You always want to show yourself in the best form and mood so that people would not see you as not living quality life.
“Most times, even the little money we made, instead of using it to build the future for ourselves, we use the money to live in glamour. Even the business itself is glamour. You drive in the best car, you live in the best house that is not yours and in the end, if you go to the innermost recesses of people who live this kind of life, you will see that they are just doing window showing of themselves.
“At a time, I was at my peak and suddenly it crumbled. Events will overtake you and you begin to see that you are not the kind of hot kid you used to be. You find that the flow is not there and you had not prepared anything for yourself. You had not built anything that will sustain you. So, you begin to die. I’m not saying clinical death, I mean spiritually.”
Edokpai said the house he lives in today was built in error, as he never wanted it. But he is full of thanks to a good friend he said “cajoled” him to build it because he never saw himself as one that would live in the backwaters of Lagos. But that is where fate has put him and he is thanking his star for making the right choice of friend.
“I lived like many of the present crop of artistes. The luck I had was a very wonderful friend named Dayo Ojo. He was working at Mobil at that time. He used to tell me: ‘Emma, go and buy a land. But I was always looking at land as a problem,” he said.
He said it was even his friend that made money available to buy the land. The land, valued at about N10 million today, was bought for about N550, 000. He said he did not want to have anything to do with the house until the reality of life forced him to live where he would not have lived.
He said: “When you are blindfolded by glamour and the worldly pleasures that accompany stardom, a life of idolism or idolatory, it takes you away from reality, which is the path to God, the road that leads you to everlasting peace. Before I knew it, he said ‘old boy, come and stay in the house.’ Before I knew it, I bought a 35KV generator. I did suspended borehole. Everything was in the house, but I still didn’t want to come to the house.”
After his experience, Edokpayi now speaks like a preacher. And he believes that although he can no longer carry the camera the way he used to do, this is the time he is more useful to the society because he can teach drama and language as a graduate of English and Literary Studies.
In his neighbourhood in Akute, he is known as both an artiste and a pastor. As he was seeing the reporter off, a commercial motorcycle operator stopped and offered to take him to wherever he was going. That, he noted, was a testimony to the benefits he enjoys. But he says he would feel more fulfilled if he is able to help others too.
Explaining his seemingly deep knowledge of the Bible, he says it did not just start today. He was brought up by strictly religious parents, especially his mother. Fortunately or unfortunately for him, his mind was tilted towards the theatre. He said although he was not leading his class as a student, he was one of the best.
“My mother would send me to the market to go and buy something. On the way, I would watch Ajasco. Those things attracted me. At the time I told them that I wanted to do drama, they asked me if it was a job, because nobody saw drama as a job then,” he recalled.
He said he embraced Christianity because his mother was a fervent Christian. He was taught bible stories and he still knows them very well, and that is why it is convenient for him to preach. “Even when I was following women, drinking and walking round the town, I knew all these but did not realise that all they were being controlled by the Spirit of God,” he said.
Twice he gave his cars out because God instructed him to do so. The first was a Mercedes 230 he gave to a pastor who had just got married. “God told me to give it to the pastor. He was not my friend. God told me to give it to him but I did as if I didn’t hear. I refused to give the car to the man. But my ear was pricking me until I gave the car,” he said.
The second car, he said, was a Pathfinder. “I drove to church in a Pathfinder and went home in a taxi. Since then, I have been here, no car. They were contributing money to the church and I had no money to give, so I gave that car.”
Right now, jazzing up Christian drama is uppermost in his mind as he plans to replicate what he is doing in the church outside of it. “I foresee an explosion of this type of production,” he said with confidence.
Since the stroke he suffered had led to amnesia, he enrolled for a leadership course at Daystar Church in order to regain lost memory. “In the school, everybody knew me. They would see me and say good morning sir. I would sit at the back. I could not write, so I would sit and listen. And immediately I left there, I would not remember anyone.
“But I kept going to school. I was changing the cognitive intake. My brain was now trying to take in things. I was not talking to anybody. The lecturer would think I was hearing well.”
The fighter that he is, he drove himself to school while a part of his body was still paralysed. Explaining why he had to do so, he said: “I had a driver but he left suddenly. I entered my car and everybody started shouting. I normally left home at 5 am, because if you came late thrice, you might not graduate. When my driver did not come, I entered my car and drove to Daystar. I also drove back home and the second day, I drove too. That was how I started driving. The amnesia lasted one year and one month”.
He is still passionate about a project he started with the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC). But he doubts if he would be able to make the dream come true because “the people who were working with me at that time messed a lot of things up”.