#Archive: How I Escaped Assassination-Clems Ohameze

Legendary actor, Clems Ohameze in this interview with FRANCIS OGBONNA relives his time, so far as a thespian in Nollywood and narrates his foray into politics. Excerpts…

I know you have been around for a long while, how long has that been exactly?
For 22 years now.

That’s about two years after Nollywood started?
That’s correct.

What was your first film?
Millionaires are saints.

But it didn’t look like you were visible until you acted “End Time”?
That’s correct.

So “End Time” more or less gave you that desired break?
That’s absolutely correct.

You executed your role very well on set “End Time”, as a veteran would, have you always acted before 1995?
No. I had no acting background, whether in school or anywhere else. I studied Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Port Harcourt, and had a Masters from Buckingham University, London, where I majored on Social Medicine-a branch of sociology. I never had anything to do with Theater arts.

Not even when you were in Primary or Secondary school?
Not at all.

That means you discovered your ability to act after you had graduated?
Hmmm, I wouldn’t say so. Someone gave me the opportunity. He felt that I could do well; he felt that I could play the role pretty well.  It was Sir Madu C. Chikwendu (he is a very popular movie producer and director and former president of the National Movie producers. He was also a friend of mine back then in UNIPORT). He gave me the opportunity because he produced and directed my first film, “Millionaires are Saints”. So when he got the news that I was back in the country, he felt I could give a shot at it. For me being who I am, I like to give my best in whatever I do. So I gave it my best shot and it turned out to be what it was. And the passion grew overtime and fortunately that was the first time of standing in front of a camera and it was a lead role. I still hold that record in the industry, that is acting for the first time and you get a lead role. It is not an easy feat, for you to be given such an opportunity, particularly, when you are a greenhorn. I thought I had to prove my mettle, which I did and then subsequently I came down to doing other smaller jobs. However, that wasn’t the only thing I was doing then. I had a lot of things going for me. I had a clothing outfit in Ikeja, Lagos. But over the years, that passion grew. That was when I finally decided to chart a career path along that line.

Did you stop every other thing you were doing afterwards to concentrate on acting?
No, my wife was on ground and I had workers also. Up until I was given the opportunity to play the lead role in “End Time”, which was one role that a keenly contested for. I finally got the role and went through filming and when it came out it became a block buster. This gave me a spring board.

So acting didn’t make you, on the other hand you were already made before you started acting?
No, no, I had a whole lot going for me. I had 2 cars, a comfy home apartment. How much were they paying then? Its money that after I collect, I gather a few friends together and buy them drinks with it.

So what was it about acting that kept you there despite the fact that you didn’t get much from it?
It was just the passion. Passion was my primary drive. I look at the job first before money. Money is secondary; more so I have other things that I do that brings in money, but you know how it is? You still keep doing it, because it gives you a face-the visibility one needs. It is this face that opens door for you. So that’s why I made the money part of it secondary. My drive is that I have to do what I have to do and do it well.
How many films have you done all together?
Over 500…

Wow, did you produce any of them?
Yea, I have produced two. One in Nigeria, that is “Matador”, that was back in 2002, but recently between December last year and February this year (2014-2015), I produced one outside the country.

You took a break sometime in 2005/2006, what informed that break?
Politics! I wanted to contest for a seat in the Federal House of Representatives (2006/2007). As at 2006, I felt fulfilled in the industry. All the major awards that were then, I had picked them up and there comes a time in the life of a man that he has to move on. They call it ‘mobility of labour’, you know?  I felt that I needed to try my hands on other things and see whether I could fall back on politics and use it to help this other industry (theatre) I was leaving. Apart from that, I had done a lot of consultation and found out that my people wanted me, so I went ahead. I won my primaries on the platform of PDP, was getting ready for elections proper until the assassination attempt on my life that led to the death of my cousin, who was my Security orderly (he worked with the Mobile Police unit of the Nigerian Police)…

Sorry about that
That was what led to me leaving the country.

Was it that you escaped the attempt?
No, I wasn’t in the car, I had sent them out. They thought I was in the car. The car was riddled with bullets holes, my driver managed to escape with bullet wounds, but my cousin didn’t make it…

Sorry about that…
So I actually ran away to the UK. I was in London for about 3 years. I came back 2010/2011, so for almost three years, I didn’t make any film, because I was out of the country. So I came back and started afresh, up until today.

Was the case investigated and did they catch the assassins or their sponsors?
Well you know the Nigerian Police…but I could have seen the handwriting on the wall, because I remember some stakeholders inviting me over to Concord Hotel, Owerri, where I was asked “do you want to be a superstar in theater and a superstar in politics?” Why don’t you go and face your acting career, while you leave politics to us. If it is money you want we will give you”, but I rescinded it. That was supposed to be the handwriting on the wall, but I didn’t see it, because I was a greenhorn. So I came back and started all over again.

Did you hit the ground running after upon your return?
Yes! I got back almost immediately. In fact, I got into the country on a said day and two days later I was on set.

All you needed to do was just announce that you were back and …
As soon as I returned, news of my arrival spread everywhere and in no time jobs started coming in. God has been wonderful in my life and career. I see myself as being the most blessed man in this industry, because I haven’t rested or had any break since I returned back to the country. I got back and the heat was on again.

Are you still going to contest again?
Yes! I will be running again in 2015.

Still to go into the House of Representatives?

So how do you intend handling any possible attempt on your life, should it happen again?
If I know back then, what I know now, I wouldn’t have abandoned my political ambition but as a greenhorn, I didn’t know much on how to handle that situation.

Before the assassination attempt, were there any threats in form of letters or phone calls?
Yes of course, I got a lot of text messages and phone calls warning me to rescind my decision to run for office. In fact there was a time I had to dole out N100,000 (one hundred thousand naira) worth of recharge cards (Glo N1,000 recharge card each). This call came in from a man, who told me he had my picture in front of him and that someone had contracted him to kill me. So when he saw that it was me, he started looking for my number until he got it and called me. He said he had told them that I was a strong man and could not be killed. Then he told me he didn’t do it because, he couldn’t imaging wasting the life of somebody who made him happy. So we started negotiating, because he said that I had to sort him out, so I asked him how much and he said Half a million (N500,000). I told him I didn’t have that kind of money to give to him, so we negotiated it down to N100,000 (One hundred thousand Naira), so I asked him to give me his account  now so I could send the money, but he said no, so I asked, how are you going to get the money? Then he said through recharge cards, so I got some people busy and bought Glo recharge card to the tune of N100,000 and sent to him. He called later to acknowledge receipt of the cards. This happened before the primaries in Owerri.

Would you say acting saved you life?
Well sometimes, you see, making people happy sometimes have a way of cushioning you security. There are people who are prepared to do anything to make sure you are alive for them, because you make them happy. They wouldn’t want anything to hurt you. So I want to figure, that is what really happened.

Do you have a political Godfather?
No! I don’t believe in Godfatherism, the people are my godfathers. The people are like mirrors, they tell you exactly how you are. They are the ones who should tell you exactly what you should do. I cannot tie my integrity and pedigree to the arms of someone who doesn’t even deserve it. No!

So you are not close to Chief Arthur Nzeribe?
No! Though he is my uncle, but since they say “charity begins at home”, the only thing I owe him is to tell him about my ambition and move on. I’ll work hard; I will get the mandate of the people. I don’t believe in rigging and I don’t believe elections should be rigged.

What if you get a commissioner or a ministerial position instead, would you take it?
Well, I will take it and see it as a premise to the next level.

What is the Nigeria of your dream?
The Nigeria of my dream is one that belongs to the youths. Where the youths determine what happens.

You seem to be in your element when you are acting occult roles? Is it that you have had experiences like that before, maybe in school?
No! I take my roles as they come. I don’t choose roles; I do roles given to me. I just give my best at it, but you know how it is here, people want to identify you with a particular kind of role. It is not the first time I am being asked about this. I don’t make my name from acting cult roles, may be its just my interpretation of such characters that brings me out.

What was it like working with Genevieve and Omotola on the set of “Ije”?
It was wonderful.  But I have always been with them. Genevieve is an old friend, same with Omotola. So it wasn’t as if I was acting with strange people. It is just the producer /director of the film that made it look challenging. There was nothing spectacular about “Ije”, we have done far better stories than Ije. It is just because of the hype.

So how do you handle your female fans?
It’s knowing who you are and who women are, as well as understanding that they can make or break you. So you just try to balance it all. My fans are predominantly female, but then I am married and I do everything to protect my family.

What is your wife like?
I don’t like discussing about my family. I have deliberately shut my family away from the spotlight for security reasons.

But can you at least tell us how many kids you have?
I have got three girls; they are all in Canada schooling.

Let’s talk about Nollywood, what’s your opinion about Nollywood, now and then?
That’s one issue I don’t like delving into. Like any other industry, it is going to streamline itself; it wouldn’t need anybody to structure it. We shouldn’t try to force it, so we don’t lose it along the line. I believe in evolution and not in revolution, I believe Nollywood is just going to evolve. The way movie was made before is not the way it is made today; it is going to gradually evolve until we get it right. It is painful when people make comparison or draw parallels with Hollywood and Bollywood against the backdrop of our industry back here. Hollywood is old, Bollywood is old, Nollywood on the contrary is just a baby. So if as a baby we have been able to make the kind of impact we have made using this rudimentary technology and the manpower we employ in doing our films, one would say we’ve done well.

What is your view about the recurrent confusion in the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN)?
At a point anything that has to do with my guild, I don’t like talking about it because one, the industry has become an all-comers affair; two, there are those who build the industry and those who play the politics of the industry. Those who play the politics of the industry are either failed actors; failed producers and because they cannot find their footing in the main stream, they look for diversionary means of making money. So they are the ones who play this stupid politics and turn the Guild into a laughing stock. But like I said earlier, soon everything will fall back in line and be streamlined that’s what I mean by evolution. Evolution is not synonymous with violence.

Looking back do you have any regrets adopting acting as a career?
No not at all. There are two sides to everything, the positive and the negative sides. The negative side to it is that you don’t get to do what every other person is doing, because you get to lose you private life.

Thanks a lot for your time sir.

You are welcome.