Still on Junior Pope, others: Anxiety as death ‘takes’ over entertainment industry

Recently, several veterans in the entertainment industry lost their lives in different parts of the country, thus eliciting concerns about death taking over the industry. A cross-section of industry watchers point fingers at the lifestyles of the entertainers amidst others. PAUL OKAH takes a look at the scenarios in this report.

It has become a worrisome trend to read the news about the death of veterans in the entertainment industry. They include actors/actresses, musicians, comedians, skit-makers, among others.

Almost on a weekly basis, news of the death of either an actor or musician makes it to the media space, with a cross-section of Nigerians expressing worries that the ugly trend was not what they were used to in the past.

While it is a well-known fact that death is inevitable, Nigerians have questioned the lifestyles of the actors, pointing out that they might have inadvertently been contributing to their own deaths.

Recent cases

Investigations by Blueprint Weekend revealed that Nollywood alone has lost more than 10 actors in 2024. They include Tolani Quadri Oyebamiji (aka Sisi Quadri); John Okafor (aka Mr. Ibu); Amaechi Muonagor; Andy Best; Jumoke Aderounmu; Deji Aderemi (aka Olofa Ina); Ethel Ekpe; Ganiyu Oyeyemi; Junior Pope, and Zulu Adigwe.

In fact, on April 23, the Nigerian movie industry was thrown into mourning after the news of the death of another veteran Nollywood actor, Zulu Adigwe, surfaced on social media through an announcement by a movie producer, Stanley Nwoko, in a post on his Instagram page. Adigwe’s death came two weeks after Junior Pope and three other Nollywood actors died in a controversial boat accident in Anam River in Delta state.

Before that, on March 24, after his public plea for assistance in gathering funds for a kidney transplant in India, Nollywood comic actor, Amaechi Muonagor, passed away at the age of 62 while undergoing dialysis, as disclosed by the actor’s cousin Tony Muonagor, also recognised as Tony One Week.

Muonagor’s passing added to the recent loss of another Nollywood legend, John Okafor, known as Mr. Ibu, who had also appealed publicly for medical support.

While many of the actors have been buried, the family of Mr Ibu has scheduled his burial to hold on June 28, with funeral arrangements listed by the family to start from Tuesday, June 23, to end with a church Thanksgiving on Sunday, June 30.

Similarly, Junior Pope will be buried on Friday, May 17, with funeral arrangements listed by the family to start from Monday, May 13 and end on Sunday, May 19.

Reasons for the deaths

In an exclusive interview with Blueprint Weekend, a Nollywood actor and multiple award-winner, Afro-fusion artist, “E Go Soft” and “Baba Nla” crooner, Don Mapee, said drug abuse, diabolism, cultism and other negative factors contribute to the increasing death of Nigerians in the entertainment industry.

He said: “Reacting to your question on why death is rampant in the entertainment industry, I would like to state categorically that there are three major factors. Too much intake of hard drugs/strong drinks have contributed to a lot of body system damage, resulting in several cases of kidney failure/liver damage leading to death. If you meet these guys at the movie location/music recording sessions, you will marvel at the rate of hard drugs/hard drinks they consume with the flimsy excuse of getting high. While some say it gives them inspiration, others say it helps them to remove stage/public fright.

“There is also the issue of power tussle/greed. Everyone wants to be the lead on movie roles, music charts, nominated for AMAA/Grammy awards and this has led to a clamp down on rising colleagues with voodoo and other means just to remain relevant.

“Also, I think jealousy/envy is the mother of them all. No one is truly happy with the success of others in the entertainment industry; forget the eye-services (fake love) you see them display on social media. Inwardly, their heart is as bitter as bitter cola and darker than darkness. Once they see you rising to the top, progressing, boom, jealousy comes in and immediately plans to eliminate you clad their sense of reasoning and before you know it someone dies.”

He said further, “I am speaking out of experience as it might interest you to know that apart from music, I am also in the movie industry. In fact, I took my acting tutorials and movie production training under these legendary actors: Comic actor Stephen Alajemba (Uwaezuoke) and late pioneer movie maker, Solomon Eze (Mike Orihedimma) in their then MIWA Film Academy between 2001-2003 before proceeding to register under Association of Movie Practitioners (AMP) and Actors Guild of Niger(AGN) on 22nd March 2003. I saw a lot of unspeakable things.

“On the way forward, I believe that all these things are happening in the entertainment industry today because it’s been overrated. Everyone wants to gain fame and at the same time it’s too stressful to get to the top. If the government can wade in and support the young talents, I believe everyone will rise happily to the top .Yes, with the government intervention the industry will be stress free. My advice to the present young acts in the entertainment industry (movie/music) is to be patient while in quest to gain fame. Shun alcoholism, drug abuse, cultism/occultism, envy/jealousy, gayism, work hard and smart and above all let love lead.”

Also speaking with this reporter, a budding actress based in Abuja, Jennifer Afolayan, said the death of those in the entertainment industry is just like that of other Nigerians, though many of them live reckless lifestyles.

She said, “Although many of those in the entertainment industry die when many Nigerians least expect it, it is just like the death of other Nigerians. Many of the comedians, singers, actors, actresses and other entertainers in the creative industry die at ripe old age, just like the average Nigerian you see out there.

“What makes their own death to be different and a matter of concern to the general public is that they are stars and public figures. If not, the death would just be taken like the death of every other Nigerian. There is no major difference as many of the actors, comedians, musicians and skit-makers die of the same ailments like other Nigerians.

“Nevertheless, the issue of lifestyle is a matter of concern as many of them are known to be living recklessly. You need to see them at clubs and social events engaging in chain smoking, heavy drinking and eating junk without a care in the world. In fact, many of them bring the on-camera lifestyles off camera, which is in real life.

“Many of the men engage in sexual immoralities with women who infect them with terminal sexually transmitted diseases they battle with all through their life, while many of the women are involved in drugs and other social vices. So, many times, their deaths are inevitable so that you often don’t have to pity them. That’s why when some of them come on social media to beg for financial assistance from members of the public, I don’t even pity them because they got themselves to those pitiable conditions. So, those alive should be careful and ensure they live healthy lifestyles so that we don’t end up putting the blame on the government, when we are the cause of our own problems.”

A veteran’s take

Speaking with this reporter, a Nollywood movie producer, cinematographer and CEO of Reel Focus Global Services Limited, Mr. Stephen Osaretin Ehimwenma, popularly known as Steve White, said a lot of the celebrities in the entertainment industry neglect their health and often kill one another through diabolic means; hence the frequent deaths recorded in the industry.

“It is not only actors or musicians that die. Some producers, sound engineers, directors, cinematographers and other people involved in making movies die regularly, but Nigerians are never bothered about them because they work behind the scenes. Some of those working behind the scenes are paid peanuts, some as low as N10,000, N15,000 or highest N50,000, whereas some of the actors get paid 2 or 3 million naira just for a few scenes on set.

“The president of the Actors Guild of Nigeria, Mr. Emeka Rollas, had worked for the creation of a health insurance scheme for actors and those in the entertainment industry, but a lot of people ignored the idea because they thought he just wanted to use it to make money. Health is very important. A lot of people make money from the industry, but many of them don’t save money for sickness or old age,” he said.

Continuing, he said, “Mr. Ibu spent a lot of personal resources before coming to the public. Even Amaechi Muonagor and other older actors were not making money like young actors now, but even the young actors are not helping matters. Many of them are into hard drugs and Gen-z lifestyle, copying those in America. They need to be doing serious check-ups and also cut down on their drinking and smoking.

“If health insurance is created and subscribed to, it will reduce the act of actors coming online to beg for assistance anytime they are sick. The minister should call the practitioners of the industry to order. Let them produce a list of actors so that if they are not subscribing to the health insurance scheme, they will be banned from acting. That way, people will take it seriously.

“Again, we have a problem in the industry, which is that of belonging to the AGN. Many of the actors don’t belong to the association, they don’t pay dues, and they don’t attend meetings or anything that has to do with the association. But whenever they are sick or die, Nollywood will be on people’s lips, without the people bothering to ask if the sick or deceased was a member of the association. AGN is always blamed whenever anything happens to actors, whereas the actors are on their own as a result of not being members of AGN.

“Also, many of the actors, especially those in Asaba, are into juju or occultism. If you don’t use juju, you won’t even see any movie to act in Asaba. Lagos is not like that. Though there is the issue of caucus in Lagos, it is very buggy and actors don’t envy themselves much like they do in Asaba. Asaba is something else. They poison themselves a lot. As a DOP, I am always careful and only eat with special attention and observation because of what I see on set. Out of envy, the actors try to kill one another.”

FG’s moves

In an interview with Blueprint Weekend, a veteran actor and Managing Director of the Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC), Ali Nuhu, said the federal government had good plans for the entertainment industry.

He said, “I like to once more convey our deep and sincere condolences to the families of our filmmakers across the film production value-chain who have passed on. Sadly, these occurrences cannot be reversed. These deaths have robbed the country of legendary filmmakers who have impacted and contributed greatly to the growth of Nigeria’s film industry.

“Nobody would want to take his or her own life or embark on any activity that threatens life. We all strive to live a better life each day. We pray for better days always, and look up for longer, healthier and a prosperous life. Consequently, one cannot but sadly accept it whenever it occurs. But as an agency of the government, the Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC) will continue to provide the necessary support and assistance, including policy guidelines, rules and regulations that will ensure an adequate safe working environment for filmmakers.

“Those who allege that the veterans in the creative industry are into juju, voodooism or diabolism may have reasons to hold on to such thoughts.

“The Minister of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy is already a game-changer. Recall that with the creation of the ministry, it was evident that the creative sector would undergo some revival. And with the eight-point agenda of the minister, followed by the various domestic and international engagements, the country’s creative sector has begun to foster the pathway for greater non-oil sector contributions to the nation’s gross domestic product.”