The fiscal pressures of being an actor or actress in Nigeria 

“Acting is a unique business in which individuals act as both entrepreneurs and CEOs of their own companies. Their skills are the products they sell, and maintaining, investing, growing, and insuring themselves is essential for long-term success. However, there are many uncertainties associated with being an actor, especially when it comes to finances. Nigerian actors face the challenge of securing a steady income in their profession, as they only earn when they act. Hence, managing funds becomes critical as the gain is not equally spread throughout the year.”

 Acting as a profession in Nigeria is a challenging career path that comes with significant fiscal pressures. From the cost of training to securing roles and the lack of financial security, actors in Nigeria must navigate a complex industry that often requires a significant amount of resources. Additionally, the absence of proper regulation can result in a pay disparity and inadequate compensation for actors, making it difficult for them to make a sustainable living. Despite these challenges, many actors in Nigeria remain committed to their skills and strive to succeed in a highly competitive and demanding industry. The Nigerian film industry, also known as Nollywood, has rapidly grown into a global phenomenon. Since its inception in 1992, Nollywood has become one of the most successful and influential industries in the world, challenging traditional notions of filmmaking. Ranked second only to Bollywood in India, Nollywood produces over 2,000 movies annually and generates an estimated $1.2 billion in revenue, establishing itself as an incredibly productive industry. Most Nollywood films are low-budget productions, filmed on video and released directly to the market. This flourishing industry has its roots in Nigeria’s rich oral tradition, where storytelling through music and dance has been a part of the culture for centuries. Today, Nollywood movies continue to incorporate these traditions, adding a unique cultural flair to their storylines. Thanks to online distribution, these movies are now more accessible than ever before. The roots of Nollywood can be traced back to the early 1990s when individuals like Kenneth Nnebue and Ola Balogun pioneered the movement. Nnebue’s Living in Bondage (1992) was the first Nigerian film and a massive hit, paving the way for other filmmakers to create their productions with limited resources and local settings. I fondly recall the 1993 film “When the Sun Sets,” featuring Kate Henshaw in the role of Omono, as the first Nollywood production I ever watched during my formative years. The movie showcased the impressive acting chops of two accomplished veterans, portraying a couple in a captivating story that has remained etched in my memory even after 47 years. Although Nigeria’s film industry is often romanticized as a prosperous and glamorous business, the reality is far from it. While some actors have achieved fame and fortune, many struggle to make ends meet and require assistance to make it through. Shockingly, some have even had to resort to financial aid to cover medical bills. This raises questions about the industry’s compensation model and whether or not actors are being justly remunerated.

A number of highly regarded Nollywood actors have recently reached out to the public for aid as they deal with serious health problems. These actors have entertained and enriched Nigerians with their captivating performances over the years, and now they are seeking assistance from those who wish them well as they confront a variety of health challenges, including diabetes, paralysis, and other illnesses. Amaechi Muonagor, a distinguished Nollywood actor, is one such individual who has made a passionate appeal for help with his ongoing health issues. Some weeks ago, the 61-year-old actor bravely shared that he is struggling with paralysis, which has had a significant impact on his left leg and left hand. Muonagor is now requesting financial support to help manage his medical costs, a situation he had not previously revealed to the public. Earlier, John Okafor, better known as Mr. Ibu, was shown in severe condition while being treated at a hospital. He disclosed that he was suffering from a horrible sickness that threatened his limbs. He made a public plea for prayers and financial support for his medical care in the video. The Bukola Saraki Foundation cleared his medical bills as other Nigerians raised funds for him. The actor has undergone seven surgeries, but to keep him alive, one of his legs has been amputated.

Recently, Ifeanyi Ezeokeke, recognised for his role as ‘Ugo Shave Me’ in Nollywood, turned to social media to request financial assistance due to an undisclosed illness that has afflicted him for over two years. He’s not only struggling with his health but also the abject poverty alongside his mother. Another veteran Nollywood actor, Duro Michael, known for his infectious energy on screen, has also been locked in a relentless battle with diabetes. His health issues began in 2020 and have taken a toll on his health and finances, leading to the loss of one of his limbs. Duro Michael now depends on charity to make ends meet. Following Mr. Duro is Sule Suebebe, who is currently struggling with a mysterious illness that is affecting his legs. As a result of growing concerns regarding his health, Pastor Agbala Gabriel, a renowned cleric from Osun, and his team came forward to assist the actor during this challenging time.

In late 2021, a veteran Nollywood actor, Clem Ohameze, appealed to the public for prayers and financial support as he prepared to undergo spinal surgery. In a video that surfaced online, Prophet Samuel King was seen praying for Clem Ohameze, who sat on a chair with a collar on his neck, and after praying, he gave him a sum of N500k to aid his hospital bills with Holy Bible and a bottle of anointing oil. Similarly, Prince Emeka Ani, an actor whose predicament started in 2020, suffered from a partial stroke and solicited help from Nigerians. In 2022, the veteran Actor Prince Emeka Ani recovered from diabetes, stroke, and cataracts. The actor, known for acting as a chief or priest in movies, was seen in church sharing testimony after his long battle with several ailments. In 2022, Nollywood actress Kemi Afolabi revealed that she was diagnosed with lupus. She also said due to the illness, she had just five years to live. Afolabi disclosed that she had to sell her automobile to pay the N1.2 million for medication she needed to take weekly to manage her disease. The actress’ colleagues took to the public to solicit support to raise money for her medical care. Actresses Toyin Abraham and Mercy Aigbe announced the creation of a GoFundMe page to support the ailing actress. 

Mr. Ibu’s viral video drew significant attention, including from public figures such as former presidential aide Reno Omokri. Omokri utilized his social media platform to urge Peter Obi to assist with the medical expenses of the ailing actor. Citing Ibu’s previous endorsement and campaign for Mr. Obi as his preferred candidate during the 2023 general elections, Omokri stated that it was a moral obligation for the Labor Party flagbearer to support the actor during this difficult time. However, veteran actor Kanayo O. Kanayo, in response to Omokri’s comments, criticized him for using Mr. Ibu’s misfortune as a means to denigrate and indict other members of the community. Kanayo accused Omokri and fellow actor Uche Maduagwu of attention-seeking and characterized them as wicked and heartless. He further reinforced the Actors Guild of Nigeria’s efforts in aiding their colleague within their limited terms. The response to Kanayo’s video was diverse, with some people praising his forthrightness, while others criticized the Nollywood community for not intervening earlier in Mr. Ibu’s situation. Some Nigerian citizens have voiced their disapproval of certain veteran actors who have turned to social media to ask for financial aid. These critics claim that the older actors are at fault for their current economic troubles, having made irresponsible money decisions in the past. Some view this behavior as shameful for the industry. On the other hand, there are other Nigerians who disagree with this viewpoint. They argue that there is no reason to criticize or shame the veteran actors who are struggling to pay for their medical expenses. These individuals believe that those who have dedicated years to the acting profession deserve respect and should not be judged for seeking public assistance.

The concerning trend of veteran actors struggling financially warrants closer examination. Nigerian celebrities are often seen as successful, jet-setting artists who flaunt their accomplishments through lavish cars, worldwide tours, and lucrative sponsorships. This prompts us to ask: how are they managing the significant amounts of money they earn? The recent hardships faced by Martins Njubuigbo, Prince James Uche, Enebeli Elebuwa, Ashley Nwosu, and Olumide Bakare have brought attention to the difficulties experienced by our beloved movie stars. Many have had to rely on the kindness of Nigerians to pay for their medical expenses. This unfortunate truth has led some to question the spending habits of our celebrities, who were once the highest-paid figures in the industry. Unlike veteran musicians of the past who worked tirelessly to create quality music but often did not reap the same financial benefits as modern actors, many of today’s artists have achieved both fame and financial security. While some actors have become household names and brand ambassadors, others have faded into obscurity. Unfortunately, some Nigerian actors lose sight of their original goal of achieving entrepreneurial success in their industry. While some invest millions into real estate, others spend the same amount on flashy cars influenced by what they see in the media. This trend has hindered many from reaching the same level of success as their European counterparts. However, there are exceptions like D’banj, Don Jazzy, 2face, Omotola, Aki and Pawpaw, Genevieve, Jim Iyke, and others who have diversified their investments beyond their primary professions. On the other hand, many others continue to invest in perishable commodities and struggle financially in the future, seeking assistance.

I empathize with veteran actors in Nollywood who may require public assistance, and I do not believe that their financial struggles are a result of poor decision-making. However, it is crucial to address the issue of poverty among veteran actors, particularly in their later years. Several questions must be answered: why do Nollywood actors often face financial hardship? What is the standard pay for their roles? Are there any insurance options available to them? According to Uzor Umeh, a veteran actor, many Nollywood actors struggle financially because they only receive payment for the specific film they are working on and must wait until they secure another role to receive compensation. This is in contrast to overseas actors who receive royalties for their work. Sadly, this is the harsh reality that some Nollywood actors face daily. They receive a meager amount of compensation for their roles and do not receive any further payment once the film is released. What can we do to change this? The answer lies in implementing legislation in the industry that would provide actors with royalties for the movies they appear in, particularly as they age and may find it challenging to secure roles. Queen Nwokoye, a prominent Nollywood actress, recently shed light on the financial struggles that actors and actresses face in the industry. She believes that the pressure to meet people’s expectations is a significant factor contributing to financial difficulties among actors. Additionally, Nwokoye pointed out that many actors earn less than what people assume. The problem of poverty in the industry is further compounded by piracy, a sentiment echoed by other actors from the Yoruba sector of Nollywood. Despite this, top Nollywood actors still command impressive salaries, ranging from two to three million Naira, depending on their negotiation skills and popularity. Unfortunately, low-level actors often receive meager compensation or nothing at all for their roles in movies.

I share the same sentiments as these actors, as the income of a Nollywood actor is directly linked to the roles they play. Moreover, their earnings are subject to their negotiation abilities. Unfortunately, some emerging actors agree to work for free, hoping to gain fame after the film’s release. This practice further highlights the disparities that exist in the entertainment sector. Emeka Rollas, the President of the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN), is advocating for better remuneration for actors. He proposes a minimum payment standard of 10,000 Naira for actors, even for minor roles. Rollas emphasizes the importance of compensating actors fairly for their dedicated work. According to Mr. Rollas, high-profile actors often negotiate their earnings, while small-time actors have their pay dictated by the producers. Therefore, to establish an equitable earning structure for actors, the AGN should work towards setting a standard rate. Their objective should be to ensure that every actor receives a just salary for their contribution to a film. Furthermore, the AGN should introduce health insurance for its members, providing vital support during times of need.

As we delve into the topic of low pay for specific actors, there are those, such as Ekeson Egwuonwu, who hold a differing opinion. Mr. Egwuonwu recalls rumors from five years ago that GOtv paid Mr. Ibu a staggering 80 million for an ambassadorship deal. In addition, veteran Nollywood stars like Chiwetalu Agu secured contracts with GLO, while Amaechi Muonagor earned revenue from advertisements and other agreements in addition to his acting income. Despite these achievements, Mr. Egwuonwu is left wondering where all the money has disappeared. He feels disheartened when these actors fall ill and resort to online fundraising for assistance. He inquires as to why some seasoned actors have yet to save their earnings or invest in their well-being. He queries whether they utilized the money for their children’s education or to cover housing expenses. The situation is puzzling. Recent news has brought to light the passing of Natty Bruce, a prominent figure in the Nollywood film industry. According to reports, Bruce passed away due to an illness that has also affected several other icons in the field. This tragic event has shed light on the financial struggles that many of these legends have faced throughout their careers. Some have resorted to online fundraising to cover medical expenses, while others have sadly lost their battles with illness. These circumstances raise essential questions about why some Nollywood actors, despite their high incomes, need to prepare for challenging times adequately.

Acting is a unique business in which individuals act as both entrepreneurs and CEOs of their own companies. Their skills are the products they sell, and maintaining, investing, growing, and insuring themselves is essential for long-term success. However, there are many uncertainties associated with being an actor, especially when it comes to finances. Nigerian actors face the challenge of securing a steady income in their profession, as they only earn when they act. Hence, managing funds becomes critical as the gain is not equally spread throughout the year. Furthermore, Nigerian actors are under pressure to maintain a celebrity-like lifestyle and keep up social appearances. To achieve this, they tend to hire agents, public relations managers, lifestyle consultants, and now, increasingly, social media managers. Due to these added expenses, financial advice is a prerequisite for actors. But how do actors with fluctuating income levels engage in personal financial planning?

Acting is a career that should be approached with the same level of seriousness as any other profession. While we tend to think of big-name stars when we imagine actors, countless professionals in the field face the same financial struggles as anyone else. Unfortunately, some actors may become too caught up in the idea of sacrificing for their craft and may need to pay more attention to the critical task of managing their finances. Nigerian actors need to understand that effective money management can provide them with greater flexibility and more freedom to pursue new opportunities. The key to successfully managing an irregular income is to establish a cushion or safety net. It’s imperative to anticipate lean work periods and proactively save funds during times of ample income while avoiding impulsive spending. By doing so, you can create a financial cushion to rely upon during slower work periods.

It is crucial to have distinct accounts for various financial purposes. While the transfer of funds from an employer to an employee is seamless through a salary account, Nigerian actors often need to navigate through complex and multiple financial transactions. As a result, it is essential to maintain a comprehensive view of all accounts and adopt sound money management practices. An optimal approach is to have a primary bank account that consolidates your income and channels it to separate accounts for monthly budgeting, savings, and investments. Consistently investing in reliable growth funds and making modest contributions every month is an effective strategy for building a robust financial base. In times of emergency, having Health and Life Insurance is crucial. Nigerian actors often lack the benefit of employer-provided medical insurance. Being medically insured allows for the flexibility to manage medical expenses without draining one’s savings. Additionally, a life insurance policy serves as a safety net for actors and their families in the event of an unfortunate circumstance. It can also provide a secure means of saving funds.

Considering the demands and stress that come with the acting profession, managing one’s finances can be a challenging task. That is why enlisting the services of an investment consultant is a worthwhile option to explore. Financial planning and analysis are crucial elements for actors to achieve genuine success. Similar to how an agent is instrumental in developing an actor’s career, an investment consultant can assist in augmenting an actor’s income. Exploring new sources of revenue is essential, especially once actors gain a level of fame and recognition and start building a dedicated fan base. Therefore, for those pursuing a career in acting, taking steps to secure your financial future is paramount. While I do not wish to pass judgment on anyone’s economic situation, it is essential to remember that although the entertainment industry can be alluring, it can also be unpredictable. Therefore, it is crucial to plan for the future and be prepared for any potential financial challenges that may arise.

Rev. Ma, S.J, is a Jesuit Catholic priest and PhD candidate in public and social policy at St. Louis University in the state of Missouri, USA.

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