Saturday, January 28, 2012

Giringory: Symbol of Artiste and Pensioner's Neglect

Reading about the plight of septuagenarian ace actor, James Akwari Iroha better known as Giringory Akabuogu of the famed but now rested soap Masquerade in Saturday Sun of January 21, 2012, I was moved to tears. According to Emeka Anokwuru, the reporter who interviewed him, James Iroha who is now 70 years old is sick, poor, blind, and dying gradually. Giringory was one of the two troublesome servants of Chief Zebrudaya Okoroigwe Nwogbo, alias 4:30 played by the ace comedian Chika Okpala. The other servant being Clarus. Other members of the cast of Masquerade later renamed New Masquerade were: Chief Jegede Shokoya, the youngest millionaire in the whole universe; Apena wife of Jegede played by the late Christy Essien Igbokwe; Ovularia, wife of Chief Zebrudaya; Natty, etc.

I recall with nostalgia other soaps on air between 1970s and 1990s which used to thrill me. These include Cock Crow at Dawn with cast such as Uncle Gaga, Papa Bitrus and the likes; Hotel De Jordan; Samanja; Iche Oku; Ken Saro Wiwa’s Bassey and Company; Unibadan Performing Company with cast like the ageless Clarion Chukwura, Becky Musa, the late Sam Loco Efe, etc. In the Yoruba drama genre were Awada Kerikeri cast of Moses Olaiya (Baba Sala) and his group; Ojo Ladipo (Baba Mero) and his theatre group; the threesome of Jacob, Papalolo and Aderupoko; Oyin Adejobi and his Kootu Asipa crew; Isola Ogunsola (I sho pepper), Chief Lere Paimo and his drama group as well as many others too numerous to mention.

The aforementioned were sterling artistes who gave their all to drama in those good old days when Nollywood movies were not yet conceived. James Iroha is a graduate of Theatre Arts from the world famous University of Ibadan in 1966; indeed the best graduating student pre-war of the university. He conceptualized and produced the Masquerade which told the story of the adventures of Chief Zebrudaya Okoroigwe Nwogbo, alias 4:30 as a means of reliving the sorrow of his people, the Igbos, who have been worsted in the three years internecine civil war where over a million people were alleged to have died. He was the producer, yet, he played the role of the servant. What humility! James has put 46 years of his life into acting having started as a thespian when he was 24 years old.

The patriot who created avenue for his people and indeed Nigerians to be entertained has this to say about how the effort of his drama group was appreciated in those days: “Government ab initio was projecting us and said we ought to have been paying them. According to them, that they gave us a medium to express ourselves was good enough; so they were even asking us to pay. They were paying us N250 per episode of the Masquerade. Some of us got N2; others received N10 only, and even at that we kept praying and hoping that we would appear the next week. So unlike now, we were not paid any professional fees.” You may say that they were lawful captive but in my own opinion they were patriots who chose fame over fortune and who out of selfless love for their profession gave their best to make us happy and relief our stress. When they were actively plying their trade, there were not many companies ready to sponsor television drama hence they have to make do with the little they got.

James Iroha who was honoured with a national award of Officer of the Order of Niger (OON) during the former President Shehu Shagari era in the 80s has this to say about himself: “Now there is nothing between poverty and me. I’m just nose-to-nose with poverty…… I’m a pensioner and my pension is not regular. Government sometimes does not have money to pay us our pension. In that situation, they pay their regular staff before thinking of pensioners. We are dead woods.”

This comment on the parlous state of our senior citizens and pensioners is heart-rending. In a country where life expectancy is estimated at between 46 for men and 48 for women, those who managed to live older are made to suffer for their longevity. Pensioners go through harrowing experiences after they retire as their pension and gratuity are often not paid as at when due. Not even the new pension scheme introduced in 2004 has been able to fully address this anomaly. In the name of pension verification, an octogenarian, Pa. Olusa Ayodele slumped and died on October 10, 2011 in Akure, Ondo State.

Nigerian newspapers of Friday, January 20 published that N151billion fraud had been discovered in pension offices across the country. The chairman, Pension Reform Task Force, Mr. Abdulrasheed Maina was credited with this disclosure. He said that out of the amount, the team in conjunction with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) traced and recovered a total of about N24bn and N15bn worth of properties from some corrupt government officials in the Pension Department of the Office of Head of Service, while 66 illegal bank accounts with a combined balance of N180m were also discovered.

Maina was quoted further as saying that the ordeal of Nigerian pensioners were caused not necessarily because of paucity of funds, “but due to large scale corruption through diversion and mismanagement of pension fund, manipulation and falsification of data, non-improvement in the pension administrative structure and bureaucracy with poor, unreliable and inefficient accounting system.” The Pension Reform Taskforce Chairman said his team had successfully conducted nationwide biometric verification of pensioners, and in the process, detected 71,133 fake pensioners. Whao! Perhaps it is these fraudsters in pension offices across the country that is making life more difficult for people like Pa. James Iroha.

Giringory’s case is not a hopeless one. He has cried out to Nigerians that he needs personal rehabilitation. He wants to be able to pay his rent, buy his medicines and repair his car. Will Governor Theodore Orji of Abia State emulate what Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as Governor of Lagos State did for the music maestro Pa. Fatai Rolling Dollars when he donated a house to him? Am sure Ochendo can do more than that. He can use Giringory to score a cheap political point by donating a new house and a new car to Pa. James and top it with a free Medicare in any part of the world so that our dear James Iroha can have a glorious twilight.