In the world of filmmaking, Eddie Ugbomah is an all-rounder. With good education in London and minor roles in James Bond’s Dr. No, Guns at Batasi and Sharpeville Massacre, he returned to Nigeria in 1975 to add impetus to the nascent film industry. Over the next forty years, he evolved and became multifaceted: actor, producer, director, promoter and writer.
His films shot on celluloid are solid on quality, ideology and intellect. Contemporary social and political issues were the staple of his plots, for example, Dr. Oyenusi (1979) a flick about a notorious Lagos robber that grabbed the headlines in the late 1970s and Mask (1979) which portrays the looting of African artifact by colonizers and a patriot’s effort to retrieved one of the cultural treasures. In the 1980s, his films––Oil Doom, Bolus and The Boy is Good––were realistic portrayals of Nigeria’s evolving topsy-turvy milieu.
Without hype or hypocrisy, Ugboma who was appointed the chairman of Nigerian Film Corporation, NFC, in 1988, is a colossus in his own right. He footprints are deep on the Nigerian films landscape.
By the way, all these are old news.
When he turned 78 in December 2018, he was feted with a deluge of congratulatory messages on the pages of newspapers. Leading figures in government, including the presidency and arrowheads of the opposition party, issued goodwill messages. There was no iota of doubt that Ugboma indeed is a national icon. Ironically, on his birthday, Ugboma was critically ill, and in mortal danger, needing a hefty sum of N50m to travel abroad for treatment.
On January 29, 2019, TIMEOUT had a one-on-one with Chief Eddie Ugomah at his home. Without wasting time, he cut straight to the heart of the matter: how to raise N50m for an urgent medical treatment abroad.
Face to face with Ugbomah wasn’t altogether a cheerful outing. The man looked a shadow of his ebullient self. Eddie, once have the stamina to deliver two hours lectures––as he had done for years in Georgetown and Howard Universities amongst other––could hardly speak for five minutes. “I think I am going to faint,” he said after a while and he rested for a spell before continuing the conversation. He could hardly stay on his feet, plagued by a wave of dizziness. His usual jovial mien replaced by a wry mask.
His diagnoses, he disclosed, was a brain ailment that has affected his senses of hearing and sight and if untreated could degenerate and thrust him into a vegetative state.
“I can’t hear you because I am totally deaf with this illness,” he said feebly. Subsequently, the exchange was conducted in high decibels and in fits and starts.
Basically, he needs N50m. And this is Nigeria. Where quality treatment is available only outside the shores of the country and to the society’s mega-rich. Pityingly, Ugboma is no politician; though a son of the Niger Delta, he is no oil oligarch of the Delta––he is more of a Lagosian, born and bred in this corner of the southwest; filmmaking, his profession, is not known to produce filthy rich bourgeoisie. For all his successes, Ugboma lives modestly without opulence.
Riches ransom a man’s life, according to the Good Book. Eddie has no riches. Still the Scripture says a man will give all he has for his own life. All Eddie Ugboma has to his name is his intellectual property––classics films, autobiography, documentary and his Hall of Fame project. On these, he has pinned his hope to raise the humongous sum required for his treatment. As he stressed, he is not going to go down the usual route of asking for charity.
Doctors gave him a few months’ grace to stave off the downturn of his health. He is in a race against time and he is working on a last gasp attempt. There has been snags and angst. But he is not relenting. Good enough, he has won supports of TV barons and broadcast impresarios. But that is hardly enough in light of the uphill task before him. That is why he decides to take his appeal straight to the public.
What is the nature of your illness?
For six months I was being treated for typhoid and malaria. I had been going from hospital to hospital paying bills, until one young doctor from amongst the doctors treating me at a private clinic, went home and came back later to tell me: “Sir, you are not suffering from typhoid or malaria.” The disease, he said, is in the brain, it is not tumour or cancer. All I needed, as he told me, is a treatment. I will have to wear headgear with an earpiece because my ear is damaged and my eyes too are affected. He told me the treatment is not available in Nigeria. Presently, I am an outpatient of Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH. I spend N8, 000 every other day buying drugs. I have been in touch with three hospitals in the UK and America; their treatment cost is N50 million.
Have your colleagues in the film industry made any effort?
When the ailment first started, some of them sent me money, thinking it was a simple thing: otherwise, they are very unconcerned. It is nothing personal. That is the nature of the profession. It is a selfish setup. About 15 of them promised they would come over to my place for us to organize the programme but they failed to turn up. So I have to work out the organization by myself with my friends and children.
Mercifully, I have found support in the media, including NTA, AIT and Silverbird. John Momoh (Channels) and Chief Steve Ojo (Galaxy) have told me verbally and in writing that they will sponsor all my promos from February till the day of the programme.
What are your plans?
Most of my films are on 35mm and 16 mm. I have taken the trouble to transfer three of them–– Black President, Black Gold and Desert Warrior––into hard drives to be able to be shown in cinemas. I want the public to come and watch these films in cinemas, from April 19 to 22.
Then I have my book, my autobiography, Eddie by Eddie Ugbomah. It is already printed. I am going to launch it and it will be sold at N5, 000 a copy.
I am also going to launch my documentary, “This is My Life”, a 45-minute story of my life, covering sixty years in the entertainment industry.
We are going to do an exhibition of the music and moviemakers’ Hall of Fame, and a night with the stars.
I also intend to sell the house next to where I live. It is one of my houses, built for a film academy project; with the way things are going, I am willing to give it away for N10 million so I can raise the money for my treatment.
I am not waiting on people to send me some thousands of naira––a friend sent N20, 000 and I was appreciative of the gesture, but the truth is the sum couldn’t buy me drugs for two weeks here. Two days’ drug is worth N16, 000. My air ticket for the treatment abroad is N500, 000. Friends, fans and well-meaning Nigerians would help me better by supporting the programmes I have outlined. I am asking people to come and buy the book, and watch the documentary and then order a copy of my book. My bottom-line is, please, save me now that I am still alive. Good enough, I can be treated abroad.
You could also reach out to your state government
I have written four letters to Delta State governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa. I gave them to three commissioners and I also tried to approach the governor through his press secretary. None of the letters was acknowledged. They all said the Governor is busy.
Then we have written three reminders to Gov Akinwunmi Ambode for the donations he promised since 2018 August. The governor had called me to say that Lagos State was going to buy the Hall of Fame, portraits of musicians and actors, including the likes of Bobby Benson, Victor Olaiya, Steve Rhodes, Femi Kuti and others. The governor was keen when we spoke. He sent a representative to the launch of the Hall of Fame at the National Theater. Minister for Information, Lai Muhammed was there too. The governor’s representative made a promissory of a donation of an undisclosed sum of money. A six-man TV crew came to my house and interviewed me. It was shown on Lagos Television twice. I was looking up to them to acquire the gallery. If the Hall of Fame––250 portrait paintings in bronze––was acquired, it is worth N100m, and I would have travelled out since. We sent the reminders through the appropriate ministry. But one of his commissioners scuttled it.
I spent a lot of money creating the Hall of Fame in 2004 and inducting many members. I have a good Board of Trustees comprising Peter Igho, Late Segun Olusola, Jimi Odumosu, Sadiq Balewa and others.
Despite the frustrations, I am still appealing to the two state governors, Delta State, Gov. Okowa and my friend, Gov. Ambode of Lagos.
Presently, we are working in the studio on the promos. I am consoled by the assurance I have gotten from the media. Steve Ojo, Raymond Dokpesi, Ben Murray Bruce, John Momoh, IB Mohammed of NTA and Wole Coker have all promised me free airtime. Now I need the public to patronize my programmes.