•Veteran Actor, Chief ZEBRUDAYA OKOROIGWE NWOGBO
Chief Zebrudaya Okoroigwe Nwogbo, a.k.a 4:30, is one of the veteran actors who dominated the TV scene like a colossus many years back. His name is Chika Okpala but everyone called him Chief Zebrudaya Okoroigwe Nwogbo. He had a partner in Giringori Okabogwu, who acted with him. Both were a sight to behold. Once you hear Chief Zebrudaya speak you will begin to laugh. He and Giringo are a funny lot. They are both comedians/actors.
There was nobody who watched TV in 80’s that wouldn’t have come across them or seen them act in all the major Tv series of that era.
Chief Zebrudaya Okoroigwe Nwogbo alias 4:30 is an appellation he got from his role as “Chief Zebrudaya” in a TV series, “New Masquerade”. Chika Okpala was born into a poor family in 1950. At the outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War, his family moved from Awada in Rivers State to their hometown, Nnobi, in Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State.
He was in Class 4 in a secondary school when the war started. After the war ended in 1970, his father said he could no longer continue to fund his education. Chika and his siblings were 8 in number.
By that time, only he and his brother had gone far in education: his elder brother graduated from a college of education, while he was stuck in class four. There was nobody to pay school fees. But he still managed to sit for the West African School Certificate Examination. Then he started searching for a job, but in vain. During that period, Chika came across the late James Iroha (a.k.a Giringory Akagbogu), who was organising big shows, and his theatre group was known as the Hill Top Theatre as at the time.
Recently, City People’s SUNDAY ADIGUN and BIODUN ALAO met with this veteran actor/comedian, and he spoke on his journey in life and why he prefers to stay back in Enugu than living in Lagos.
How long have you been in the Entertainment Industry?
I entered the industry from Radio in 1970 and Television in 1976 till date.
Despite spending so long in the industry, you have remained relevant and very active, how do you do it?
I think the most important thing is for one to respect his or herself. Don’t over struggle for what you know will not get to you. What will get to you naturally God will send it to you. Your struggle should be limited to what you can do, and what you can’t do, you leave it.
If as a reporter, God helped you through reporting, sharpening your voice, giving you the intelligent questions to ask, the angle to channel your stories and you follow it strictly, you will look as young as ever. But if you jump from reporting to marketing rice, marketing yam or you go into animal husbandry and anything happens along the line and you get disappointed, because it is not the gift you’ve had from God, you will always get disappointed and it would crack you.
So, it’s very important for you to maintain what you are in for, what God has ordained you for. That is why it’s good to pray to God to show you your talent. If your talent is in journalism, ask God to show you the way and put you on track. Once you get on track, you are okay.
The way you always introduce yourself then was very unique, was it part of the script or you created it yourself?
We were trying to sink my name to people’s minds, for people to know that “my names are: Chief his royal palm wine parallel, chief honorable Zebrudaya Okoroigwe, Nwogbo alias 4:30, MON without EY” and people would begin to look around asking who is this “Mon without Ey, Zebrudaya alias 4:30”. It’s not that I specially wanted to crack joke, it’s just a way to make people around me happy. I think it’s a natural phenomenon that has been built in me.
Looking at your journey in life, from comedy to radio and television, how did it all start?
During the war, we were not able to do anything, when Nigerian army was against Biafra, I was on the side of Biafra. I was in Anambra State. There was no other thing we could do to help ourselves but to see how we could sit together, crack jokes and act, and that led us to form a theatre group. We formed a union in my town with the other town that is very close to us.
We affiliated and formed a company known as Two-City Play House. We always rehearsed plays. One of us was a good script writer. He’s late now, he was also a student, though he had not sat for his WAEC examination as at that time. In fact all of us had not finished at secondary school.
But we really needed to help ourselves. We formed the group and we found out that all our dramas were unique and entertaining. I was always cast in play comedy role, the entertainment part of the show and we called it a teaser. If you go to film shows in those days, they will first of all show you teaser, something to attract you before they go into the main show.
For that teaser, I was always fond of trying to improve myself from what I did the previous day, and it became so much about me that we began to visit Army formations, entertaining them here and there. We were too small to join the Army. Each time I went for recruitment, they always sent me back, that I was not up to the age. We started from acting and started developing a relationship.
So, when the war ended all of us were forced to go to Enugu. When we got to Enugu, everything looked so strange. I had never been to Enugu before. My parents had never lived in Enugu before. I didn’t know anybody, but I said to myself that whatever way people survive there, I must survive.
With that determination, I got to Enugu, then luckily for me, I found a colleague of mine in the play house already in Enugu, and he accommodated me. After finding a place to sleep, every morning, we must move out to find a way to survive, to make money.
Then, there was a place called Red Cross Feeding Centre. I got to Red Cross. During the war back home at my town, I was a registered member of the Red Cross and I worked as a Red Cross worker. So I went to them and introduce myself.
They received me with joy and put me in charge of up to 5 clinic kitchens. At that time, it was very tough to feed in Enugu, they had no money. People always come to the feeding centers, queuing up without plate; they would cut leaf from the bush, put the Eba and make a hole in it to put soup. Some with leaves would queuing up again for rice, with or without stew or jollof rice.
They did same with yam. People would come, collect rations and gave to their children wherever they were. It was a very tough life. At that point in time, I became a big man in charge of 5 clinic kitchens.
How old were you then?
I was 16 years old because I started New Masquerade at the age of 17. So, I was getting food and I have enough to send to my home. So, I was able to sustain myself in Enugu, then we began to look for permanent job to do. While moving up and down, one day, somebody called me and said there was a rehearsal going on somewhere. I went there.
They called themselves Hilltop Art Theatre. They accepted me. Many dignitaries were also in that group. They wanted to act in a play for a show and we started working together. There was a play we were working on that time. We rehearsed the play perfectly. It’s a Ghanaian author who wrote that play.
When we presented it at the state house, remember there were big dignitaries who participated in it, people of timber and caliber, so they could always get it across to their administrators, and he was so engrossed with the show.
He commended the show. And he said what they were going to do it to take us to the Army Week in Kaduna in a white train, I have never entered a white train before, I didn’t even know what its inside look like, and we agreed. That day we all came to the railway station, we boarded the white train and went to Kaduna for the Army Week.
We performed and they were so impressed. And the Chief of Staff then said we must go to Lagos, to present it to the head of state, Gen. Gowon. The most interesting thing about the presentation in Kaduna was, that was a first time in my life I would be checked into a 5-star hotel, and they called it Amballa Hotel in the 70’s.
I remember we got there and got treated to bigmanism (laugh) I said to myself “is this what a play can do for me” checking into one room to myself, and whatever I needed, I’ll just press button and it will appear. When we finished and came back home. It was not up to 2 months before they said we were going to Lagos to perform for Gen. Gowon and his people.
We thought it was a joke. On that appointed day, they asked us to come to the Airport, and we went. All of a sudden the presidential Jet landed and it flew us to Lagos and they took us to the Federal Palace Hotel. Another big treat for all of us.
I said to myself, “this play, this comedy that is taking me up higher and higher, I will follow it to the end, and that was a turning point in my life. I said, since good things could come. I can reach out to the people who matter in the society and they have encomia for me. They wanted to sit near me. Reporters like you came to me for interviews.
My father couldn’t believe it. When we finished the performance, we were commended and rewarded handsomely, and then we went back home. Now, back to ECBS, James Irahwo, who was a producer of the show started a show called: “in a lighter mood” they would share some jokes, then we would start the play.
It was in that play they made me the chief 4:30, and we were doing it for 15mins. When the show gained momentum, that everybody wanted to listen to it, because it was a radio show; we were forced to extend the duration from 15 minutes to 30 minutes.
But why radio, why didn’t you go for TV?
The reason we couldn’t go on Tv then was because all the Tv stations in Enugu were burnt. There was no way we could go to the television. But they were seriously working on the studio and the stations, to bring it back to life. By the time we were still entertaining people on the radio, they had fixed Aba Television Station, and we were using it as a test-run case. It wasn’t too long after that Enugu station was also fixed. The very day we hit the television, the whole town went agog. The following morning, everybody was coming to the Tv station to see us. Later the title of the play was changed from “in a lighter mood” to “the adventure of Chief Zebrudaya alias 4:30.
What is your educational background?
By the grace of God, I have GCE O level. I have Diploma in Mass Communication. I have second degree in Mass Communication. I have second degree in Administration from NOUN. I graduated the same day with Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
What has life taught you at this stage?
Life has taught me to be very simple and take things easy in life. Don’t fight for what you know you cannot get, but if it is what you can get, you pray to God to make it easy for you. That is what I have leant from life. This life is short. Whatever you get at a time you hold to it. If you don’t get it, then you forget it. When it is time to come to you, it will come.
Life has also taught me patience. Life has also taught me endurance. These are what I’ve learnt from life. Patience, Endurance and don’t necessarily struggle for what you know you cannot get. I’ve learnt to comport myself, and I’m ok with what God has given me.
Why do you choose to live in Enugu, why not Lagos?
Yes! I should have been in Lagos, but because of age. If I come to Lagos and begin to struggle with the young ones, struggle to look for house rent, what I did in 1970 in Enugu. I had already established in Enugu. I’m at home when I get to Enugu. To come to Lagos means starting all over again.
Where would I key in, how would people begin to know me and call me for jobs. What impression am I going to give the younger ones? When will I make it?, for people to know that, yeah! This man is an advertiser, this man is a film maker, and this man is an actor. All these things go with age. i can’t come to Lagos at over 60 and be struggling again. Let me continue to stay in my territory, doing what I’m known for. I need to stand on my pedigree.