THE VILLAGE HEADMASTER TAKES A FINAL RETIREMENT
Following his passage about three weeks ago, glowing tributes have been paid by Nigerians in memory of Nollywood veteran actor, the late Justus Esiri. Given his accomplishments in the arts, Esiri deserves no less, especially for his enduring and dogged commitment to his passion. But he also left a vital lesson for individual character development. Many Nigerians may not know that the late Esiri was a trained engineer who decided to pursue a career in the arts and excelled.
With degrees in engineering from the Maximillan University, Munich, 1964 and Prof. Weners Institute of Engineering, West Berlin, in 1967, Esiri after his studies, opted for the less fancied vocation in the arts in Germany in the sixties and early seventies. Even with this decision, he still enrolled for a formal training at the Ahrens School of Performing Arts in1968. And for so many years, he was the lone black face in a challenging environment that did not think much of people of colour. His resilience in Germany indeed speaks volumes about the toughness of a man who was determined to live out his dream.
Esiri came home to participate in FESTAC ?77 but did not return to Germany thereafter as he took up a job with the Voice of Nigeria, which allowed him the time to also serve out his vocation in the theatre. As one of the few professionals who could give a good account of themselves either on live stage or on television and silver screen, Esiri plied his trade with admiration and at the emergence of the Nigerian film industry, he was not afraid to offer his experience. While some of his contemporaries treated the emerging Nigerian film industry with cynicism, Esiri was one of eminent trained thespians who supported Nollywood with his expertise and credibility.
Even though Esiri could not be described a young man at 70, a statement from his family has since put the cause of death as complications arising from diabetes. Such death underscores the often repeated call on governments at various levels to equip our health institutions. Too often, many of our popular names in the arts have had their dignity stripped from them as they are forced to go public with life threatening conditions that they are forced to battle with. This should not be the case where the health sector is excellently organized to deliver quality care.
While we commiserate with the art and culture community in Nigeria, we must not fail to call on their various guilds and associations to take immediate steps like instituting a health plan for its members. The back-breaking schedules that our leading artistes are known to work in order to make ends meet is apparently taking a toll on their health and this needs to be addressed through a comprehensive plan that allows them access to quality health care without breaking a bank.
As for Esiri, the long array of his performances bears evidence to his versatile talent. Aside his commanding presence in several Nollywood movies, he was reputed to have featured in more TV Network drama programmes than any Nigerian actor. However, his best known role in television was the ?Village Headmaster? in the then popular television series of the same name. Incidentally, Chief Segun Olusola, creator of the programme also passed on last year. Apart from the Nigerian national honour of Member of the Order of Niger (MON), Esiri?s talent, hard-work and consistency were also appreciated by his colleagues in the industry and the media. For these, he was variously decorated with the THEMA Awards, NTA Honours Awards and AMAA Awards, among many others.
By all accounts, Esiri was an exceptional and exemplary actor. We pray God to grant his wife and children the fortitude to bear his loss.