Okey ‘Bakassi’ McAnthony tells ‘Nonye Ben-Nwankwo about his days as a politician and life as an actor cum comedian
So many comedians are having their shows these days, when do we see Okey Bakassi do his own show?
When the brand Okey Bakassi started, we did all the things people are doing now. I had Laughter Fiesta. We even did the Canadian edition before we rested it. I have been in this business for about 20 years. I have been here long enough to know that I want to do what I want to do and not because my colleagues are doing it. What I am worried about is what next. I will not get up at this time to do concert just because others are doing it. it is not good. I have some things in the pipeline. Some would be TV based. There are so many things a comedian can do beside comedy show. I can’t make it public now, before you know it, somebody can take the idea.
Was it comedy that paved way for you to become an actor?
They have been running concurrently. But at times, one takes more prominence than the other. I started entertainment when I was in the university. I actually started in my days at Federal Government College, Port Harcourt but it became more prominent when I went into the university. Then, I was involved in stage plays and stand-up comedy sketches. But those were the amateur days. We weren’t doing it to earn money. It was just a thing of fun.
So when did you take it up to the professional level?
When I came down to Lagos for my national youth service, I became a member of the NYSC drama troupe. Then, I got involved in Zeb Ejiro’s Fortunes on NTA Network. From then, Nollywood started evolving. I was doing a bit of stand-up comedy, I was doing the soap. Nollywood blew up. Most people recognised me as an actor. Stand-up comedy at a time was not paying. When stand-up comedy started paying better, corporate bodies started using the services of comedians for major shows and concerts, people then started seeing Okey Bakassi as the stand-up comedian. But now, I have given more of my time to stand-up comedy.
You would have made so much money from comedy that one would have expected you to retire, sit back and enjoy your money…
When the likes of Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis have not retired, what makes you think I should? These are people that rake in more than $20m. Okey Bakkasi has not seen $1m and you expect me to retire. Am I mad? Is my head touching? We are lucky to be in a business that doesn’t have retirement age. You only retire when you are tired and I am not tired. I am not even close to it and I am not praying to be tired. But it is not even about money, I would have done engineering if I had wanted money
Was it lack of job that made you to become a comedian?
No way! I had the passion. There was thrill and excitement back then. I served with the Bank of Industry. I was close to securing a job with an agricultural firm based in Apapa (Lagos) then. That was my biggest dilemma. I knew if I had taken that job, I wouldn’t have been in showbiz because it wouldn’t have given me the time. I went to a friend of mine and confided in him my situation. He advised me that I would make it if I work hard and be my own boss and not work for somebody. I decided to be on my own. I didn’t want to regret. I kept reinventing myself. I have done it all. I was a production manager and so many other things.
How easy was it?
It wasn’t easy. As a graduate, I was trekking the streets of Lagos begging people to use their houses for movie locations. I have had a case where somebody pulled his gun at me for coming to his house to beg to use his house. I didn’t blame him; he didn’t know who I was. I was a total stranger. But I didn’t flinch. I asked him if it would have been better I came to him begging him for money. I told him I was a graduate and I just needed to use his house for a job. He was shocked. He told me to come into his house and we talked. I ended up using his house.
Do you believe you are a stereotyped actor?
I think that is wrong. When people tell your story, they tell it from when they know you and it is not a complete version of you. Back then in Nollywood, I was type-casted as a cop to the extent that some of my colleagues started asking me if I must play a police man in every movie. Let’s go back to the days of Silent Night, I was a cop in the movie.
So how did you start featuring in comedy movies?
Somebody came and said he wanted to do a musical video at that time. It was called Love Without Language. We went on set. The movie was fast becoming more of a comedy movie. The success of that movie made them to shoot a sequel. It was so hilarious that when Nkem Owoh wanted to do Pam Pam Pam, he came looking for me. The movie was also successful that he also came looking for me when he shot Yogo Pam Pam. He followed it with Kiss me Quick. My early days, I didn’t play comedy. It just happened that when the comedy movies came out, they sold very well and people started doing more of comedy. Nollywood would always go where there is money. That is how Okey Bakassi has been doing more of comedy movies.
You play some very stupid roles in movies…
I agree. I know that most people don’t take me seriously in real life because of what I do in the movies. It only takes somebody who has met me one on one and we discuss before the person would take me seriously. But if you think I am suffering, what should my friend, Mr. Ibu do? I think he is suffering more because I don’t think anybody takes him seriously. When people meet me one on one, they know there is a difference. They even realize I can even speak good English.
Are there times you feel you shouldn’t have been a comedian?
I don’t see such days as regret but challenges. You practically have to convince people that you are serious even when you know that you are serious. As a young bachelor trying to convince a babe I was serious with her posed a problem for me back then, they didn’t believe me. They would always think I was joking. It comes with the job so I don’t really regret it.
Was it like that when you went into politics?
I spent three years in politics. I got into politics by accident. When I went into politics, the politicians saw another kind of person. They said they thought I was just a comedian. They realised there are many parts to this man. Originally, I studied Engineering. I didn’t plan to be a comedian. I migrated to comedy.
So how were your days in politics?
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. As I didn’t die in politics, it made me stronger. It was a whole new experience. It was as challenging as it was rewarding. It opened up a whole new world I never knew existed. You know how other people would sit back and assume whatever we can about politics and governance and politicians. It made me see public service in a different light that we don’t even know. I now believe people get the governance they deserve. If the government is bad in Nigeria, the people chose to elect bad government. People always shy away from the role they play on why government is bad. The most corrupt people in Nigeria today are not the politicians but the civil service. The most a governor can do is eight years in government and he is gone. But the civil servant is there forever. They are the ones who corrupt the system. The permanent secretaries are always there. The directors would never wish to go on transfer. You would see a director in the Ministry of Lands; he would own more property than any governor you would think of. If you tell him tomorrow to leave that position, that governor becomes bad. The civil service law makes it difficult for you to fire them even when they are incompetent. They are the driving vehicles for development. When I was in government, there was no document that stayed on the table of the governor for more than 48 hours. But when it leaves his table, it can take two years before you see result. It goes through bureaucracies.
But your governor was not such a very popular governor then.
It takes me back to what I said earlier, he was working as hard as he could. There is something that is called due process. If you don’t follow due process, you commit an offence against the law. If you shortchange due process, you get things done faster. The man tried the most that he could within the ambits of the law. So many things have to change; the civil service has to change. We have to build institutions otherwise we would keep blaming the government for everything.
You ran for House of Assembly in Imo State.
I did. But it wasn’t easy. You would go to your village for them to sign a form that you are from that village and the men who knew you from when you were born would not do that because you didn’t give them N1,000.
Was it because you accidentally got a political appointment that you decided to run for the House of Assembly in your state?
It is one step at a time. I was never involved in partisan politics. On arrival at the government house, I started learning. My eyes opened about the challenges of governance. I realised that it wasn’t proper to just sit down and criticise what the government does, somebody has to do the job and make it better. Instead of saying things are not properly done in my area, I decided to get them done. I have exposure, I have worked with people. I decided I could bring a change. In order to do that, I had to go through a party who would select me as the candidate. It was at the stage of the primaries that I was removed.
Tell us how you even became Special Adviser to then Governor (Ikedi) Ohakim
The nightshift governor, Ken-Celebs Olumese organised his usual Grand house reception for the governor and I was invited. I had an event at the Island that day. By the time I got to the GHR, the event had already started. Based on personal recognition, I was allowed to enter. In the course of the interactive session, I contributed. I told the governor one or two things he could do to leverage on the abundance of talents in the state. When he was responding, he offered me the job as a special adviser and said I should come to Owerri to pick up my appointment letter.
Just like that?
Oh yes. But I didn’t go. Some of my friends asked me why I hadn’t gone and I told them I didn’t think the man was serious. They said the man offered me the appointment publicly so I should go to Owerri. I went and I stayed two weeks at Owerri and I came back. I didn’t know what to do or who to go and meet. I came back to Lagos and people still advised me to go back. I went and I stayed two weeks again and I came back. I was still asked to go again. I did but this time, I met the Secretary to the State Government and I got the appointment letter. That was when I realised the appointment was real.