Daily Trust (Abuja)

Nigeria: Justus Esiri - the Village Headmaster Bows Out

In recent times, the Nigerian entertainment industry has suffered huge losses of its members. Early in the week, it suffered another severe loss with the passing away of Justice Esiri. A renowned actor, Esiri was a man of talent who contributed his quota to the growth of the Nigerian film industry.

Barely one week after the sudden death of former Big Brother Africa (BBA) participant, Goldie Harvey, Nigeria has received even more devastating news with the death of legendary actor and dramatist, Justice Esiri.

Best known for his role as the Village Headmaster, Justice Esiri made an indelible mark in the entertainment industry from stage performances to the screen.

Born in November 1942 in Delta State, the 70-year old actor who was widely acclaimed for his role in the iconic Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) TV, "Village Headmaster", was one of the pioneers who took the leap and helped lay the foundation for the Nollywood that we know and love today.

His official profile on the Africa Movie Academy Awards website notes that "the veteran actor has won several awards for his acting exploits including THEMA Awards, NTA Honours Awards and AMAA Awards. Esiri, star of acclaimed productions like 'Wasted Years', 'Forever', 'The Prize', 'Six Demons', 'Corridors of Power', 'Last Knight', 'The Tyrant', 'The investigation', 'The Ghost' is reputed to have performed on more TV Network drama programmes than any Nigerian actor."

According to reports, the Thespian died during the late hours of 19th February 2013. He is survived by his wife Omiete and six children including Nigerian music star Dr Sid (Sidney Esiri).

President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan joined other Nigerians in mourning the star. He described him as an epitome of commitment, excellence and creativity.

President Jonathan reiterated his belief that Nollywood actors have carved a positive image for Nigeria in the eyes of the international community, with the late Esiri, having contributed in no small measure to the creation and sustenance of that image.

President Jonathan believes that the Nigerian movie industry and the country as a whole will greatly miss the popular actor.

The President extends sincere commiserations to the Esiri family, the government and people of Delta State and all fans of the revered actor.

President Jonathan also condoles the Nollywood Family on the passage of a notable member, mentor, pioneer and inspiring actor, and enjoins the younger members to keep Justus Esiri's legacy alive by promoting higher standards in their movies.

The Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC) also joined other teaming Nigerians, Africans and European fans of Nollywood in mourning the death of Chief Justice Esiri, a holder of the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) which he received in 2012.

In a reaction from Jos, Headquarters of the Corporation, Mr. Afolabi Adesanya, Managing Director/Chief Executive, described the passing away of Justice Esiri as a painful, and irreplaceable loss to the Nigerian creative industry.

"The veteran and legendary actor was a great influence to all television and movie lovers, who carved an enviable niche for himself in the Nigerian motion picture industry as a character actor, skillful and always at his best on the screen".

Mr. Adesanya, who expressed shock over the passing of the actor, said the good works of Justus Esiri will continue to resonate for a long time to come, as one of the nation's finest actors dating back to the 80's when he played the lead role in the now rested Village Headmaster.

Esiri has to his credit several lead appearances in several Nigerian television soaps, series and serials; and feature films. He played Chief Comos Aderibigbe Alli in "New Village Headmaster", Chief Esuga in 'Supple Blues', Obierika in 'Things Fall Apart', Professor Ofori in 'Delicate Matters', Chief Williams in 'Every day People', Doctor in 'Mobile Clinic' among many others.

Adesanya, added that Justus Esiri's role and contributions to the growth of the Nigerian motion picture industry was acknowledged and rewarded when he was conferred the National Honours.

While members of the Nigerian movie industry, Nollywood are still grieving over the shocking demise of veteran actors such as, Enebeli Elebuwa, Pete Eneh, Lugard Onoyemu among others came the news of the passing of Esiri.

President of the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN), Ibinabo Fiberesima, while reacting to the sad development expressed concern over the continuous death of members of the industry.

She described the demise of Esiri who was a founding father of the industry as shocking and sad, saying that the actor was fantastic and very supportive of the guild. She said: "We commiserate with the family and pray that God gives us the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss. May his gentle soul rest in peace, Amen."

AGN Abuja chapter Chairman, Mr. Agility Onwurah, said the actor's demise was one death too many, adding that the latest incident marked the fourth within a week.

"This is a big blow to the industry, it is getting too bad and I am short of words," he said.

Ibi Andrew, National Vice President of the Guild, North Central Zone, said that Esiri's death was a great disaster and a bad signal in the film industry.

He described the incidence as a bad omen. "It is a bad omen; I am surprised at the sudden death of this great actor.

"The death of actors has been on the rise since we took over this administration."

According to Andrew, the industry is trying to contend with the barrage of bad news coming from the entertainment industry.

He advised members of the industry to seek "the face of God and his divine intervention in the affairs of the industry."

According to a report by news.naij.com, source said the late Justus Esiri has been secretly battling diabetes for a while but his family chose to make it secret until his sudden demise.

For co-actor, Zack Amata is a very painful loss. "The news was hard to accept when a Professor at the University of Jos called to ask me if I had heard because he had seen it on Facebook. I dismissed it saying we couldn't always trust things on Facebook. A few hours later I checked online and confirmed it from there that it had indeed happened.

Amata described the late actor as a very supportive man who strove for the best at all times. "He went for perfection and went out of his way to help younger actors build their careers. Being on location with a couple of times, I could see that he was a great inspiration to a lot of them."

In the last one year, Nollywood has suffered devastating losses of its members; many of who's deaths were as a result of health based issues.

To this Amata said, the deaths may not be as a result of unhealthy lifestyles. "The world over, people look up to actors and musicians but the actors and musicians do not like themselves and have and emptiness. Many of them fill this emptiness with unhealthy living. Take the case of Whitney Houston or Michael Jackson. Their deaths were drug related. If their solace is not on drugs, it's on alcohol or some other vice.

"Regardless of this," Amata says, "they are still the envy of many and for every single one of them who dies, about one thousand other people die. These are unheard of because they are not in the limelight and the media never hear about them. But imagine looking up to someone as a role model and the person dies as a result of drug use or some unhealthy lifestyle. What happens to those who looked up to them? They are empty and don't consider much out of life.

"These deaths are a great indictment to our nation."

For Akin Lewis the death of Justice Esiri is a great loss to the industry. "He was a source of inspiration to most of us in the industry. He was a highly principled and experienced mentor to many. His death came as a great shock. For me it was a big blow to the entertainment industry. Looking back to those days of village headmaster I now see what a veteran he was to the industry. His shoes will be difficult to fit into.

"The loss of actors and actresses scares me and not only me but many of us. I would be wrong to say that it has to do with our profession or the way we live our lives because I think we are one of the safest people in terms of our job. But what can we say what will be will be. We can only hope for the best and pray his soul rests in peace. Nigeria has lost an illustrious son."

Bimbo Manuel also an actor says when he learnt about the death everything about Justice Esiri flashed before him. "He was a very agile man and so it came as a surprise when I heard about his death. I am really short of words of what to say because he was one of the pillars of Nollywood. I loved every of his movie and would do anything to watch it because of the charisma he used to exhibit his roles in the movie. He was a humble and gentle man, always looking out for the welfare of others. He will be greatly missed. His death has created a vacuum no one can fix. It will be difficult to fit into his shoes by anyone who tries. May his soul rest in peace."

I first met ;Bros' on the set of Village Headmaster and then we didn't see each other for a very long time till late Oba Wole Amele brought us together again and he became my very good 'egbon' leading to him inviting me to his house which he said he rarely did. He was a strong-willed man who as interim President of CMPP strived to bring the many warring factions of the industry to the settlement table. Pity he died so soon. He still had it in him. I always considered him a most believable actor. He had a thing or 2 to teach. Fantastic man!

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