By Yinka Olatunbosun
Justus Esiri would be remembered for his legendary role of the headmaster in the Nigerian Television Series of the 80s, The Village Headmaster. Justus Esiri’s passion for acting developed right from his days at Urhobo College in Form 4 where his school participated in Festival of Arts. He proceeded to study engineering at Prof. Weners Institute of Engineering in 1967 and Ahrens School of Performing Arts in 1968.
While studying in West Berlin, he made friends who were residing in East Berlin. They told him of the fantastic theatres in East Berlin and he became interested. This period trailed after the Nazi regime and the racist block had been collapsed by the new regime. Art was well-funded by the state. He watched many stage plays and became eager to partake. He got into Motion Picture production in 1968 and became a staff of the Schiller Theatre, Berlin, Germany which is still a reference point in the study of the history of drama and theatre. His proficiency in German paved way for a rewarding acting career. Soon, he joined the travelling theatre and travelled across Europe.
His sojourn to Nigerian Theatre industry began one night when some men clad in Agbada arrived at the theatre to watch him perform. After the performance, they approached him and told him that Nigerian government was in need of Nigerian artistes in diaspora to return for the Festival of Arts and Culture in 1977. He agreed and returned to Nigeria. He choreographed the Modern Dress Exhibition at FESTAC ‘77.
After this experience, he toyed with the idea of establishing a travelling theatre but the lack of enabling infrastructure prevented him from pursuing it. Esiri began working for the German service of the Voice of Nigeria before he got an invitation for the audition of The Village Headmaster, the legendary series that made him popular on the Nigerian soil. When he got the script and tried out the first sequence, in the presence of actors like Late Elsie Olusola, Kabiyesi Funsho Adeolu, Joe Layode, Ibidun Allison, Wole Amele, the response was a loud applause.
But he had his reservations for the series-it was done in Pidgin English. Later on, he acted in other series such as Supple Blues, and Things Fall Apart. Once a woman nearly ran him over with a car because she had told her driver to chase him and she had to tell him something very important, “You make acting look like real life.”
He had also acted in several films including Forever, The Tyrant, Corridors of Power, Married for Money and many more. He had modelled for Selbach, a fashion line in Germany and married a fashion designer who hailed from Kalabari, Omiete. He is survived by six children among who are an accountant, economist, geologist and a dental surgeon turned hip-hop artist, Sidney otherwise known as Dr. Sid who is also a former choreographer with Trybesmen. Asides acting, Esiri loved playing golf. The thespian died on Tuesday, February 19 2013.