Yinka Olatunbosun
And the winner is “Sambasa Nzeribe!’’. Imagine the applause and backslaps that follow when a winner is declared at a very competitive award ceremony. The just-concluded Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCA) brought some substantial quantity of fame, honour and glory to one young, hardworking actor who hailed from Anambra State known as Sambasa Nzeribe.

He won the Best Supporting Actor for Movie/ TV Series for his villainy role of Ghetto in the movie, “A Soldier’s Boy”. Born Chiedozie, the actor adopted “SAMBASA’’ as his stage name which is an acronym for his philosophy of life, that is, “Surviving and Maintaining Balance Against Societal Aggression.’’ If you are wondering why he chose that, then his true life story will likely interest you.

Sambasa was born in Lagos almost thirty years ago. He didn’t exactly reveal the year. His father died when he could barely spell his name so his loving mother became the father figure. At the completion of his secondary school education, his mother also died. He had to be strong; hence, the philosophy he adopted for himself to stay positive. He found succour in the Christian-fold.

“My acting started in the church,’’ he recounted as he traced his sojourn in the profession to his early maternal influence. “My late mother found refuge in the church and to earn a living, she was working as a primary school teacher at a government school. In church, she became a drama teacher and a choir instructor in the children ministry, for the Jesus Cares Charismatic group at the St. Leo Catholic church in Isolo. She influenced me at an early stage and I always followed her to church.’’

Sambasa felt drawn to the women at the church because they cared about him not just in speech but in deeds.
“You know women are mothers. The women at St. Mary’s Catholic Church came up with Orphans’ scholarship scheme where they’d solicit from members and parishioners some funds to help train children and youths in the church. They reached out to me and asked me what I would want to do for a living.

“I gained admission into the University of Lagos to study Creative Arts and it was both a practical and theoretical course. I needed financial support and I got it from my parents’ families,’’ he said.
In his third year at the university, he met a film maker, producer and director named Eric Aghimien who was organising an audition at the campus. That was how he landed his first movie role in “A Mile from Home’’.

“There was a course we took in our third year in Creative Art where the lecturer picks five people to direct the part one students. I was at a rehearsal with the part one students when Eric walked up to me and invited me for the audition. He had done auditions in Shangisha and Magodo but he wasn’t convinced that he had got all he wanted.

He decided to come to UNILAG. I agreed and I answered hurriedly because I was busy directing and I didn’t want to be distracted. But I thank God. We were given scripts and made to act. We also did some monologues. I later learnt that I did well at the audition and got the role,’’ he recalled.
“A Mile from Home’’ was a very tough experience for Sambasa not just because it was his first movie but the budget was really low.

“It was interesting though. The producer didn’t have much. Some of the cast worked as crew members. The three locations we used for the movie was Shangisha, Magodo and UNILAG. The movie won several awards. I played the role of Suku and I got a lot of commendations for it. It was about a student who lost his way. When he got to the university, he joined bad gangs and he found it difficult. He couldn’t go home anymore and his father had to disown him.

His father felt as though he didn’t have a son anymore. Suku found Lala very intelligent and always used him to scheme. At location, a lot of things were borrowed and some things were not at our disposal. The shoot was supposed to last for three weeks but we spent three months on it and we had to go on break. But, I am grateful. After that, I did “Ojuju’’ and “Out of Luck’’ and then, “A Soldier’s Story”. I did a short film with Gbenga Saliu titled, “Boy Breadwinner’’. The journey has been interesting,’’ he said.

In “A Soldier’s Story”, where he played the award-winning supporting role, he interpreted the character of “Ghetto” in the movie as the right hand man of the militant which according to him meant “the man that gets things done’’. He recalled how he got the role by his friend’s referral.

“The production team for A Soldier’s story had done their audition already and I got a call from my friend Tope Tedela who had mentioned my name to the director. The casting had been done already but they had issues with the way the role was being interpreted by the other actors. My friend gave the producers my number and they called me. We had a meeting and I agreed to work with them.

“I was flattered when they said it was Sambasa that could deliver this role. In the privacy of my room, I rehearsed and internalised the role. When I spoke with the director, I listened to what he told me. I had to return home and ask myself what the character meant to me. When I got on set, and they saw that I was living the character, they were impressed that they brought my character to some scenes where ghetto wasn’t in the original script. I gave it my all. Anybody that sees Ghetto in the movie will know that Sambasa really brought a lot to the table,’’ he recalled.
Sambasa has a very calm appearance that contrasts his bad-boy roles in movies. The title of “the bad boy of Nollywood’’ is what he has quickly acquired but he just won’t let that get into his head, nor will he get picky at roles.

“People always asked why I keep getting bad boy roles and I don’t really mind. I keep telling them that I just started. But the truth is that they haven’t seen me in other roles. I am not scared for myself and I am that artist that will not be put in a box. I will take on any role as long as it pays the bill,’’ he said.
Still, will Sambasa take any role just because he can deliver? No. His ties with the church must have taught him more life lessons than that. Yet, he is open-minded about roles.
He was appreciative of the support from all who helped him to get the award, adding that the award has redefined his art.

“I am really grateful to all those who voted me for the award and my greatest assets, since I lost my parents, have been friends. They have always been supportive in terms of cash and kind. Nigeria is full of talents. Thousands of movies were selected before it was streamlined to five in that particular category,’’ he remarked.
On a final note, he named Richard Mofe Damijo, Ramsey Noah, Desmond Elliot, Omotola, Genevieve, Mercy Johnson, Denzel Washington, Will Smith and Mel Gibson as his artistic influences.