Jerry Amilo: How I Was Left for Dead in a Mortuary

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•Hospital Staff Ran Away When I Began to Move in the Mortuary

I Relocated Nollywood Base to Asaba from Lagos

•My Fiancée Left Me for Another Man While I Was on Wheelchair

•I Don’t Like Talking About My Past

It was like a movie. A front tyre suddenly pulls off from his car. With a sweat-soaked face he struggles to bring the car to a halt. A step on the brake sends the car into space, somersaulting several times. With bloodied face, he and his co-traveller lay unconscious – looking as good as dead. Laid in the mortuary, he got a second chance to live again. Famous Nollywood actor, singer, producer and director, Jerry Amilo (as known as Nigger Please), has a larger-than-life story to tell about his tragic car crash. With a scarred face, the tell-tale signs of a past horror are undeniable. Surviving the crash, a stay in the mortuary, Amilo’s got a chance to live. Rising from that sordid moment, he has become a successful figure in Nigeria’s movie industry. Amilo shares his narratives with Oge Ezeliora about how his fiancés left him for another man because he was on a wheelchair following the accident. But his life is more than being a tragedy. The Anambra State-born thespian talks about his relationship with former Delta State Governor, James Ibori and how he successfully turned Asaba into the new hub for Nollywood movie productions. Amilo surely has a riveting tale to tell as he hesitates from time to time while relieving the horror that almost defined his life

Why did you choose acting?

It’s a long story. I came into acting in 1986. I believe I am talented and was part of those who started the movie industry. When we started there was nothing like Nollywood. We just had few actors and actresses who were grounded in drama.  I actually started from my church, coming from a family of devoted Catholics. I was in the drama unit of my church. I was trained to act very well though we only acted biblical accounts. Having moved to Lagos in Surulere, a lot began to happen for those of us who were into showbiz. We started acting local dramas and also went into music because I have a good voice. And can dance. I and my friends then formed a group that performed for shows. In those days, I wrote songs, sang and sold songs. I and my group also got into break-dance to thrill our audience. I was among those who represented Nigeria in dancing competition in London in 1986. I also worked as entertainment manager of Christie Essien Igbokwe and a whole lot of other artistes.

 Do you still write and sing songs?

Why not? Like I said, I am gifted in songs. Most of the soundtracks in my movies are done by me. I also sell soundtracks to different producers. It all depends on the kind of movie you are making. Most times I am always at the studio producing one sound or the other. I also went into fashion because I am a fashion freak. I was a choreographer and I taught  a lot of people how to dance and act.

 Why did you choose acting ahead of music?

There was no money in music. You got peanuts for the good music you did and you couldn’t even get a record deal. I had a dream, and I know what I am doing. But if you watch closely now, most of the actors and actresses are moving into music. You would see them in the studio now and then, trying to record a song or two.

 What genre of music will you like to focus on?

I will do hip-hop. Do you know why they call me ‘Nigger Please’? It is because I am a man of life, style and what we call ‘efizzy’. I love showbiz so much.

 That means you are a Jack of all trades?

Yes, I am crazy about showbiz. I love everything about showbiz so anything I am doing I put in my best because I want to be at the top.

 Why do people call you ‘Nigger Please’?

The nickname came from me. Back then, whenever you approached me for something, I would just say, ‘Nigger Please.’ Before I knew it, everybody started calling me ‘Nigger Please.’

You were among those who formed Actors Guild of Nigeria in Delta State. Can you tell us how that came about?

Initially, the AGN was only a chapter in Lagos. And it was all about Lagos State. When we got into the business proper we taught we should take it round Nigeria. I and few other actors and actress formed a chapter in the East. So the AGN chapter in Delta was meant to be in Warri before former Governor James Ibori brought it here (Asaba). When I got to Warri, the area was hostile; there was no school in Warri. What encourages AGN is where you have a school so that you will have crowd and AGN is supposed to be for students who are upcoming actors and actresses. Remember, the students make up 70 per cent of the body of AGN. So, it not just for old actor, we also need new actors who will continue from where the old once stopped. Then we had Association of Movie Practitioners in Onitsha, Anambra State. I inaugurated the first AGN in Delta in a joint called Giddy’s place. I had to shoot several films in Delta state and encourage actors and actresses to relocate to Delta State because there were good locations. And people began to see that we were making money in Delta. Our movies started selling and marketers became interested in the AGN.

 Are the scars on your face tribal marks?

(Laughs) No my sister; they are not tribal marks. They are marks from injuries I sustained when I had a terrible accident sometime ago and I was even confirmed dead. But God brought me back to life. I spent two years. According to what they told me, after the accident, myself and other victims were taken to a police station as dead bodies. The next day, we were transferred to a mortuary.

Where did that happen?

 It was along Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. I was travelling for an award ceremony called, ‘The Reel awards’. All of a sudden, I heard a loud noise from my car, and then I noticed that a front tyre of my car had pulled off. The car somersaulted severally. I was driving with a friend inside the car. The person was my lawyer, who was a very good friend; may his soul rest in peace. Thinking we both died in the accident, our bodies were taken to a mortuary but as God would have it, there was no light in the mortuary for those three days. Sometimes, this skeletal power supply could be helpful. Had it been there was electricity, I doubt if I would be alive. Anyway, I was told the attendant who came to clean the morgue discovered that my body kept jerking .When the attendant noticed this for a while, he ran away, thinking I was a spirit. In fact, the whole staff of the morgue ran away. I later learnt some young doctors on National Youth Service took a bold step and said they were ready to see this ‘spirit.’ When they got there, they discovered that truly I was alive. They took me to a very good hospital; I was there for two years until I was strong enough to leave.

 Were you married then?

No but I had a fiancée who stood by me during that period. But all of a sudden, she was deceived by her family members not to marry me because I was on wheelchair for a long time.  Before I knew what was happening she left and got married to someone else.

 How did that make you feel?

I felt really bad. I almost died of depression but I thank God for my family members who stood by me. All my friends who heard my story deserted me. I had no friends. In fact, I hate to talk about it.

 Was that why you didn’t settle down on time?

Yes; I was scared. I tried settling down several times but always getting hurt. Listen, this life is a small place. I was once a dead man and I don’t want to die again prematurely. Everybody wants to stay alive. When you are with a woman that wants to kill you, it is better for you to stay alive than to die. I believe God wanted things to happen that way. Right now, I have a wife who is a devoted Christian and I am happy.

 People in the movie industry seem to be relocating to Delta State. Is there any reason for that?

Back then in the 1980s and 1990s, everything was happening in Lagos. If you are not in Lagos, particularly Surulere, there was nothing for you. I remember actors and actresses roaming the streets of Surulere; gathering at the famous Winnis Hotel to hunt for roles from producers because that is the location we all gathered to eat before moving to our various locations in Lagos.  People had to leave places like Enugu, Owerri, Abuja, Jos, Kano and Benin for Lagos. Everyone wanted to become stars. At a time we found ourselves repeating the same movies and the same locations in Lagos. Marketers started complaining that they were no longer making sales from movie productions. Before we knew it piracy came up from Alaba boys. Everybody started running from Lagos. Producers started agitating; sponsors started complaining; so we relocated to Delta because James Ibori was a film-loving person. He always encouraged movie stars. And everything was affordable. We noticed we were not spending much to shoot our movies and Asaba is crime-free. Today, Asaba has taken over Nollywood from Lagos Stat. Most of the Nollywood movies you watch on your screen are done in Asaba. We train actors and actresses and make them professionals in Asaba. Most of the producers living in Asaba or Onitsha are not crazy about the famous stars. They are ready to train upcoming actors and actresses and give them lead roles.

There was a time you came to Asaba and left and came back again. What was responsible for that?

When I first came into Asaba, everywhere was filled with bushes and no big buildings like you have now. We only had few villages and a small market called Ogbeogologo. Today, the market is one of the biggest and busiest places in the state. I was invited by the then governor’s ADC. He was my very good friend. He is now a retired police officer. Then he was a writer, so we were very close and we tried to shoot a series from the script he drafted. He encouraged me to relocate from Lagos down to Asaba and I achieved a lot from him. He helped me in so many ways. He introduced me to Governor Ibori, who later became interested in Nollywood. Governor Ibori gave me accommodation in Government House lounge and supported me in every way. I shot the first movie and it came out and spread like wildfire. I also shot the second, third and then fourth. Afterwards, I started bringing stars to Delta State and they were comfortable.  Marketers from everywhere started calling me. Most marketers bought lands through me in Asaba because lands were cheap then. I never lacked anything. I produced a lot of movies with the help of ex-Governor James Ibori before I relocated to the USA. Today, most of my colleagues have relocated too. Even marketers from Onitsha relocated and producers from Lagos also moved down here and the AGN began to grow.

What are some movies you produced in Asaba?

I have lost count; some are: Living with My Landlord.  I wrote, produced and directed the movie. That was the first movie we shot in Asaba. Before movies like Across the Border Backstab, Across the Desert, ACROSS the Niger, Across the Bridge, Across the Border Payback, Graveyard and many others.

 Why do most of your movies have similar names?

Well, most of my movies preach the message. They disclose what we do outside the country. All the dirty jobs they are forced to do all in the name of money. We have to tell the youths back home the exact lives of Nigerians abroad. It is very dirty over there. I do a lot of travelling and meet a lot of people. I know what they do. My movies are in series. Most of them are in parts, I mean continuation from the previous ones you have watched that is the reason why their names sound similar.

  Are you the first person to produce a movie in Asaba?

Yes, I am. I brought in so many actors, actresses, marketers, even producers to relocate down to Asaba. I also went to churches to talk to youths, elders who were retired to join the movie industry in Asaba. Then we lacked elders in most of our films. If you convince most of our actors in Lagos to come and play the role of an elder in Asaba, the fee they would charge could be high. So I encouraged some old people I saw around to join us. When we started making it all the members of AMP in Anambra started rushing to AGN.

 What is your family background like?

I am the last child of a family of seven. I am so cherished by my parents. My mother and father were contractors. It was very tough. It is a story I wouldn’t want to tell. I sponsored myself to go to school. It wasn’t as if my family was not there for me. But I don’t know how to beg. Being the last child in my family, I was just doing my thing. I didn’t feel like begging anybody for anything. Before my parents knew what was happening, I had travelled to Jamaica, London and other places. I would leave school and go on tours with Christy Igbokwe. My people became angry that I was not serious. But I would still come back to school and do my exams and pass well. Growing up was just tough.

Why haven’t you done a movie on your touching personal experiences?

I can’t do that. Of course, it would remind me of my past. It would be like making old wounds become fresh again. It is a touchy thing. I don’t even like talking about it at all. Do you know I am already feeling bad after telling you my story? That is to tell you how sad it is.

 Why do you like playing tough roles in movies?

It is not as if I like acting that role. It is just that some scriptwriters, directors and cast directors seem to believe that if they have any tough role, it should go to Jerry Amilo. I see it as business. I am a man of the people. I came into the industry as a producer and director. I did the first major action movie in the country and that was Bruno and the Law. I played the role of Bruno who was also called Anini. That was in 1993. Living in Bondage was a drama. Ever since I played that role, if I try playing another role, my fans would call me and beg me to go back to my tough roles. Ever since I had an accident, I made up my mind that if I would do any movie, it must have something to teach the youth and the masses.

 In real life, are you different from the roles you play in the movies?

I am the total opposite of the roles I play in movies. I wash plates. I do all I am supposed to do. People love me and I have a very wonderful relationship with my colleagues. I am not troublesome.

 Are you satisfied with being an actor?

Yes, I am.  By the special grace of God I am not lacking anything in life. Despite all I have been through, God has been good to me. It is a wonderful thing. It is wonderful to see people acknowledging you and appreciating what you do. I give God the praise.

  After passing through so much do you have any regret in life?

God has a reason for everything that happened. I am happy and grateful that God has kept me. Any man who says he does not have any regret is like a child who is still growing. I have some regrets. But today, Christ has died and old things have passed away. Behold, I am a new person today. If you don’t look at me closely, you will not notice any mark on my face. That is the hand work of God and not man.