Lizzy Evoeme, veteran actress, dies at 81

The death last week of Ms Lizzy Evoeme popularly known as ‘Ovuleria’ has brought back memories of ‘New Masquerade’, one of the must-watch locally produced sitcoms that kept Nigerian viewers glued to their television sets from the early eighties to the early nineties. She played the role of a ‘submissive’ wife to a ‘domineering’ character called Chief Zebrudaya Okoroigwe Nwogbo who invented his own English vocabularies (real name, Chika Okpala.) “Most people who know me don’t know me by any other name except Ovuleria. But to tell you the truth, when people close to me, like family members or intimate friends, called me that name, it sometimes annoyed me,” the late thespian once explained. “I prefer being identified with my real name. I felt that a fictional name was taking over my real self.”

However, that most people called her ‘Ovuleria’ was because she played the role, which earned her recognition and renown, very well. “When you go out and people you don’t know and wouldn’t have met in your entire life tell you they appreciate what you did on TV, it gives you fulfillment,” she once admitted. Created and often directed by James Iroha a.k.a. Giringory Akabogu who passed away in 2012 shortly after celebrating his 70th birthday, the play started as ‘The Masquerade’ before morphing into ‘The New Masquerade’ following a copyright dispute. 

A pioneer student of the University of Ibadan’s Theatre Arts Department, the late Iroha once admitted drawing inspiration for the play from his parents who, as he recalled, were unknowingly acting out a comedy drama through the way they related to each other. Vignettes of the life of this intriguing couple provided the template for the fictional Zebrudaya’s matrimonial life with the beloved ‘Ovuleria’. And for almost two decades, ‘The New Masquerade’, alongside similar sit-coms like ‘The Village Headmaster’ and ‘Hotel de Jordan’, made waves on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA).

Following her passage, glowing tributes have been paid by Nigerians to the versatility of ‘Ovuleria’. Given her accomplishments, she deserves no less. While we commiserate with the art and culture community in Nigeria, we must not fail to call on their various guilds and associations to take immediate steps like instituting a health plan for its members. Too often, many of our popular names in the arts have had their dignity stripped from them as they are forced to go public with life threatening conditions that they battle with. That of course was not the case with ‘Ovuleria’ who died at 81, but this is an issue that needs to be addressed.

More unfortunately, the death of ‘Ovuleria’ has further depleted the rank of actors and actresses of a certain generation. Christiana Essien-Igbokwe, who played the role of Apena, the wife of Jegede Sokoya (Claude Eke) in the same sit-com died more than a decade ago. Davis Offor, who played the role of Clarus, the other houseboy in the play, is also late. On a personal note, ‘Ovuleria’ lost her husband during the civil war in the sixties and she never remarried, having resolved to devote all attention to raising her children.

Despite her limited formal education, ‘Ovuleria’ remained one of the few who could give a good account of themselves either on live stage or on television and silver screen. At the emergence of the Nigerian film industry, she was not afraid to offer her experience. While some of her contemporaries treated the emerging Nigerian film industry with cynicism, ‘Ovuleria’ was one of eminent trained thespians who supported Nollywood with her expertise and credibility. By all accounts, Lizzy Evoeme was a great Nigerian and an accomplished actress who left indelible mark. May her soul rest in peace.

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