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Revisiting The Death Of James Iroha a.k.a Giringori Akabogoh 

By Ekinneh Agbaw-Ebai*

— The outpourings and encomiums about James Iroha better known the world over as Giringori Akabogoh, on the occasion of his passing were, indeed, expected.

He deserves every bit of them. Across the board, in and out of Nigeria, millions of his fans have been unanimous about a man of exceptional talent and humility whose life was spent bringing humour and comic relief at a time when acting was done in purity and innocence; when the actor’s primary aim was to entertain society not primitive accumulation and material aggrandisement.

Media reports said Giringori succumbed to the vice grip of ill-health and poverty on February 28, 2012 in a hospital in Onitsha. He was 70 years old. By all accounts, GiringoriAkabogoh deserved to be celebrated in death, as he was in life. He was exceptional; a man who attained international fame and recognition through sheer diligence and extraordinary devotion to his calling,creating one of the longest running hilarious and popular television drama series, The Masquerade.

Giringori was identified more by his TV personality than his real self. Doing justice to his life story will require an outsize biography; one that not only tells his story, but sets it within the broader context of contemporary Nigerian society. Although the explosion of the Nigerian movie industry (Nollywood) had eclipsed Giringori and his co-actors, millions of his fans the world over still remember them, especially Giringori, with nostalgia.

James Udensi Akwari Iroha hailed from Amokwe Item of Bende Division in present day Abia State in Nigeria. He was one of the pioneer students of the Theatre Arts Department of the University of Ibadan, where he graduated in 1966 just before the outbreak of the Nigerian civil war in 1967. His career began immediately after the war in 1970.

He was determined to offer comic relief to his Igbo folks, still hurting from the pangs of the Nigerian civil war. Armed with such clear vision, he created the original idea that started The Masquerade as a radio programme in the then Radio Enugu, which was captured extensively in former West Cameroon. For the best of two decades, Giringori captivated an international audience, and became a household name with a mimicked conversational tone that was unique.

When it became popular and was taken to television, the programme became the “King of Primetime” on the NTA Network. It was aired as a weekly 30-minute programme, known as The Masquerade, which held television viewers spellbound. Giringori Akabogoh and Clarus Mgbojikwe (Davies Ofor) were the faithful houseboys to Chief Zebrudaya Okorigwe Nwogwoh alias 4:30 (Chika Okpala) and his affable wife Ovularia Orediya Nwogwoh (Lizzy Ivoeme), along with the flamboyant Chief Jegede Shokoya and his cantankerous wife Akpenoh.

The Masquerade served as a refreshing tonic for stress reduction and was a hilarious creation for society to laugh at its follies. People identified with it because it mirrored the daily realities in a class society, where the rich and powerful like Chief Zebrudaya and Jegede lived side by side with houseboys who played all sorts of pranks and quarrelled endlessly over seniority. The Nigerian Government, in recognition of his contributions, awarded him the National Honour of the Order of the Niger.

Giringori retired from public service in 2010 but his retirement was plagued by failing health, worsened by excruciating poverty. He was afflicted in both eyes by glaucoma and cataract, for which he underwent several operations at home and abroad with no success. At one point, he was stranded for 16 days in India where he went for medical treatment. He became blind from glaucoma.

Giringori literally went begging for help from the public he entertained all his life but no help came. He depended on a pension that trickled in at irregular intervals, and he had no house of his own. Before he died as a pauper, Giringori cried out for rehabilitation. He was compelled to make a desperate appeal to Nigerians in newspapers saying he was broke and almost begging for food.

For someone whose acting was larger than life, Giringori’s ignominious exit is lamentable and a shame to Nigeria and all Africans. His death brings to three the number of the original cast of the iconic drama series who have passed on. The others are Claude Eke (Jegede Shokoyah) and Christy Essien-Igbokwe (Akpenoh). Giringori is survived by four sons and a daughter, having lost his wife earlier. Adieu Great Entertainer!!!

*Ekinneh Agbaw-Ebai is a public intellectual and graduate of Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government where he was Managing Editor of the Harvard Journal of African-American Public Policy. Talk back at ekinneh@yahoo.com.

First Published in The Post print edition (No. 1330)

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