Even with the varied perceptions of this foremost entertainer by Nigerians, he appears resolute in his resolve to consistently remain either Charles Oputa or Charley Boy and nothing else. In as much as he bears both personalities with equanimity, an encounter with him living his normal life very much makes you appreciate his dynamism and creativity, and occasionally living out a concept that is totally alien to his person.
In this interview with DAILY POST’s Timothy Enietan-Matthews and Sylvester Ugwuanyi, the maverick Charles Oputa lets us into his world and politically happenings across the country in a no-holds-barred session. Excerpts:
Let’s begin by commiserating with you over the passing of your father, the great Justice Oputa, and how does it feel living without such a big legend?
I don’t see him from the legendary perspective. I just see him as somebody I had a very good and close relationship with as a friend. Even though, he was my father, we were quite close as somebody who taught me at least half of the things I know. He instilled in me very strong morals and values that haven’t really left me. There were values I rebelled against which in my old age I have run back to. Of course, it is always painful when somebody close to you passes on but I think his case doesn’t warrant being sorry for because in our place it is the child that buries the father, not the other way round. He has lived a good life and I think he left a good legacy. Going at the age of 97, I mean he can’t live to become a Methuselah. For me, it was a happy one, even though it was still painful. At least, I am proud that for the 25 years I made him happy by entertaining and engaging him duly as a dutiful son would. I am very happy how it all ended: it ended well.
How does it feel taking over the leadership of the Oputa family?
There is nothing to take over. I’ve always been in charge even when he was alive. He saw the soldier in me and allowed me run things. So it’s not like I’m talking over anything. There is really nothing to take over. Like I said, all the values he nurtured in me are now the things I stand for.
You said there are some values you rebelled against but now have to fall back to them at old age, how do you mean?
Like integrity. As a little guy, I didn’t understand its importance. With consistency and tenacity, a man should be filled with pride. He would always say I don’t want anybody spoiling this name..o and I was like what is in a bloody name. I mean must I act a certain way because I bear this name? So those were the values I rebelled against, including discipline. He used to say, a man without discipline is as good as dead. I didn’t understand that.
Eventually, discipline is what brought me this far. I’ve been married to one woman going to 38 years. It is only discipline that allows me stay in that relationship and nobody “dey hear how we dey break head or where we dey quarrel.”
You know that is what makes you not to hear about any acrimony in my domestic life. So those were the things I’ve run back to at old life. I’m 63 now but I’m looking younger because of discipline; I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, there are lots of things I don’t do and it is because of discipline. The Charly boy brand, because it is larger than life, people speculate a lot about it, but that’s only speculation.
The Charlyboy brand you just mentioned mean different things to different people, but what does it mean to Charles Oputa?
It’s just a brand. The things that you put out that you identify with. That makes a brand. When you talk about crazy, weirdness, that’s the brand. But my rings and tattoos do not define me. It’s an act just like when you want to play a role in a movie, you go for a specific role and act it out in such a way that people believe you are that person. So I am not Charlyboy. It’s just a role like a lifestyle and that is why people will see what they see from where they stand. If you are a fetish kind of person and you believe in juju dem and winsh wey dey fly for night, you may look at my ring and say that’s diabolic, but to me it’s just an ordinary ring that I’m wearing.
During the burial of the late Justice Oputa, you created a scene with the bunch of ladies you came with (cuts in: those are my virgins) are they your bodyguards or what symbolism did you intend to create by that?
They can be anything that you want them to be. It’s all in your head what you think they are or could be. But for me, I call them virgins; not in the physical sense but in ideology, how they think. They are special, their minds are not yet polluted. What are the things that have kept me youthful? It’s because I surround myself with certain virgins. It could be male or female, youthful people who are tremendously focused; who are not polluted by the nuances of the environment; who are special who standout. Those were like my friends whom I have mentored over the years who just wanted to be there with me. And then of course, if you are bringing Charly boy out, it has to be a big event, it’s going to create that ‘talkability’. So I allowed Charlyby to go out and be a part of that burial because I used him as a showpiece. For me, that was what happened. We were burying somebody larger than life who meant something to me. Let’s not forget that it was because of his moral support to the brand that gave Charlyboy enough impetus in the sense that you could see justice Oputa on Charlyboy’s bike, you could see him even jogging with Charlyboy in the morning and most of the comical shows staged in Abuja was attended by Charlyboy and Justice Oputa. So we wanted to create that buzz for the burial because it was a big event. I’m not sure that kind of burial will happen again in the east of the Niger in the next 50 years and you can take that to the bank.
There were reports about the governor of your state, Owelle Rochas Okoroacha, donating for the burial and of you snatching the microphone from him during the event. What actually transpired?
I’ve already explained that hundred times over. There was no snatching of the microphone. Those were things people cooked up in their head, but yes, I didn’t want him to talk at my father’s burial because I didn’t want it to turn to politics. My father is not a politician and we should respect how he wanted to be buried. And I thought it was classless for people to make a donation and come out to announce it. They were few other people who made donation but didn’t go to take pages in the newspaper to announce it. And for the money they said they gave, yes they helped the family, but my father was worth way over that.
Is that the reason why the government didn’t pay him his pension for the past one year? Of course, we know that somebody ran away with all the money, what has happened to the person? You see, these are the kind of things that bring to the fore what my country is passing through and how the masses have become suddenly corrupted by fear and the insecurity of tomorrow. I wonder how this is going to change when the youths can no longer challenge the leadership. They have compromised without the knowledge of where they are going. We have gone into a big mess and I’m lost as to when we would come out of it. But for Charlyboy or Charles Oputa, I can’t stand and watch somebody reduce the rock solid image my father built to be rubbished by some kind of political shenanigan. I wasn’t going to allow that, so I ordered that he should not speak,. That was what I did.
Considering the world of difference between Charly boy and Charles Oputa, what is that thing you do that makes it easy for you to switch between both characters?
I have an inbuilt adjuster. As I’m talking to you now, I know you would be wondering that the image of the person discussing with you is different from the image of the Charlyboy you have been hearing of. I am a soft talker, I am not “gragraish”. But if you take me now and put me in a place like Mushin, of course my behaviour will change instantly. Like I said, it’s an inbuilt thing. If you take me again and put me in a boardroom for some serious discussions, again my persona will change automatically to fit that environment. That is why I am a communicator and that is what I studied. I know when Charlyboy is needed in a situation so it comes out naturally. The inducement is what I have learnt over the years.
Considering how interesting your brand is, why didn’t you nurture a protégé who would sustain what the brand stands for?
There are so many people that have affected my life and I have affected their lives. Till tomorrow, there is nobody that comes close to me that some of me don’t rub off on them especially when they are people hungry to learn to be good, to better their lives, because that is my strongest points. It’s a talent that has been given to be by God. Nobody passes through me and remains the same again. I chose to keep company with the young people because I need to know what is trending and because I counsel a lot of young people, I need to be in their psyche. To know their thinking and how they do a lot of things they get involved in. And for my children, you know I have nine of them. I have almost 14 grandchildren. Each and every one of them took a little bit from me. They might not end up doing what I’m doing, but they are combining their essence with some fine qualities of what they got from me. One thing a lot of those I’ve mentored over the years have is that they are very tenacious, determined and focused.
So after you now, the brand CharlyBoy goes extinct?
They can only be one Charlyboy just as there is one Fela. There are a lot of people trying to mimic Fela, but there can only be one Fela.
Do you see a bit of you in Denrele Edun?
You know as an artiste, you are not going to sing anything that has never been sang before. You are not going to do anything that has never been done before. What we artistes do is to take bits and pieces from here and there and then put our own essence. It is our own essence that gives it a stamp of originality.
Fortunately, Denrele Edun has passed through the Charlyboy University. At a point, he choreographed and danced for my wife. We did a little thing together, but it will be wrong for anybody to say he is trying to be Charlyboy. He is trying to be himself, although he must have picked up some bits and pieces here and there like we all do.
What can you say about the declaration of President Jonathan to seek re-election?
For a long time, government has been deaf and dumb. Government has ruled with impunity, it has gotten away with murder. I’m no longer vexed with leadership, I am vexed with followership. Because we are all stupid that we let people run our life anyhow and we are all comfortable in our little corner.
How do we make things better when we cannot defend our rights? We cannot stand up and say no; enough is enough. It’s obvious now that leadership is about them, not about us the led. So what do you want me to say? Before, during the regime of Babangida and even before then, anything that happens, it is the youth that come out. Once the youths say no to anything, the leaders have to think that thing twice. But now what kind of youths do we have?
I don’t blame those who are leading because someone who is bad on the inside can’t help what he or she does. Look at the youths now. Can you really say youths in Nigeria have a future? Where is the future? Where the old and the rusty people should be resting, they are still struggling.
Don’t you think the youths and the masses are reluctant because they have not seen somebody to spearhead the fight?
Which somebody? (Chuckles) When there is a revolution, do you think it’s planned? It’s not planned. It’s just people getting sick and tired of how their lives are going. People are now worried about 2015, they are doing all their gra gra, but no one is asking what happens after May 2015. What kind of Nigeria will be left to be governed? What manner of youths will be left to be governed? If they think Boko Haram is something, let them wait… All these people moving about with sirens and security men, one day those security people will not be able to protect them. What kind of Nigeria where everything is so scattered, so jaggered. People are talking of election to control power; what have they done with power so far? Nothing! They made our lives miserable. But like I say, I don’t blame them because we allowed it.
What do you see as the solution to these issues you raised?
I think we need to do something. And that is what I try to do through my ideology, my philosophy and lifestyle, even though, I’m not Jesus Christ. So I’m looking forward to those exceptional Nigerian youths who would carry on the fight. We are on our way out o.. don’t forget we started all these things in those days. We cannot be here forever. Tomorrow, the future belongs to young people. Even though they are in the minority, I’m happy that there are youths in this country who stand out. Regardless of the pollution and the uncertainty of hunger and fear of tomorrow, they are insistent on always doing the right thing and they have the country at heart. So, I’m hoping that a day will come when somebody will spring up to start the ‘say no campaign’; no to bad leadership, no to this oppression and no to the rape of our treasury with this kind of impunity.
Do you have any fear for next year’s election knowing that (cuts in)
As a typical Nigerian who is following the trend of events, you should be worried na. Everybody is worried. Today, they will say, we have reached a peace deal with Boko Haram, tomorrow, they will say we have killed the kingpin. Before, you know you will see another video saying aaah they never kill me o. You then begin to wonder what is going on. People no longer have faith in government. What they say nobody knows. Even we, the press, are not helping issues because we have failed to report the real thing; reporting as it favours somebody. So (heaves), my brother I don’t know.
If the president should ask whether we should go ahead with this election, what would be your answer?
My answer will be that it is not election. We are forced to be a part of it because we feel we don’t have a choice. What is doing us is hunger, what is doing us is a feasible investment in our tomorrow. Something we can’t look to and say there is hope. If you are not thinking of what would positively affect us, we will do election, but siddon look and be like mumu people. But for me, I don’t think election is the priority. I know the timetable is up and they must do what they are supposed to do, but at the end of the day, it’s the same old sh*t. In Nigeria, since independence, the graph has always plunged head down. The kind of violence, anger and demonstrations we are going to see next year will tell you that we have left a lot of things hanging for a long time and it is the result that would start coming.
What can we do to avert such anarchy?
Those who are in position of power are so bloody drunk on this power and have become so used to it that they are now behaving anyhow. I don’t know if they are going to change. Change will come if a few of them who have some decency rise against the others who do not have any scruple whatsoever. Maybe, at the end of the day, the ones with decency will win that fight. It’s also possible that God may decide to pity us and provide a Jerry Rowling of our time from some of these youths that I’ve seen that have given me a renewed hope in Nigeria because boys dey vex o. Because I know that the violence that is coming is going to be massive. Do you how many guns that are in this country? Do you know the level of importation of guns that is going on in this country? Who will be in possession of them? Is it the one that after the elections those giving it out will recollect them? Of course, they will still be in possession of those guns, and what do you think they are going to do with it eventually?
Why have you not at any point attempted to join politics actively?
Everybody has their own calling and I don’t think I’m called out for that, just like I am not called to be a lawyer. But that does not mean I cannot argue my case. I don’t want to involve myself with the kind of politics that is played in Nigeria. But I’ve always been involved in politics of a different sort; politics of the dynamics of change; the politics of surviving in such a harsh environment like Nigeria. I thank God that some of the people who passed through me understand these dynamics and have decided to hold their own even in the face of all these pollutions and rot that is going on. I’m a product of this environment, after all I didn’t stay more than five years in America. I’ve lived most of my live in Nigeria and I know that time when things used to be good, I know when things started to deteriorate. I actually came back when things started to deteriorate. I witnessed it. That is why this brand- Charlyboy has helped by building a wall around me to protect me and to protect my ideology and philosophy which seem not to be in sync with the mindset of the people.
You had this programme then, The Charlyboy Show, which was very popular, yet you rested it, do you have any plan to resuscitate it?
Part of our problem in Nigeria is that we don’t remember pioneers. The life of a pioneer is a very lonely one because people hardly remember. The big money currently in entertainment, it was Charlyboy that started the agitation for that. It was the brand that started the relationship between local and foreign artistes. The respect that artistes now enjoy, it was Charlyboy that fought for it. So when you start something novel, no matter how crazy do it for almost 13, 14 years and moved on to other things, it is left for those coming up to take it up. When I go to a lot of shows, I still see bits and pieces of the Charlyboy Show which people have adopted and taken to another level. So for me to come back and be doing shows, I need to beat all those ones wey don take am to another level and sometimes e no de easy. So, I’ve been there and done that and moved on to other things. There are a lot of things to be done and I’m doing. So, I don try shaa.
What project are you working on at the moment?
What I’m working on is what I’ve always done for the past 30 years. It’s not anything specific. It’s about enlarging my ministry. Ministry in terms of the number of people I could reach; number of young people I’m counselling, you know, replacing their negative mindset into something more positive. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past 25 years. I’m not ready to stop it.
You’ve been together in marriage with Lady D for 38 years, how would you described the journey?
It’s been like a rollercoaster. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it bad. Sometime we laugh, sometime we cry. I’ve discovered that in marriage it’s just forbearing, it’s just tolerance and you can never really find a person who is 100 per cent. There is no marriage that is 100 per cent. It’s the ability to deal with the uncompactability that can make it work and you have mutual respect for each other. You are supposed to be friends first before anything. I thank God for that because- me I don get history. This is my fourth and last marriage. Maybe, I’ve picked up a lot of experiences from my failed marriages which I have exerted on this one or maybe, I am just a lucky bastard that God has finally given a woman wey no go stress my life at all in any kind of ways, because I can’t even live with myself. Not because I do anything crazy, but because I am a very moody person. Most of the time, I want to stay on my own, but if you don’t understand you go think say something dey vex me but nothing dey vex me. I’m just a loner. I’m an introvert by nature. That is why I appreciate the brand Charlyboy, otherwise people no go see me. My life is complex because if you look at my real person, you cannot imagine me being Charlyboy.
What’s your last word to Nigerian youths?
I know that things are hard. Even Nigerian youths don’t believe in the country, they don’t believe in the leadership. Neither do they believe in anything. Everybody is waiting for their own turn. Whether they work for it or not is not important. They just expect miracle to happen. So I’m telling them that miracles don’t happen like that anymore. The only miracle that happens is the one you work out which attracts the blessings of God. With all the bad things I see around, I still have faith that the salvation of this country remains in the hands of its exceptional youths. But as for the present day Nigeria, we need to cancel it, cancel some people who run in it for us to make progress.
Culled From DailyPost Nigeria