LOMAJI UGORJI: FRONTLINE DRAMATIST
By Diji Aina
AT the time of Nigeria’s independence in 1960, he was barely educated. Yet, he was not ill-equipped for the challenges, the expectations and realities of nationhood. Exactly one year after Nigeria’s independenc, he was at the centre of attraction in a daring theatre group making a grand debut in Aba, the heartland of the old Imo State (now Abia State).
Three decades ago, he was a prime mover of the popular ‘Icheoku’ drama group, blazing the trail of the budding entertainment industry from the east of the Niger. Like the spread of a wild-fire, Lomaji’s name came to be associated with the television character known as the “Court Clerk” by every Tom, Dick and Harry in Nigeria.
Being identified with this pioneering role in a T.V. programme relayed by NTA Enugu, coupled with the several live performances all over the nooks and crannies of Nigeria, Lomaji needs no further introduction.
In the 1960s and 70s when Icheoku was most famous, Ugorji played the role of a court clerk. The drama itself centered around the local courts of the colonial era epitomized by the communication gap between the colonial judge or magistrate and the erring natives. A central character, Lomaji Ugorji always sent his audience reeling with laughter with his misinterpretation of the magistrate on the one hand, and the plaintiffs and defendants on the other.
The court clerk, laced with communication barrier arising from his half-baked spoken English never succeeded in putting across the true meanings of any statement thereby making way for explosive exchanges and provocative utterances by the magistrate and the accused.
That was two decades ago. Today, Lomaji is not only ageing but a born-again believer. Even at this, he says it will be difficult for him not to still be a T. V. star and dramatist. Though, a born-again Christian, Ugorji, a septuagenarian, would not mind appearing again and again on television screen to light up people’s lives and help city and village dwellers forget their accumulated stress.
His debut drama remains unknown to many people across the nation but this is what he cherishes most. He recalls with pride that this first drama christened “Wele-kebe” is a theatric outburst that sent the people of Aba and environs scrambling for seats in cinema houses and theatre halls, buying more tickets every now and then. Despite his age, television production still holds a special attraction for him.
What he does presently is to help advertisers with T.V. adverts and promotional campaigns. Recently he was on contract, lasting three years with Equitorial Trust Bank (ETB).
Lomaji is a man after the hearts of almost all and sundry. His theatric exploit is almost irresistible, breaking through ethnic and linguistic barriers in the entertainment world. When he was on the trail of Equitorial Trust Bank’s jackpot at their newly opened branch in the heart of Alaba International Market in Lagos, he was almost mobbed by fans who cheered “Give me my Tally” as the ETB Carnival Train bulldozed its way through throngs of spectators and marketers.
If in the 1960s and 70s Lomaji Ugorji was known and referred to as the “Court Clerk,” in the 1990’s he is “a bank customer” with the famous “Give me my tally” slogan as a hallmark of his new personality.
When you ask him who prepares the text of his recent T.V. adverts/copy for him, he says that it is God-sent. At the mention of his name, a picture of a bank customer, an ageing personality dressed in a simple T. shirt with shorts, holding a mat and a walking stick comes alive.
Lomaji in the award-winning ETB advert goes to the bank as early as possible to make a withdrawal. At ETB he expects the usual delay and red-tape experienced in other banks. This is why he holds a mat. He expects to collect a tally number, then find a way to relax on his mat while the delay lasts. This was not to be as his demand for a tally (as usual) was met with prompt payment and attention.
This ageing artiste is typical of many of his contemporaries. His untiring contributions to the development of the entertainment industry notwithstanding, he still lives on unattractive contract agreement proceeds to feed himself and his family.
As at December 1992, he goes home with a paltry N20,000 per annum for the next three years, As a believer, he says it is not how much but how well. He takes delight in spiritual matters which was the rationale behind his payment of N2,000 out of the N20,000 as tithe to his church.
Ugorji has retired but not tired. Though not literate, he is not blind to the ideals of family planning – a virtue he took up even before he became a born-again Christian. He has only one wife and six children. He has no regrets except that none of his children is interested in being a dramatist like him.
First published Saturday, 20 November, 1993.