Tosin Ajirire and Precious Igbava
For veteran broadcaster and actress, Mabel Akomu Oboh, giving back to society is beyond passion; it is life.
In her bid to empower Nigerian entertainers and eradicate poverty in the industry, the founder of Mabel Oboh’s Centre for Save Our Stars has just concluded a week-long skills acquisition programme where participants learned soap making, cake baking, make-up, and bead making among others.
Even before that, Oboh launched a ‘save our soul’ campaign for reggae star Yellow Banton, who was down with skin cancer. She was also part of the campaign to save veteran actor, Sadiq Daba from life threatening ailment. In this interview, Oboh opens up on her life, career, challenges, and what actually informed her decision to establish Save Our Stars.
Tell us briefly about yourself
My name is Mabel Akomu Oboh. I am a veteran broadcaster and actress. I am also a television presenter. I worked for NTA for so many years.
Tell us about your NGO, Mabel Oboh’s Centre for Save Our Stars. What actually inspired it?
Save Our Stars is an NGO for entertainers, and also for sport people, because we have come to realize that sport people are also part of entertainers. The NGO came from my personal observation of the suffering that is in the entertainment industry. I have been in the entertainment industry for 34 years, and I saw the likes of Sam Loco, Enebeli Elebuwa, who passed on for no good reason. They were all my contemporaries. I know very well that these were very committed people in the industry. They did it (entertainment) for the love of it and not for financial gains. But then life has to continue, they paid the price for the love of entertainment. When Enebeli and Sam Loco died, it really touched me because we started together and they were very good friends of mine.
I saw some actors in the new Nollywood like Mona Ibekwe and the rest of them dying like that. And looking at the cause of death, we came to realize that it’s all about lack of money. I was actually in the UK when Sadiq Daba’s problem started. I saw the campaign on Facebook and I said this is it. Sadiq also is a colleague of mine, so I felt if people of my generation in the entertainment industry are going (to die) and they are not going (to die) because of nature but because of lack of funds… So, I came back and joined the campaign with Joe Okei-Odumakin, Soni Irabor, Azuka Jebose and others. And I played my role and it became a success. And that was actually the time I told Sadiq Daba that I was going to start a Foundation, an NGO for entertainers. I told him enough is enough.
How were you able to secure your future when you were starting out as a broadcaster and actress?
I saw it coming and I made a point of not giving 100 percent of my life to entertainment without thinking of surviving as well. This I realised in the ‘80s and I did something about myself. Luckily, I was a producer and director when I started off, and eventually I worked in NTA 7 as a newscaster and reporter, and also as a correspondent in the Governor’s Office. It was a paying job. But when I produced Victims, that was my first production, I had sponsorship from corporate organisations like PZ and many more. You pay your actors and then you survive and live on.
I must also say that my mom gave me advice; she said to me that any money I make I should invest for the future. What I did then was to start going into properties. I bought my first land at 28 and I started developing it gradually.
It was a hard process but when there is no money, what do you do? You sacrifice. I didn’t buy all those big handbags; all those Gucci bags women buy at their young age. I saved my money. Eventually, I got a job with the United Nations. I was in charge of their drug awareness programme, as in video production campaign in Nigeria.
Which came first, broadcasting or acting?
Acting came first.
How did you come into acting?
I trained in Dublin, Ireland. I trained in stagecraft and voice production. I qualified in 1984 then I came back to Nigeria. That was when I wrote my first script, Victims, which I gave to NTA. That time, Victoria Ezeokoli and Peter Igoh were directors of programmes. Victoria loved the script and eventually Peter Igoh took over the script and came up with sponsorship and Victims became a network production. Later, I had a contract with NTA to do telemovies. I was one of the first persons to do that in NTA. I was also the second female producer in Nigeria after Lola Fani-Kayode who did Mirror in the Sun. Victims later took over from Mirror in the Sun in the ‘80s.
Who were those who acted in Victims then?
We had actors like Enebeli Elebuwa, who played a major role in Victims. We also had Ekua Tandom, a Ghanaian and Moji Danisa. I actually discovered Moji Danisa in acting. She was my major star in Victims. However, most of the actors are late now.
After Victims what came next?
After Victims, I did telemovies. I also did TV commercials. I was actually the person who did the first Mr. Biggs’ commercials. I did Banking in Nigeria, a documentary and so on. I kind of moved away from acting. I felt this was more a kind of intelligent part of the (entertainment) field.
Did you act in Victims?
Yes, I did. I played the role of Barbara. I did other acting for NTA telemovies in the ‘80s and ‘90s. If someone approaches me now, I will act (laughs). I still have passion for acting. But then, I feel there are lots of other important aspects of showbiz, the humanitarian aspect of showbiz that I need to engage myself. That’s why I am very passionate about the NGO, Save Our Stars. I feel that this is something I can do to give back to the entertainment industry. However, I intend to continue with my talkshow, Chat With Mabel that I did in 2000 on NTA network.
What actually stopped you from plunging into Nollywood?
My background was actually in television. I was a broadcaster and staff of NTA. I got trained as a broadcaster. I was the NTA correspondent in the Governor’s Office. When Nollywood was coming up, I was more tilted towards broadcasting. I was presenting Chat with Mabel and I didn’t have interest in acting again.
What were your challenges then as a broadcaster?
The major challenge or headache I had as a broadcaster then was men. Men love women in broadcasting, so that was the challenge. Men will always want to approach you because they see your face on TV. So, because you see my face regularly on TV, you want to approach me? That aspect I didn’t like. At that time, I was under pressure but I stood my ground. And that’s the respectability I am enjoying in the industry now. I didn’t do it then and obviously not now, not at this age. The thing is, key men in the industry knew who Mabel was and none of them could point his fingers and say he had this to do with her or she was a play about. And I think it’s paying off now that I am running the NGO. I can talk one on one with men, they don’t see me as a pretty lady; they see me as a businesswoman.
How do you intend to raise money for your NGO’s programmes?
At the moment, it’s been more of self-sponsorship. Also, I am getting some sponsorship from my brother; he has brought quite a few people that are sponsoring. But to continue the projects, we do intend to go out there and get people to sponsor us. We also intend to seek partnership from government. We intend to deal with international organisations as well; we are not just going to concentrate on people donating to us in Nigeria.
Let me take you back a little, how did you cope with fame as a broadcaster and actress?
I coped very well because I am more of an introvert. I was professionally trained to know that in showbiz, when you finish your bit, take off that clothe and become your normal person. So, it helped me a lot. When I finished with my showbiz, I went back to being Mabel. Mabel is an ordinary person and that is part of the thing the NGO will be doing, helping entertainers and also organising workshops to change their mindset about drugs, and letting them know that showbiz is like any other career. If an entertainer knows that, he will do his entertainment and then go back to living his normal life, and that is mindset.
What do you think is responsible for entertainers not being able to secure their future when the times were good?
There is a lot of stress in entertainment and that stress pushes people to alcoholism and drug abuse. It’s a lifestyle that is rampart not only in Nigeria but also around the world. Because they don’t really recognise that showbiz is showbiz, they get carried away with the glamour of it. And before you know it, you get older and they push you aside and forget about you.
Overseas, actors have businesses and investments. Why is it not so in Nigeria? That is what my NGO is all about, to create awareness, train people and change their mindset. People should know that entertainers could have life beyond entertainment.
As a mother, would you allow any of your children to go into showbiz?
Yes, my first son is into entertainment in the UK. He is a producer and director. His name is Magnus; he is into music production. My last son studied law, but he dropped out of law (school) to study cinematography.
He said to me, ‘I have a lot to put into entertainment’ and I believe when he finishes, he is coming back to Nigeria. I told him that when he is done with his course, he must come back to serve his country.
How is their father taking it?
I am a single parent, a divorcee; but their father is taking it very well.
What of your daughter, is she also into entertainment?
No, I don’t have a girl. I only have boys. I have three sons.
Have you considered remarrying?
How soon should we expect the wedding bells?
Well, the right person is not there yet (laughs).
What’s your ideal man?
My ideal man will be a humanitarian. I am not really into if somebody is rich or poor. But he has to be kind hearted. The way he treats other people matters, it’s not whether he is handsome or not. What trips me in men is the heart. He must be a kind and generous man – not necessarily kind and generous to me, because that may be pretentious. I will watch the way he treats other people. If you are nice to other people, I know you have a good heart, and then I can get attracted to you.
Has he come yet?
I don’t think so because I have not been looking (laughs). May be I have not put myself in an environment that will encourage that kind of thing.
What gives you happiness?
It is making other people happy. When other people are happy, I am happy.
What has been your greatest moment as a broadcaster and actress?
It’s when NTA approved my first project, Victims. It was a big thing for me. It actually confirmed what I wanted from childhood, I have always wanted to be an entertainer.