Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Comical James Iroha, Giringory Akabuogu, Bows off Stage Laughing

N290202-James-Iroha.jpg - N290202-James-Iroha.jpgTwo months ago, veteran actor, James Iroha, better known as Giringory Akabuogu was a happy participant in a landmark cultural fiesta: Igbotomma; that celebrates the passage of time in Item, Bende division of Abia State. As he joined his contemporaries to mark the attainment of the 70 years age grade, little did he know it would be their last happy event together. He died Tuesday at age 70.
A post on his Facebook page last December had issued an open invitation to all and sundry thus, “If you happen to be anywhere near Amokwe Item on the 27th of December, I would seriously like to have you come to mine for a very unserious event. I am being forcefully retired from traditional activities and apparently it will have to be celebrated, as in loads of wack, drinks and laughs. Come with your autograph books as some of my professional colleagues will be present, don't forget to update your insurance policies as there may be risks of cracking your ribs whilst laughing, (don't say I didn't warn you). Seriously guys, it will be a privilege to have you around for my ‘Igboto nma’.”
A leading member of the cast of one of the longest running comedy on Nigerian television -Masquerade (which later transformed to the New Masquerade) - Iroha was the creative powerhouse of the serial and it was a positive commentary on his humility that  he wrote and directed most of the stories but assigned the role of a houseboy to himself.
So for the duration of the Masquerade soap which held television viewers in Nigeria spellbound for close to two decades, Giringory and Clarus Mbojikwe (David Ofor) were faithful sidekicks (as houseboys) to Chief Zebrudaya Okorigwe Nwogbo alias 4:30 (Chika Okpala).
He was determined to offer a comic relief to his Igbo folks men and women who were still hurting from the pangs of the Nigerian civil war.
Giringory was one of the pioneer students of the Theatre Arts Department, University of Ibadan. Though a sound university graduate, he spoke the dialectal Pidgin English with impeccable speed and mastery, all embroidered with a tapestry of mischief in his character portrait.
In one of his interviews, he said: “I joined Theatre Arts in 1966 to make sure that people got entertained with what my mother was doing unknowingly. The passion to act was there, so I could not imagine myself doing something else. Even when I was doing a big administrative job in an office.”
Recounting how it all began, Iroha’s narrative had it that, “the original idea started as a radio programme, which actually started just after the war ended, all in a bid to cushion the pain and hurt that people felt. I sincerely hope it worked. Well the show got so popular that the idea of taking it to television became real, it was then that the name changed to Masquerade.”
According to one of his sons, Uche James Iroha, who confirmed the death, it came as a shock to them though he had been ill for a while.
A message posted on Facebook supposedly by one of his sons, Akwari, gave the period of his life as being between September 1942 to February 2012. He posted a moving epitaph thus: ”Not long ago a man we have all come to love, a man that has made us laugh, a friend to all but will always be Dad to my little sister Ugonma, my brothers Chiemela, Uche, Kelechi and me passed on.Chief James Udensi Akwari Iroha, OON, has passed on today. May his cheerful soul rest in the Lord.”
He also noted that as a child, his father always shared his fond memories about The New Masquerade. Quoting his father, he said: “I would not forget the fact that the programme itself was a kind of tonic for people's souls. It offered them a kind of break in their tension - charged atmosphere. People identified themselves with the programme because it was for the people and humanity.”
He said he appreciated what he was doing, not for money, not for wealth, but anywhere he went at that time, “people kept calling me Giringori! Giringori!! It made me feel fulfilled”.
Though it is sad that as a professional actor, the government did nothing before his death but some of his professional colleagues like Chief Zebrudaya and Ovularia came when Giringory’s wife died. “That was very encouraging,” James said.
But the man himself bore no grudge against government on his seeming neglect. Even as his later years were filled with tales of misery, poverty and ill-health, Giringory never lost his sense of humour. While hoping in the face of subjugating despair, he expected the best and would not blame the government for not paying his pension on time, reasoning that in the face of dwindling resources, government was likely to attend to the needs of its serving personnel before considering the plight of pensioners like himself.
Speaking to the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN) President, Mr. Segun Arinze, he said: “We at the AGN commiserate with his family.
“The Giringory Akabuogu I know in those days has made his mark in acting and he was one of the people that displayed passion in acting. After the civil war The New Masquerade helped to brighten the faces of the Easterners because they lost their loved ones, property and homes.”
His death yesterday brings to an end a period of personal suffering and ill health culminating in loss of sight. Incidentally, Clarus his co-traveller on the New Masquerade train is also reported to be blind.

Giringory’s death also comes on the heel of the death of Apena (Chief Christy Essien-Igbokwe), another prominent member of the New Masquerade cast who died last year.
His death has also put paid to a book project on the story of his life that he was working on.

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