EXCLUSIVE: Some People where happy because of my MEMORY LOSS:comedian Julius Agwu
Ace comedian Julius Agwu is celebrating life after going through the throes of surgery, five-month coma and memory loss. His return to active life is surely one of the miracles of our time.
He spoke to PAUL UKPABIO about his traumatic experience and how he managed to fix the pieces of his life and returned to stardom.
A few years ago, you were away in America to America for months. Now we hear you are planning a big home coming show in Lagos. What actually happened?
That was the nature of things. I had just celebrated my 40th birthday then when the incident occurred. And as it said that a fool at 40 is a fool forever. I thank God that I was no fool. I thank God for everyone that prayed for me.
You were said to have suffered a brain tumor. Were you aware that you had such illness or did it happen all of a sudden?
I recall that I celebrated that particular birthday colourfully. Everybody who was somebody came around to celebrate with me. I actually launched my book as well. It was titled ‘Jokes Apart’. So you know people actually wondered how I got here for real.
Are you saying that the problem began immediately after the colourful celebration of your 40th birthday?
Yes, so it seems. But really, I have tried to leave all that behind me, because, like I will say, ‘God pass them!’
The usual belief is such an evil occurrence is masterminded by some village people. Do you also think so?
(Laughs) Honestly, I don’t know. But the truth is that the person or people who did it, wherever they are, they now know that God is bigger than them. God is firm; that is why I am still here. I thank everyone that prayed for me. The first time that I fell ill before the relapse that took me to America, I had just finished shooting a movie series. But I came back after full recovery from surgery to find out that a new movie in town is bearing the same title as the working title for the movie I shot! But that is okay. There is nothing I can do about it.
About the relapse, I woke up one morning and my wife was beside me. I saw her sitting next to me, I was looking at her, but I didn’t know who she was. I didn’t know she was my wife. I just kept staring at her. She started showing me pictures of my children on my phone. I didn’t know my children as she spread the phone images before me. It had to do with my memory. So I was told to rest. Afterwards I was flown abroad for surgery.
It took a process. It was not as easy as I just told you, because, according to my wife and the people who saw me then, I just blanked out of memory. I couldn’t identify anyone close to me or any familiar places.
Where did you go for the surgery?
I did the surgery in Houston, Texas, USA. It was God’s grace that we went there. In 2016, I went to do my show in London; my usual show called ‘Crack Ya Ribs’, and that was where I had a relapse. So I was flown round for a solution and then to the USA. Thereafter I was in coma for five months. All of the month of August, September, October, November and December and January. It was not an easy one, God was faithful.
I have two children, both of them before the incident that took me to Houston for surgery. They are a girl and a boy. Both are strong and beautiful. I have always doted on my children.
After the surgery, you returned to Nigeria…
Yes, I came home when I recuperated and I was told to rest furthermore. I have been resting since then, but as you can see, I look good and ready for real work.
Let us talk about the roles that people played during your health saga. What can you say?
Well, I can say that my wife is too much. By that I mean that my wife truly remembered the vows we made when we slotted the rings into our fingers when we got wedded; to be my wife in good health in bad health, in plenty and in lack, to love and cherish till death do us part. My wife has performed her duties satisfactorily. I thank my wife because without her being God fearing and a good wife, I wouldn’t be here today. That is because she took up the challenge immediately she saw me in that state and sought out the necessary solution that saved me.
I am sorry for the homes that have failed because the wife or husband did not stick to the wedding vows. I thank God for my wife because it is only God that can tell how good a wife material she is. I am sure if it was some other women she would have abandoned me and walked away. You know for some women, 2+2=8 and not 4 (laughs) and 8+8 is 36 for such women. But I was told that my wife was kneeling down by my bedside while I was in coma, and she was crying that I should not leave her and go like that. For that, I know God will still bless her more and more.
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How about other people?
My mom was there too, but you know her role is special too. My mom came to Lagos to see me. She was always praying. She met many people, telling them to pray for her son for full recovery. I saw my mom just yesterday before I left Port Harcourt, and I can tell you that she is still hale and hearty. She is actually close to 80 years. I thank God for her.
It took you some time to say you have rested enough and it’s time to work again. At what point did it occur to you that you have to get on your feet again?
It took a lot of courage to stand up again and do a show. But I did that in Port Harcourt and it was to say my Port Harcourt people, how una dey? I felt that as they had encouraged me through my trying period, I should encourage them too in return with a good show. And that was last year. But for my Lagos fans, I am coming back with a bang next year to tell them all a big thank you. It has been a long time away from the stage. So, Lagos 2020 is a date that will go down well in history. The exact date has not been fixed.
Did you feel at any time that your friends disappointed you when you needed them most?
It’s sad, but that is the truth of my past. This year, 7th of April, I tried to make myself happy by celebrating my birthday, and I said it that day that I have forgiven my friends and thanked everyone that prayed for me to regain my good health. Anyone who didn’t know that I have forgiven him or her should know now. It is more important to move on because life is too short.
What are you looking forward to doing at your show in Lagos?
I will tell my story. Lagosians and people from all over the country know me, but what they will be seeing soon is another me, a new me in another dimension.
What do you consider as your unique selling point?
I am talented in several ways. I guess that is my stay power. I am a comedian, a music-comedian, a director, an actor and so on. These days, I am even known as a public speaker. Few days ago, I was in Abuja to speak at the Nigerian Medical Association Summit. I was there to speak on behalf of all the patients in Nigeria. I am proud of Nigerian doctors, surgeons like Dr Douglass who was trained in London but returned to Nigeria to do surgeries. And he has been here doing remarkable surgeries.
I was in comma for 5 months
You were in coma for five months. When you woke up, did you remember your money, your investments? Did you wonder about your wealth and worth?
(Laughs) The truth is that many people owe me money. Some think because I had loss of memory that I must have forgotten about their debts so they don’t want to pay the money they owe me. But my philosophy now is that money will come and money will go. I thank God that I am alive. If I was dead, will I be here to remember that people owe me money?
Have your debtors made efforts to pay back your money?
The funny aspect is that they are not even calling me.
At what point did you have the belief that you are back to good health?
Oh, that was just last year. A lot of things had taken place. We spent huge sums of money, but life must go on. And I have recovered fully now health wise and finance wise. I have left all the anxiety behind me. At a certain point in life, one begins to reflect on general sayings like ‘health is wealth’, and they suddenly begin to make sense to one. Another of such saying is ‘time na money.’
What would you say helped your speedy recovery?
I stopped thinking about work, about shows and the like. You know as Julius Awgu back then, I was doing about five major shows. There was Crack Ya Ribs, Laff for Christ Sake, I was doing Festival of Love in Noga Hilton, Abuja. I was doing television shows as well. Before the arrival of Instagram, I had been shooting short skit. I used to come up with sudden ideas which I turned to short skit. And many of them are on Youtube. But after the sickness, I forgot how to use Instagram. But I thank God I am alive.
Do you think that stress and over-work contributed to the plight that led you into coma?
Yes, it cannot be removed totally. Apart from the spiritual aspect, my schedule before the relapse was hectic. But then, one thing leads to another.
What kind of lifestyle did you have before the breakdown?
I was over-worked. Everybody knows that I am hard working. Now, I tell people that at 40, there is need to find time to rest, to find time to sleep well. I was not sleeping well. There were many days at a stretch when I slept for just three or four hours. Sad. But now, I make sure that I take my siesta. My wife ensures that I sleep well because overwork also added to my problems then. From the way I worked then, I’m supposed to have grown grey hair all over!
So why don’t you have grey hair or beard?
(Laughs) It refused to come.
You used to also be known for your outlandish dress sense. Are you still that stylish or has it gone with the lost memory?
(Laughs) That one did not disappear with loss of memory. I am still stylish and fashionable. I am much known for my unique style in the entertainment industry. That is just me. I am glad that Dbanj emulated my kind of style. I like his dress sense.
You are 46 with a good name and a happy family life. What else do you want in life?
At 46, I am happy that I have a family, a beautiful daughter Zhara and a handsome son Zaidot. You know in choosing their names, we went after letter Z. The girl is in 10 and she is in secondary school, JSS1, and the boy is in nursery-primary school. You know the educational system has changed. I recall that I started in a public school in Primary 1, holding my big black slate under my arm. Growing up in the village those days, when I woke, I did the usual chores around the house, had a bath and then went around to hawk pap; what we call akamu here in Lagos, before I left for school with my big black slate under my arm.
In residential areas or whenever I saw a crowd, I would shout out to them, ‘Buy akamu and akara here’ to attract people to buy from me. I was always late to school. That was because the akamu and akara must finish before I returned home to pick my slate and head for school. I was always kneeling in front of the whole school, a form of punishment for those who used to get to the school late. In addition to that punishment, when I got to the class, our class teacher would stand me in front of the class, and tell me to dance and entertain everyone before I would sit down. It was a sort of punishment for always coming late to school. But unknown to the teacher, or as God would have it, she was indirectly grooming me for the future. That is because, that was where my music comedy talent started and blossomed.
Sometimes, in order that the teacher should release me early to go and sit down, I would come prepared with extra clothes tucked in my stomach so it could bulge out like clowns usually look, so I could make them laugh easily and quickly. Little did I know that I was grooming myself into what I am today. That was also the days of Uncle JB who used to dance and sing with protruding belly and backside. So I used to do all that, sing and dance in the class in primary school.
But did you stop there?
No. When I got to secondary school in 1984, we were the ones that started the 6334 educational system in Port Harcourt. In Primary 2, I was part of ‘Willie Travelling Theatre,’ people used to call him Willie-Willie then. He had been popular as far back as 1975, and in 1985, I was the youngest member of that travelling theatre. We toured Benin, Delta, and so on.
I remember one performance in Warri, at a point during the performance, Willie-Willie as he was called, was supposed to disappear. He had been put in a coffin and supposedly nailed, but was supposed to come out of the coffin as a ghost! So we did all that on stage, of course setting the hinges on the coffin in such a way that it would be easy for Willie-Willie to break the top of the coffin and walk out in white cloth. And that was what happened.
But as soon as Willie-Willie came out in white flowing clothing as a ghost, Warri people picked up stone and threw it at him! They were shouting, ‘na lie, na lie’ Of course, when the stoning was too much, Willie-Willie ran! We all ran! We didn’t sleep at the hotel that night. I was crying because I didn’t tell my parents where I was going when I left.
What can you say about the entertainment industry then and now?
Those were the days of struggling. But check out the industry now; it is a different ball game. Instagram is here now. I go to shows and see comedians performing my jokes. I see people repeat on stage skits I shot years ago. It is a good feeling. I feel happy that the industry has developed. In 2014, I was in America to watch a top American entertainer perform, and behold, no one was allowed with a phone in the hall because they didn’t want people using their phones to record or snap photos. I guess a time will come in Nigeria when that will be done too.
You had already set out a future for yourself even in secondary school. Did you stop school and face a career?
I have always told young comedians doing jokes that it is not enough to do comedy; that they should go to school. No matter how funny you are. I have also tried in my little way to help young comedians to carve a niche for themselves. I don’t want to mention names of people who I give money to use in paying their fees in higher institutions. Let me even mention Funny Bone. That is one person that is close to me. I met him in Kaduna. I told him to go to school. I told him to register for theatre Arts in University of Port Harcourt. And he went to school. He studied Theatre Arts at the University of Jos.
There’s another one from Bayelsa State; a comedian. I met him when I did a show in Bayelsa. I told him to go to school. He said no, and I told him, I will pay all his school fees. He went but did not do well. It was the same Theatre Arts which I did in 1991/1992. He failed and his father came to tell me. I called the boy and told him I would pay again, he should go back. Behold he passed at the second trial.
Was it easy for you to pay your own school fees then?
No, it was not easy. But I thank God because I went to a university that is located in my village. The University of Port Harcourt is located in my village Choba. It was the saving grace for me. And as God will have it, while I was in the university, I was already doing shows about the place. Whenever the school was on holiday, I moved over to Lagos to struggle, shoot a film or work on a job.
At this point, what does success mean to you?
It means many things to me. It is having the fulfillment that everything you dreamt of is materialising for good, to develop the next person. And the person you are doing it for can be proud of you.
Do you still have a flair for music?
I am even supposed to release a song any moment from now. I have a friend, he is Kaffi’s husband. He came to my house with a fine beat and I agreed with him that I do work on something with him. The kind of music that appeals to me is that of Fela, Onyeka Onwenu or that of African China. Their kind of music talks to me. I am proud of Nollywood. It has been completely transformed and that is good.