Nigerian comic actor Osita Iheme, 41, better known as Papaya, whose acting career began two decades ago, has never expressed his political opinions. But the actor, widely regarded as Nigeria’s meme king in this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, shared his thoughts on Nigeria’s political landscape.
Focusing on quality over quantity, Pawpaw also discusses the changing dynamics of the film industry and his dreams of playing a presidential role in delivering essential messages.
PT: It was only when Aki and Pawpaw, the remake, was released in 2022 that you appeared on our screens. It seems like you’ve taken a break from acting; What have you been doing?
Papaya: Well, I still act, but not like before; Now it is quality and not quantity. I also have other commitments, and the acting fees then are not the same as they are now, so you don’t expect to do work in quantity because of the fees involved, so I act when the script is examined and it is good, and the salary is also good. It is acceptable and excellent. Therefore, we should look for quality and not quantity, but soon you will see the release of some movies.
Osita Iheme (Papa) and Chinedu Ikedieze (Aki)
PT: Have you considered directing a film or producing a film?
Pawpaw: I’m currently producing a movie, but I have yet to consider directing it.
PT: When you were a child, did you ever think you would be an actor?
Pawpaw: Growing up, I did minor performances at church, all those church dramas; I am a Catholic. Although he initially wanted to be a lawyer, he also had the idea that he would appear on television. He didn’t know how it would happen, but by the grace of God it happened.
But of course, I wouldn’t say I was going to be an actor, and I just knew there was something in me that I needed to unleash. And then he started acting, and the rest, they say, is history.
PT: How did you get your first job as an actor?
Pawpaw: A friend auditioned me, so I went there and the director cast me. And that’s how I got my first role.
PT: How did you meet your acting twin, Chinedu Ikedieze aka Aki?
Papaya: We met at a movie location. I came to shoot a movie and he was already there; It was a divine connection. We had never met before, but then we shared this chemistry and brotherhood on screen; That’s when Aki N Ukwa’s producer saw us and said, wow, this unique person, I think I would do something with his talent, that’s how the idea for ‘Aki Na Ukwa’ came about.
PT: What role do you anticipate playing in a film?
Pawpaw: I want to play the role of president so that I can convey some important messages and show our politicians how best to govern a state like Nigeria.
PT: Speaking of governance, with the Supreme Court ruling confirming the victory of President Bola Tinubu, what do you think about this new administration?
Pawpaw: For now, Bola Tinubu is still new to the position; It is too early to talk about the administration because it is just beginning, and there have been several court cases since he took office as president, and that shows how badly our electoral system has deteriorated, Nigerians should give Mr. President a recent time, he is still new and is trying to adapt to the position.
When this administration settles in, it will bring ideas and policies that will improve the lives of Nigerians.
PT: Regarding the electoral process, what is your opinion on the elections held earlier this year?
Pawpaw: The election was marked by a lot of violence, malpractices, and manipulations, but that’s not how it should be; Unfortunately, it is now the Nigerian electoral culture because it has been the norm for years. But it is time for the electoral system to change for the better. It makes no sense for the electoral body, INEC, to finish the elections and for the people to depend on the judges to determine the actual outcome of the elections because now it seems that it is the courts and judges who decide the results of the elections and not the electorate.
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And it’s so bad that some voters feel like their vote no longer counts; This would further aggravate voter apathy. So we need to make INEC truly independent, and they (INEC) must commit to ensuring that the elections are worthy of what they should be; That way, the electorate can restore trust in them. We should not rely on court cases to determine the outcome of the Nigerian elections.
PT: We have seen many actors enter politics. Do you have any plans to join politics?
Pawpaw: Getting into politics is not something I would just announce; If there is a plan, you will see it as time goes by.
PT: Some say Nollywood actresses are richer than their male counterparts. That’s right?
Pawpaw: Where do people get the idea that Nollywood actresses are more prosperous than their male counterparts? That is not true; The fact is that most actresses flaunt their wealth on social media. Women want to show off, men have many responsibilities and women want to show that they have them. A man has many commitments, investments and businesses; There are as many rich Nollywood actors as there are rich Nollywood actresses.
PT: What has changed in the industry when you started your career and now?
Pawpaw: When I started my career, Nollywood was still important, and the difference now is that we are improving technically and one of the essential things that we were missing many years ago, like cinemas, a distribution network, we are having now. Now we have surplus distribution networks and we have companies like Netflix, Amazon, Showmax and many more.
There is a lot of development in the creative story and they are bringing in a lot of money to invest in Nollywood, unlike before. Additionally, our technology has improved, which you can see in our cinematographs.
PT: What do people often misunderstand about you when they meet you?
Papaya: I am very reserved; I like my space, and when people meet me, they want me to be the papaya they see on the screen, but they forget that what they see on television is just a character; I’m not my true self. But a lot of people expect me to be the character I play on TV, but that’s not who I am.
PT: Most people use your old content to create memes on social media.
Pawpaw: Yes, I see them, and it makes me feel delighted that the works I did many years ago, people still use to express themselves and that the works I have done in the past are relevant even now. It shows that I did it by the grace of God, and aside from me, if you can take an actor’s work from 20 years ago and still use it in these ever-changing times, it shows that the actor and the entire production team did it right . . That’s why I encourage all young actors, regardless of what they’re planning to do, to do the best they can so that the work they’re doing now survives them and stands the test of time.
PT: What is your advice to the Nigerian government and citizenry?
Pawpaw: In our country, Nigeria, things seem quite complicated, especially right now. I call on the government to provide a way to improve the lives of Nigerians. And Nigerians should also look for patterns and initiatives to address the country’s crises.
Times are complex, crime here and there; One may be tempted to blame the government, but we, as citizens, also have a role to play. I would advise young people to learn skills and harness their talent rather than waiting for the government to provide them with a white-collar job.