Okechukwu Onyegbule a.k.a Okey Bakassi has reflected on his days of little beginnings, recalling how he weathered the storms to become a force to reckon with in the Nigerian entertainment industry.
The popular stand-up comedian cum actor recounted his pitiable story last weekend, while mentoring the youths that gathered for the pre-launch of Stars and Legends reality TV show, in Lagos.
Okey Bakassi, who will later this year mark his three decades journey in the country’s entertainment sector, said he arrived Lagos in the 90s with high hopes and dreams to change his story. But unknown to him, the road to stardom was somewhat rough and full of thorns and thistles. Yet, he didn’t give up his dreams as he converted his challenges into opportunities.
His story: “I arrived Lagos from Port Harcourt in a night bus to commence my NYSC orientation. I had only N750 on me. When I landed in Lagos for the first time, I didn’t know where to go or stay. I asked people for directions to the NYSC camp in Iyana Ipaja and. I settled down like every other youth corper for the orientation.
“After our orientation, I started serving at the Nigeria Industry Development Bank. During that period a lot of things were passing through my mind. I loved entertainment even though I read Engineering. Now, I am done with youth service, do I pursue a career in Engineering, delve into the entertainment world or struggle for the bank to retain me? I was confused because I didn’t even have a foundation. I was dealing with a lot of issues and I was still very young. At a point, what made sense to me was to approach a friend who was the MD of a finance institution at a time. I remember visiting him in his office, having gone for a job interview somewhere in Apapa. I shared my concerns with him but before then, I had featured in a TV series, Fortunes on NTA, produced by Zeb Ejiro. I starred alongside Ramsey Nouah, Regina Asika, Liz Benson and others. I was enjoying the buzz though he wasn’t paying me.
“Later, I complained to my friend that there was no money in entertainment and that if I eventually secured a job following the interview I attended, that would be good-bye to entertainment. My friend advised me to follow my heart and my happiness. He told me, ‘you would suffer for some days without an income, but you would have begun your journey very early and if you work hard, you will succeed. On the other hand, if you pick up a lucrative job, you would have an income at the end of every month to play around with. The choice is yours’. I thought about it; the uncertainty and the hurdles. The showbiz, which I don’t know where I am heading to. At the end, I started what I called ‘Today in Pursuit of my Happiness’ which is going to be the title of my concert coming up later this year to mark my 30 years in the showbiz industry.
“That was how my journey started. The moment I decided that I was going to pursue my happiness through entertainment, I remembered what my friend told me that I wouldn’t be sure of an income. So, what I did then was to place myself on a salary that I didn’t know where it would come from. I checked the salary of my friends who had lucrative jobs and placed myself on the same salary scale with them. But this time, I had to make the money.”
On how he delved into Nollywood, the Mbaise, Imo State-born comedian recalled that while it was difficult to land roles in movies then due to competition, he quickly delved into being props manager, location manager and others in order to make ends meet.
According to him, “Whenever we went for auditions, too many people were competing for roles in movies. So chances of one getting a role was limited. But there were other opportunities in the value chain; props manager, location manager and others. I didn’t want my degree to distract me. So, I was involved in all of them. I was doing everything that anybody’s energy could carry him”.
Bakassi also recalled how he was trekking the streets of FESTAC, looking for houses where movies could be shot so he could earn a living.