Boat Accidents Far Too Common In Nollywood – Actress

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The late Pope Junior.

The boat mishap that claimed the life of one of the biggest names in the Nigerian movie industry in April shocked many followers of Nollywood.

Known as Junior Pope, the 42 year old late actor minutes before the accident, could be heard in a video he did shouting “you see the risks, people, we take to entertain you”. His voice resonating above the noise of a small motor boat as it speeds along the River Niger.

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He laughs – it is not clear if it is out of joy or nervousness – and tells the driver to slow down.

He had more than 100 films under his belt prior to his demise.

That last video made for his more than two million Instagram followers foreshadowed his death.

“I am begging the captain, that I’m the only child and I have three boys,” the actor – whose real name was John Paul Odonwodo – booms as he notices with alarm some water coming into the boat.

The next day the Nollywood star was dead after a boat he was travelling in collided with a fishing canoe on the same river.

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Four others, including film crew members, were also killed.

Actors have since been speaking out about Nollywood’s poor safety record and calling for change.

MediaageNG Boat Accidents Far Too Common In Nollywood - Actress The boat mishap that claimed the life of one of the biggest names in the Nigerian movie industry in April shocked many followers of Nollywood.
According to officials, Junior Pope was traveling in this boat before the accident that took his life.

Nollywood is the third largest film industry in the world – after Hollywood and India’s Bollywood.

It produces more than 2,500 films a year: some are by large, established production houses, but there are dozens of smaller companies riding on the coat-tails of one the country’s huge success stories.

After the fatal accident, the Actors Guild of Nigeria immediately responded, saying that all filming in and around rivers would be suspended indefinitely.

It then called for safety standards to be implemented and observed.

A preliminary report into the capsizing from the Nigerian Safety Investigations Bureau released last month found multiple failings:
— The driver was not certified to operate the boat and it was not registered.
— Only one person was wearing a life jacket.
— That passenger, one of eight survivors, had brought the life jacket on board themselves.

In a now-deleted Instagram video posted soon after the incident, the film’s producer, Adanma Luke, said she had been told there were life jackets and Junior Pope was offered one but did not take it.

“I have been so traumatised. I have been so cold. This whole thing still feels like a dream to me. I wish I could still wake up from this dream,” she said in the video.

She later wrote: “My heart is shattered in pieces as I write this… I find myself praying, how can we turn back the hands of time?”

Top Nollywood actor, producer and screenwriter, Ruth Kadiri – she knew Junior Pope well, says he tended to be happy and “extremely hyper”.

“He always brought in the positive energy… and I think he was really loved by all,” she told the BBC’s What in the World podcast about her friend.

She went on to say that incidents like the one that killed Junior Pope are far too common in Nollywood.

Kadiri remembers an incident when she almost drowned during filming – making her think about the fear the actor “must have felt at the last minute of his life”.

“I had to shoot a movie so we couldn’t use life jackets,” she says.

MediaageNG Boat Accidents Far Too Common In Nollywood - Actress The boat mishap that claimed the life of one of the biggest names in the Nigerian movie industry in April shocked many followers of Nollywood.
Ruth Kadiri

“I asked the team if everything was OK and they said the canoe was fine. So I got on the boat, they started to paddle, and the canoe just tumbled into the river.”

She was saved by a colleague who grabbed her in the water.

The star, who has more than six million Instagram followers, is now calling for change.

However, she says she understands the temptation for actors who want to get on to do something that is potentially unsafe.

“We all do crazy things for the love of this job. We do things we normally would not do.

“As you grow, you learn to put your needs first. Not because you don’t like the production, but because if something goes wrong, that’s the end of it.”

Kadiri says that safety is an industry-wide issue but whereas the bigger, well-funded productions can take measures, many smaller operations are unable to afford the extra costs.

In order to improve things, she suggests that a safety regulatory body should be established that can have people on film sets.

“The director is thinking about creating the content, the actor is thinking about getting in character, so let us create an extra body. It might save a lot of stress.”

Actor Chidi Dike says Junior Pope’s death was “an awakening to all”.

He agrees that “safety hasn’t been taken very seriously”, but notes that there have been some improvements.

He has noticed that directors and producers are now trying to make sure filming does not go late into the night, which in the past has meant dangerous night-time journeys home.

“Everything is risky… driving very fast. There was one time I was coming home really late and I almost got into an accident,” he told the BBC.

“But it is better now.”

It is an unexpected legacy for the effervescent actor with a huge catalogue of films, but Junior Pope’s final video may well turn Nollywood into a safer place to work.

This report was made with lead from the BBC.

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