Between Saint Obi’s marriage and his death, By Zik Zulu Okafor.
His social life was blunted. Perhaps by his reticent disposition. His persona, two dimensional. To a distant public, he was upscale and cool. His manly bearing spoke loud. His onscreen image ironically amplified some idiosyncrasies; heroics, romantic adventures, and traits that did not gel with the mortal privacy that eerily define his quiet and lonely life.
Saint Obi, real name, Obinna Nwafor, was shy, almost bordering on timidity and insecurity. He cherished the pleasantly tranquil interactions among a few friends. He would vanish at any outburst that could upset the poise of such small meetings. As he repeatedly told me, he just wanted to live a cool, quiet, and fulfilled life.
But, has he lived this cool and fulfilled life he envisioned? I have my doubts.
I tell Saint’s story here with painful tears in my eyes; because he was a star, a superstar whose life turned out a gleam of irony.
Yet, it was this stardom that fetched him his much-professed financially strong and powerful wife. And their wedding, that solemn ritual of love, would drastically alter the cause of his life and tragically yank him off the creative community that threw him up for the wife to capture and indeed conquer.
Their marriage was at best a dramatisation of love. It was quick. He barely told us that he found a wife. Then, the marriage happened. It was something of a mystique, only those involved understood the histrionics that played out. None of us who were his closest pals, who walked with him through the crucible to the crest of his career in Nollywood, was invited. The distance between us and the guy I admirably called Saint of the Storm had begun. This gulf would widen with each year. We saw him perhaps once a year after this marriage.
And life actually seemed to have given him a fair shake of the dice. He dressed well, drove big cars, and even his skin, in literal lingo, spelt wellness.
The Saint would be blessed with three beautiful children. But not one occasion were his friends in Nollywood invited for a christening or birthday. We were told that his wife was in the topmost hierarchy in telecom giant, MTN. But even if their celebrations were designed to be a rendezvous of the elites of the technocracies that his wife chiefly belonged, you expected that Saint would reach out to a few of his fellow creatives, for even if they would herald his small beginnings, there could be no tinge of shame to it because we all have our journeys and our stories. And even at that, the actor or cineaste in Nollywood is by no means poor.
But more tragic is the fact that his marriage did not only take away Obinna from his friends, it took him away from Nollywood. Saint stopped acting, absconded from his career and perhaps his calling.
It would seem prognostic now. Yes, because I recall leaving my house in Lagos Mainland for his massive office in Lekki, Victoria Island, Lagos. It was about six years ago. There, I demanded to know why my friend abandoned our industry. He told me with his usual shy expressions that he wanted to focus on some other businesses and also to work behind the camera. Because his visage was unconvincing to me, I told him in stark terms, that whatever his new vision and pursuits, he must not abandon the trade that made him who he was.
It took another three years for Saint to return to his homies. But when he did, some of the deeply disappointed ones sniggered behind him. This was because the simmering rumours of cracks in his marriage had hit home. And though secretive in his ways, he knew it was time to open up. And he did. “I do not know why my wife’s siblings see me as a gold digger. They confront me, harass and fight me in my own matrimony. And my wife did nothing to stop them. I work hard, I earn my money. I have never depended on my wife”, he lamented, eyes blurred with tears. You could tell he was in deep pain. By the next visit, the Saint returned with a deep cut from knife on his left eye. His wife’s brothers, he said, scaled the wall fence of their house to attack him. They were captured by hidden closed-circuit television, CCTV, installed for surveillance and security, he revealed.
He reported them at the police station and subsequently acquired a gun to defend himself. This effectively marked the beginning of the end of his marriage and perhaps Saint Obi’s long walk to a sad end. He moved out of his marital home to a new house to begin the reconstruction of his destiny, alone without his wife and worse still without his three beautiful children.
Meanwhile, his wife went to the police to defend her siblings using her financial power to manipulate the cause of justice, Saint stated unequivocally. The wife also sued for divorce, not in Lagos, but in Ogun state. As Saint put it, “It was to make the journey difficult for me. But I will not bend neither will I break. I will fight with my last blood to take custody of my children. They love me and they know it will be hard for me to live without them. The divorce is not an issue. My marriage has long been over”, he said with a mix of courage and a quaky heart that betrayed his distress.
About mid-last year, however, Obinna took ill. But he told no one. He simply became scarce. He was in and out of hospital, we would later learn. He sold two of his three big SUVs to take proper care of his health and to acquire six Camry cars he’d use for Uber. But his vanishing health continued unabated. He seemed to have a premonition of his own passing as he wept repeatedly about not seeing his children. He emaciated. Life took a grim picture. When I saw him by chance in January 2023, the dude called Saint looked 15 years older than his age. His macho cut had shrunk. His fat wallet was gone. What was left was only his fat will. His eyes seemed lost in their socket. This would be the last time I would see him.
Saint snuck out of Lagos to hang in with his sister in Jos. He told no one.
But a month ago, in April precisely, the once delightful actor who brought joy to many a home broke his icy silence. He called our mutual friend in the US to give him a devastating message. He was on a deathbed, he said, and wanted our friend to pray for him. “It’s not looking good, pray, pray for me”, he appealed passionately.
His next call came on May 1, 2023. This time to his mentor, the man who made him a star with his productions, Zeb Ejiro, OON. He told him with a wavering voice that he had had three surgeries but was still in hospital in Jos. He averred again that his situation was not looking good, that he is also in deep pain, distressed that he could not see his children. But still, he begged him not to tell anyone about his ailment. Such was the life of this creative hermit, a lonely trouper.
I was the first to hear the news of his death late on Sunday, May 7. Having confirmed it, I called Zeb Ejiro. “I have a very bad news my brother, Zeb”, I began.
“What is it, what is it, Zik Zulu?”, he asked anxiously. “A big star has fallen in Nollywood”. Zeb broke down in tears. I hadn’t said who it was. But sobbing helplessly now, he said, “Don’t tell me it is Saint Obi”.
Sadly, Zeb was right.
May his soul find peace.
Zik Zulu Okafor is a veteran journalist, a film producer, and a former President of Association of Movie Producers of Nigeria (AMP).