Self-acclaimed ‘Area Fada,’ entertainer and social crusader, Charles Oputa fondly referred to as Charly Boy, 66, shares some of his life experiences with Ademola Olonilua
We learnt that during the recent protest you spearheaded whereby you demanded that President Buhari should resume office or resign, you were sprayed with tear gas by the police. How true is the report?
You know you cannot make an omelette without breaking an egg. You cannot be in this kind of struggle and do not expect people to misunderstand you, twist your intentions and roughen you up a little. These are the kind of things that happen especially when you are fighting a good fight and that is what we are doing. I am used to being roughened.
But there was a report by the police that said they did not touch you instead you fell to the ground when you saw cameras around you…
We have a government of lies and deceit; even the police lie. It was on the social media for everyone to see. They said they were trying to protect people against miscreants but who are these miscreants that 150 policemen could not contain and then they began to spray water cannon on just seven people? Because nobody paid us to come and talk about how we feel that is why our numbers are small. The few people that have embarked on this protest are those that are willing to die for what they believe in and this concerns Nigerians. Enough of all of this rubbish; the government lies, steals and cheats. It is an evil government. Although I have a few good people as friends who happen to be policemen but the truth is that the police is nobody’s friend especially the common people.
You called on your fellow celebrities to join in the movement, so far are you impressed at the number of celebrities that has joined the movement?
The bible says, many are called but few are chosen. If there are only two of us, we are going to keep insisting on the right thing. Don’t forget, I did not start this movement. It was some young Nigerians that started it and they roped me into it. My job as an Area Fada is to guide them because what was missing in the past which made people claim that the youths have gone to sleep is that they did not have the right leadership. I have come out to say that I would take a bullet on their behalf because I feel and believe that this country would only be saved by some exceptional youths. If you look at the trend, the youths in this country have really done Nigeria proud, especially when they are abroad. There are so many Nigerians in Harvard Business School, Nigerian doctors have helped to shape the American health care system; I can go on. So why is it that in our own country, the youths do not have any future? It is because the terrain is polluted and infected by all these criminals. I am happy that I am making that connection with some exceptional youths and I am proud to say that it is just a question of time. We are not looking for a crowd. Like I always say, the people holding Nigeria at its jugular, those who are responsible for the excruciating poverty Nigerians are going through are not up to 50. My own equation is that the people that would rescue this country may not be up to 20 despite the fact that they would try and kill some or throw tear gas at them.
The agitation is for the president to either resume or resign, do you think your protest would make any impact?
What we are doing is to force a discussion. We want Nigerians to think because the truth is that it is young people that rule the world now, the old people are just there to advise the young; and I am talking about old people with brain. The future belongs to the youth but in Nigeria, it is not so. Normally the government is meant to fear the masses but in Nigeria, the reverse is the case. The government is supposed to be afraid of us and they would soon begin to fear us because all these things that are happening in Nigeria must stop. We cannot have just a few people benefitting at the expense of the nation.
Since you are so passionate about good governance, why don’t you run for a political office?
I cannot run but I can find someone who is qualified to do the job. I am too old for that. I have been privileged to meet some wonderful people in this country and I know it is doable. I am not wired to run for office, what I am able to do is to fix things, inspire and motivate people. I am a teacher and that is who I am.
At 66 years, you still remain very active and agile, what is the secret?
Healthy lifestyle, contentment, discipline combined with a peaceful and simple life. I am always on my lane; I’m in no competition with anybody. I watch what I eat and work out a lot. My friends are all under 40 years old and they inspire me. I think to a great extent, I am living my life on purpose. My family has really kept me grounded, like I always say, family is my rock. I love my role as a son, father, husband, lover, grandfather and very soon by God’s grace, great grandfather to be. I love my life and my introverted nature has enabled me to stay focused.
For a long while, not so many thought you had crossed 60, was it intentional to keep your age private?
Everything I have done as Charly Boy has all been contrived. As a communicator, I shape people’s mindset on what to think, how they see the brand. And for a very long time, I hid my real self from the public until I published and wrote that scrap book, ‘My Private Part.’ Charly Boy was created to shock timid, myopic, arrogantly ignorant, and ‘mongo-parkish’ Nigerians into being their authentic selves. Yes, I kept my age away from the press for a long time because I never wanted to let the boy in me go away.
We learnt you were in seminary to be a priest, what made you opt out?
I wanted to be many things before I finally gained my independence. Yes I wanted so badly to be a priest because my father abused me with too much religion. I went to morning mass every day for 22 years, served as an altar boy. Bible class is what you dare not miss in my house then. So I naturally thought that being a priest would be such a cool thing to do back then, but it was clear to me that I had no intention to stop sinning any more. So, after six months in the seminary, I ran away. I had a wandering manhood and that wouldn’t match a life of celibacy, would it?
How did your father who sent you abroad to study law react when you ended up with communication?
My father never told me what to do as such. He just wished I studied law, but I followed my own path. We were never under any pressure in our choice of careers. He was just a bit disappointed when I finished school and didn’t want to do a 9 to 5 job. As a good parent, he felt I would have a more secure financial future. But I had other ideas.
Many Nigerians knew your father as a man of integrity, honesty, incorruptible and a revered legal luminary. How close were you to him and how did he impact on your life?
My father was a very special man. On the bench, he was the Socrates, his judgments were so profound. I was somewhat a bit jealous of him, because in the beginning of building the brand Charly Boy, everyone just disturbed me with how so special my father was, as if I wasn’t special myself. As a father, I learnt from him how to keep family together and how to stay committed to one’s wife. Since childhood till he passed on, our father was always lovey-dovey with our mum. When he wasn’t kissing her, he was holding her hand. Seeing both of them challenged me to always work on my marriage, hence I have lived together with my wife for 38 years. He was a loving husband and father, I thank God, we shared so much together before he passed on.
Our relationship with our father plays a huge part in what we become in life. Some people grow up without ever knowing their fathers. This is unfortunate because fathers should play as important a role in raising their children as mothers. A father is the model of a man for his daughter and she will choose a man who is like him. A father is the model for his son as well. Fortunately, my father was very active in my life. It’s not about what parents give the children but what they teach.
I was brought up on an overdose of morals, value and life principles. Initially we were not that close, especially when I set out on my own to build the brand we all know as Charly Boy. Things fell apart. But with my tenacity, consistency, doggedness, ruggedness and tremendous focus, I won his respect. From then on, we more or less became inseparable. I learnt from him how to say what I mean and mean what I say. I learnt from him how to be a good friend to my children too. I learnt from him how to take care and remain loyal to my wife. My father really taught me so much, but most importantly, I learnt from him how to stay content with a simple life. An apple can’t fall too far from its tree, can it? I also learnt from my father that, being a good person or Christian doesn’t depend on your religion or status in life, your race or skin colour, political views or culture. It depends on how good you treat others.
Till date you still write and have been involved in several television productions. What was your fascination with the communication field?
I come from a background where we were encouraged to ask questions and I have always been a very curious person. My curiosity has led me into too many parts, some negative, some positive. I am like the FBI; I just love to know things. And the only way sometimes is to ask questions. I guess that’s why I am so wired.
We gathered that you rejected a job at Mobil after your father secured it and headed to the village to work in a local beer palour. Why?
Yes, I got tired of being told what to do. I had enough. I also wanted to break away from that Oputa name that was choking me like an albatross round my neck. I wanted my independence and the only way I could get it was to disown my parents and find my own person. So I moved to the village after my youth service in 1979, because that was the only place I had free accommodation. I hurriedly set up a recording studio after the first year but clients stopped patronising me because Oguta was a bit off track considering that in Owerri and Onitsha, bigger studios had sprung up. That was when I opened a ‘buka’ where I sold pepper soup and beer to survive. I couldn’t go back to seek help from my parents because at the time, we were not on talking terms; those were my very dark years. Guess who rescued me? Tyna Onwudiwe a.k.a. African Oyibo. God bless her soul.
How would you describe the experience you faced during that time?
For the first time in my life, I came face to face with poverty. It was very bad. My wife had to go back to America to work and send me money. Those were the very dark years of my life. Sometimes we didn’t have food. Some people who know this story admire me for my tenacity. All I had going for me then was my dream and my stubbornness. I never wanted to hear ‘I told you so’ from my parents, so I just dealt with my pains and demons. Tyna rescued me big time, if it wasn’t for her, there wouldn’t have been a Charly Boy.
Your preference for make-up, relaxed and braided hairstyles, and women’s clothes caused controversy among conservative Nigerians and it subsequently earned you the nickname “Nigeria’s Boy George” by entertainment journalists. What influenced the brand identity you created for yourself?
It was to shock and awe timid ignorant Nigerians. I messed with everyone’s mind a lot to the extent that they believed I was truly crazy. I had a good laugh and enjoyed the notoriety because it was all contrived and many people believed all that shenanigans.
How was it perceived by the public?
I didn’t care about what people were thinking. I knew they were silly because they bought into it, hook line and sinker. Mumu Nigerians, na today?
How did music come your way since there was no musician in your family?
It was something I just fooled around with. I really never saw myself as a musician, regardless of the eight albums I did. I was just enjoying my life, being whoever I wanted to be.
We learnt that your unconventional style almost denied you a recording deal in the 80s. How true was that and what exactly happened?
It was another contrived publicity stunt because there were numerous offers but I had to create all these personalities to keep the brand in the public domain, because Nigerians are quick to forget things and with that, no one could forget me like that. God forbid.
You were one of those that criticised the military government in Nigeria at a time when people preferred to keep mum for fear of losing their lives. During all that period, weren’t you afraid of death?
I slept in the cell so many times. I have been beaten black and blue by the Nigerian Army, Police, Navy and NDLEA but each time, I built a tougher skin and started enjoying it. Now, that was no stunt. There was a period in my life when my life was no longer my own. Any group or persons who have suffered any form of injustice, you would find me there, taking up their problem as if I was paid to defend them. Death or dying didn’t occur to me, in fact I felt invincible.
What is the biggest trouble you’ve found yourself due to your outspoken nature?
Because I don’t worship people or lick ass, I am ready to dress you down even if you’re the President of Nigeria. If I can’t bring myself to respect you, then you are nothing in my eyes, it doesn’t matter how many billions you have. My father taught me never to have respect for money. So many people have problem dealing with me knowing I can never suck up to nobody except my family or my wife.
How did you discover your love for power bikes?
My sweetheart Tyna introduced me to bike.
Did you ever have accidents with the power bikes?
During my biking days, my nickname was ‘Go slow.’ I never overdid myself because I am a very disciplined person. I have seen a lot of bikers die, so I was always very careful but I no longer ride like I used to. I never had any mishaps or accidents because I was very careful.
You later became the head of Okada riders in Nigeria hence the nickname Areafada, why did you decide to lead them?
I was never the head of Okada riders. I am nothing in their organisation. I don’t do any okada business. They are just a group of people who fell in love with the Charly Boy persona like I fell in love with them as the underdogs in the society. I have done a lot of advocacy work for them with particular attention to their safety and their victimisation in the hands of the Nigerian police and government.
You began having children early in life; did that affect you in any way?
I was in secondary school when I made my first boy and girl, then it was taboo. So it was a ‘hush hush’ thing. I even denied it was mine. Now, it looked like I knew what I was doing back then. Nothing is as beautiful as success. I have nine children and 14 grandchildren. My first son is 47 years old and an associate professor in MIT, Boston. My kids are all grown and no longer living with me, except for my first daughter, 46, who manages my real estate business. I am blessed with lovely children who are making me very proud.
Your last daughter, Dominique, seems to follow in your footsteps. Do you have any reservations?
No. She is my joy and pride, the only Charly girl.
At your age and a grandfather, why do you take nude pictures?
I have maintained my physique for a long time. As Charly Boy, I am such a show off. I love my body and I don’t mind people looking at it. You are the one that knows that I am a grandfather; I always wonder how. I never feel that way.
After three failed attempts at marriage, what did you do right with your union with Lady Di?
I always had my reservations about ‘happily ever after’ especially after three previous failed marriages. I always wondered how two strangers could be together for a long time and guess what, I just woke up to discover that I have been with the same woman, smell, love, routine, quarrels, lips, for almost four decades, It is not a joke.
When you are not yet married, people give you reasons why you should get married, as if one could just go to the shop and pick a spouse off the shelf. Even if that was the case, how do you know what you are buying until you take it home? They tell you everything good about marriage and how interesting it can be, but they never promote the down side. “Just marry the right person” is what they always say but ‘right’ itself is relative. Who is the right person? I doubt they have been born. In my village, they will always say, if one waits to marry someone like yourself, you probably will wait forever. Sometimes I think my wife is too good for me and some other times, I feel I should have done better.
Get it straight, marriage is no fairy tale. Marriage isn’t supposed to make you happy – and satisfied. It’s your job to make your marriage happy – and satisfying. Same goes for sex. It isn’t supposed to make you passionate and “hot”. It’s up to you to make it passionate and “hot” – and intimate.
Marriage is somewhat putting up with a lot of crap and bullshit, and we must have a strong stomach for that. The word ‘marry’ is fusing two imperfect things together; so how is it possible that two imperfect things are merged? I guess it just means two people willing to be in a mess together, constantly finding a way out.
Diane and I are happily incompatible and I have learnt to live with that. She is an extrovert and believe it or not, I am an introvert regardless of how you view the Charly Boy brand.
Recently you celebrated your first granddaughter on Instagram after she bagged BSc degree first class honours, is that an Oputa tradition?
Yes you can say that. My own father celebrated me before he died even though it took him time with my rebellious streak to figure out how special I am. He started to introduce himself as Charly Boy’s father not Justice Oputa. I have nine exceptional children and 14 grandchildren whom I celebrate all the time because they are all unique in very special ways. My children are my friends; they taught me how to be a good father because nobody really prepares you for that role, but my children help me out. I celebrate my family all the time because family is everything to me.
I thank God daily because I know he has blessed me in so many ways people can’t even imagine. However, I have a sneaky feeling that my blessings are deserving because I have worked so hard to be a good son, a good husband and a good father.
How do you love to be remembered?
That I did it my way and I wasn’t regular.
What is your greatest regret in life?
It would be losing my sister Charlotte Oputa, and my best friend Tyna Owudiewe.
What would you love to change about yourself given another chance?
Most of the time, I am just a shy guy, would love to change that.
It is common knowledge that you are a social crusader but many people believe that since you were born with a silver spoon, there is really no reason to be agitated like the common man. What initially sparked the spirit of activism in you?
I may have come from a privileged background, but nothing can be compared with the self-training that I received from the streets. For me, that is where it counts the most. My upbringing didn’t prepare me for the Nigeria of today, but my street mistakes taught me the most important lessons ever. It taught me to be rugged, consistent, focused, tenacious and credible.
There is no doubt in my mind that street smart surpasses book smart any time any day, and to God’s glory, I have both. To be street smart means you have situational awareness. You can assess the environment you are in, who is in it, and what the available angles are. When people say “I am coming” experience will tell you that if they are really going, you don’t sit there holding your breath. Being on the street, you have no time for tardiness, you learn to trust your own judgment about people and what matters. This skill, regardless of where you develop it, is of great value everywhere in life even if you are far from the streets. I wasn’t born in the streets, but that was where I was moulded.
Being street smart comes from experience. I see myself as a native chicken. It means you’ve learned how to take what has happened to you, good or bad, think about it, and learn to improve from it. On the street, you are on your own. In a classroom situation, it’s you trying to absorb someone else’s take on the world, and however amazing the writer is, you are at best one degree removed from the actual experience. Street smartness means you have put yourself at risk, survived, thrived and have scars. For me Charly Boy, I have so many scars, I can show you all. I may have been called wild and crazy, but it is all part of our curriculum on the streets. How much can you know of yourself if you have not weathered rough stormy weathers?
I have been poor even if you choose to call it self-inflicted when I was trying to discover myself. I guess my heart goes out to all the underdogs, and I hate injustice of any kind. My father always said to me when I was a teenager to always fight injustice where ever I see it, if not, it may come back to bite my head off.
You are currently on a campaign tagged, ‘Our mumu don do.’ What is the motive behind this campaign?
You see, there comes a time in the history of a suffering people when the status quo that has eternally failed can no longer be sustained: when the hungry, angry, vexed, and frustrated are bonded in a coalition to reclaim a country seeking a new direction and a new path. When political leadership has failed from generation to generation, as is the case with Nigeria, and the docility of the populace is almost a norm; the emancipation of the mind from mental slavery becomes an eternal battle for which fighting becomes Godly.
‘Our mumu don do’ is a national clarion call to all Nigerians to stand and fight, because no politician will fight for the interest of the Nigerian people; it is impossible, It is a call to engage, to protest and occupy all arms of government until good governance is seen and felt by the people. It is a call to reawaken the spartan of the labour union of old in the youths. This is a call driven by nationalism and Nigerianisation.
OurMumuDonDo is a movement of the people by the people for the people. This is the genuine democratic and nationalistic movement.
What influenced your decision to initiate this campaign?
Our aim is to popularise politics and end elite conspiracy by getting the people to march with their feet and their votes; to democratise politics and end commercial transaction by upturning the tables of money bags and moneychangers. The movement wants to idealise politics and end stomach infrastructure by infusing party politics with values and principles.
Our Mumu Don Do movement is a network of activists, artistes, artisans, workers, farmers, traders, unemployed and everyone else like you. In short, we are the people, inflamed by love of fatherland, angered at the rape of our dignity and prosperity, determined to rise up and hold one another, to march down and uphold the dignity and prosperity of all Nigerians.
We are the whispering voice that is now ringing in this jungle, in this forest, asking questions and demanding answers.
Our mission is to mobilise the people, harness their intellectual, artistic and cultural resources and network them into a non-political movement to fight back, to defeat political elitism, corruption, incompetence and help to redirect governance towards empowerment, dignity and freedom for the people.
We intend to take Nigeria back, to make Nigeria work for all of us, not a few.