By Emeka Chiaghanam
Mention the character ‘Okonkwo’ the lead role in the television adaptation of Chinue Achebe’s classic novel, Things Fall Apart, not many Nigerians; especially the younger generation would identify Pete Edochie by that name. Incidentally, that screen name threw Edochie into the limelight before the era of Nollywood.
Edochie’s foray into the make believe world changed his life. Before the 1987 Nigerian Television Authority adaptation of Things Fall Apart, he was with the Anambra Broadcasting Service (ABS), Enugu, in the old Anambra State. Ebubedike as he is popularly known, wanted to become a journalist, broadcaster, and actor, and was able to achieve them all.
The adorned movie icon wasn’t in a make believe world, when he had his clothes torn in the church years back. Edochie had gone to Mater Misericordiae Catholic Church, Rumuomasi, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, to celebrate the Pentecost, when excited fans surprisingly got his dress torn in the process. He took it as part of the price he has to pay for his stardom. But it was an ugly scene and a bad experience in August 2009, when he left Enugu for Onitsha to attend an event and was kidnapped at Afor-Nkpor road, near Onitsha, Anambra State. The kidnappers demanded N10 million ransom. The actor was freed the following day after an undisclosed ransom was paid.
Edochie was born on March 7, 1947, in Enugu State. His parents soon moved to Kaduna, where his father worked in the Nigerian Railways. Young Edocihe had his primary education at Saint Patrick’s and Saint James Primary School, Zaria in Kaduna State and later proceeded to Saint John’s Secondary School, Kaduna, in 1960 and left in 1964 to join his father in the Nigerian Railways. Along with his parents, he fled the northern Nigeria shortly before the civil war broke out in 1967.
He began his career in radio broadcasting at the Eastern Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (ENBC), in his early 20s and by 1980, he was formally trained at the British Broadcasting Corporation as a broadcaster. In 1987, he became the pioneer director of Anambra Broadcasting Service 3 FM Stereo, retiring the following year.
The Nteje, Anambra State born actor, who started acting at the age of 15, was 38 years when he featured in Things Fall Apart. “The Zonal Director of NTA in Benin, G.C Ugwu (now late) recommended me to play the role. I was invited to the audition, which was held at the main auditorium of the University of Nigeria, Enugu campus. The moment I walked into the auditorium, the white woman who was invited to handle costuming and other things saw me and screamed, “if this man could act, that’s the man we want for the role,” revealing how he got involved in the movie.
According to Edochie, the crew said there was no point continuing with the audition; that the role was for him. It was the defining moment in his professional career.
The veteran actor who is considered one of the most talented actors in Africa is married to Josephine Edochie nee (Obiekwe). They joined ENBC the same day. Asked why he has never considered marrying another wife. His response, “I married early and have remained married ever since t hen. What am I looking for a second wife for? I married a woman who gave me six children, what could I possibly be looking for in another woman that I didn’t get from this woman. There is no reason for it.”
Their union is blessed with six children; Yul and Linc, two of the children are active in the movie industry.