What exactly Is RMD doing with Charles Okocha?

The principle behind Charles Okocha’s act and subsequent fame is based on a combination so simple it is surprising no one thought of it before he came along.

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His zaniness gets social media attention; but it is the inspirational bit that keeps Nigerians hooked because, let’s face it, we are a country addicted to hope. And in scratching that Nigerian itch in an unusual way, Charles Okocha has wrought a remarkable paradox: The subtle presence of his inspirational message is achieved through absurdly unsubtle means.

Think about the most popular of his skits. When he said he deserved some accolades, Nigerians at first laughed at what he was saying, at the mania displayed by this bulky grown man, but slowly the screen we saw through became a mirror: We started to think and then say that — wait — we, too, deserve some recognition, some accolade, some praise (if for nothing, for surviving our country).

When Charles Okocha said haters should shove it, the sentiment had been popular for some time: it is partly how Timaya made a career obsessing over his enemies; it is why your pastor demands you command death upon your enemies. But Okocha gave the social media generation something to tell its trolls. And when he began asking about your identity aggressively, Nigerians soon responded by declaring their jobs, loves, and positions.

In fact, as early as his first popular skit, tagged Amoshine, Charles Okocha was peddling self-belief. It was a comically teary self-belief, but which human born of a Nigerian doesn’t want to shine? Give a Nigerian something fun and you get her for some time; add a motivational message and you become a sensation.

It is why the response has not been half as enthusiastic when his skits are merely funny — or worse marred with mild misogyny, as it was with the bedroom skit with a girl trying to steal his money or the one showing him speak rudely to a lady on the street. None of these had anything vaguely motivational to offer viewers.

These features of his act — its zaniness, its bubbly youth, its absurdity — leads to a question: what compelled the uber-dignified RMD to get in on a Charles Okocha skit? As the twosome straight-faced a way through their skit’s many seconds, it seemed strange the much-loved actor was Igwe Tupac’s partner in the business of stylised silliness.

Part of the strangeness of the enterprise must come from the fact that RMD has made a living and a life out of displaying a wholesome dignity. His demeanour is as perfect as his teeth. His first marriage was to a serious professional. After the death of his first spouse, he repeated the trick with a second marriage.

Outside of wedlock, many of the popular RMD roles have been made out of the same bricks that have created his life: he’s played a good-looking man in decent circumstance too many times. As a film critic, I have thought this could be limiting, but as my mother’s child, I could see why he became such a star in her generation. If a dignified presence was required for screen success, RMD is our Denzel Washington.

That comparison might be instructive in understanding just how RMD got into a skit with a guy nicknamed Igwe Tupac.

Sometime in the 2000s, Washington finally got a meaty villain role in Training Day alongside Ethan Hawke. As Hawke’s bad cop partner, he looked so starved of evil, he bit into the role so hard everyone noticed the teeth marks. The next year, the Academy gave him the Best Actor Oscar. All of these years later, it is possible to read something of an immolation of Washington’s former onscreen persona in that death scene of a thousand gunshots. He has since played an alcoholic pilot as well as a hitman.

Something of the same immolating impulse appears to have come over RMD.

It is no longer possible to forget that RMD has been suave for years. What might be forgotten is that in the 1990s, RMD playing a man facing some financial difficulty (with a terrible haircut) was enough to send viewers almost panicking to the video store. The film, if I recall correctly, was titled Shame and even there he had nothing to be ashamed of, his dignity wasn’t quite diminished. For a long time afterward, directors kept him to whatever distinguished roles they could find or create.

RMD’s opportunity to break out of that space since his return to Nollywood came with the first Wedding Party movie. But it couldn’t work because the script handed all of the fun roles to the film’s women and the rapper Ikechukwu.

As patriarch of one of the wedding families he had to keep his head while everyone else — including his opposite number played by comedian Ali Baba — lost it. If he couldn’t quite get out some craziness in a comedy, his options were limited in Nollywood, an industry that famously treats novelty as sin.

He had another chance in the AY movies, but the same thing happened there: everyone else could be silly but that is not why RMD is given a cheque. He fared better in the much derided 2016 picture Three Wise Men, but the film was godawful and he was playing among members of his own generation — and part of his New Nollywood Impulse had to have included appealing to a younger audience.

Given these, Charles Okocha was a godsend. Here, finally, was an opportunity to break his self-suffocating mould of dignity, as well as become marketable to a younger demographic. It took him some time, but as they say, it is better late than never. The relationship, one imagines, has to be mutually beneficial. RMD gets in on the younger’s man act; Charles Okocha gets to ride with someone as revered as RMD.

Nonetheless, opinion on the skit has been divided inevitably and many social media users have asked questions about the unlikely union. Only one question has held my interest these many weeks later: How many times was the scene filmed to achieve the wonderful chemistry between Okocha, RMD, and that crazy guy always behind the camera?

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