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LAGOS. NIGERIA.     Friday, December 06 2002














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Claude Eke: 1944-2002

LAST Friday, the remains of Claude Ikechi Eke, the artiste who was popularly known as Prince Jegede Sokoya were laid to rest in his home town of Obisi Ezinihitte in Mbaise Local Government Area of Imo State. The funeral was attended by a large crowd of sympathisers who felt obliged to pay their last respect to this talented and creative imaginative mind. He will be greatly missed by the arts community, and even more so by television viewing audiences for whom Jegede Sokoya had a virtual presence on the screen, with a vivid personality to match. Eke grew up in the Inalende area of Ibadan, and shortly after the civil war moved to the East where he took up an appointment with the Eastern Nigeria Broadcasting Service.

Fame came his way through his participation in the sitcom, The Masquerade, later the New Masquerade in which he played the colourful part of Prince Jegede Sokoya, "the grandson of Idi of Idi Araba, son of the soil and the youngest millionaire in the whole universe". The Masquerade or the New Masquerade as it was later known focused on human trials and frailties in a problematic and multicultural society, compelling the audience to draw lessons through a reflection on the comic dimensions of survival. Playing the role of millionaire Jegede Sokoya, and husband of Ramota and Apena, Claude Eke distinguished himself as a character actor. He internalised his roles and was convincing in his display of empathy and courage. Although an Ibo man, he breathed life into the Yoruba character, striking a memorable chord with the public. Eke was a multilinguist; he had a special gift for the sound and sense of words. Apart from The Masquerade, he also acted the part of a Yoruba man in the Sunny Side of Life with Patrick Ityohegh. He did some modelling and compering at public events, and appeared in a number of commercials. When he was not so occupied, he engaged in retail business.

By the time he died on November 4, however, Claude Eke was far from being the millionaire that he professed to be in his television acting. His life and career again illustrates the dilemma of the artist in Nigerian society. The Federal Government has been toying with the idea of a National Endowment for the Arts, with better consideration for artistes, but for the most part, the attitude towards culture and culture workers has been uninformed. There are copyright problems; artistes are not given the support that they deserve, culture management is either in the hands of wrong persons or it is poorly funded. Long before the present boom in video production, the likes of Claude Ake had demonstrated the potential of the culture sector as a significant aspect of national development and social mobilisation. He in particular helped to extend the frontiers for the appreciation of our culture by some stages.

Eke had been diabetic and hypertensive. Doctors traced the immediate cause of his death to stroke, which affected the lower part of his brain and mouth. He will be remembered for his acting gifts, and for his commitment and consistency. He was a polygamist on the screen and in real life. He was a jolly good fellow with a sunny view of life. Claude Eke may be dead, but Jegede Sokoya will continue to live in the public memory, and he and his creator will remain useful reference points in the appreciation of acting and the value of popular culture in society.


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