Mr. Charles Chukwuemeka Oputa, aka Charly Boy, is simply an enigma. Full of stunts and drama, the weird son of retired Justice Chukwudifu Akunne Oputa, opened up to YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, on what he has been up to lately and more. Come with us…
What has been happening to CB?
Well, I’ve been trying to relocate myself into my first love and back into the thing that I studied; my career per se, which is communication, Radio/TV and after doing Charly Boy Show, doing Zoom Time and taking a long sabbatical and then after the experience of Nigerian Idol I just felt the need to go back to one of the things that I love to do, which is TV. So, I’m putting finishing touches to a new programme, it’s a reality show…
What’s the reality show called?
It it’s called In Your Face. It treats subjects that affect families; showcases my family, the Oputas. You will see my father. My father is involved in the show, my mother, my children and how the Oputas live as a family and how they deal with different issues that affect families – husbands, wives and children. I’ve gotten to a point where I feel that in anything I do – that’s what I’ve been doing anyway – it has to be more grounded. Anything I do from here on will be to inspire, motivate young people, that even in this rot, there’s still room for values like honesty, decency and integrity.
Why did you stop Charly Boy Show, why did you stop Zoom Time?
That’s the problem with pioneers. You start something and after a while people catch on to it and then they start doing their own; you need to, as a pacesetter, to find something else to start again, so people can follow. We did Charly Boy Show for almost 12 years before it metamorphosed into Zoom Time and it ran for another eight years or thereabout and I thought I’ve had enough of that and I was looking for something fresh. And then, for Zoom Time, after sometime it became a drag. It became a drag to get personalities, it became a drag to avoid asking them certain questions and as a journalist, I couldn’t live with that and I decided okay, fine, if it’s going to be like that, where I can’t really express myself as an individual and especially as a journalist, then may be I should be looking for something else.
Charly Boy Show and Zoom Time were big hits, what would you say made them that?
Charly Boy Show was a big hit for youngsters because I think they loved the freedom, they loved the fact that it was a variety show. Then, there was nothing like that. Most shows were drabby, dry and dull. Charly Boy Show had so many segments and everything was coated around humour. We had a satire on the political situation and politicians and the leaders and it was coated in a lot of humour; though serious messages were also passed. I think that was the advent of comedy in Nigeria – The Charly Boy Show. Then, for Zoom Time, I think people were flabbergasted that the people they held in high esteem could come low and be doing zoom, zoom, zoom all over the place and acting like children. When Babangida didn’t go to Oputa Panel, he came to my show. So, people were like how did he do that, how did Charly pull that one and I’ve had almost everybody and anybody who is anybody come to the show. So, that really amazed quite a number of people.
Is it true that there’s a disagreement between you and Tunde Obe, because people say the disagreement led to the suspension of Zoom Time?
There cannot be a disagreement between me and Tunde Obe because Tunde Obe has always been a friend, has been somebody who I see like a son; it’s just that what brought us together was the show. Now there’s no more show. Once in a while, yes, we talk, but because there is no show, that creativity was what really glued us together.
The Charly Boy image has been there for decades, how have you been able to sustain it?
By my wacky, crazy stunts. I know that most Nigerians are myopic, they are timid, they are conservative, they are backward, they are Mungo Parkish, so I give them an image that will shock and awe them. I give them an image that will make them think ah, ah, how is that possible? Why should he do that? How can he do that? And that is what has kept the image in their consciousness.
The Charly Boy image, how did you come about it?
As a teenager, I was a prankster. I liked to do a lot of gags on people, I liked to create perceptions, I liked people to be scary and weary of me. I was a lonely child, I was also a loner and I was a very, very shy person and the way I covered my shyness was to attract attention to my person and the way I attracted attention was to form all kinds of imageries which weren’t true. So, when I had finished my youth corp., of course, I didn’t want to work. But my father already got me a job in Mobil. I already had a job in Mobil as a PR person and that was when hell broke loose, by the time I told them what I wanted to do. For them, I could understand. As parents, they were more concerned with the future, especially my financial security; my future. And they didn’t think that entertainment would offer me that. But for me, I saw the entertainment business as an outlet to exhibit all those my pranks, all those my gags, all those my eccentricities that I brought forth with me as a growing kid. I felt that under this business I can hide, I can be whoever I want to be and at anytime I want to be. And now, like I tell people, there are so many personalities. People don’t understand why, like Obasanjo, OBJ, was astonished because I never got along with him when he was the president. But after he ceased to be the president and there was an opportunity which dragged him to my house, he found the person in the house different from the image. I’ve left it like that because it’s only the people who are close to me who should really know who I am. Everybody can’t know who I am and I don’t even want everybody to know who I am. And I keep telling them, that there are so many personalities built in one – there’s a Charly boy which everybody knows. But they don’t know Mr. Oputa and they don’t know Linda and they don’t know Cheetah. Cheetah is my spiritual guide. Linda is that feminine side of me that is sensitive; it was that side of me that cried in Nigerian Idol because I saw young people whose dreams were being dashed. It was that human side of me, that kindness with which I have always identified with poor people and I’ve fought their wars for them.
When are you going to put a stop to this Charly Boy image?
Why put a stop to something I’m having fun with? Why put a stop to something that makes me money? Why put a stop to something that has brought me recognition? See, people see things from where they stand. Like I did My Private Part, my book. It’s called My Private Part. If your mind is in the gutter, you will probably think all I’m showing there is nudity. But it also means the part of me that is private, that is not in the public domain. So, people see things as far as their brain can handle and Charly Boy was not built for this society. It was built to shock timid, myopic, Mungo Parkish backward Nigerians out of their way of thinking. That there’s another way. That the fact that everybody is taking a right turn doesn’t make it right; the fact that everybody is fraudulent now, corruption is reigning, does it make it right? No! The fact that I’ve decided to take a left turn doesn’t make me a bad person. It makes me special and unique, because where everybody is going one-way, I’ve decided to go another way. And even in deciding to go another way, where others are going one-way, there’s a price to pay for it. Don’t forget, when I started this thing, even my parents didn’t understand. I suffered for it. I spent seven years in the village (Oguta, Imo State). You should know my story? Seven years in the village! I was selling pepper soup, I was selling all kinds of things to survive, me and this my wife (Diane), and that is why she will always be here because she suffered with me. I didn’t even know I was going to get this far. If it wasn’t for Tyna Onwudiwe, I probably would have rotten. I mean, I would have rotten away in the village. But it was Tyna that gave me my first break by bringing me to Lagos. So, that deciding to do something that had never been done before, something that people didn’t know about generally takes a lot of courage. So, it’s not as this my old age that I’m going to lose that courage, because that courage has brought me fame, brought me some little money, some little recognition, so why give it up?
At over 60, don’t your children sometimes say daddy, enough of the stunts, get more serious?
My children also know that I am a prankster; that I am a gangster. My children also see me laughing at the foolishness of people who believe in the stunts, who take those stunts as the gospel. My children know me as Mr. Oputa, not as Charly Boy and they laugh at everything I do. Because they know it’s a gag.
Why is your definition of success from the entertainment point of view?
Success, for me, is how many lives I’ve touched positively, how many people I’ve helped to cross their crossroads. For me, that’s the definition of success. Success is knowing that I’ve set a lot of targets for myself, not in material things, because I come from a family that doesn’t respect materialism. My father doesn’t have money, but he has integrity and those are the values that we were brought up with and those are the things that we worship. Integrity, honesty, that is us. That is the Oputas. We are not rich people, we can never be rich, we don’t care to be rich people. I’m not looking forward to be rich. As long as I can manage and pay my bills, I’m okay. I’m looking forward to see whether I can beat my father in the art of contentment and spirituality.
What do some people attain success and lose it, especially in your sector, show business?
When they don’t know how to manage it. That’s a damn good question. When they mix their public personae with their private one. Look at somebody like me, I’ve been married to one woman, do you think it’s easy? You are a married man, you know how difficult it is. Men are polygamous by nature. That is how we are wired, whether you are black or green or yellow. That is how men and wired. Now, to be able to live with one woman for 36 years is not moi-moi. Now, if Charly Boy was to be in a house, the house will anyhow. But if you come to my house, like OBJ came to my house and really bowed for me. Because me, as a husband, as a father, as a son, it’s totally different from what I put out. I put those things out because that’s the way I make bank. That’s my trade. It’s like when you see a doctor, they wear their stethoscopes, so when you see me and all my shenanigans, you should know it’s Charly Boy, because it’s different. So, when now your public life and your personal life start to merge together, then there’s problem. If you can’t differentiate them; it’s just like an actor who is playing gangster in the movie and he comes to his house and he still wants to be a gangster in that movie in his house, how can it work?
What is the biggest mistake that most artistes make?
When they don’t know how to manage themselves, when they think that they can be there always? Nobody can be like Charly Boy, because I will be here for life. I will always be talked about. Forget it! Nobody can be like me. There was a time Shina Peters, Ijo Shina…gbam! Within five years, seven years, that died off. There was a time it was Daddy Showkey; seven years it died off. Yeah! So, artistes, we have a lifespan. So, when the going is good, you better plan your life because you have to plan to save for the rainy day. Don’t be sucked in by your art. Don’t think that because people are hero-worshipping you now, that that’s an opportunity for you not to be humble anymore and to be cocky. Because on your way down, you will meet those people you stepped on their heads and where will you be if you had not been good? Now, don’t indulge in anything harmful. Don’t abuse your body, thinking that drugs or anything can help you, because it does not. It only destroys you. You know some examples in our backyard. You don’t have to go to America, they are all in Nigeria. And for me, like people ask me, how have I kept my youthfulness? Of course, I created a brand called Charly Boy, so forever, it has to remain a boy and the only way I can keep that my youthfulness and zest is that I moderate. I don’t even drink, and thank God, haleluyah! I’ve stopped smoking. I no longer smoke. So, I’m as clean as they come. Except when I’m in Lagos, I jog at least 10 miles everyday. I go to the gym, I live on vegetables, I watch what I eat. Apart from the fact that I come from a good stock; we have longevity in our family. My grandfather lived till 125, my father is 95 and look at how I look at 61. I don’t know who is 61 that looks like me (General laughter).
Already, showbiz has done a lot for you, what hasn’t showbiz done for you?
It has not given me the kind of money that I need to invest in young people the way I want and that is because in this part of the world, it’s called show business, but you can remove the business, it’s show scene here, not business. It’s not an industry, and the few people who have made it, it’s out of sheer luck and raw talent and I’m seizing this opportunity to say that if we had an enabling industry, just like it is elsewhere, we would have had one million D’Banjs, one million P-Squares and so on and so forth because there are a lot of talents in this country. I’ve seen with my eyes, I’ve heard incredible people, but they don’t stand a chance because you don’t even have a recording company. Like in football, you have scouts who go about and sell good people abroad and that’s how they get heavy pay. I remember I was the one as PMAN President that started the relationship between our local artistes and foreign artiste and merged the two together. The first person was, if you remember, 2Face, Sound Sultan with Wyclef. That was how this whole thing started. I pioneered so many things in this industry and that’s the bane of pioneers anyway, because nobody remembers how it started.
Why is Charly Boy constantly moving from one controversy to another?
We built a brand that has to live like a phoenix. We built a brand on controversy; to give people the shock treatment. There’s something to be learnt. But people are always looking at the surface and I can’t help ignorant people, because they don’t know any better. I cannot help them, I am not their teacher. Now, consistency cannot be complete without Charly Boy. Focus and determination can never be complete without Charly Boy. Check it out! As controversial as it has been, my life has been consistent. I’ve been consistent with my marriage, I’ve been consistent with my personality, I’ve been consistent with my integrity, I’ve remained focused. When everybody didn’t believe, I was the only one who believed in myself to get this far. When I started a brand that will scare and everybody will say we don’t want to deal with it, I was consistent enough till they understood my message and now some people are dealing with it. It’s this same brand that was able to command the presidents, the ministers, the who is who in Nigeria to sit down and talk to me and I now had an intellectual intercourse with them. It’s this same brand! So, why should I change it?
Being Justice Oputa’s son, is it a plus or a minus?
The people I know my father can’t even know, I have more money than my father, I’m more popular than my father. The only thing my father did for me was to train me with borrowed money in the best schools in the world. That’s the favour, and for me, that’s enough. The journey about my person, how I got this far is all my effort and that’s why till tomorrow my father has the ultimate respect for me. It’s that same my father who said it will not work, that this particular thing cannot work in Nigeria, he’s the one who lives in my house now. For the past eight years! And I keep reminding him everyday – do you see how parents can sometimes miss it. Because if I had towed his path, would I be as content and as happy as I am today? Because I am fulfilled as a person. I’ve followed my own path, I’ve carved my own path, and don’t forget, I must add this, when I was growing up, after I finished my youth corp., I hated my parents for one reason – I felt that my father’s shadow was too overbearing. I hated the fact that I was always referred to as the son of Justice Oputa. So, more or less, I was punishing my parents when I said I wanted to do entertainment because I wanted my own name, my own person, my own identity and thank God that my stubbornness gave me everything I wanted in life.
What would you say made you go against your father’s advice?
Because when I went to America, I got my freedom! Yeah! It was my American experience. When I was in school in Owerri, Holy Ghost College, my best friend was somebody who never had a father and a mother; who the community used to contribute money for. He used to take me on because I was bad with Mathematics and then I noticed that even his tutoring me on Mathematics was even better than the teacher’s and that was only how I got interested in Mathematics. I hated it. And the guy came first in everything. He was also the best behaved…
What’s this person’s name?
Israel. I’ve forgotten the last name. He was first in everything. He went to America before I did. He’s still stuck there…And I’m saying to myself, if somebody like that, no father, no mother, nobody, no helper can be this successful, then there’s nothing stopping me.
People see you differently. They have different perceptions of who Charly Boy is, who or how do you see yourself?
Charly Boy is a philosophy, Charly Boy is a way of life, Charly Boy is not a person. It can never be a person. Charly Boy is like a cartoon character. It’s just like you have your Super Man, who is always going around and saving people. It’s a character. So, Charly Boy is a character, it’s not a person and that is how my children see the brand and that is why they understand, because in the house, we are not doing Charly Boy in the house. So, when anything about Charly Boy comes up, it’s just like they are watching a movie. They don’t believe that those things in the movies are real. That’s the same thing. For me, I see Charly Boy as a character I’ve built and so when people start to go gaga about it; hey, when did he do this and I’m sitting somewhere and I’m laughing, because it’s my creation. It’s the cartoon character that I’ve created; meant to stay forever young, meant to push people’s buttons, meant to challenge people’s mindset…
NB: First published July 2012