Death is certain, even for movie stars who appear larger than life. Mortality is an end we all face whether you are anonymous or famous.
After the painful death of Bisi Komolafe on December 31, 2012 – leaving grief and sorrow for the better part of January 2013 – a lot of Nollywood practitioners were hoping such occurrence will cease to usher in a new year. The year recorded the death of 10 movie practitioners.
Unfortunately, 2019 isn’t only towing that line but has since recorded a total of 15 deaths in the first five months of the year!
Sadly, the first five months of 2019 has witnessed the deaths of movie practitioners, whose ages range between 30 years and 58 years. The passing away of the fallen Nollywood stars has not only left sad pills in the mouth of the fans but also their families, friends, and colleagues.
Multiple reports reveal that 12 out of these 15 deaths recorded are as a result of health challenges. Out of the 15 deaths, two were as a result of auto crash, one was complications after childbirth and others are health challenges ranging from diabetes to high blood pressure. This scary statistic has once again ignited the conversation on the need for a proper health insurance scheme or health plans for Nigerian actors.
The popular narrative is that there isn’t a health plan for Nollywood actors. There actually is one.
Actor and President of the Directors Guild of Nigeria, Fred Amata exclusively tells that the DGN is aware of the need to have health insurance schemes and packages for entertainers. However, he says this can only be enjoyed by members of the association.
Amata went ahead to inform that 15 guilds and associations including the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners, Theatre Arts and Motion Picture Producers Association of Nigeria , Director Guild of Nigeria, Creative Designers Guild of Nigeria, Motion Picture Practitioners’ Association of Nigeria, Film/Video Producers & Marketers Association of Nigeria, Screenwriters Guild of Nigeria, Association of Motion Picture Entertainment Editors of Nigeria, Association of Voice Over Artists of Nigeria, Independent Television Producers Association of Nigeria, signed a Memorandum Of Understanding in 2017 to create a welfare scheme known as NollyInsured.
“ We inspired a welfare scheme for the creative sector called NollyInsured. NollyInsured is a progressively inclusive welfare scheme for the creative sector that has 15 guilds and associations in the entertainment sector signed an MOU that forces down premiums based numbers,” Amata says.
“NollyInsured covers 3 main areas namely Health Insurance, Life/General Insurance, and Pension,” he further explains.
Amata also said members of the 15 associations and guilds enjoy the insurance packages at very reduced premiums. “As low as N40,000 a year for a family of 6,” Amata tells Pulse.
The President of the Actors Guild of Nigeria, Emeka Rollas also corroborates Amata’s claims.
However, Rollas says Nollywood is an emerging industry that has no organised structures that can help the industry be completely insurance compliant.
Rollas’ opinion is backed by Seun Apara, one of the brains behind the Nigerian Entertainment Industry Health Insurance Scheme.
Apara says it is necessary for everyone including entertainers to have health insurance. He further says due to the peculiarities of the entertainment industry, entertainers require a customized health insurance scheme that can serve them adequately.
On what the NEIHIS has done, he says, “Well, for health insurance, we approached the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) in 2014 to approve a customised health insurance scheme that will be privately run by select Health Management Organisations (HMOs) due to the peculiarities of the entertainment industry. Our request was approved in 2015 and that gave birth to the launch of the Nigerian Entertainment Industry Health Insurance Scheme (NEIHIS). The scheme has lots of advantages for entertainers because it addressed all the peculiarities of the industry with access to all emergency situations 24 hours across the country.”
An industry stakeholder behind ‘The Upcoming Artist Guide,’ Louis Tochi notes that it is unarguably important for entertainers to have a health insurance scheme. He says, “Of course, health insurance scheme is unarguably important for entertainers. It should be a top priority. For some, it’s affordable. For others, they probably brush it off as some unnecessary extravagance. Then for some, it could be ignorance.”
In 2019, Yoruba movie veterans Babatunde ‘Baba Suwe’ Omidina, Samuel ‘Alabi Yellow’ Akinpelu and Ojo ‘Fadeyi Oloro’ Arowosafe have been down with health challenges. They have had to seek funds from fans and the Nigerian public to regain their health.
There are also stories of other not-so-popular movie and music stars that are battling health challenges and are seeking donations from fans and the general public. This has since become a source of worry for practitioners and industry stakeholders.
Responding to this, AGN president, Rollas blames lack of proper and well-structured avenues to collect royalties as reasons entertainers resort to seeking donations and funds from the public when hit by deadly health challenges.
He said, “Entertainers resort to the public for funds because the country does not have a viable strong audiovisual collecting society that could collect royalties and residuals but with the new arrangements from AVRS ably headed by Mahmood Ali Balogun, I believe the trend will definitely change.”
On his part, Apara notes that research conducted by the NEIHIS realized the scheme cannot cover all conditions, hence, the reason for a trust fund as a backup.
“Along the line, we realized that health insurance cannot cover all medical conditions especially the terminal ailments which have become a source of worry to everyone. We made a move to register the Nigeria Entertainment Industry Health Trust Fund with top stakeholders in the industry as board members. Respected industry icon and lawyer, Audu Maikori is the secretary of the board. Part of the objectives of the trust fund is to end the whole idea of begging publicly for donations. We are hopeful that the full objectives of the trust fund will be realised someday,” he explains.
Stakeholders striving to cater to the health of Nigerian entertainers across the country all acknowledged that the idea is new to most practitioners.
Amata, Rollas, and Apara believe that the process will soon be embraced by all if given more time to grow and testimonies are shared.
“Well, we must acknowledge the support given to the NEIHIS when it was launched. Definitely, you don’t expect the whole industry to buy in immediately at that time too because it’s alien to most of them. Also, health insurance is not yet popular with most Nigerians. Presently, only 5.1% of Nigerians have health insurance in a country of over 180million people. I’m of the opinion that media has lots of roles to play in this process,” Apara opined.
Tochi also shares the same sentiment with Apara saying, “I think it’ll be fair to start educating artists on how important this is. You’ll be surprised at the number of entertainers who know nothing about securing their physical and mental health.”
Some fans and individuals are of the opinion that entertainers live unhealthy lifestyles that in turn jeopardise their health but Rollas feels otherwise. He said, “Entertainers are not reckless with their lives. We are human beings so you can find all social vices as inherent in other humans.”
Apara also shares the same sentiment with Rollas saying “I don’t think this is peculiar to only entertainers. But based on their lifestyles, entertainers must pay proper attention to their health.”
The movie industry is an arm of the Nigerian entertainment industry that has churned out some of the best talents in the last 40 years. Sadly a number of talents have also passed away – with some passing away as a result of their inability to pick up the bills in treating their health challenges. In the last decade, the incidence of movie stars seeking funds from the public and fans to treat their health challenges have become a recurring phase. The recent deaths in 2019 have seen practitioners discussing the need to create more awareness of the health insurance scheme for entertainers.