Saint Obi made my childhood unforgettable, this is not an obituary
Saint Obi was Nollywood’s number-one action star and a defining figure of my childhood.
The FBI agent runs towards a group of kids on a school playground, flies into an unnecessarily dramatic leap, snatches an explosive package from the hands of a child mid-air, lands an awkward roll on the ground, and launches the package far away into the air to save everyone's lives.
The set piece may not pack the same punch as Hollywood star, Tom Cruise, climbing a 2,000-foot cliff just for kicks as Ethan Hunt in 2000's Mission: Impossible 2 or any of Jackie Chan's tortuously gruelling film stunts; but it was one of the most exciting sequences among its peers by Nollywood standards at the time — I was smitten.
I started watching Nigerian home videos around the time of Saint Obi's rise and his face on any of the iconic posters from that era was a promise of excitement.
State of Emergency was my introduction to the action star who set the pace for his time. His starring role, as a dedicated agent fighting old friends involved in a terrorist plot, eased me into a lifetime of appreciation for the actor.
His star turn in other Nollywood action films, especially Wanted Alive, Executive Crime, and Take Me To Maama, which he produced, just became the icing on the cake for a youngster like me at the time, watching the industry innovate with scattered resources.
I haven't watched a quarter of the over 200 films Saint Obi has reportedly appeared in, but the ones I've watched I remember fondly as some of the happiest moments of growing up.
The actor was a defining figure of my childhood, a prominent influence I channelled whenever I played the "Police and Thief" game with my friends, or recited lines from his films pretending to be him.
Saint Obi was Nollywood’s number-one action star, but he was more than that. He was also a lover boy and ritualist, most notably in Sakobi, the Snake Girl; and a terrifyingly complex villain in Festival of Fire, opposite Regina Askia. He was everything to me.
The Saint Obi comeback will never happen
The past few years of my life have been spent endlessly massaging capitalism, and actively looking forward to Saint Obi's Nollywood comeback.
I tweeted endlessly about it every time an old Nollywood legend got a rebrand in the latest evolution of the second-largest film industry in the world.
Sola Sobowale got her big mainstream reintroduction with Kemi Adetiba's King of Boys; Kenneth Okonkwo got his rebirth with Living in Bondage: Breaking Free, a sequel to the film that launched his career in 1992; and, more recently, Chidi Mokeme made a big comeback splash with an imposing performance as Scar in the Netflix original series, Shanty Town for which he's now bagged an Africa Magic Viewers' Choice Awards (AMVCA) nomination for Best Actor in a Drama.
What makes these comebacks momentous for many grownups like me whose formative years happened in the 1990s and early 2000s is that it was stars like these whose exploits filled our screens and added colour to our childhoods.
Every new comeback made me desperately itch for the day it would be Saint Obi's turn. Even though his disappearance from the screen was a deliberate move caused by his dissatisfaction with the quality of the industry's collective creative output; I never lost hope that he would one day change his mind and return to entertain me and others who love his work.
But that day will never come now because Saint Obi, born Obinna Nwafor, died at some point last week, reportedly on May 7, 2023.
...but Saint Obi lives on
Saint Obi's death at age 57, reportedly after a long private battle with illness, is a gut punch for people like me. He'll never again appear on my screen in a new project, with his signature scowl and soft smooth voice that builds into an erupting volcano when he needs to strike fear into his adversaries.
The man poured too much innovation and excitement into Nollywood's tough years and deserved to reap the benefits of the industry's richest era.
I don't know enough about Saint Obi to write an obituary that captures his true spirit as a person, but as a character who dominated the screen in my formative years, he was a man of unforgettable charisma.
So, this isn't an obituary of the man he was; it's a hat tip to an actor of exceptional talent who deserved more flowers than he ever got — even though he got plenty.
He may be dead too soon, but his work catalogue — the films that constituted some of my childhood's happiest times — will keep him alive.
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