One thing that strikes you when you meet with Julius Agwu is the effortless humility that he exudes; he draws you in with his charms as you relish the moment of mirth he shares with you. In this interview, Julius takes us on a saunter through some paths in his life: his struggles; his regrets; the metamorphoses that have taken place in his life; his beliefs; his achievements… Julius is a man that continues to brave the wild currents in his life to get to the harbour he dreams of while he strives to give joy to others on his voyage.
Sam Umukoro Interview: How did your humble beginnings shape you as a person?
Julius Agwu: Basically what it has done for me is that it has taught me what being contented means; being satisfied with the little you have and the value of appreciating what you have, no matter how small.
Sam Umukoro Interview: Among your siblings, you were the only one born in the hospital, and then they saw it as a sign of being special. You also mentioned some other experiences, like not being hurt after you were trampled upon by a cow, were these indications of your being a special child?
Julius Agwu: I can’t remember some of them. But there are so many experiences or ‘God times’, like I call them, in my life. Those were the ones that I could still remember growing up. While growing up, I was the only person my father would take along to go fishing. Till date none of us can swim but I know that in all these, my mum had told me how she bled seriously even before she gave birth to me and after she did, but that is because I am just a special kind of child.
Sam Umukoro Interview: From your account, your interest in entertainment was accidental; did you think that destiny played a role in shaping your career path?
Julius Agwu: I feel so strongly that it was destiny because I remember back then, I had all the opportunity of ending up like every other Choba boy, probably getting a job with the Willbros, an oil service company in my backyard, or ending up and saying okay, ‘I am a Port Harcourt boy, why not just be content with just been around here?’ But I wanted something more and knew that the best place to get that something more was to be in the industry, which was not named Nollywood then…
Even before then, I loved entertaining people and people began to take note. I stood out in everything I did, I could also dance, and then people wondered where all these came from. I realised that I could take this entertainment thing further, especially when I went to the theatre and I saw people act. I discovered that they studied theatre arts. I said, okay, I could do the same thing, something that gave me joy… So the whole idea was to give people joy, and also give myself joy and satisfaction from what I was doing. That was it for me. It wasn’t just because I was struggling to get a secure job, my (ex) girlfriend left me because of it.
Sam Umukoro Interview: So making money from entertainment wasn’t at the back of your mind then?
Julius Agwu: Then I was just having fun and becoming popular – making a name for myself. At that time, I was a ‘local champion’. I was later made a social prefect and thus, I was at a leadership position in my school. So I was simply having fun.
Sam Umukoro Interview: During your early days, did you feel in any way inferior to guys who were more privileged than you whenever you were in their company?
Julius Agwu: Then it didn’t occur to me that it was anything. Yes, I did realise that there was a class difference; that these ones were privileged and had something that I didn’t have then. Also they didn’t have that ruggedness of a village boy. At times they depended on me to even guide or guard them from some of the other village boys who sometimes threatened them. So I was always in-between. We rode bicycles together and attended the same schools. I hung around them and picked up their spoken English, social life and, of course, refinement, as it were. But it didn’t occur to me that they were more privileged than I was, because I was contented as a village boy. I am grateful for that rustic life of the village and my strict parental upbringing. It guided me through. That is exactly why even till today, I don’t forget where I am coming from.
Sam Umukoro Interview: You are obviously proud of your parents. What do you find most fascinating about your parents, particularly your dad?
Julius Agwu: It was the fact that these were two people who struggled and eventually made it, and they raised these young, determined kids. I never knew any of my maternal or paternal grandparents, who died when my parents were much younger. My parents were two struggling young people who later decided to get married and face life together. Their story motivated me and I decided long ago that I’d make them proud. Their history was an inspiration for me. What I found fascinating about my dad, may his soul rest in peace, was that he worked different jobs just to keep us: he was a part-time brick layer, motorcycle rider, hunter, fisher man; he was also our friend, a husband and daily bread winner. So I didn’t have a choice other than to succeed and be able to tell their stories.
Things have changed now, but I needed to say it as it is. People still pass through my house in Choba, people who schooled in the University of Port Harcourt (Uniport) and knew me from way back then, they still respect me and everything, but I don’t forget to tell my friends that I used to fetch water for this man, or clean his house when they were students in Uniport… There is a time for everything in life; that is how it is. Up till now my mum still sells firewood, but that is what gives her joy. She comes to Lagos for three or four days and say she wants to run back, that she wants to go to her office, (I wonder) what office? The farm… because that is what gives her joy, waking up in the morning and going to the farm; you can’t stop them. Go to our family house in Choba, the firewood are all piled up there. How much do you want to make from firewood? I give her money, she buys firewood that she trades to fetch her money, and people come around to buy. I have begged her to do other business but she is adamant about this one. It’s (still) business – trading, buying and selling.
Sam Umukoro Interview: In your book, you mentioned being involved in some things… looking back, do you regret those actions? Would you have done things differently?
Julius Agwu: I don’t think I regret them fully; I had to test those paths to choose what was right. You know there is a saying that ‘you go through school and school should also go through you.’ I do think that, in life, there should be points of references. That is why even a preacher tells you, ‘I was once a bad boy!’ The only thing is that I never did drugs and I don’t intend to do drugs, God no go gree, maybe at that point, you will not live to tell story. Yes, as a child growing up, there must be youthful exuberance, juvenile delinquency, those are stages of life and you learn from them. And when you become a man, you know what to tell your children. By the time my kids tell me one thing, I can relate with it because I have been there before.
Sam Umukoro Interview: You once spent months in detention when you were picked up as one of the rioters, and somehow became the number two man in detention. How did you survive that, and was it that your character was so bad that it got you to that level?
Julius Agwu: I believe it was my triviality, the jovial Julius, the fun guy; I was cracking jokes in there and making them laugh. Rather than just be in a bad mood in that confinement, I always eased them with my fun and humour. Somehow I was able to win the hearts of the ‘big’ men there with the momentary joy I always gave.
Sam Umukoro Interview: Didn’t you miss home then?
Julius Agwu: I did, but I think that time was just a trying period when God wanted me to retrace my steps. It was a time when my story was being rewritten, so I had to pass through that burner. That was the way I saw it because it changed a whole lot. There was a period in secondary school when I knew I wasn’t following the right track, and I was thinking of going to rewrite the entrance examination and start afresh, because I realised that I was failing myself and something was not right. Somehow I’m grateful that period happened because it gave me time to go back, re-plan and come back as a better person.
Sam Umukoro Interview: Your first MC jobs included acting as a clown at children’s parties in Port Harcourt. When did you get your first big break as an MC?
Julius Agwu: Aside from the children clown thing, as a student in Uniport I was already helping in some departmental shows where they called on me to do some skits, but primarily I was a dancer. The little stipend I got from all these events motivated me and made me realise that I could really make a living from this.
Sam Umukoro Interview: While your mother wanted you to be a carpenter, your father wanted you to be a lawyer. Did he live long enough to see you this successful?
Julius Agwu: That is the saddest part of the whole journey, and one of my biggest regrets, the fact that when I started making a name, he was snatched by the cold hands of death. After my father’s death, it changed my perception of death, because death is so stupid. It is so unfortunate that we celebrate or glorify death so much; someone dies and that’s when people start saying ‘he was a good man’. I am waiting for the day when someone would take like a full page in a newspaper and say it as it is about a person: ‘this is an obituary, for a man who was an idiot, slept with people’s wives, stole my money personally, may your soul never rest in peace…’ you know. But people are always singing praises; that is the way I feel about praising death and it going to the wrong people.
Anyway, I was so angry (at my father’s death) because at that point I was just beginning to make money, then he took ill. My money was going into hospital bills, until that fateful day, when I was called that he was now well and I should come home. Meanwhile I had already planned a journey back to Port Harcourt, but didn’t know he was already dead. My biggest pain was that he didn’t live enough to see the black sheep turning fully white and being the breadwinner of the house. But something happened even before he died, which is my joy. He believed in me and I haven’t said this anywhere, my two elder brothers, the first two sons, have always been at loggerheads, and my father always begged them to settle. He used to say that ‘because you people seem to be waiting until Julius will come and settle both of you,’ which is what I have been trying to do… my point is that he believed in me so much that when I embarked on my final journey to Lagos, he blessed me because he knew where I was heading to. He knew I was going to make him proud, and he was truly proud of me. I know he is always with me wherever I go. At times I feel him in my shows, watching and saying ‘that is my son.’ My father was proud of me.
Sam Umukoro Interview: Is your mum disappointed that you didn’t become a carpenter like she wanted?
Julius Agwu: She fit? She cannot na. She is happy. They call her mama G now.
Sam Umukoro Interview: Since you broke up, have you come across your ex-girlfriend and what was her reaction?
Julius Agwu; I have not seen her since the day she left. We completely lost contact.
Sam Umukoro Interview: Despite its popularity, your first album didn’t get the financial returns that it should have, despite giving the marketer money. From your experience, do you think piracy had something to do with it?
Julius Agwu: I don’t know. The truth is when we did that album there were no CDs, just tapes. But one thing I give God the glory for is that the album made Julius Agwu a household name, so at least I gained something from there, but not the money. I give God the glory for everything, for how far he has brought me from where I have been.
When my teacher used to tell me to come and dance, she didn’t know she was trying to curb my stage fright. She didn’t know that she was preparing me for the future. I am sure the man who sold that first album cannot pay me now to come and act a movie. But I am proud, I am happy for him. I am just saying: don’t underestimate anybody – my maiguard here today can become a big star tomorrow. I mean, anybody can become a star, but not everybody can manage stardom. That is exactly one of the reasons I thank God for his grace. It is not my making. That why I still wonder sometimes, how did I get here?
Sam Umukoro Interview: You describe yourself as very temperamental, how do you manage that in your marriage?
Julius Agwu: Unfortunately for me, I have a wife that is also very stubborn. Okay let me be blunt, because I don’t pretend; I just say it as it is. I have a wife who is also very blunt and over the years, I have always managed (it). If we quarrel and she is on the wrong side, I will apologise. If I am on the right side, I will apologise. So she got used to it that this man loves me. A week after my 40th birthday, we quarrelled… I have never told this to anybody, at times na over-bluntness na e dey worry me, and she thought it was going to be one of those years, but at 40, I have decided to be another person; I have decided the way I would start to think and the kind of father I want to be. So I just left her. I tried to reconnect, she was still stubborn, and we kept malice for more than a month. That was when she realised that ‘this man mean am o.’ I told her, ‘I love you, but I can be very stubborn too…’ because life begins at 40.
The cover of my book is quite symbolic for me, ‘Jokes Apart: How Did I Get Here?’ Look at my bag, my luggage is still packed and I am sitting on a bench, this can be likened to a train station or a waiting lounge in an airport. Now I am still moving ahead. At 40, the journey has just begun. God has renewed his blessings in my life, upon that I have repackaged and re-engineered. I am wired and rejuvenated. In fact, I have a single called ‘Rejuvenate’.
Sam Umukoro Interview: You are very close to Eddy Lawani, but he didn’t make it for your wedding, and you were angry for a very long time. Do you see yourself as someone who can bear a grudge for a long time?
Julius Agwu: I can get angry and it ends, but don’t take me for granted. The truth about it is that I can also bear grudge for years… for real?
Sam Umukoro Interview: Yes, for real.
Julius Agwu: Yes, for real, that has been my kind of person. I can get angry and it ends, but don’t try to show me that you are the one feeding me or something… I remember I had kept malice with my mum while in her house…
Sam Umukoro Interview: Is that a weakness or strength?
Julius Agwu: I don’t know what it is, you decide. I am just saying, no one is God, so don’t try to make me feel like without you I cannot exist.
Sam Umukoro Interview: Looking back, what would you consider your greatest achievement so far?
Julius Agwu: Being alive, having a family, having joy and giving joy, are my greatest achievement. Forget all these awards, the greatest award I get is that one which people meet me along the road and they are thanking for making them laugh, thanking me for being one of those rare Nigerians who is an instrument of change.
Sam Umukoro Interview: What is it you want to be remembered for?
Julius Agwu: I want to be remembered as a man who came and gave people joy. I want to be remembered as a good family man and husband, as someone who created platforms to succeed, even though no one gave him that opportunity when he started; as someone who was passionate about entertainment and Nigeria as a country, who played a self-ambassadorial role by using his talent for social change and national building, and also inspired his generation and would continue to inspire generations to come.