The late comedian and actress, endearing and brimming with vibrancy, had the ability to put smiles on people’s faces through her several effortless and rib-cracking performances.
Understanding and discussing mental health in Nigeria is something that has to be done contextually. There is, and has always been, a large misconception and misinformation when it comes to the subject amongst many Nigerians. The general belief is that preternatural forces inflict people with mental illnesses and that’s why they eventually struggle with their mental health. Even the law of the country is reflective of many's views and stance. Nigeria's mental health legislation was first enacted in 1916 and was called the Lunacy Ordinance. In 1958, these laws were amended to give medical practitioners and magistrates the power to detain an individual suffering from mental illness. Renamed the Lunacy Act of 1958, these laws, unfortunately, have not been amended since. These regressive beliefs and dispositions towards mental health have generally shaped the attitude of Nigerians towards the mentally ill.
It is also very uncommon in this climate to discuss and sometimes acknowledge how celebrities experience significantly higher levels of depression, anxiety, and stress than the general population. For an actor, for example, getting into character is not just as simple as “putting on” or “taking off” a role, they frequently tap into their personal histories to evoke the emotions required to play a role. This can be traumatic if it triggers deep issues or elicits difficult experiences and memories. It goes without saying that being in the public eye comes with being famous. Navigating one’s problems or publicly discussing issues around mental illness in a country like Nigeria with a general disregard for mental health is definitely not an easy task.
A few days ago, famous Nigerian actress Ada Ameh sadly passed away. Perhaps best known for her work in the wildly popular tv series The Johnsons, the actress tragically died at the age of 48 after collapsing while visiting friends in Warri. The late actress revealed just a couple of weeks ago that she suffered from max depression, a condition that was further alleviated by her daughter’s unfortunate death in 2020.
Actors are almost always in the spotlight. Regardless of what they’re doing, the cameras and lights are endlessly flashing on every aspect of their lives and so it wouldn’t be a surprise that many of them never open up about things that could be bothering them or things that they suffer from. It’s almost primal. No one wants to struggle in front of an audience. That’s probably why Ms Ameh kept her battle with depression under wraps for a long time.
If you have encountered the ever-bubbling actress either in person or on-screen, you would get a sense of a cheerful woman with an extremely pleasing and infectious personality. The late comedian and actress had the ability to put smiles on people’s faces through her rib-cracking performances despite dealing with her own issues silently. As an actor, Ada Ameh enjoyed a bit of both world, as she remained one of the very few old Nollywood actors to successfully transcend into the new Nollywood and remain relevant as an actress who starred in several blockbuster movies till she passed.
She initially found her way into Nollywood in 1996 through the cerebral producer Zeb Ejiro who gave her first acting role in the iconic movie Domitila where she played the character Anita. After starring in Domitilla in 1996, Ameh went on to star in Blood Money, a 1997 Nigerian occult film directed by Chico Ejiro, and also in Amayo Uzo Philips’ Nigerian family comedy Aki na Ukwa. The 2003 classic stars Osita Iheme and Chinedu Ikedieze had their illustrious careers launched by the famous movie.
She gradually grew into a prominent character in new Nollywood when she appeared in Kunle Afolayan’s 2013 film Phone Swap where she played a police officer and friend to the lead actor Nse Ikpe Etim and also in the Guinness award-winning film, 30 Days in Atlanta. Despite her success as an actress, Ms. Ameh focused her energy on other businesses. In addition to buying and selling, the deceased actress was an interior designer. She also threw her weight behind programs that had to do with the girl child, especially those battling early child pregnancy and prostitution. She had her daughter at the young age of 14, a situation that caused a major rift in her family, so understandably she understands the many struggles and empathizes with girls and ladies with early pregnancy.
While reacting to the news of her death, her co-star and friend from the series ‘The Johnsons’ Charles Inojie(Lucky Johnson) gave an official statement on behalf of the producers of the series Native Media on Instagram by saying; “It is with a deep sense of loss, total submission to the will of God, that Native Media Tv, cast and crew of @theofficialthejohnsons painfully announce the passing of our dear sister, friend, colleague and Matriarch of The Johnsons clan Ada Obande Ameh (aka Emuakpor Johnson). To all our teeming fans around the world, we have truly lost a rare and vibrant gem, but celebrate the life of an icon who daily puts smiles on every face and spreads love in every home”.
Growing up, Ada Ameh was one of my favourite actors. I have always associated her with fun, laughter, and finding joy in the silly things in life. It was nice to see that she kept this disposition for most of her career even though she struggled internally. It was also nice to see that she was able to come to a place where she could speak openly about her battle with depression. While her legacy, impact and life’s work should be the center of attention, I hope we can all spare a thought for others who might be fighting a similar battle and also reassess our stance on mental health. Ada Ameh was a rare gem, one that shone endlessly and brought a smile to many’s faces. This is how she should be remembered. And while she might have left us physically, she’ll remain in our hearts, always smiling and brimming with joy.