For actors’ guild, drumbeats of reconciliation keep pulsating

GRADUALLY, peace is returning to the fold of the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN). Two Sundays ago, members of the AGN somewhat got together and agreed not only to cease fire, but also to set the guild running again. They resolved, as it were, to leave the trenches as their continued stay there has left the once vibrant guild in a bad shape.

And the resolve had begun to bear fruit as as Segun Aina-Padonu, the top rated Badagry born actor, singer and voice artiste, who is popular as Segun Arinze, was on Sunday sworn in as President of the AGN. Arinze took his oath office at a colourful ceremony held inside the banquet hall of the Ojez Restaurant, Surulere, Lagos.

It was one of the largest gatherings of actors in Lagos in recent time. Flanked on both sides by his wife and other members of the National Executive, Arinze, facing the guild’s legal adviser swore to serve and protect the interest of the AGN as President.

The oath of office was administered in front of a large crowd including member of the Board of Trustees of the Guild and the Chairman and Executives of the Lagos State Chapter of the AGN at exactly 8.05pm. Arinze took his turn shortly after Elizabeth Ofuani, Stanley Mba, Abubakar Yakub, Ovinda Ogunda, Hakeem Rahman, Charles Emmanuel and Ejezie Emeka Rollas were sworn in as Chief Whip, Assistant National Secretary, Public Relations Officer, Vice President (North East), Vice President (South West), Vice President (South South) and National Secretary General in that order.

However, the occasion marked the second time the actor, whose debut album, Nwanyi Ganga sizzled in the 90’s would be swearing to lead the actors’ fold.

The first time he took similar oath was in Port Harcourt, after he emerged President from an exercise major stakeholders including the BOT and the Chairman of the Lagos State Chapter of the AGN, Ernest Obi described as ‘unauthorized and illegal election’.

That election convened by the then Ejike Aisegbu led executives of the AGN held in Port Harcourt and was supervised by the veteran actor, Sam Loco Efe. But both the BOT led by Prince Ifeanyi Dike and Ernest Obi, the Lagos chapter chairman of the AGN vowed not to recognise Arinze as President. Citing a contentious provision in what a film journalist said “may be his version of the AGN constitution”- as there exist presently, two versions of the constitution in circulation, Obi lamented that it is “unheard of for a member of the guild who is not from the Lagos State Chapter, who is not registered and is not a financial member; who is not a graduate and does not have his endorsement as Chairman to emerge President of the AGN.”

It was on the strength of that argument that Obi caused a press release to be issued where he led the chapter to describe the election that threw up Segun Arinze, Chuma Onwudiwe and Yakubu Abubakar as President, Secretary and Public Relations Officer respectively as “null, void and of no effect.” Obi equally maintained that the “election of Segun Arinze is a breach of AGN constitution” since, as he claimed, “Arinze is not a member of AGN Lagos chapter.”

In fact, Obi reportedly chaired an emergency meeting where members present including the popular actor, Emeka Ike vowed that “Ejike Asiegbu false attempt at bravado will not go unchallenged” adding that “it is very sad that Segun Arinze will allow himself to be used as an escape goat by the discredited Asiegbu.” Indeed, for Obi and a handful of members of the state chapter, there was no election. “There is even a subsisting matter in court awaiting judgment which makes it impossible for Mr. Asiegbu and company to organize an illegal election”, he argued. The actor viewed Asiegbu’s action as “contempt of court and an attempt to foist an unregistered member who is not qualified to contest for any election on the guild.

“The position of the guild is that someone has just impersonated as member of the guild and our members are so angry with all these,” Obi hollered in a pitch that drowned the question on why he did not attend the Port Harcourt congress where issues bordering on the constitution are usually addressed.

But Obi was not the only one who talked tough then. The 2006 AMAA best actor in a leading role, Kanayo O. Kanayo who was installed in questionable circumstances as Interim National Caretaker Committee Chairman of the guild after the Ifeanyi Dike led Board of Trustees sacked, in contentious circumstances, the Ejike Asiegbu led executive council of the guild, also blew hot. He described the Port Harcourt election as “sham” and Segun Arinze “an impostor.” Kanayo reportedly sent emails and text messages to all those who broke into cheers when it was reported that Arinze was voted in as President, to cut short the party.

“The election that produced Segun Arinze as president is sham,” he insisted adding that “there is but one AGN with one harmonized election agenda. Any group of persons or individuals purporting to be holding an AGN election away from or outside this schedule is courting illegally.” Reference was made to the ruling of the Federal High Court in Suit No FHC/L/CS/731/2009 that “Ejike Asiegbu is a former AGN Executive, as such, he lacks the power and authority to conduct an AGN election.”

Accordingly, both the BOT and Kanayo focused on their decision to hold an election in December. Indeed for Kanayo, the only election that can produce an executive for the AGN will hold in December, while January 20, 2010 was fixed for the swearing in ceremony of a new executive for the body. Emmanuel Ehumadu, Director of Guild Services of the AGN Lagos chapter also stated that only the election that would be conducted by the caretaker committee headed by Kanayo .O. Kanayo would be recognized.

Expectedly, tension rose in the camp of Segun Arinze. But Abubakar Yakub who was elected Public Relations Officer of the AGN alongside Arinze said they were not swayed by the logic of the argument put forward by all those who have volunteered comments on the crisis in the AGN.

He said: “everyone has a right to his opinion. All we are interested in is the survival of AGN. We have a mandate to restore AGN’s lost glory and we shall work at reconciliation and then restoration.”

Before last Sunday’s re-swearing-in ceremony, Arinze reportedly sought the help of the actor and former President of the AGN, Zack Orji who facilitated a meeting with the members of the BOT and the Council of Chairmen, the outcome of which was the agreement to sheath their sword.

At the meeting, which was held in Lagos for two days and attended by 20 of the 26 state chairmen of the AGN, it was resolved according to a statement credited to Prince Dike that the “election in Port Harcourt be set aside and a government of National Unity with Segun Arinze as President be constituted.”

Arinze reportedly resigned to be eligible to be considered President under the new contraption. It was further resolved that the Kanayo Kanayo-led interim structure be dissolved while both Arinze and the BOT will nominate other members of the executive council who will be expected to run the affairs of the guild for two years. Indeed, the decision to set aside the election meant that all those elected along with Segun Arinze including Chuma Onwudiwe who was until his election as Secretary General, Special Adviser on Inter Guild Matters to former President Ejike Asiegbu will cease to be officers of the guild.

Arinze confessed that he found the resolution a “bitter pill to swallow” but that he had to concede for the best interest of the guild.

Indeed for those in the vanguard of a better and progressive actors’ body, the decision to constitute an all embracing government of national unity was the best decision that the BOT has taken since the crisis in the AGN assumed fever pitch. Even those who carpeted the BOT for overlooking the more salient factors of rule of law and due process in the dissolution of the Ejike led EXCO and the constitution of the contraption called the Interim National Caretaker Committee, were of the opinion that decision was in the best interest of the AGN. But they wondered why some officers like Chuma Onwudiwe who were elected alongside Segun Arinze were left out in the arrangement.

It was an elated Arinze who restated his commitment to returning the guild to the path of progress in his post inauguration speech. “That the mandate I have is to return the guild on the right path. Never shall we pass this route we have taken to get this point. The slogan of the guild says progress and that is what AGN will be from now on,” he assured. He solicited the support of all and sundry in the task of making the guild the pride of the industry. He pledged that as from January 2010, the guild will get busy with programmes that will impact positively on members.

A cross section of practitioners who attended the inauguration ceremony expressed satisfaction at the validation of Segun Arinze’s position as President.

Donald Okoli who was named Chief of Staff to the AGN President at the ceremony described Arinze “as the right man for the job.” Others felt that he was better placed to take the guild to the next level. But there are those who canvassed a review of the present constitution of the actors’ guild. They reasoned that some aspect of the constitutions were “ludicrously out of tune with contemporaneity.”

According to Jide Offor, a legal practitioner turned actor, “I have seen the constitution and it is very weak. It allows for the kind of lawlessness that has pervaded the scene. It should be reviewed and the provisions on the procedure for the dissolution of the National Executive or dismissal of a president and or election of a president should be reviewed. They should also look at the provision on eligibility to contest election.

“The constitution as it is disenfranchises everyone including the BOT members because a whole lot of us are not active participants of the guild. We only get active during election year.”

There are those who called for a state of emergency to be declared in the actor’s body. According to a member, “this will mean that all the present gladiators will step down from their respective positions and then there will be a free and fair election where they will all be given a chance to test their popularity.”

The suggestion to declare a state of emergency was premised on the need to review “the processes that brought all the gladiators to office.”

Beside, observers think that the tenure of the members of the Board of Trustees should be part of the aspect of the constitution that should be reviewed. According to a top actor who didn’t want to be named: “I think we should review their tenure. I don’t think membership of the board should be for life. These people have been there since we started the guild. They have all taken the thing as full time job. I think we need to inject fresh blood into the guild. We can’t just have people whose stock in trade will be to removing presidents from office. They don’t even qualify to be members again because some of them have gotten rusty. I don’t want to mention names now, but when was the last time you saw any member of the BOT take on serious roles as actors. I think we should place tenure on that aspect of the guild.”

Even as Arinze and his team seem poised to further the reconciliation process, observers expect Arinze and his team to spend the next couple of weeks to reach out to all aggrieved members of the AGN. Danger lurks nearby they say, as a few of the aggrieved members are threatening to seek legal redress.


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