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Lights out on Nollywood’s prolific Director, ‘Big Slim’ Ifeanyi Onyeabor


Producers of Tribe, Steve James and Ifeanyi Onyeabor

Death dealt a big blow on the motion picture industry recently, snatching one of its prolific movie directors, Ifeanyichukwu Onyeabor.

The dark, tall and hefty filmmaker reportedly passed on in Jos, the Plateau State capital while calling the shot on his new movie project, True Legends.

News of the death of the filmmaker, who has several aliases, including ‘Big Slim,’ ‘Mogul’ and ‘Baba Mutum,’ went viral as soon as it was confirmed on a Whatsapp platform populated by industry practitioners.

The post that the harbinger of the sad news shared read thus: “Ifeanyi Onyeabor is dead. He passed on this morning in Jos. His body has been deposited at a morgue. Just spoke to his wife. Sad day, indeed, for Nollywood.”

A torrent of Whatsapp messages came in afterwards, everyone expressing deep shock at the death of Ifeanyi, who would have been a year older on Monday, April 28.

A former president of the Association of Movie Producer (AMP), Zik Zulu Okafor, in a tribute on the platform, described him as a buoyant spirit and an incurable optimist, whose confidence was as bloated as his intimidating stature.

Okafor, a writer and producer, also wrote: “Fierce as you looked, your boyish smiles never left your lips. You were no candidate for death. But then, how can a fatally sick country hold hope for even a patient with headache. We are all victims of a tragic system.

“But Ifeanyi, you gave your all to the ugly system. You put smiles on faces and you added value to a warped nation. I doubt the system gave back anything in return and that is the mortal wound we live with.”

In surmising, the former AMP president prayed God to console his family.

Also, a former president of the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN), Ejike Asiegbu, described the exit of the filmmaker as another sad story in Nollywood.

He wrote: “Big Slim’ was very humane and passionate for the movie industry. Rest in the Lord my brother.”

For popular actor and theatre scholar, Achibi Sam Dede, Ifeanyi was an amazing, tireless energy on a movie set.

“Artistically and technically, he ran his movie set with charisma that inspired and motivated cast and crew. Farewell, Big Slim of J Town,” Dede wrote.

A former president of the Motion Picture Association of Nigeria (MOPPAN) wrote this about the director of acclaimed movies, such as New Jerusalem and Heroes: “Life is short really. We kept talking about this movie we are planning to make and now we are never going to make it.

“We should have made it. I am still dazed from learning that Ifeanyi died today. Ifeanyi was full of energy, always bubbling with ideas and a raging creative spirit. Those of us that knew him from his toddling days as a singer and filmmaker in Jos call him Mr. Wonderful. He will be sorely missed.”

A presidential candidate in the February 23 presidential election and a filmmaker, Victor Okhai, also paid tribute: “He was by miles the best action and fight sequence director in Nollywood. He was very passionate about the arts. Adieu Baban Mutum.”

Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA), Peace Anyiam-Osigwe, shared one of the most fitting tributes in honour of the multitalented filmmaker, singer and karate black belter on her social media handles.

Osigwe, who said she has had a long-standing relationship with the filmmaker she consistently referred to as ‘Last Born,’ described him as one of the best souls in Nollywood.

She also said: “He was an excellent director, a fantastic technical person. One of Nollywood greats just left this space. His road has been rough, but he witnessed it all at the edge of his new dawn.

“Last born, words fail me right now, as I just know that one of our captains just fell on the battle-field.”

A restless filmmaker, best known for My Mothers Heart, Darkest Night, New Jerusalem, Five Apostles and Fulani, which earned him several nominations and award of achievement in arts direction at the AMAAs, Ifeanyi was passionate about filmmaking.

“He ate, drank, talked and practised movies. He was a damn good director who paid attention to details,” said a former president of the Association of Nollywood Core Producers (ANCOP) and current Vice President of the International Federation of Film Producers, Alex Eyengho.

“He was busy all the time. If he was not working on a movie, he was busy editing a movie he had shot. Ifeanyi was busy,” Eyengho added.

A native of Ugboawka in Enugu State, who spoke Hausa language fluently, Ifeanyi made the headlines in 2011, but for the wrong reasons, when his business partner, Steve James, dragged him to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over allegations of fraud.

James had alleged that Ifeanyi could not account for monies he invested in the epic movie, Tribe, which was shot on location in Ghana and directed by Ifeanyi.

The filmmaker was later arraigned at a Lagos High Court and subsequently remanded for months in prisons for failing to meet the bail condition.

The two parties later agreed to settle out of court, while the case was eventually struck out for want of diligent prosecution on May 26, 2014.

Earlier, James had blamed the skirmishes on breakdown of communication between him and the director, saying: “We have put the matter behind us. I blame the problem on breakdown of communication between us.

“I was new in the industry and naturally reacted the way someone would react when third parties come to tell me that I was about to lose my investment.

“Luckily, after everything, I discovered that Ifeanyi meant well and his lawyer and my lawyer agreed to withdraw the matter.”

With the matter behind him, Ifeanyi returned to the turf, clinched two awards with Tribe at the Extra-Ordinary People’s Award in Texas, United States (US) and started work on two big projects, Heroes: Back To The Roots and True Legends.

In fact, he was on location for True Legends when he passed on last Friday.

The last time Ifeanyi, who would have turned 50 this April, spoke to The Guardian, he hinted that his career ambition was to win the Oscars for foreign language and have his movie premiere at any of the biggest film festivals in the world, including the Berlin International Film Festival and Cannes International Film Festival, saying: “My ambition is to launch out big time internationally. I want to be the first to win the Oscars for foreign language for Nigeria.

“I also want my films to compete at top international festivals, like at Berlin, Cannes and Venice. It is possible. People wey dey win am no get two heads na; they have just a head and I have even have a bigger one.

“So, it is possible, God on my side.”

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