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UGBOMAH: I want to shoot more films to entertain, educate Nigerians

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Chief Eddie Ogbomah (OON) is the former chairman of the Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC), and a notable filmmaker. He clocked 77 years last week. He spoke to OMIKO AWA on his experiences of the movie industry, some of the films he is yet to shoot and why the Federal Government should bury the notion of selling the National Theatre, otherwise “I will lead the greatest artistes’ revolution against the government.”

At 77, what are the things that when you looked back, you will say ‘I am happy they happened?’
They are so many: my children, my life and achievements, I am grateful to God. Very many people of age in the industry have passed on, but God has kept me alive. I am grateful to the Almighty.

Any regrets so far?
Unfortunately, not many people know I became a man at the age of 10, and from then till today that I am 77 years old, I have no regrets. I have been very meticulous in what I do and I am even trying to do more than I had done in the past. Like in the movie industry, nobody has shot more epic films than Ogunde and I, as one can see in Ogunde’s Aye and in my The Death Of A Black President. I still want to shoot films on Asaba Massacre, Dele Giwa, Aba Women Riot, how the Fulani entered Nigeria and others. You can see, I want to shoot more films to entertain and educate Nigerians. I have nothing to regret, instead I am thanking God that I am not sick and can still farm and drive myself. God has been too good to me. I have everything I want. I have 13 children; 11 graduates and in the next two years the remaining two will be out of school, making them 13 graduates. So, what else could a man ask for?

Looking at the movie industry and the ways some producers shoddily tell the African story, would you say these are some of the legacy you left behind?
One of the things people do not know is that almost, if not everybody in the movie industry is angry. The movie people are self-made; government has not put anything on ground to further encourage them. There is no level playing ground and many of them are not trained. They come for the money. They see filmmaking as a profession they can venture into when they have failed in other areas of life. And do not blame them because industry is so cheap to enter. You do not have to register as lawyers, medical doctors, engineers, and other professionals do. The entertainment world, especially in Nigeria, is an all comers world; it is open for every Tom, Dick and Harry.

But there are different guilds and associations that are supposed to do this. Are you saying they are not doing enough to control members?
I repeat there is no level playing ground. If you are shooting a film in Lagos, for instance, and ‘Area Boys’ come to disrupt what you are doing, take your camera and you go to the government agency concerned to complain the next thing you hear is that you should have come to register. In the real sense, going to government to register will only earn you a certificate that would permit you to shoot a film in Lagos, it does not protect you from the Area Boys. And in the East, if you are to shoot a film, you would pay pirates and local government officials in advance and when you paid all these huge sums you are so angry that you do not want anybody to control you because you have to recoup your money. If government could organise a level playing ground, where there would be rules and regulations, the various agencies and associations would then be able to control practitioners.

Just imagine what Multichoice, a South African company, is doing in Asaba; using one actor to play different roles in six different films and paying them N1million. It is ridiculous! The films are shot in the same location with almost the same music; this is happening because there is no control. It’s a shame, it is not the legacy I left behind or want to leave.

During my days, we were professional and highly disciplined; we were patriotic, dynamic and inform our viewers. I have been able to predict the future of Nigeria through my films and my predictions have come to pass. With Oil Doom, I predicted a doom for the country and it happened; while The Death Of A Black President talks about the death of Muritala Muhammed, The Boy Is Good is about financial crime, while The Mask talks about the missing mask. I have five scripts yet to be produced, but because of my age, I want to sell them. I cannot afford to run around for production.

As part of the decay, some people, not too long ago, came up with young Nollywood; have you heard of a group called young Bollywood or Hollywood? This is part of the stupidity in the system. What are you ‘young’ at? Is it at the poorly produced films they are showcasing or what? This is part of the problems in the industry. I am saying this, so that practitioners can have a rethink on how to reposition the industry.

Despite these, Nigeria is regarded as the third largest movie production nation and the industry rakes in money.
Forget all these media hypes. It rakes in money for pirates and foreigners. I am a producer; I have produced two films in 2006 and 2008. They are big films, but I made nothing. All I did was to do two premieres and I locked them up because pirates want me to release the films to them. I only asked them to give me the N12 million spent on each, but they won’t do that, so, I locked up the films. They are in my custody. If I had released it to them, they would have had money but come back to tell me stories.

You shoot two films in 2006 and 2008?
Yes, these were the last times I made films, but it is unfortunate that I can’t raise money again to shoot more. I am proud to say that I am among the Nigerian filmmakers nobody has given money to shoot a film. Last time, I went to NEXIM Bank for money, I was asked to bring different documents as collateral without wanting to know my achievements as a filmmaker. But Lloyd Bank in England gave me loans to shoot The Death Of A Black President on my achievements and the successes of my previous films. I was given five million pounds. They saw the success of The Mask, Oyenusi and others and gave me the loan.

But NEXIM Bank has given out some loans to producers?
They did not give me. The man they gave 250,000 dollars out of the one million dollars he wanted used his mother’s house in Ajegunle as collateral. NEXIM Bank has done more damage to the industry than other banks. The only good thing I can associate with the bank, however, was the money it gave to some people to build cinema houses aside this they have not contributed much as expected to filmmaking and it was this that we presented to Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, when he was Nigerian President, that made him release N3billion to filmmakers. Some filmmakers got N5million from the money for their films; though a plus, N5m is extremely too small to produce any good movie.

Some NEXIM bank officials say many Nigerian filmmakers are like portfolio businessmen; they do not have offices and platform that would enable them get these loans. What is your take on this?
NEXIM bank is suppose to have researchers, people that would trail the filmmakers, know what the filmmakers are doing with the loans given to them and also know how to get them, each time they are needed. They did not supervise the earlier filmmakers who got the loan.

The filmmakers were given free hand to operate, which made them to put the money into other uses. It was this disappointment that made the bank to be keen on collaterals. I lent they gave those filmmakers one million dollars each.

However, Bank of Industry (BoI) has gone a step further to ask filmmakers to show them the equipment they are to use as a way of checking them. Though, this may in a way make some producers sit up, for somebody like me, it is discouraging. All they should expect from somebody like me is when and how should I pay, rather than wanting to see my equipment. This in a way has made equipment leasing companies to hike their rate.

Again, the most important thing in filmmaking now is CGI, which is not available in Africa. Four Nigerian films are current held in Canne, France, because the producers cannot pay for the CGI used to make the film of a global standard. One thing government does not understand is that outside education, the entertainment sector creates job and they need to be properly funded. For instance, almost everybody in Asaba is an actor, irrespective of their age. Filmmakers use them for different roles and pay them; this money has helped some of them to establish small businesses, which is a great contribution to the economy of the state.

Another way bank of industry is killing the industry is by limiting distribution. I think they should be worried of how the loans given out should be paid rather than dealing with distribution. How can a filmmaker pay his/her loan in good time, when he/she has been limited from taking his/her product to certain part of the country? They should look into this.

If I am to advise banks on loans to filmmaker, I would suggest they do these three things. Firstly, read the scripts to be produced; see distribution proposal and thirdly, pay everyone involved, the actors/actresses directly, even the film owner if he/she wants it and once they recoup their money they should return the film to the owner. Through this means filmmakers will not own BoI.

I will also urge government to make sure that every local government chairman creates viewing centres for watching movies; imagine, how much each LCDAs will be making if all the LCDAs in Lagos open a viewing centre aside the private viewing centres in the state.

You have spent over 40 years in this industry and people expect you to have a school where you could mentor young ones, why have you not done this?
I cannot do everything, a writer, filmmaker, director, producer, teacher; I cannot do all. I need to leave some for others so that I won’t die young. I have done my best, I have brought up many stars in the movie industry, let them go and do the ones I cannot do or failed to do.

You have been spending money to see the Music and Movie Hall of Fame stand, why is it that up till now it has not found a location?
It is unfortunate that the money His Excellency, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, pledged through his director towards the Hall of Fame has not been redeemed.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, and his directors also made some pledges, but up till today they have not lived up to their words. I have spent over a N100 million in the 14 years period I have handled the project. I have 259 portraits of artistes, their biography and interviews and all I want is for government to provide a building in a central location of Abuja, Enugu or Lagos to house these historical items. I want them to be at a city where Nigerians and tourists can go and see them. I have been keeping them in a rented apartment, in a suburb of Lagos, but the visitors are not coming there. It is a hall that talks about history and the most import thing is that this will not only expose the lives and time of these artistes to generation yet unborn, it will also impact positive lessons such as hard work and resilience to the young ones. I was happy when during my 76th birthday Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, promised to acquire the Music and Movie Hall of Fame, but up till now nothing has been done to that effect. I am still looking up to the governor to live up to his words, as this is part of history, which should not be allowed to perish.

What is your take on government insisting on selling National Art Theatre, Lagos?
Must you blame government? No, when you invest so much on a thing and it is not bringing in returns you either you sell it or dash it out. Again, the fault goes to government who would not put the right people to run the theatre or National Troupe. For nine months, Tar Ukor has been put there, what has he done? He is busy chasing shadows and planning to jail those he assumed are corrupt. Why can’t he start Ukor’s presentations to keep the place active and bring those people that turn the facility around for good? I have had two shows there of late, though he gave us the hall for free, we actually bought our fuel to run the generator for 3pm to 9pm. He gave us the hall for free because there were no activities; we decorated it to our taste for our event.

Why won’t government get angry when the national monument has been losing more than N30 billion every year for 25 years? If government had not been too tribalistic and shortsighted in their decision-making about the facility, they would not have lost so much. Let them put any person there no matter the tribe he/she comes from and also give the person a free hand. Now you want the manager of the place to pay your electricity bill and other utilities, but you still want him to remit all monies made to you alongside his requisitions, which may take months to vent and approve.

Take for instance, if I make N80,000 while I have N50,000 bill to settle and I send all the money to you and wait for the minister to approve what I have written before action could commence, the whole place would be idle; there will be no money to run the place because I have to wait for approval for everything. Government needs to give the managers free hand to manger the facility, but if government would not listen to us and sell this our common asset, I will lead the greatest artist(es) revolution against government.

National theatre is not like any of the parastatal in the country! It is our heritage, our history. What is spent on art is not debatable in any part of the world –– in Britain, the US and other developed countries. This is the standard, because it is the cultural identity of the people and a country without an identity does not exist. Government should have a vote on National Theatre and it is only a fool that would want to sell such monument.

All that is needed is for government to put the facility in order. People only talk about the losses, have they ever thought of how to solve the problems that is causing these losses? They want to give a dog a bad name and kill it. We should be looking for how to repair and not sell.

Other less advantageous event centres in Lagos are all booked throughout the year, why not the National Theatre? If you give me National theatre, I promise I will rake in more than N100million a week. The place has eight big halls, it is central and you can park more that 500 vehicles at a time apart from the underground car park; there is no event centre that has these added advantages in Lagos.


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Chief Eddie OgbomahFilms
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