l am not a politician but l can’t be apolitical at my level. l therefore find time to play a role through friends who have chosen politics as career.
Aside my exposure to Lagos, having been born here well over 60 years ago on the lsland. I grew up with indegenes and non indegenes in an atmosphere of love and harmony without barriers of any kind.
My early life on the (Lagos) lsland exposed me to children from different ethnic groups and religion. As a Muslim l was versed in the Methodist church service, with the opportunity l had to attend their service at the popular Olowogbowo Methodist Church with my cousins, whose mom, my aunt was married to Mr. Plumpter, their dad. My parents never chastised me for my church attendance and it was same for my cousins during our Muslim festivals, sharing food and drinks in celebration.
That was Lagos l grew up in. It was the same exprience for me in primary and secondary schools. It was not different in the University. As theatre students, it was entrenched in us without being read out as a rule, that there is no ethnicity in the theatre, but actors and roles to play. lt is with this spirit l came out and lived with in our Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) days.
There were no barriers between us based on tribal influence in working together. Enebeli Elebuwa of blessed memory was my first close friend, as a colleague on the production team of The New Village Headmaster. Through him, Victor Okhai, who used to visit us as an lndependent Writer became a friend and of course, along the line, Zeb Ejiro, Andy Amenaechi, Patrick Doyle, Ralph Nwadike and Fred Amata, who came to serve in 1986. There were Mahmood Ali- Balogun, Evans (Richard) Damijo, Yemi Sodimu who we have been colleagues from different University Theatre departments, having known one another from our university days through NUTAF (Nigerian University Theatre Arts Festival). Zik Zulu Okafor is one of this group, though our junior from lbadan. Nobert Young is another fellow of the fraternity (apologies to those l may have missed out their names).
This was the spirit we kept and cherished working together on projects.
When in 1987 Tade Ogidan and l took over Village Headmaster as producer/director and Assistant Producer respectively in 1987, we created new roles and brought in our colleagues from the East and the North (of Nigeria) to participate as actors in the programme. Along the line, myself, Ralph Nwadike and Charles Owoyemi made ourselves into a production tripod team.
I have done this to establish a background of our existence before the emergence of NOLLYWOOD.
I can say without any fear of contradiction that the coming of NOLLYWOOD brought about the segregation we began to experience today.
On personal experience, l would bring out the following instances:
1. By the time we wined down on FORTUNES, the soap opera that was created and written by Charles Owoyemi and produced by us – Charles Owoyemi, Ralph Nwadike (Zeb Ejiro) and directed by me just a year after my call to the bar in 1992. l was assisted by our late ‘aburo’ Chico Ejiro. By 1994, l had moved to the corporate world to join a Bank, UTB, as Assistant Manager Corporate Affairs. But my colleagues, Ralph and Charles, continued and they decided to convert the series into a feature film. l recall a marketer (name withheld) accusing us of using only Calabar girls, obviously referring to Liz Benson, Regina Askia and another lady that l can’t recall her name.
Ralph as a witness to my assertion would know the lady’s name. It was with the same mind set, that rather than allow some actors to develop on their own talent and capacity, they were erroneously being prepared to replace the existing talents.
Without mentioning names; an actress was being prepared to take over from Liz Benson, “Calabar” and another actor to “take over” from Richard Damijo.
During the last Directors Guild of Nigeria (DGN) election where l was the chairman of the electoral body for the second time. The campaign process was very demeaning of a professional body and Director Guild for that matter.
Language and behaviour strange to the respected body became the order of campaign. lnsults and disregard for senior members’ opinion became rampant among the young ones. As l tried to cope with the situation, things got more complex.The very young candidate, who was touted to be popular and likely to beat all contenders committed an infraction of the electoral process by failing to attend the time- bound schedule interview for candidates.The body got divided with opinions flying around. Some wanted him disqualified, while others already canvassing his disqualification as premeditated and “rigging” of sort. l had to use my veto power to ensure another interview was scheduled for him with one member of the electoral body.
There was allegation of the possibility of me being bribed.
l failed to yield!
Even when a colleague confronted me, I let him realised that the candidate in question was not known to me, as l understand that he resides in Asaba. l had never met him before. Besides, l told my colleague that if l had not been the lead umpire, l would have been in the front role of Victor Okhai campaign as an old friend and colleague, that l also believe in his competence.
There were also two other candidates, who are Yoruba, Yinka Akanbi and Kehinde Soaga, who are like brothers to me. I stood my ground so as not to be seen as being partial as already alleged. The election is now history; free, fair and credible as a candidate merged before everybody at the voting centre.
However, in the midst of the challenges, somebody mentioned to me if l did not know that leadership in our guilds is a contest between the lgbo from the East and the Delta/Edo. That presidency of Association of Movie Producers (AMP) is the reservation for for the lgbo/Delta lgbo people, while that of DGN is for the Uhrobo/lsoko/ and Edo. l tried to debunk his claim by making reference to Paul Obazele from Edo having been AMP president and Bond Emeruah, who is lgbo, having been DGN president before.
These are the fallouts that seem to be rearing its head in the country’s election. l have never witnessed or being involved in tribal instigated campaign like we are experiencing today.
lt has also reflected in our industry and industry-related platforms. There had been agitation in the past that was handled with well-articulated agenda to secure political power. NADECO pushed their position without dragging other ethnic groups out for fight or abuse of other groups’ heritage and they eventually got two candidates of their ethnic extraction presented.
As l wouldn’t subscribe to the ranting of an area boy, who along with his brothers got their family house sold out and coming out to shout about take-over of his land, l expect colleagues of other parts to condemn the volatile campaign and violent taunts of their people.
We must ask ourselves, where our interest lies in all of this. lf l am asked to bring a list of 10 people in my industry for any good, because of our year and frequency of our connect, Francis (Onwuchie) and Ralph (Nwadike) would come second or third. The same thing l believe Ralph would do.
There is no ethnicity in a production team but a capable hand that can do.
When I was to present my book at LABAF in 2021, Francis Onwuchie was asked to moderate the event. He at first agreed. I came all the way to give him a copy of the book. He didn’t show up at the event. Till today, he has not in anyway told me why he didn’t show up. I decided not to ask him because in 2015 or thereabouts, he made some snide comments about not knowing that Yoruba Filmmakers made any worthy contributions to the Nigerian film industry. I had written FAJ for help then in private but he made it public. Francis was very blunt: ‘What’s his achievements that he claims to be a veteran?’ I had claimed to be a veteran. With what Barrister Bamishigbin has written here, I now understand the politics of the industry. To think when it was just basically a ‘Yoruba’ thing, all and sundry were welcomed. And to think that most of the early Nollywood movies were shot by Yoruba Crews. It’s really sad. Very sad. We need to halt this tribalistic tendencies before it consumes us all.