By Anote Ajeluorou
Passion for the movie industry runs in his blood. Even as he turns 73 in August and will celebrate it big with major events, Chief Eddie Ugbomah is still untiring in his drive to get the movie environment better for younger practitioners to excel and be rewarded for their art. Out of over 10 children, only one of them, just 13, has shown interest in studying and making a career out of filmmaking. This gives the Aboh, Delta native uncommon joy and renewed incentive to fight harder to get the industry better.
Always ahead of his younger colleagues in the industry, self-styled father of Nollywood and Board of Trustee chairman for Directors Guild of Nigeria (DGN) and Association of Movie Producers (AMP), Ugbomah is again up in arms against those he perceived to be enemies of Nollywood. First on his list of those ruining the fortunes of filmmakers are Nigeria’s terrestrial TV stations that shameless broadcast old soap operas imported from Mexico and Brazil.
Ugbomah’s contention is that TV stations, by their very nature, ought to commission film producers to make soaps operas for them. Instead, what is prevalent in the country is not just the reverse, but a dangerous, colonial trend where cheap South American soaps flood Nigeria’s terrestrial airways. The dire economic implication is that while Nigerian producers are starved of jobs and income from lack of commissioned projects, Nigerian products finance foreign films through advertisement placements on terrestrial TV.
According to Ugbomah, there are some 123,000 such soap operas called Tele Monde on Nigerian TV stations, each with 1,000 episodes. This dangerous economic and cultural sabotage, Ugbomah noted, is grave disservice, as it renders local producers and actors largely unemployed. Besides, the cultural colonialism effect of such imported soaps have on young minds, he said are immense, adding that it shows a marked insensitivity and ignorance of the power of television in molding a society’s consciousness.
For Ugbomah, it’s time to wield the big stick to rein in these erring stations so as to preserve the values. He called on relevant regulatory authorizes, especially Nigeria Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to step up and protect local jobs for filmmakers and preserve local cultural values being threatened by the influx of foreign soaps.
He said, “Let’s get parliament to ban foreign films on our Tv stations. Any film being put on Nigerian airwaves should be censored first”.
Closely related to this development, Ugbomah stated, is the activities of cable TV stations, particularly the South African brand. He particularly accused South Africa cable TV with its three platforms as being the worse culprit. Ugbomah said the station was out to destroy Nollywood, as it was envious of its phenomenal growth. He faulted the station’s pricing of films from N350,000 to a paltry N35,000, and wondered what justification it has for doing so. Also, instead of showing one film thrice a year, they show a film three times a day!
For Ugbomah, who has plied his film trade in the U.K. and the U.S., this was a calculated plan by the South African cable company to “kill Nollywood by introducing their multiple channels; they have come with their bazookas to kill us. South African is envious of the big name of Nollywood. I’m anti-them; I refused to give them my film. They started by paying N350,000 per film; now, they pay N35,000, and to get your money is wahala. They show films more than three times a year!”
Also, Ugbomah has charged cinema owners to give ample space to locally produced films as against current practices where foreign films take the lion share of cinema exposures. He complained that such practice was a gross disservice to locally produced films and filmmakers. He also called on relevant authorities to rein in cinema owners to do proper parity of films shown. Giving local films equal space at cinemas, was Ugbomah’s contention, would help revive the sector from its comatose position.
Ugbomah is not happy with government’s plans to downgrade Nigeria Film and Video Censors Board to a mere department on one hand while commercialising Nigeria Film Corporation (NFC) on the other. The septuagenarian said the film sector is too crucial to be treated as mere commercial interest, as the offices of Minister of Information and Secretary to the Federal Government were trying to do with the only two agencies responsible for film. He said plans for the two agencies must go to the National Assembly, as acts setting them up were acts of parliament, which Steve Oronsanye’s recommendation alone could not alter.
Reducing censors board to a department in invitation to strengthen the 36 states’ censors boards, a situation that amounts to more than double taxation on fimmakers, as each film would be censored in 36 states, which would impact negatively on the already fragile income of filmmakers. He charged his industry colleagues to act now by taking the case to the National Assembly to forestall the planned action on the two agencies.
He seasoned filmmaker took a swipe at his younger colleagues for their nonchalant attitudes to issues affecting the industry. Only a handful turned up for the press briefing dealing with issues affecting their trade. Ugbomah noted, “I’m fighting for the industry. My daughter is, 13, wants to read film. The environment has to be made right for her. There’s individual satisfaction among the top directors, producers and actors; so, they forget the industry. But in my position of chairman of two guilds and an elder, I cannot keep quiet or watch while a goat in giving birth in tethers”.
FRUSTRATED by the levity with which Lagos State Government treated his planned Nollywood Film Village, after having spent all his life in this city Ugbomah has taken his golden idea to his him state, Delta, and has got the nod of the state’s Chief Executive, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan through a publisher friend of his. Now, Ugbomah declared, “I’m going back to my Delta!” Right now, he is waiting for his Hollywood counterpart investors, Califo Nigeria Limited, to get the ball rolling.
The film village, according to Ugbomah, will be tourism city complete with film and music studios, a hotel, theatres, a shopping mall, cinemas and everything that makes for a proper film village that will cater for film production and entertainment. It is estimated that from 1000 to 5000 will be employed during construction and when in full operation.
The probability of Delta, possibly the state capital, Asaba, being a viable site for Nollywood Film Village is high, in Ugbomah and chairman, Film and Video Producers and Marketers Association of Nigeria (FVPMA), Nobert Ajaegbo’s estimation. Ajaegbo said Asaba has since overtaken Lagos and Enugu as hubs for moviemaking in the country, adding, “Film output from Asaba alone is about 60/70 per cent; it will be very good location to site a film village”.
UGBOMAH also took time to lend his voice to the controversy trailing Half of a Yellow Sun film, saying, certain aspects of the film should indeed be removed because of the sensitivity issues they raise. He, however noted that the controversy was uncalled for, as it was affecting investors’ confidence in coming to do business in the country’s film industry.
According to him, “Half of a Yellow Sun dispute is affecting investors. I support the film, but there are some scenes that shouldn’t be shown because of the sentiments they could provoke, especially at this time of security alertness. If the producers of the film didn’t look down on Nollywood, they should have cried to the industry guilds and we would have intervened. It has happened before. Chiwetel Ejiofor sees himself as being more British than Nigerian. The producers ought to have understood that a film is more political than entertainment; so, it’s truth should be politically correct. America failed in Vietnam, but Hollywood’s films about that war portrays America as the victorious side; that’s film politics!
“Nollywood should form a string council to confront government on Half of a Yellow Sun. if the filmmaker didn’t look down on Nollywood, things should have been different”.