Ugbomah: Those opposed to ban of film production abroad are unpatriotic

A pioneer in the country’s showbiz industry, veteran filmmaker, Chief Eddie Ugbomah, has been in the forefront of motion picture production and music promotion in Nigeria. Till date, he’s still listed as the only African to have shot 13 films on celluloid. An Officer of the Order of Niger (OON), the former Director General of Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC) and an adviser to the Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board (NFCVB), believes that, though the creative industry is one of the greatest revenue sources in a country like the US, the sector remains untapped in Nigeria due to government’s inability to develop a policy to harness the abundant opportunities to create wealth. In this interview with CHUKS NWANNE, the ever-vocal filmmaker spoke on a wide range of issues bedeviling the industry, with focus on the proposed plan by the Federal Government to ban Nigerian artistes from shooting films abroad

As one of the founding fathers of showbiz in Nigeria, what’s your take on the creative industry today?
The creative industry, particularly the movie and music, which I’m one of the pioneers, has suddenly jumped into coma; it’s just drowning. And if you look at it, it’s self-made punishment, which is sad.

Like they are crying now, which I’ve been crying more than 20 years ago, entertainment is bigger than oil. Look at groups like The Beetles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals… look at the millions they are making for England. America is using film to threaten the world. Today, everybody wants to be an American; everybody wants to speak like the Americans. It’s the power of their communication, not their nuclear power.

In Africa, Nigeria is a leading light when it comes to filmmaking. How come we’ve not taken a cue?
What did we do with entertainment in Nigeria? I fought Olusegun Obasanjo government (as Head of State) with the support of only one person, Ola Balogun. They got fed up with my harassment and made a decree that banned foreigners from getting involved in making movies in Nigeria. They also stopped giving foreign exchange to make films outside. At that time, many of these fake advertising agencies were using film as a front to siphon money from rich Lebanese and Nigerians.

In the name of shooting documentary and commercials, they would quote bills so they can collect money from Central Bank of Nigeria. I know a multi- millionaire advertising agency man who made money by siphoning money from people. Later, the Buhari-Idiagbon regime came in and enhanced the Decree. He said that, ‘anybody, who wants to make a Nigerian film, unless a Nigerian, should make it in Nigeria and no more foreign exchange. That was how the tricks dropped.

Were there any gains from enacting that decree at the time?
Well, one thing we gained, especially myself, Ade Love, Hubert Ogunde and others, was that our films were being shown; at least, at the National Theatre. Because, these Lebanese… if you meet them to show your film, they will agree and give you six months notice; they will frustrate you. But when this Decree threw them out, we were able to hawk our films like biscuits for people to come and see.

We showed them in halls, schools and stadiums, but at least, we were showing Nigerian films made in Nigeria. It became a boom; that’s what these young people are enjoying today, which they didn’t want to know how people like us fought for it. Now, you look at where they are today, to me, they are in the middle of nowhere; the industry is nowhere.

Why did you say so?
Ben Bruce and myself spoke seriously to former president Goodluck Jonathan and he gave $200 million to the industry; NEXIM Bank won’t let us access the money. They were asking for our father’s name, our mother’s name, our bank account, our lands… they didn’t even think of those with reputation that the economy might have frustrated, people like me.

I was one of the first to apply and I was the first to be refused; they didn’t give me, you can imagine. I was always expunged from the list and they say, ‘oh, he’s a troublemaker.’ Now, I want to ask them, 145 of them were given N5 million each to make film more than one and half years ago, where are the movies?

Are you saying they didn’t invest the money in shooting movies?
Ask them, did they make the films? They chop the money because they are bankrupt already. They used it to pay rent and marry new girlfriends or just enjoy themselves. Today, you can’t use N5 million to produce a movie; it’s nothing. They are shouting about fighting corruption, many of them (filmmakers) are going to be probed very soon. Even at that, they shared another N400 million to people and they say, some people don chop before, we never chop. So, they are giving them money just because they come from the right political party or right godfather or right connection.

In your opinion, that’s not how to support the industry?
No, the industry is in the gutter; badly managed. When I was shouting and talking, nobody took me serious. To worsen the situation, how can Multichoice, now joined by Iroko TV, be making films in Nigeria and airing it here without censorship? Can you take any film into America or London today and show it because you’re a cable TV? Even when Aljazeera wanted to enter US, they had to buy the Vice President of US TV station before they were allowed into the US. But here, anything goes.

But it seems government is beginning to show genuine interest in the creative industry, at least with the creative industry summit hosted by the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture

I laugh at all of you, what are you talking about? Go outside and do something; the money is out there waiting for you. Government, we don’t need your money; what we need are the encouragement and level playing ground.

For instance, the government can say, ‘everybody that invests in Nigerian films, we give you 10 per cent discount in tax.’ People will rush out because they will get a tax rebate. Every cinema house that shows Nigerian films, you give them rebirth. Multichoice, which has been exploiting this country for over 20 years, there are over 20 million decoders in Nigeria. Give only N200 per decoder to the entertainment industry; they will be making N60 million per month without sweating it. So, what are they saying? The money is there, let them go and pick it.

Look at Nigerian banks; they are always advertising on CNN every day. In case you don’t know, it’s Nigerian banks that are keeping Arise TV. What have they given to the arts and artists they use in those commercials? What money have they brought home from all those adverts? All they have to do is to just give one per cent of their profit to the creative arts like they do all over the world.

Could you give examples of countries where such is obtainable?
They do it in Britain; they have a special fund for the arts brought in by corporate companies; the British Film Institute is the one that shares the money to the art. Yes, the government gives them support, but they don’t give so much because the owners don’t want the government to control their content.

Look at America; their government put billions in movies indirectly. For instance, when they are shooting a movie in America, the government gives them those Jet bombers, ships and original soldiers mixed with artists free. That’s to warn you that if you mess with America, they will deal with you; it’s a big investment. Nigeria has the same power with film in Africa, we should explore it.

Some people are of the opinion that lack of a physical structure for Nollywood like they have for Hollywood in the United States, is a challenge to the industry. Do you agree with that?
Let me tell you, I brought some people from America with money to open a film village in Delta State. I spent two days talking with the former governor of Delta State. I went to see him with the investors and he entertained us. He said I should write him a budget for the project, but I told him, ‘don’t bring a penny; let’s use the American money to build the film village.’ All we wanted was a land; Nigerian media carried it.

He agreed, with RMD (Richard Mofe Damijo), who was his Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, to give us land to build the film village; I can show you all the documents here. But Uduaghan was busy fighting to become a senator and for his boy to be governor; he didn’t do anything.

And what happened to the project?
Now that Okowa came in as governor, he called me again to apologise; that was February last year. He said it was a good idea that they would like to do it. He sent one of his directors to me. We went back to Delta and did a presentation to them and everything. What were the commissioners doing? Twelve of them were busy fighting that, ‘Eddie should have come to see me at home so that I can push it.’ See you for what?

They are the ones supposed to be pampering me, sending me air ticket and hotel booking. But no, we paid our bills; that thing flopped. It happened with Fashola too; he was to give us a land at Seme Border so we can build this world-class resort for filmmaking. The idea is that when you are shooting film, you don’t have to see people on your set. If you are shooting a film here and okada passes, you cannot stop them. There’s no light, so, you have to use generator; you have the issue of generator noise to deal with. But if you have a studio, it will be generating it’s own power.

What kills most of our films is sound; our stories are not too bad. We are the one the world is waiting for. The world is waiting for African cinema to start from Nigeria, but our shooting system is zero.

Most Nollywood movies are shot mostly in Asaba these days, but it seems Delta State Government is yet to take advantage of the opportunity that it presents?
They don’t know because they don’t want to listen. When you put a surveyor as Commissioner for Arts and Culture, what do you think he’s going to talk? I volunteered to go there; they should have been so grateful to drag me down there to help deal with the situation. I planned to open an entertainment academy there, but things are not working.

I want to ask you a question, show me where’s Nollywood? Now, I have some Brazilians coming to Nigeria to visit me because of the launching and induction of Movie and Music Makers Hall of Fame because we don’t have a historical centre. Most of these young musicians today don’t know who is Njemanze Nwoba; they don’t know EC Arinze, Agu Norris and the rest. They don’t know because there’s no historical centre for them to go and read about them and things that happened before they were born.

That’s why you see some of those boys, when they make little money, they will start threatening everybody. ‘I can do whatever I like; it’s my money.’ Which money? It’s we, who cleared that roads you are enjoying today. Some of them go on tour abroad and they earn dollars; they change it with the Mallams and not banks. So, they are not patriotic too; they should shut up.

How was it like growing the movie industry?
It was a tough challenge, but we were able to push things. Without Kenny Ogungbe and D1, who turned Nigerian music around to the extent that we are no more craving for the likes of Michael Jackson and Cliff Richard, you won’t have an industry to play in today.

And without me deciding to promote black artistes from 1966 when Nigerians were worshiping Cliff Richard, The Shadows, The Blues, all white groups before I brought Millie Small from London to tour Nigeria. From there, I brought Chubby Checker, James Brown, Danny Williams, name it! I was the one, who changed the face of Nigerian music. Then, I started to encourage Nigerian musicians to go and perform abroad, both in my clubs and others; I did it. Today, Nigerians celebrate Bob Marley every year, we made Bob Marley; Nigeria made Bob Marley. The money they paid Chris Blackwell, his manager by then, were the money he used to set up Island Record. Even this millionaire today, Richard Branson, he was our record seller. Richard of Virgin Atlantic was selling records for Island Record in the streets; when we print, we give him to go and hawk. Today, he’s a multi billionaire through our efforts. Unfortunately, nobody celebrates Eddie Ugbomah.

If Nigeria truly made Bob Marley, how come he never played here?
People are talking about Bob Marley; he refused to come to Africa until when he went to play in Zimbabwe because of publicity. If not, we tried over and over again for him to come and perform in Nigeria. No, he was asking for too much money. He was a Negrophobist, but people are deceived; they don’t get the facts.

Yes, he was a great musician. He was a revolutionary musician, but I cannot compare him with Fela at all. Fela is just too high for him. Have you heard any of these musicians say anything about me? Do they know who originated and civilized them? They don’t know.

And you attribute that to lack of historic centres?
There’s no historical centre for them to go and learn how the industry was made. In fact, we have the same problem in almost all the sectors in the country. I asked a question, who is the father of Obasanjo? Nobody knows the history. Who is the father of Murtala Mohammed, nobody knows. Who is the father of Babangida, nobody knows. Who is the father of Abacha, nobody knows. Maybe Ernest Shonekan can at least give us his family history. It’s an achievement for the children of ordinary Nigerians to end up as Head of State, so, what are they hiding to expunge history?

It seems you believe so much in Nigeria?
This is a great nation; this is a country that does not need oil. Just few days ago, they are now exporting cassava and yam. Is it today that we’ve had them with us? The worst of all, I regretted ever being a Nigerian and being born a Delta man. If I were Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa, with my achievements and know-how, they will be begging me to come and be chairman of a committee and help do something.

I remember one little effort I put when they gave me a budget of N88 million to build a colour lab in Jos. My board and myself finished it with N35 million. We returned the balance to the government. You can ask anybody, it happened in this country; Tony Momoh was there, Babangida was the Head of State. But you know what Nigerians did? They killed it.

Because they were using film to siphon money. They refused to go there to process their films. Every government in Nigeria was using foreign exchange to process their films in England. The laboratory is there in Jos, why do you need foreign exchange to travel abroad? They watched it die; that place died because Nigerians couldn’t steal money to go abroad. I’ve never worked for the government but, I’ve served the country in many ways. I’ve paid my dues in many ways. And coming back to this powerful but ignored industry, the entertainment, I pity Nigeria.

The Minister for Information recently announced plans by the Federal Government to ban Nigerian artistes from shooting films abroad and it has generated a lot of controversies. What do you have to say on this?
It’s a pity the Minister didn’t beg me to announce such a thing. I’ve been crying about it for centuries, which was why I made sure we make Nigerian films made in Nigeria by Nigerians. But Nigerians killed it; they allowed that film lab to die in Jos. Why should you collect Nigeria’s money to go to South Africa and shoot a stupid video you could shoot here? You can give Nigerians the jobs, let Nigerians gain from you because you made the money here.

I’ve told Lai Mohammed already, ‘don’t talk; you are talking too much.’ Let them make their rubbish in South Africa or Congo or London, when they bring it home, they will meet NBC (Nigeria Broadcasting Commission). NBC will tell them, ‘any station that shows this foreign programme, you are closed down, finished!’ Nobody will tell them to make home content and eat at home. Do you know that the entire African countries do not show any film on their stations than Nigerian films? If we have a place in Nigeria where you have film village, where all Africans will come and shoot, we will be eating forever. South Africa doesn’t make films; they only sell location and technology. We have locations here and we should promote and make use of them.

But sometimes, it seems Nigeria is not properly promoting her destinations?
Let me give them a little bit of excuse, like those kids, who were saying there’s no equipment in Nigeria, there’s no light… they are talking rubbish! American government didn’t build Hollywood, Jewish businessmen built it during the time of recession. The British Government didn’t build Pinewood Studios; that’s where they’ve been shooting James Bond, Julius Caesar and other productions; private people own it. So, why can’t our private persons, who want to make cement for N1000 and sell for N5000, sit down and see the potentials in the creative industry? Everything is oil and gas, oil and gas… why can’t they see the future of this industry? After over 19 years of shouting, nobody listened.

Though there are numerous challenges facing the industry, distribution seems to be a major issue?
There are about 774 local councils in this country, let each of them have a viewing centre, which is in their budget already. Do you know what it means to have your films in 774 local councils in one month? You will make your money back in one week; that’s the trick Americans use. Whether the film is sweet or not, they put the film ‘bang’ in all their cinemas. So, by Friday when journalists carry biro to criticise the film, you have made your money back. Now, the world gets better during recession; that was when American entertainment became big.

Government should beg artistes to create great stories because people want to laugh and forget situations. Look at Hitler; he fought wars with movies; he made a movie creating super human being Germans. Ojukwu used movie to get the support of the world during the Civil War; he was crying in the film about the massacre of the Igbo and the whole world sympathised with him.

What I’m saying is, this is a big power, future job giver and GDP earner that is being ignored. So, don’t speak grammar in Ikeja and Eko Hotel; get outside and do your job.

The artistes have questioned the Federal Government’s right to decide where they shoot their films, could you comment on this?
Sure, because they are not nationalistic; they are not patriotic. I feel sorry for them that they can go out and table a Nigerian; you should be proud to be Nigerian. You should shoot your videos in Nigeria; do everything in Nigeria.

Do you have to wait for government to give you everything? If government gives you everything, they control it. What are those people talking about? You think by putting bottles of drinks on the table and spraying money is music? They are dry; they are empty upstairs, what are they composing? What’s the content of their music? Can’t you see there’s no creativity among them?

But how much is the country losing to filming abroad?
Billions, because some of them think it’s an achievement to have shot their videos in South Africa. There’s one big artiste, I don’t want to give his name; he shot a video in South Africa to compete with his former colleague. You know what happened, when they brought 50 girls just to be shaking their waists at $1000 each, he was like, ‘for what?’ In the night, he just packed his load and entered the first plane to Kenya; he cannot go back to South Africa again. They are exploiting us and they have murdered us here in Nigeria with Multichoice and Dstv.

Are you saying that Multichoice has not supported the Nigerian entertainment industry enough?
They are practically exploiting us. They came in through, my brother, Emeka Mba. And Tony Momoh, who was the Minister of Information asked them to see Eddie Ugboma the Chairman of Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC) to decide. I told Emeka, ‘I will never allow these people to come in because, in the next 10 to 15 years, they will destroy our industry.’ Emeka said, ‘no, they are bringing in money; they want to put money into our industry.’ I said, ‘alright, if that’s the truth, let them come.’ He was a young man, about 26 or 27 years old that time. They came to this house to greet and thank me. But what did they do, they found me first and foremost their enemy. So they made sure they cut me off.

Now, they started repackaging Nigerian films; like Amaka Igwe’s Rattles Snake and Mofe Damijo’s film as well. But I said, ‘no, you didn’t come here to package films; you are here to invest money.’ Then they wanted to prove to Eddie, who thinks he’s a celluloid filmmaker that they could shoot on celluloid. They shot few of them, like the one with Olu Jacobs and his wife having twins; Nigerians were celebrating. I said to them, ‘these guys are setting trap for you and when they catch you, it will be hard to go. Gbam, they came in with Doctors Quarters and they were paying N200,000 per episode. Boom, big money; every artiste went berserk. But then, when Kate Henshaw and Jimi Odumosu found out that it was a deceit; they were using them for posters and different advertising materials. They said, ‘no, you are not paying us for those things…’ They sacked them. They dropped Kate Henshaw. Kate took up the case with me and Ejike Asiegbu. We applied to them, but when they slapped us with contracts Nigerians signed, yakata; we could not talk.

Like now till tomorrow, there’s a contract they sign when they buy your film that they have the right to show your film anywhere, anytime and as long as they want. And because Nigerians are hungry, they just signed it.

Is that still in practice today?
Yes, they signed off everything; the director, producer, writer you don’t have anything because, they don’t have patience to get an entertainment lawyer. To even worsen it, if not that we Nigerians are very gullible, how can Iroko TV and Multichoice be financing films in Asaba and some part of Enugu now and they don’t censor them? They just put it on air because they think NBC is not powerful enough? The censors’ board man has been calling them for a meeting and they refused to turn up. All the man needs to do is to tell the police to arrest them and close the place.

But is it possible to have a film screened in Nigeria without going through censorship?
Nobody censored them; they are the ones doing censorship in Nigeria and for Nigerians because they say they are cable TV. It’s an insult; I don’t know where Lai Mohammed is, I’ve been calling him. I’ve been here for over 50 years in music in film. Thank God I can still think and talk; this is my only profession and I don’t want to die to see the thing in this gutter where it is today.

Some corporate organisations and individuals are beginning to show interest in the creative industry. To what advantage will that be to the industry?
Well, I saw on TV the meeting they had at Renaissance Hotel in GRA Ikeja; I saw Tony Elumelu at the meeting. What was he looking for there? Elumelu called us in a meeting at the National Theatre about four months ago that he had $100 million to give to the industry; all he wanted is guarantee from the government that all the hindrances that impedes the making of the money are released so that he can make the money back.

Ten of us, big filmmakers have written to him; he didn’t acknowledge any of them. Look at Heritage Bank; they gave millions to Big Brother Nigeria for sponsorship. They call it Big Brother Nigeria, but it was shot in South Africa. Look at The Voice Nigeria, where are they shooting it now? They are shooting it in South Africa.

And because they know we are cheap, they get some people from the industry, if you talk to them they say, ‘yes, they are right; they are the ones helping us.’ But you don’t blame them, where did most of them train? What’s their background? Most of them were traders, who jumped into the industry because there’s no discipline and no association to protect it.

But Multichoice has explained why they are shooting in South Africa. In fact, poor power supply in Nigeria is one of the major challenges when it comes to shooting a live reality show. Don’t you think they have a point?
But Nigeria is good for them to sell and make money? It’s good for them to exploit? What’s not good enough? The same mistake the information minister is making, he said they are going to give 13 episodes to CNN to shoot and show the world our locations. Why CNN? That shows our inferiority complex again; that’s why these boys go out. We have boys here; I can sit down here and give you five directors that can compete with any director in the world. When you talk about directing, it’s about equipment and knowing how to use them. The other time, they gave money to some people to go to America for capacity building and you expect them in eight weeks to learn anything, when we used four year-degree?

Look at our universities, they have department of theatre arts; some of them have bias for film, but they don’t have cameras. When I read cinematography, which people like Tunde Kelani followed, they threw us at the studios. Out of the four-year course, we spent only one and half years in the class; the remaining years, they give you recommendation to studios; you stay there and see what’s happening. Those things don’t exist in Nigeria and when you want to bring the idea, they are running you down. So, those people crying, ‘there’re no amenities’, I pity them. There are no amenities, but there are too many amenities.

Many are of the opinion that the Nigeria Broadcasting Commission (NBC) played a vital role in the development of the Nigerian music industry when it introduced the local content code. Do you think the proposed code to ban film production will be as effective as the former?
Do you know the secret of that code? It was Zeb Ejiro and I, who went to NBC and demanded the code to promote local content. How can Silverbird be showing 90 per cent foreign films? All these stations were playing Michael Jackson, how do we exist there? We didn’t know the man (NBC DG) had sneaked into Lagos; he saw the thing himself and passed that law.

By the time Danladi Bako came in as DG, he followed the same footsteps; that you must play Nigerian music. The whole of Kenya plays nothing on air and television than Nigerian music; their government banned it. Go to Kenya today, you can hardly hear foreign music; their own is 99 per cent native music or close down. But you don’t blame the boys; they have a lot of cases. How can you arrest a pirate, take him to court and fine him N100,000, when the owner of the content has lost more than N50 million? And how long will the case last? Why should you make a record and give to the man in Alaba Market to make a compilation CD? It’s because there’s no control of piracy in Nigeria. In China, they cut off their heads; Japan treats pirates like murderers. We need protection from government not their money. So, the industry has to look inwards and then government should ask them, ‘where do you want us to help you?’ Not government just sitting down, ‘you take N5million, you take this, you take that,’ and they take the balance. Those in the Ministry of Finance, I hope one day the government is going to probe how they shared the money; who got what and what they did with it.

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