PART 2:KALU IKEAGWU'S PLIGHT IN GHANA
We promised to bring you the concluding part of the Ghanian saga that involved our own Kalu Ikeagwu. Reading it alone, i could feel the tension, danger, selfishness and manipulations of man.
I urge that you read on my people……
“…….The new hotel we moved into was large and spacious and I was checked into it at about eleven pm by the production manager and the producer who did not speak to me throughout the journey and remained in the vehicle while I was being checked in. I supposed she was busied by her thoughts. I was to find out later that she had had a disagreement with the director's wife over his wife's rejection of some dingy rooms she tried to lodge us in.
A good week to everyone and many many thanks for the wonderful support you've shown me in my good, bad and funny times. You are truly a remarkable bunch! I liked the room; it was spacious and had enough room to practice my new found love; martial taekwondo kicks. I had a good night's rest and the next morning after my stretches, I sauntered outside to see what the neighbourhood was like and to my pleasant surprise I met one of my colleagues I'd worked with before in Nigeria and another man I did not know on their way back to the hotel I was lodged. After exchanging pleasantries I asked them what they were doing in Ghana and they told me they were in the middle of a movie production (the other man was the producer of the project) and were just coming back form the police station. Curious, I asked them what had happened and Victor, the producer said, they had gone to report an armed robbery incident in his hotel room the night before – the very hotel I was checked into the night before! Shocked, I asked him what had happened. He narrated the story of how the night before at about 2am, he woke suddenly to see two armed men in his room bending over him. They were armed with a machete and an axe and in hushed tones ordered him to bring his suitcase which he did. They rifled through it and took all the tapes he had with him, his passport and little else, then ordered him to get into the bathroom, locked him in and made off into the darkness. Fortunately for him, he said, he had kept the tapes of the scenes he had shot on the production in a different place and only had the master tapes of old projects on him at the time of the robbery. I didn't know what to think. What I did know was that I did not feel safe in that hotel and I told my producer as such. We, the director and I, were soon moved to another hotel in the Dzorwulu district of Accra which was much nearer the locations that had been earmarked for shooting in.
We still did not start production until Sunday the 10th of July and when we did, the pace was slow. We did not begin recording until about 11am daily even though some of us were ready for work by 8am. Most of the challenges were due to poor logistics and costuming problems. The director was very particular about his shots – he was very meticulous about his work – and went to great lengths to rehearse and put the actors through their blockings. We managed a range of two to seven scenes a day. I had told the director I would be starting another job on Monday the 19th of July and would be leaving for Nigeria on Friday the 16th. If I couldn't finish my scenes before I left, I could still come back to finish them when I was done with Nigeria. He said no problem and we worked on. On Monday I called the
producer and told her I would be leaving on Friday and would appreciate it if the scenes I had to do were given priority so I'd have less time to spend on set were I to have to come back to complete and she told me she'd see to it.
Wednesday came and at the end of production for the day I was called to a meeting with the producer, the production manager and my friend the director. They told me that after checking the schedule and the amount of work I had left, it was clear that my leaving on Friday would be detrimental to their production. You know that agape feeling you get when you are being blamed for your mother's (don't mean to be crude but I'm trying to look for the most monstrous illogic) loss of her virginity? They honestly had to be absolutely mad to brazenly make that request! After two weeks of indolence, and giving them an additional three days? Abeg abeg! Make I no jus vex for here as I just de think am! I politely told them where to jump into; my set date was fixed and there was no turning back. My friend the director told me he would see to it that I did not leave till I finished his shoot and that I would do well to comply because I would have my good image tarnished in Ghana and he would bring in the bigwigs from either of the two countries to compel me to do my duty. I told him his threats would fall flat in his face and left before I said or did anything I would regret. The producer and the production ran to my room begging me to give them a few more days and I told them I wasn't in the right frame of mind to give them an answer but that we could talk at the end of production the next day.
The next day being Thursday, at the end of production at about 1am, the producer came to my room again with her production manager to implore me to give them an extra four days on set. She asked me to think of her situation and think of my own mother and take pity on her. I told her I had obligations as well and would have to pay the other production I was scheduled to work with their money if I didn't turn up for theirs. She said she didn't have any money left and it was back to square one. After prevailing on me for quite a while I agreed to give them three extra days from Friday where I would return Monday's first flight to Nigeria on the condition that they would buy me a ticket for the first flight to Nigeria on Monday the 19th of July, and that I would have the ticket in my possession by 10am that Friday. They readily agreed thanked me and we called it a night.
In the morning on Friday I went on set with the director and other members of the crew and waited for the other actors to turn up. We waited till about 11am and still they hadn't showed up – and neither had my ticket. I called the producer and asked her what was going on. She told me she had purchased the ticket and invited the lady at the travel agency she had booked to confirm it to me. She did and I relaxed. 2pm came and still none of the other actors I was to work with had turned up. With quite some irritation and some unease, I called the airline my flight was supposed to be on and asked to confirm my flight. I was told that my flight had indeed been booked but had not been paid for. I saw red. Here I was on set with a view to finish as many scenes as I could as agreed and the production manager had not even ensured his production was running smoothly by getting all his actors to work on time and worse still, the production did not seem interested in fulfilling its own end of the bargain. I picked my bag and headed for the road and hailed a passing taxi. I got in, told the driver to take me to my hotel but before he could move the production manager and some of the crew members prevented the driver from moving off. Not many pretty words escaped my mouth that afternoon and I did utter some expletives my mother would be shocked at hearing from me. It seemed someone had alerted the producer on what was going on because a short while later someone came to me and told me the ticket had been paid for. I called the airline again and this they did confirm that the ticket for the flight had been paid. I went back to work but it was not until 5.30pm that the other actors showed up. We could only do two scenes that day.
I got back to the hotel at 12.30am and immediately went to bed, only to be woken up from my sleep a while later by a knock on my door. I checked the time on my watch; it was 1.30am. I went to the door and asked who it was and heard the voice of the producer saying it was she. I opened the door to see the producer and three fierce looking men I had not seen before. I asked her what she wanted and she told me she wanted to give me my ticket. When I asked her who the men with her where and why they were with her, she told me they were her brothers and they were there to have a talk with me. I was compelled to go downstairs with them to the poolside.
As soon as we got there they brandished a document they called a contract and told me I was going to sign the contract and state that I was going to stay on the producer's set until I finished the job. I told them I would not sign the contract at that time of the night with people I did not know. They told me if I did not sign it, they (two of them were soldiers) would drag me to their barracks and deal with me mercilessly there. I explained to them that it would be foolish of me to sign something I didn't know about without any witness on my side. The younger of the two soldiers( they were in plain clothes) lost his patience. He pushed his chair back, stood up and barked out to his colleagues to allow him bundle me into a waiting SUV that was parked nearby. I kept my cool, appearing unruffled but inside I was quaking in my sweaty boots. Here I was in the middle of the night, no one to see what was going on, nobody to call, in a country I knew nobody. I could be taken to anywhere and anything could be done to me. My family didn't even know where I was! I remembered I had God who was everywhere with me and the fear melted away. I sat resolute. Exasperated they called my director friend to come downstairs and talk some sense into his stupid Nigerian brother.
When he came down, they told me I now had a friend I could rely on my side and so I had just found a reliable witness; I should sign. I refused and my friend the director asked for their permission to speak with me in private. We went to a corner and he told me I could be taken anywhere and whatever happened to me, it would be their word against mine – and I would lose because I wasn't an indigene. Furthermore, they could tarnish my hard earned name I had worked so hard for in a beat. I was to reconsider my position, sign the contract and let everyone go in peace. It kind of smacked of a 'good cop', 'bad cop' game to me – my very own director friend who was purported to be on the lookout for me selling me down the river to my face! I chose not to do so and was forced to get into the backseat of the waiting car, a man seated on either side of me. I asked them where they were taking me but they refused to answer me, telling me I would find out soon enough. We drove for what seemed like ten minutes before we parked in front of a police station. We went in and the producer began to narrate her version of the story to two desk officers in charge. She told them of how I was trying to abandon her job after only six days of work when I was contracted to stay on for sixteen days. My friend the director came to the same station moments later and corroborated her story. I told the police it was not true, that I had given twenty one days of my time, and was still in the middle of production when I was abducted from my hotel in the middle of the night and forced to sign a document I did not know about.
The police told them that according to the Ghanaian law, I could not be compelled to sign a document against my will and the fact that I had begun working with them and had not refused to work with them, I could not be held. They did insist though, that the time I had spent prior to the commencement of shoot was of no significance and I was to complete the ten remaining days. I objected to this and we were told we'd have to wait at the station until the senior officer in charge of the station arrived at 9am. We waited. As we waited I noticed the producer having some surreptitious conversation in the darkness behind some trees with a uniformed man whose rank I would later recognise to be that of an inspector. In self preservation I called the director and told him I was willing to sign the documents on the condition that the producer would let me board my flight for Monday to do my one shoot with Tinsel after which I would come back on Thursday for a four day shoot with them. He told them and they readily agreed. We sat down and I signed the papers; it was 6am. I went to bed at 7am and got up at 11am and went to work. We did quite some work that Saturday but had to strike set early on Sunday – 6pm- because some locations had not been confirmed.
Monday morning came without a hitch. I got to the airport, boarded my plane and got home without any ado. This post wasn't created to exacerbate the silly (as far as I'm concerned) feud between Nollywood vs Gollywood, Most of my therapy has come from writing about my experience. There's something very exorcising about writing about trauma. Everything good or bad is forced to be put in perspective. My relationship with Frieda was sorely tested through this incident, and I have resolved to review the way I do business in future, to be watchful in my dealings with people to weigh their words with their actions. I must at this point iterate that this was a unique incident borne out of lack of communication, lack of planning and rash decision making on the part of the producer instigated by my friend, the director (who happens to be Nigerian). I say unique because this in no way affects the goodwill I bear towards my beloved Ghanaians with whom I have had benevolent dealings for the past fifteen years and have proved to be exceptional hosts to me in my time in Ghana. I still haven't abandoned the project but have prudently stayed my hand until we (the production company and my management team) both conclude on the legal matters that will ensure we both work in harmony. I want to especially thank those of you who have made it this far. I promise you that missives like this will not come often. Let's pray my next post will be on a much lighter note than this hairy, dreary drudgery. “
What can i say? I am speechless people. We need to be careful. Are those people really movie producers? We thank God for Kalu's life and safety.