‘Government House’ forced me into exile — James Okoye
Some years ago, it is a usual occurrence to see politicians, journalist and human rights activists running into exile for some of the anti-government activities they are involved in but for James Louis Okoye, his story is different. He ran into exile in a democratic society after producing a movie the about randy nature of one of the ruling governors, a film that unofficially marked him as an enemy of the state. In this chat with AHAOMA KANU, he revealed how his quest to go the extra mile in producing good movies made him flee the country and also the challenges as well as his success story today. Excerpts:
YOU are well into entertainment here in Nigeria, can you tell us how you and when you ventured into showbiz?
My name is James Louis Okoye; I am from Anambra State and I am into the entertainment industry. It all started a long time ago, I could still remember one Innocent Igbokwe that introduced me into Nollywood, I came in as an actor in 1994, and that was how it all started for me till I found myself where I am today.
How did you continue to nurture that dream that you would become someone great in the entertainment industry?
After the movie in 1994, I started looking for something better to do, and someone took me to NAICO, where I worked for a while and after that I had the opportunity of traveling out of the country for a while, Germany to be precise for about four years, and came back with the zeal of still being part of the success story in the entertainment industry. And this time around, I came in as an executive producer and not an actor and my first work which I produced was Dark Moments that had the likes of Emeka Ike, Omotola Jalade Ekehinde and a host of others. After that, I sponsored another movie two years later with title Government House which feature the likes of Onyeka Onwenu, Chinyere Wilfred, Kenneth Okonkwo and others.
The unique thing about my kind of movie is that I like doing something real; I don't just tell stories for the fun of it. In fact because of one of my movies entitled Government House, I had to live with one of my close family relation in Anambra State Government house then during the tenure of Dr. Chris Ngige Nwabueze .Being there afforded me the knowledge of what transpires inside the seat of power then and the movie was all about the Governor, his wife, his mistress and his sister. I wanted to do the abduction saga but the way it happened, someone else did it before me but could not do it the way it should have been so with that I had to leave it that way.
Like I said Government House was more like a documentary of what happened in Anambra State politics, and after the movie was out, trouble broke out between me and the governor; I had to leave the country for a life in exile for two years because he started looking for me everywhere but had to leave office due to the election tribunal judgment that sacked him from power, I had to have a re-think about my coming back home to Nigeria and finally here I am back home and doing what I have always loved doing.
You said you lived in Government House in order to understand the affairs in government and produced a movie that got you into the governor's bad books, how did you get into the government house in the first place?
He never wanted me to stay in Government, in-fact I must be open here, I was working for the wife, then I got the fact of what was going on in Government House .
The scenario then was something typical of what is obtainable in the country.
Imagine a state where the elder sister to the governor, Bene, would be instructing her brother on how to run the state and how both the wife and the elder sister were in a supreme tussle for power on who is either the first lady or the first sister, if there is anything like first sister, so much happened there in Government House that was replayed in the movie and it was just what was Nigerians never got to know about.
Don't you think you might have abused the privilege extended to you by bringing the private affairs of a government into the public domain?
It is due to the fact that I am blunt that made me venture into what I a did, if I had my way, I would have called it Ngige Saga or Ngige Story, but the way things are done in Nigeria you can't just do things because you would have wanted to do them, but because of the after effect, you tend to cool down abit
Don't you think you went too far by exposing someone's privacy?
Well it is one thing for someone to write a story for me to produce and another for me to understand that it is not a work of fiction and in this case, I was right there where the governor was having the fun of his life with his strings of mistresses, I would not mention names .I love saying things the way they are the lady in question is from Abatete in Idemili Anambra state, she was the mistress to the governor but is now late, she died during the heat of the struggle by the governor to keep his seat from the present helmsman now in power. Then the government brought her to live inside the government house, without the first lady knowing and all that because every government house is always a big place with so many guest houses so the power play then became so fierce that many people thought that the mistress would become the first lady, so it was really interesting to experience and a movie to watch if anyone had missed it in the past.
So from your experience, the then governor was not a faithful husband and government official at that time?
In Nigeria, ninety-nine percent of politicians are not faithful to their vows, Ngige was not an exception, he just found himself at the centre of the whole drama, and I myself got a good story that Nigerians needed to know about.
You said you traveled to Germany to make ends meet, how challenging was life in exile?
Germany wasn't too easy for me, in Germany the name to survive is hursling, that is doing anything you can to make money so as to make a living, I tried but it was so unnatural to find myself doing things that I am not used to, so I had to come back to Nigeria, and it was while I was back home that I got a visa to the United Kingdom, where I have been ever-since. While in the United Kingdom, I did so many jobs to survive but doing those kinds of jobs only made me happy so I happened to have worked as a nurse and care giver, it really made me happy tending to people who needed help and it gave me good money that I am investing in the entertainment industry today.
You just veered into music promotion with the coming of JALOU Entertainment, so what is your mission statement in the industry?
To be honest with you, I have an unfinished album, an unfinished album because it is not yet in the market, so I can be like any other artiste but I know also that I can make other artistes who are asking for people to look them and give them an opportunity to make a difference, that is what I want to do in this country. These are people who can sing better than Tuface, D'banj and the likes, and it because of these people that I came out to make a difference in the world of music, most times people that has this talents are those from very humble background and all that, nobody is ready to listen to them and give them the much needed opportunity they require in their career. In Jalou Media, we do a whole lot of things ranging from events planning and packaging, the records side of the business is different from Jalou Media, the music arm is James Louis records, I know I have signed three artistes, one group that comprises of a three man sensation, one female artiste who we know as Adaeze and another chap called Lamboginny, a guy that does wonders with the micro- phone.
So what did you see in them that made you think you could work with them in your label?
I had a talent hunt show locally, that saw me listening to about a hundred people who wanted to be part of the success story of Jalou label, and at the end of the day, only those three who are presently working with me, made it into my label.
The only female artiste under your label Adaeze is so big that one would think she would find it difficult to pull her weight in the industry, so what did you see in her that made you think you could work with her ?
Adaeze is just different, she is unique, and she has this golden voice that stands her out whenever she sings in her church at Christ Embassy.
I met her through a friend who brought her to me telling me that she can sing but that the only problem with her is that she is very fat. And I asked what does one being fat has to do with voice, so I put her through the talent show which she came out successful. All thanks to my friend Arinze Nduka, without whom I would not have met Adaeze, after that , she was just doing her thing whether you like it or not until she entered the studio and was transformed into something the world had only beheld maybe only once since the earth came into existence, and I know she will go far.
So is she like any other Nigerian artiste?
She is an artiste with class; someone who would go far in the business of music as far as Nigeria is concerned. Apart from her voice, she is quite big, she is just Adaeze, like her name says the daughter of a king, not a hungry King here but a rich one that is the meaning of her name.