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There’s no discrimination in Nollywood — Asiegbu

By Bridget Amaraegbu and Carol Adhere
Ejike Asiegbu ,President of the Actors Guild of Nigeria
Ejike Asiegbu ,President of the Actors Guild of Nigeria

Ejike Asiegbu is the president of the Actors Guild of Nigeria, a position he has held for the past three years. He was guest to Vanguard recently at the unveiling of the sexiest in Nollywood promo and spoke extensively on the state of the industry.
What does the AGN do to deal with poor production quality?

I might not be involved in some of the movies but as the president, I will say we are trying our best to bring out the best in terms of quality productions, you will also notice that, what we have at the moment is much more better than what we had five to ten years back.

However it is an ongoing thing and we stop until we have gotten the best quality of film production in Nigerian movie industry.

Some actors are nonchalant and won't answer your calls preferring to let their personal assistants answer.

People think it is deliberate, do you think so?

Well while I'm not making any representations for any one, I apologise on their behalf. Beyond this , there are times when the artistes are busy and could not be reached and this is the truth. I remember when some of the artistes were banned and it was because of indiscipline in the system so when the artistes are working, there is the tendency for their PA's to keep the phones.

But let me tell you this there are several irrelevant calls that come to stars and this makes them decide not to answer any one unless they know them personally. In fact several of them reply to texts messages

What do you think is the reason why Yoruba artistes are not featured in Nollywood except the Igbos
Nollywood is not an Ibo speaking industry but group of people that have distinguished themselves in discharging of their duties, it doesn't matter where you come from, as long as you are good in what you are doing, you have the necessary requirements in terms of your language, speech and ability to interpret the script given to you, I see no reason why you can not be part of Nollywood.

But you also know that certain people love to work with certain people even in Hollywood not all people work with every one. In all producers ;love to work with those who could deliver. You cannot count the number of Yoruba people who feature in Nollywood and this is because they are very good at their jobs. Nollywood is the name given to motion picture industry in Nigeria, so whether it is Yoruba, Hausa or Igbo actor, they are all included in Nollywood.

It beats our imagination that some people try to make a case out of it when there is nothing. I think it is out of mischief that they are trying to create that confusion.

How long have you been on this seat as the president?

I've been the president of Actors Guild of Nigeria since 2005 by God's grace.
It is usually a 2yrs stay in office.

Does it mean you are doing a second tenure?

Not exactly but immediately after our two years stay, there was a congress bearing in mind that it was time for fresh elections and there were some burning issues about the previous elections we had and the constitution we had.

The general congress which comprises the national and state executives decided that we should have a review of the constitution . We had it and it was passed into law, so it was like amending the constitution.

Our executive was given a vote of confidence to stay another one year in office. Within this period we are to organise all the state and national elections which we have already started doing and also to continue the good work we have started.

Out of the seventeen states we have, we've already concluded elections in about ten so we are hopeful that by the end of August, we should be rounding up and by September we should be doing the national election. The new constitution stipulates that each tenure will now run for four years as two years is just too short for any meaningful achievement and impact.

What have the actors benefitted from your regime?

Our executive has been that of building. Since 2005 when we assumed office we've never had any rest. When we took office there was a space which we needed to fill. So we are trying to restructure the imbalance that we met and to inject and inspire leadership that will make members of Actors Guild of Nigeria to be happy because they desire something that they can be proud of.

Again before we assumed office there was no data base but today if you log onto www.actorsguildofnigeria.org, you will be fascinated at what you'll see.

Again for 14 to 15 yrs, there was no secretariat and I'm glad that you are doing this interview in this new state of the art secretariat. We have a 42KVA generating set to power the building and we also have a bus.

This present administration was able to source these things and with the support of corporate bodies and some well meaning Nigerians. As we speak today, the executive vice chairman of Universal Insurance Plc Chief Cyril Ajagu is somebody who was able to key into our vision and dream that gave us a loan to facilitate what he saw us doing and I'm happy it is not coming from a bank.

We hope to continue to improve on what we already have. All these are part of the restructuring and we are the vehicle that is used to perpetuate change in Nollywood to ensure that we constantly oil the wheel of progress in carrying out the wishes and aspirations of the association and this great country.

I must say that in the motion picture industry in this country, there is no other guild that has what we already have. We thank God and I know that a lot of our members who have sincere interest in the good things are appreciative of what we are doing.

The opening was grand according to reports, what happened that day?

At the opening ceremony of this place we had the Minister for Tourism and Culture, Senator Ita Giwa was also there just like Ambassador Musiliu Obanikoro, our own Ambassador Segun Olusola, Vice Chairman of Universal Insurance Plc, Chief Cyril Ajagu, the DG Nigerian Stock Exchange Prof. Ndi Okereke Onyiuke was ably represented, we had about ten banks who also came to grace the occasion and were ready to do business with us because we do believe that the national executive will continue to project and key into those sectors we believe shares the same dream and aspirations as we do.

This is because we believe that branding actors as strategic partners in nation building could give a lot of mileage to both the actors and the companies who want to do business with us.

This executive also discovered that actors needed to be protected as they are always out there, they stand a risk of may be loosing their lives or being incapacitated so we needed insurance. Some people welcomed the idea while others disagreed because they did not understand and the idea didn't emanate from them.

We've been able to use part of the dues paid to commence the insurance eventhough not too many people pay dues. The insurance policy is to be renewed on yearly basis and some people think it's not necessary but they only see it working when somebody dies.

So far, none of our members who are part of the insurance process has died and that is why no one has benefitted from the programme. I can assure you that our executive believe in tolerance and criticism.

Before now people used to say that our national secretariat was at Ojez because they see us having meetings there. We welcome all such things because we are in an industry where we are surrounded with a lot of rumours and envy, sometimes they become so sickening that you wonder if these people do not have any other thing to do.

I believe in an adage of one of my mentors which says that Nigeria is a project and this project is turn by turn Nig. Ltd. I'm only saying that people should support this present executive so that tomorrow when it becomes their turn, people will also give them support. We are not blowing our trumpet but let what we have done speak for us.

We also have a ranking structure where members can go and register online not the type that anybody can come up from anywhere and say he's registered. This is to discourage fraud and encourage transparency and accountability.

But unfortunately out of the 17 state chapters, it's only 3 states which include Lagos, Enugu and Abuja that bought the idea.

This administration is also planning a “screen stage award' because there are lots of actors who have not really been recognised and appreciated. We want to also use this opportunity to recognise some upcoming talents so as to encourage them to work harder and it is going to be an annual event.

We have collaborators such as DG of Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board, Minister for FCT who have accepted that we host this year's event in Abuja and we are now looking for banks who will be ready to work with us.

How do you source funds for all this projects as members do not always pay dues?

We do not have any source of fund outside members registration and that is too small for the huge projects that we have. By our constitution, our source of fund should come from grants, government, donor agencies, corporate organisations but it is not coming.

Nobody has ever done that apart from the loan we received from the vice chairman of Universal Insurance Plc but we are hoping that the well meaning Nigerians we are inviting will be able to key into our dream to take actors guild of Nigeria to the next level.

Will you say that the actors are better off now than they were before your executive came into office?

I know that we are here to protect the actors from certain obnoxious contract signed by would be producers and marketers. We also make sure that as a union, rules and regulations are provided for misconduct. We make sure we protect the image of the actors.

To an extent, before 2005 everything was in shambles. There was a vacuum that people didn't really know whether there is a guild of actors or not but since this present administration came into power, we've been able to inject some hope and confidence in the people. We also know that more things can happen in terms of achievements.

By implication of our achievements, it means that the actors are better off than they were before now.

How do you handle actors who err?

Certainly there are rules and regulations guiding the union but I must say that they have a right not to be registered members.

For such people, when they have a problem they cannot come to us because for anyone to be member of any association, he/she must abide by the rules. For us to attend to anybody, he must be a legitimate member of this association.Yes, this administration have done its best to implement the rules and regulations.

What are the first problems your executive faced when you assumed office?

When we came in, we started from nothing to where we are now. It's not been an easy road particularly with those people who do not think that we are supposed to occupy the position and most people who talk before they think.

Another part of our problem is that some people lack focus, they're envious. Part of the problems we have in this country is people thinking they are better than others.

We've heard so much rumours that we were giving 30 million, 300 million naira and so on but we thank God that we are in a country where anybody that gives you anything will want the press to carry it. I'm challenging any person who says he has given us money to come out and say it apart from the man who gave us loan.

It is just God that has kept this association going so no matter what people say, we are moving forward ever and backward never. For the past two and half years we have sacrificed our lives for this job. We don't get salaries and we are thankful to a few people who are appreciative and they are the people who galvanise us to continue to work.

As the president, how has the position affected your career,Do you still have time to take up roles in movies?

For me, I've not had time to take up roles in movies except the soap opera we did last week. Also people are scared of giving us roles because they know they have to pay the right fees that is commensurate with the job. They know we can't take peanuts.