‘I'm not a cultist’.........Gabriel Onyiyechi Okoye, a.ka. Igwe Gabosky
– Gabriel Onyiyechi Okoye, a.ka. Igwe Gabosky, the bandana-loving top Nollywood movie producer
There was no previous appointment heralding this insightful chat. It was while returning from an assignment along old Ojo Road, in the Ojo area of Lagos that it dawned on The Source that Gabriel Onyiyechi Okoye, popularly known as Igwe Gabosky, a frontliner in the Nigerian home video industry, has an office in the area. Thanks to a commercial motorcycle rider it was not difficult to locate the enormously large warehouse which doubles as his office and gym.
It was a very busy Okoye that The Source met as it was led into the premises. Okoye and a few men were busy off-loading electronics from a 40ft container. Thankfully, they were almost through with the task when we got there. After close to an hour, this 45-year-old father of four, looking refreshed, welcomed us formally into his office, inspite of the fact that there was no prior appointment.
“I don't often welcome visitors on busy days like this but...,” he said without completing the sentence.
Even at that, he was still willing to grant an interview. He started by revealing that he was born in Asaba in Delta State, but he is originally from Abatete, Idemili Local Government Area of Anambra State. The third child in a family of 10, Okoye disclosed that he was a very sturborn child who was constantly involved in one prank or the other.
But this trait did not deter him from being one of the most brilliant students in both primary and secondary school.
“I remember that my peers became afraid of me because of the energy I exhibited,” he told The Source. Little wonder he became a local football star before he secured admission into the famed University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He was later to join a Martial Arts class at the university and today holds a Black Belt in the sport.
Over the years, Okoye has worked himself into becoming a very successful businessman becoming in the process, one of the top stakeholders in the Nigerian movie industry, having produced many block-buster movies and helping champion the cause for a better movie industry.
He is a recipient of various awards both in the country and outside. Notedly, many actors and actresses in Nigeria today owe a debt of gratitude to him for bringing them into limelight.He also told The Source that he has many plans for the industry, part of which is to begin a theatre production outfit and as well build up his studio into a world class venture.
Okoye is married to a very beautiful woman and both of them are blessed with four children.
You are well known in the entertainment industry as one of the big players and you are also into other businesses. How do you manage your time?
Let me just put it this way, I have passion for what I do. I have the energy to do business - to work generally. I can work from now till tomorrow without being tired. Sometimes I forget that I have not eaten. I do not go into things because others are doing them. I make movies and sometimes If I don't make profit immediately I don't worry because of the passion I have for what I do. I know that it will get better. It's just like a driver of a vehicle, if you choose to love what you are doing, you'll find pleasure and fulfillment in what you are doing. So, somehow, I find time for all I do. I love the movie industry. I contribute my quota in the development of the industry and it does not at all affect the smooth running of my business. I even offload my goods myself with the help of others and make my money from my work.
Between business and making movie, which came first?
Business came first. It started right after my youth service. I served at the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training; Ibadan, Oyo State. While there, the National Directorate of Employment mobilised corpers on how to become self-employed. I joined them immediately and was trained on how to use cassava and maize to manufacture flour. They later decided to give us N25,000 as start- up capital. That was in 1988. But after I did my feasibility study and discovered that I would need much more than that, I rejected the money because what I needed was about N150,000. Soon, I joined the Nigerian Export Promotion Council that was advertising then that they wanted to start the first Made-in- Nigeria export promotion to overseas.They particularly wanted to go to America, Japan and London. I presented some beverages and alcoholic drinks as what I was going to export but it was rejected because some people had also presented the same products. Then an idea came to me, so I went to Benin to meet some wood carvers who worked on ebony and quickly, it was approved by the council. So I went back to Benin and asked them to carve some biblical stories like Jesus and his twelve apostles, the Virgin Mary, the Last Supper, etc, all on ebony. When we got to America, in Ohio and then to Cleveland in 1989, my items were so overwhelming that the white people embrased it. Even when the commission said no one should sell, I made more than $8,000 selling arts and craft. They even ordered for more of the religious carvings because they've never seen such before. I continued to export them to Ohio. From there, I raised money to start up my business which centred on importing female and children wears from Hong Kong. I was in it for six years.
I am sure you must have been successful in that line also, so why did you have to change it?
The business was successful but when fire engulfed my shop twice in 1991 and 1992 I had to. On one of my numerous trips to buy clothes, I saw some used electronics for sale and decided to buy them. In Nigeria, when it landed they were bought at once, unlike the clothes that would spend days in the warehouse before they are completely sold.
It was in 1992 that I switched to selling electronics. After four years when I saw how successful it had become, I ventured into foods, like bakery and peanuts.
What about movies. How did you get into the industry?
During one of my trips to Hong Kong, I saw some people shooting a movie. They asked me to feature in a scene because a black man was needed for that particular scene. I didn't oblige them. Instead, I introduced some other blacks to them, witnessed the shooting and fell in love with the movies.
Back in Nigeria some people led by Okechukwu Oguejiafor came to me and gave me a script entitled Nneka the Pretty Serpent. That was also in 1992. They asked me to sponsor it, saying that one Kenneth Nnebue had just shot a movie called Living in Bondage. I obliged them. The movie finally cost us N4.5 million. Thankfully, we made a huge profit from it. We then made a sequel to it which was also successful. This was shot with N3.9 million but was not as profitable as the first one.
We then shot The Battle of Musanga, the very first epic in Nollywood and the biggest till date. It cost us about N12.5million to shoot. Till date, I' ve sponsored other movies such as Tycoon, Beyond the Vow, Picadilly, Wedlock of Blood et cetera. I have encouraged a lot of people to come into the movie industry and limelight.
Over the past few months, there has been series of commotions coming mainly from the marketers. They claim that the Movies Framework by the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB), is not what is needed in the industry. What can you say about this, taking into consideration that you have been in the industry for several years?
Until recently that the industry started declining, we had a very promising atmosphere. We had professionals in the industry that were ready to work and build the industry. People like Amaka Igwe, Zeb Ejiro, Kenneth Nnebue and a few others. It was some boys who felt they could make quick money by producing substandard movies and doing everything against the rules of the industry that later brought down this prospect. You can see now that movies don't sell again and these boys are taking charge of the industry by doing whatever they deem right. The people I mentioned earlier and I made a presentation to the government to come to our rescue and after series of deliberations, we now have structures that will sanitise the industry. We have a new distribution framework. I am the national president of the Government licensed distributors. With this distribution framework, every copy of movie is monitored. Piracy is also put to check and the cast and crew of every movie benefit from it. It's not going to be business as usual because things must now work. This marketers must understand that it is for the good of everyone before they condemn it outrightly. I sincerely believe that this will promote content and will develop the industry.
Has the framework began officially?
But marketers are insisting that the requirements demanded by the government is quite high?
Yes, they complained about the N50 million bond required to be a licensed distributor. So it was reduced to N30 million and it is not physical cash; your insurance company or bank can write it off for you. This is in the national category. We have other categories and levels which anyone who wants to be a distributor can fit in perfectly. What we are trying to do here is to checkmate atrocities of those who have turned the industry upside down.
It's been a while since you released a movie. Why is it so and are we to expect any from you soon especially now that you are deeply involved in sanitising the industry?
I have a movie that is yet to be released. See, I do not believe in just releasing movies anyhow. I believe in quality. Won't you be disappointed in me if I release a wishy-washy production? Also, I have signed contracts with movie makers abroad. We plan to do some productions together. As for my movie, it would be released soon.
Why do people call you Igwe?
When I was in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, the cultural institution was introduced into the university. So, in my third year, I was crowned the Igwe (King) of the university community – a post reserved for gentlemen who exhibit brilliance in their academic work. The university saw a leadership quality in me that no other student back then had. So, I was crowned by well known traditional rulers in Nsukka. The school still practise such till today but I think because of cultism, it is difficult to get a student Igwe who can be respected.
What is Gabosky?
I coined it from my names which are Gabriel Onyiyechi Okoye. The “Sky” in Gabosky comes from the saying that the “sky is the limit.”
Let's talk a bit about your family. You have a very lovely wife, when and how did you meet?
We met through a mutual friend. While I left Nsukka in 1987 she entered in 1988. So when this friend who knew I was searching for a wife told me about her, I had to travel from Lagos to Nsukka to meet her. It was love at first sight but I did not propose to her. I just told her that I wanted us to be friends. Within me, I felt I needed to know her character first. It was two years later that I proposed. To my surprise, her parents refused to give their consent because I was a Catholic while they were Anglicans. They were to agree a year later. It was later that I discovered the real reason they refused me. They were finding it difficult to let their daughter go. They had a good daughter and couldn't easily part with her. Her parents had just two kids - two girls.
How many kids are you now blessed with?
We have four. Three girls and one boy. The eldest is 15 plus and the youngest is five years old.
Why do you always wear a bandana and also love being seen mainly in casuals?
I have my style and it is called the Gabosky style. I started it right from school. I started covering my head with my mum's headtie. Some people believe that those men who tie their heads are cultists but I disagree. I changed to bandana during the era it came out before I included the cap or hat. I dedicate a side of my wardrope to bandana. I have about 100 of it in different shapes and colours. I am a jeans and shirt Iover. I also like wearing very unique jewelries, not the type you see everywhere. I have my taste. I don't like gold.
A lot of people see you as a ladies man. Is it true?
(Smiles) I make friends easily. I enjoy having female friends, I enjoy having discussions with them and even dancing with them. But that is where it ends. Today, everyone is afraid of diseases that we now have everywhere, even with the use of condoms, people are still scared. By the way, most of the time, my wife is always with me. She knows I am an introvert and that I am married to my business from Monday - Saturday. We work together and if I have to go out she knows where I am. If I am leaving the place, I call her. I try as much to socialise. I go to the club on Fridays or on a Wednesday so that I could be in touch with friends. I don't drink nor smoke. In fact, I have never done them before.
I learnt that you have properties almost all over the world.
Where did you hear that from? All I can say is that God has been very good to me. I have properties in Lagos, London and in my village. I love cars a lot, that's why I have a Hummer SUV. Toyota Sephia, Suzuki, Ford, Toyota Four Runner, Jagua, Lexus SUV e.t.c. It's been God and I am grateful to him always.
Finally, let's go back to the movies. What do you think is the future of the Nigerian movie industry?
Frankly, things can only get better for us, that is if we can embrace change. We are all thrilled today about the successes in Hollywood and Bollywood, but it was only possible because they allowed a change in their industry. Emeka Mba of the NFVCB is trying his best to make us achieve this. My only prayer is that the get-rich-quick syndrome which had been the order of the day for years would be eradicated for professionalism to reign once again in the industry.