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I remain AGN President – Asiegbu

Source: http://nigeriafilms.com

The crisis in the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN) took a dramatic turn last week as veteran actor, Kanayo O. Kanayo installed himself as the... new president of the association. Another renowned actor, Ejike Asuegbu, who had before then held the position speaks with HAZEEZ BALOGUN on the simmering feud and other issues.

Spike Lee, an American film maker recently said that Nollywood is not a movie industry. What's your reaction to it?

I know the history of the American film industry, how it started. And before he (Spike Lee) was accepted as a director, I know the kind of jobs that he did before people began to reckon with him. Whether you like it or not, we live in an environment where if we have one-third of a sort of an environment, a creative environment for better practice, I do not think that the likes of Spike Lee will understand what the Nigerian director is facing. But I respect him as a director. Also in Nigeria, we have a lot of good directors who are intellectually rich; directors who know what it is. It always depends on your style, your style of presentation, that is what matters.

The American situation at inception was even worse than the present situation in the Nigerian movie industry. If you look at the history of the American film industry, and place it aside that of the Indian film industry, then you will begin to appreciate the fact that we have tried.

With the stages that we have gone through or that we are in currently in, one will identify that we are not doing badly. America as a country is over 270 years, close to 300 years. So if you look at America, and check their history, then you will begin to understand that we have a long way to go. That not withstanding, the film industry in any developing industry, or developed economy, for motion picture industry to triumph and strive, it has to go hand in hand with the government of the country, with certain things that have been put on ground to ease development.

If you look at the issue of creating an enabling environment for better practice, that is why I said we need a lot of subventions here for producers to harness, and also make it accessible to a lot of us.

Most of our films are not getting to the places they ought to get to, for them to be appreciated. That's why as members of the motion picture industry in Nigeria, we need to try as much as possible to raise the quality of our productions. Again, film is a business of money, whether you like it or not. A lot of producers will like to do things that are great or that have enough quality like those they have in America. But, again, the difference is clear, its a different thing here. Where are the funds? Spike Lee can shoot the best movie in the world, that is because he has the resources, but over here, we don't.

But it seems the industry is getting worse. There was a time we were shooting on celluloid, today some still shoot with VHS

Yes, if you say that the industry is going through a tough time I have to agree with you. To shoot on celluloid, involves a lot of money. To shoot on celluloid, we are talking about the budget of a country or budget of a state. So, it will be difficult for a developing nation to have movies shot on celluloid.

So, it is a different ball game altogether. Where are some of the movies that were shot in those days? Look at the days of Hubert Ogunde and some of the experts in the 60's or early 70's that shot on celluloid in those days. What happened? You will find out that even then the quality of the kind of job that was done then, if you compare them with those that were shot in the US, you will find out that they were of lower quality.

So, it is not just people waking up to say quality. Quality is very very important. At the same time, we have to be able to understand that it is expensive, and there are other aspects to look at as well. Nowadays, it is even easier, now that we have different types cameras. We have CSR 350, we have 370 and we have 450. And all these can be blown up. These are all digital, high definition cameras that can begin to blow up even up to 33mm. So, it is even cheaper because people can easily work with it. And we have people renting out these cameras for between N15,000 to N25,000 per day.

If you watched recently some movies that were shot, some home videos by Desmond Eliot and, like Reloaded, and the other one, Heart of Lies or something like that, they are of very good quality. If you look at them, you will appreciate the excellent job. But beyond that too is the fact that we need to do more in terms of research.

What is happening to the Actors Guild of Nigeria? Who is heading it?

Well, usually this is election period in the motion picture industry, not just in the Actors Guild, but in all the Guilds: Directors' Guild, Producers' Guild and what have you... Writers' Guild. So we use this period for elections. It is only natural, and it is expected, that people make noise and whichever way it would happen, definitely, they would want to try their luck to feel relevant. In 2006, we went through a group of people, who suddenly woke up and tried to allocate themselves the authority and power to appoint and sack unconstitutionally and illegally have their way. Again, in the rule of law, the law will always speak for itself. We were able to arrest this same situation in 2006, and some people were charged to magistrate court; a four-count charge was levelled against them. But people pleaded that the national executives should withdraw the matter, because there was no need for that. If not for pleas, some people would have gone to jail. And we listened and allowed peace to prevail. We ensured that some of the things that we felt were problems and issues were sorted out in which everybody signed. And what are the issues? It was an issue where they began to allocate to themselves power to appoint, and to conduct elections.

That was the former issue. What about the present issues?

It is still the same issue. The same group of people whose tenure expired last year, suddenly woke up, that they no longer like the national executive and as far as they were concerned they should go. And criminally actually, illegally and unconstitutionally appointed and went as far as holding the inauguration of Kanayo O. Kanayo and his aides, who again I will say were wrong for accepting such appointment because the removal of the president has procedures.

It is important that you also know that when they did that, they accused and went to court. Why would you go to court? They went to court because the national executive since last year has brought out a timetable for elections, and usually, our election, electoraal officers for the association, and the state chapter executives, and it is the state chapter executives who are allowed in each of the states to now elect the national executives, and the national executive election is usually a delicate election. When that was concluded, the national executive found out that those appointed that were supposed to be responsible for actually conducting the national election and particularly, it was Kanayo O. Kanoyo who was the chairman of the then electoral committee. He delayed the entire process. On more that three four occasions, he was asked to go and conduct elections and he said he did not have time. We held several meetings and he was asked why he would not conduct the election. Unfortunately, the national executive also gave them a dead line which was 13th of December to March 2008 to conduct the election. After waiting for about four months without the national election. Now rather than do that, the national executives found out that they started holding meetings with a former executive of the association who was expelled.

He was expelled for all his activities and actions. And once any member is found wanting or guilty in any area, he or she is called to order. We found out that he was holding meetings, and that was when we now gave that mandate that they must conduct an election. Now, rather than do that, they next thing that they did was to go to court. Why did they go to court?, because we gave them a mandate that they must conduct an election, and among what he was asking for was that my tenure was over and including the tenure of the national executive and that we should not be allowed to conduct any election. So, the issue was on election.

KOK used to be your close friend. When did you fall apart?

My brother, it is envy. I think when they see someone doing well, they are not always happy. Especially when they are not doing well themselves. They pose around as if they are okay but they are not. Most of them have nothing, yet they brag about. It is true that Kanayo is my friend. In fact, he was my best man when I was getting married. I don't know what is happening to him these days. I think it is envy.

He also must have been ill advised. The truth is that it is only in Lagos here that we are having this problem. If he goes to any other state, he will be disgraced. The guild is represented in 26 states. It is only in Lagos here that he is making mouth. He and his accomplices will soon realise that they cannot be recognised by anybody or any member.

Can't the issue be resolved amicably?

Settled? There is no way it can be settled except the problem is removed. The problem is the man Ego. He is trying to destablise an instituted Guild. He is the one who has been advising these people to rebel but I am sure that the truth shall be made open soon.