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Actors must unite to empower Nollywood - Ejike Asiegbu

Source: nigeriafilms.com
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Veteran actor and current National President of Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN), Ejike Asiegbu has paid his dues so far in the Nigerian entertainment industry.

With a thriving career spanning over two decades, the University of Port-Harcourt, Theatre Arts graduate has traversed television and stage productions before berthing in Nollywood's big screens as a home video actor.

In this interview with Daily Sun, the father of three shared his dreams, vision and aspirations for the motion picture industry. Despite giving the government a thumb up, the indefatigable leader and one of the pioneer actors in Nollywood wants government to do more for the sector which has been adjudged third best in the world.

AGN 2006
We thank God for being alive and hopeful that the new year will bring in some good prospects professionally and officially. It is the desire of every human being to remain focused in what he or she is doing in life and I feel we are on the right direction.

But again, we might just take a stock of what we have been doing in the past as regards my vision for actors' guild as its national president. This year, we intend to pursue all the programmes I outlined in my manifesto. In six months time, we intend to have a secretariat.

During our inauguration last year, the FCT minister promised us a plot of land and we intend building our edifice, which will be our National Secretariat. We are ready to work with people who would help us begin work earnestly. We are also hoping to have a liaison office here in Lagos, so that we can get work going. We chose Abuja because it is the nation's gateway. It will also make us to be closer to government and some of their policies as regards the motion picture industry, remember we have the National Assembly there.

Our state chapter and liaison office will still be in Lagos. We also want the entire system being restructured for the purpose of professionalism and that brings us to the process of re-registration, which has started. We have also started having quarterly meeting of actors after about 11 years. We decided to make payments through the banks unlike before that people pay directly to AGN officials. This is done in line with the anti corruption drive of the Federal Government for probity and accountability. Part of the payment covers the insurance scheme for the actor who is always risking his life on set. Already, AGN is working with a consortium of seven insurance companies, we had already signed an MoU with them and agreed to work together for the good of Nollywood. Our ID card, which used to be valid for one year is now valid for two years.

Artistes and accidents on locations
The insurance companies are providing group life insurance for AGN members. It covers the actors in cases of death or permanent disability or accidents. The least you can get in case of death would not be less than N2million.

We also have between N1.5m to N750, 000 and half a million naira. All these would go according to categories of people in our classification scheme. The essence of all these is to protect our members. This insurance scheme has already kicked-off as part of my New Year plan for actors.

Achievements
During my inauguration in Abuja on June 7, 2005, we used that medium to launch actors guild and also send a signal to people that we mean business. Shortly afterwards, we paid a courtesy visit to the late first lady over a project we intended carrying out then. We also made her Matron of AGN and she gladly accepted.

For the first time also in the history of AGN, we visited Mr. President in Aso Rock and we were well received, for us that was a milestone. Mr. President has listening ears. We told him that as actors we are role models to the society and made him see reasons for us to be used as ambassadors for conflict resolutions and catalysts for change.

We have also been able to put a good welfare package for the actors, especially the insurance scheme. Right now, we are collaborating with NollyMedics, a group rendering professional medical services to AGN. This is the beginning of some of the good intentions I outlined in my manifesto. NollyMedics usually visit locations to render medical services.

What OBJ told me
He was happy receiving us and even made us realize that he was about inviting us before our letter came. He said that having watched most of our movies, it has become important that he expresses the fact that Nollywood has come to stay and that Nollywood has projected the good image of Nigeria.

He said he was glad hearing we are third globally in terms of ranking but he enjoined and task us to leave the third for a second position and try to be patriotic in most of our movies by having the national flag in our movies and in our story lines, we should always allow good to triumph over evil.

Challenges
Our greatest problem is finance, we don't have funds and this has slowed us down a lot, especially the offices of the guild. If there were to be funds, I would have finished all l outlined in my manifesto but thank God we have not been resting on our oars. Since we came on board, every national executive members have been spending from their pockets to ensure that the guild stands. We have done a lot with our own funds.

It is so because we did not meet any money in the treasury and secondly, I ordered the banning of sale of forms immediately I came into office. I did that after finding out that a lot of our members were feeding fat on that illegally. Things should be done professionally and we are out to build confidence back in the minds of our members.

I can assure you that we need between N150million and N200million to be able to complete all our projects, especially erecting our corporate headquarters in Abuja. You won't believe that I don't have an office as the national president of AGN; I'm moving around. I make use of one or two personal offices. Lest I forget, my administration has opened a website for Nollywood, known as www.actorsguildofnigeria.com.

Acting
Yes, I do but once in a while. I'm yet to act this year. It is important and relevant that I act because one has to maintain and sustain as an actor.

Legacy
As someone who has put in 26 years in the industry from TV to stage and movie, the kind of legacy I want to leave behind is that I want to see a better industry and part of the re-structuring of an industry that would rank among the best globally. I want to leave behind a legacy where people would be proud of being actresses and actors.

A legacy that would be sustainable and lead to capacity building and help us remain focus and professional. A legacy that generations yet unborn would remember and say that people like us laid the foundation for the industry to be a better place.

Second term
I do not have such plans. I can assure you I will quit when my tenure expires in 2007 and move up to some other things. I want to accomplish between 80 or 90per cent of the promises I made in my manifesto and by the grace of God, it will surely come to pass.

Government and Nollywood
We have a president that listens and is very much interested in Nollywood, we thank God for that. He has promised to do everything to motivate us so that we can lead. The Minister of Information and National Orientation, Frank Nweke, has shown his love for Nollywood and we are grateful. Also, the Minister for Culture and Tourism, Franklin Ogbuewu, has also shown us love and appreciation. Government through its agencies are collaborating with us.

Even Mr. Emeka Mba, DG NFVCB, is giving us lots of support. Having said all these, government should also ensure that we meet from time to time to discourse how to move the industry forward. We also need corporate bodies to partner with us so that we can be a source of major revenue for this country in no distant time. Professionalism in Nollywood

Professionalism can be maintained in Nollywood when members are disciplined, starting from all guild heads. We should also thank the movie marketers who are daily investing their billions for maintaining and sustaining the tempo. I have advocated for a common contract and that is the only way the industry can be taken seriously by all and sundry. This common contract should be binding on all guilds making up Nollywood. Proper structures should be put in place.

Motivation and drive
God, I believe in him so much.

First movie
I can't remember but Gabosky's Nneka, The Pretty Serpent in 1993, was among my earliest movies.

Background
I have a lovely wife, Ogechi, we are blessed with three beautiful children, our first daughter is six our set of twins (boys) are four. We hail from Umuahia North LGA of Abia State. I had my primary education in the east before the civil war, I'm above 40, but was born in Makurdi, Benue State dad is alive and mum late.

I'm from a family of six; two boys and four girls, one of them is late. As the son of a civil servant, we kept moving round the federation on transfer. I'm a Theatre Arts graduate and I majored in directing and trained under the late Prof. Ola Rotimi. I also played football to the division level in Enugu before my dad stopped me. Also, most people did not know I featured in the television production of Things Fall Apart then.