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Who Says I Am Not The Producer Of Living In Bondage? — Okechukwu Ogunjiofor (Paulo)

Source: Reginald Ebere - Nigeriafilms.com

Reginald Ebere .He wrote the film that kicked off the bombshell which became Nollywood, LIVING IN BONDAGE played Paulo in the same movie and was also the technical director. Finally he is also the producer. A position that generated so much controversy and angst amongst interested parties in the project. With some claiming that there was a lot of arm twisting before the credit was given. Some of those controversies led to “Paulo”, Kanayo O. Kanayo and Ngozi Nwosu not being part of Living In Bondage 2. Paulo went ahead to produce a couple of other films but just as he appeared on the scene, he left to pursue other interests, which included becoming an evangelist and starting the TAVA AWARDS. We asked him a couple of questions concerning what he has been up to since his quiet hiatus from the industry he helped found.

WHAT is Tava Awards about? when did it start and how far have you pushed it?

If you check what has been happening in our movie industry since 2008 till date, you find out that there is serious decline both in the number of movies produced and the quality of their contents. As a result of this, I said to myself, this is an industry we pioneered almost 18 years ago, that has given jobs to millions of Nigerians. It has brought Nigeria to the attention of the world as the second largest producer of films. It has also brought us to the level where we have been able to rewrite our history, changing the western prejudices against Africa. We have been able to do this and have in fact colonized the whole world with our cultures. So I said to myself, if such an industry is allowed to die then we have failed. I felt that the only way to move the industry forward is to redefine the practice by calling people together to what I call The African audio-visual awards (TAVA). Because I know that if you want to change anything in life, all you have to do is attach a reward system to it, so that as people strive for that reward they will begin to effect the changes that you want.

That is exactly why we began TAVA Awards. TAVA simply means 'The African Audio Visual Awards'. It is a platform created to celebrate the finest of Africans behind great films, television productions, advertisements, music videos; all those who employ sound and picture to tell their stories in order to create entertainment. TAVA is the celebration of the harmony of perfect pictures and perfect sounds. We are bringing them together to say, come, let us create a bench mark that will up lift the standards of our contents. Please log on to www.tava-awards.com to see how far reaching TAVA has become in Africa. We are about to once again, midwife Nollywood, to such a level where it will no longer be endured across the nations of the Earth; but will be celebrated and appreciated for its audio-visual quality.

We had the first edition last year. It went well. The second edition was much more successful, which just took place on July 23 at the MUSON Centre Onikan, by 5pm. The drive is to keep it on until such a time that practitioners would understand that we can only get to the higher level that Nollywood aspires to be if we can painstakingly create films with perfect sounds and perfect pictures.
I am passionate about the growth of our industry, about its success and also about creating jobs for our youths. I don't want an industry that has taken a lot of our youths from the streets to die. Because if it dies, they will all go back to the streets and if they go back, I am afraid the people in Abuja will have a lot of things to grapple with.

Why did you step back from acting? being that you were there at the beginning and people like Kanayo O. Kanayo and Kenneth Okonkwo are still in the game?

First and foremost I stepped aside because I cannot do everything; I am an actor, producer, writer, creator, director etc. One needs to define his practice and focus on those areas he feels strongly about. It is all about comparative advantage.

Secondly, I became a preacher of the gospel and people tend to see the actor instead of the preacher when I stand before them, so I thought that it is better to quit acting for a while for preaching if one must win souls.

Lastly, I left the stage for the younger people to discover and rule their destinies while I work behind the scenes with them. I have raised so many people and I don't think it's right fighting for the same stage with them. My dream for the industry that we practice is, I want to contribute everything I've got today to better it till the time comes when we would be able to hold our own globally in the Audio-visual practice. I don't want to see this industry collapse while I am still alive, I want it to grow bigger and better knowing that when I am gone, my children and future generations will have a better foundation upon which to play. A statesman thinks about the future generations while the politician thinks of the next elections.

I heard that you went into the ministry sometime back. Are you still in, if you are how has that enhanced your life?

I was ordained as an Evangelist since 1995, but I do not look at my ordination as the reason why I call myself a pastor. Every man created of God is a pastor, first and foremost to his wife and children, then a pastor everywhere he goes because he is representing God. But when men do not realize this, they use their positions to work against God. I thank God I am still in the faith and I am what I am today by His grace.

I spoke with film director /editor, Moses Ebere who was involved in editing Living In Bondage 2 sometime back and he claimed that you did not really produce living In Bondage 1 for Kenneth Nnebue (Nek) but that the credits where given in editing because Kenneth did not know
anything about credits. Is he right?

It is quite unfortunate that this misinformation is coming from a friend and a colleague who was not part of the famous Living In Bondage 1 crew. But I sincerely think he has the right to freedom of expression. My question to him will be: Kenneth Nnebue (Nek) is not a novice in film making and marketing, he has made so many Yoruba films before we met; so how come he did not know that the credit to the production was his as Moses claimed, if indeed he sincerely produced Living In Bondage?

If Nek 'Dashed' me the credit to the production, who dashed me that of the Actor or Technical Director of the said film?
The truth is that Nek did not know that Living In Bondage would be so successful, that's why all the hoopla about my credit as the producer. A comparison of Nek's films before Living in Bondage will say the obvious, or you may have to contact the two editors who worked with me on the film project, they are still alive - Mr. Sam. Ekandem and Mr. Victor Enemosa.

Why were you, Kanayo O. KANAYO and Ngozi Nwosu not involved in the part two of living in bondage

It is a long story but suffice it to say that I had problem with Nek on the sharing of revenue accruable to me from Living in Bondage 1, so when I left to pursue the production of my second film, Circle of Doom, Ngozi and Kanayo left in protest and joined me.

What is your relationship with Kenneth Nnebue right now?

Our relationship is cordial though we do not see regularly.

I also met Kenneth Nnebue (NEK) in Asaba, Delta State recently and he said he had given up the rights to Living In Bondage and some of the other projects he did before he gave his life to God. Do you think that is a right decision being that some of those projects birthed the movie industry? Do you feel the same way?

It is a matter of faith and we have no right to judge a man's decisions on such issues.
National awards are being given to nascent Nollywood practitioners while people like you are completely left out. What do you think about that?
I do not work at the National Merit Awards and so may not know the criteria used to determine the awardees but I believe they have their reasons. While I rejoice with those colleagues who received such honors, it is instructive to note that if men could document and recognize the little things we do here to better our environment and others around us, one wonders to what length our God who sees in secret but rewards in the open will go.

Are artistes being rewarded to the value of their talents and their work?

I do not think artistes presently receive the value of their work and talent if you mean cash, but I believe in delayed gratification; otherwise how can I explain the inclusion of my name on page 642 of the 2010 edition of Achievers Who is Who in Nigeria out of 150 million Nigerians. I am humbled.

What else does Nollywood need to do that has not been done yet to push it to the next level?

Co-production treaties. If our industry must move forward, Nigerian must have bi-lateral agreements with notable film making nations. Do you believe that Nigeria does not have a co-production agreement with any film making Nation in Africa and not to mention Europe, Asia and America? I wonder how they hope to transfer the skill to practitioners.

What about governments involvement?

Except for the enabling environment as in laws and tax rebates, the less of government interference in our industry the better for the practice. This industry started as a private sector initiative and has so far thrived as a private sector enterprise.

Is it not surprising to you that it is when the Government stepped in to regulate the industry that its fortunes and development nose- dived? I am not saying that they meant bad but obviously, there is something they are not doing right. Most of the people saddled with the responsibility of charting the course for this industry do not even know the global best practices about it and they don't even want to consult those who know. So what they do is sit down and propound theories and come to impose same on the people and predictably people will resist such because they do not have a buy-in. You have not sold any programme to them and you have not demonstrated to them the benefits how you are partners in progress with them.

You have been out for a long time. Do we have any hope of seeing Okechukwu Ogunjiofor back on the screens again?

Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof. . . I am not acting today and that is what matters, tomorrow will take care of all that belongs to it.