Ejike Asiegbu ... an actor's burden of leadership
ON Monday, January 19, president of the Actors Guild of Nigeria, popular actor Ejike Asiegbu will be in court to defend charges of alleged attempts to perpetrate himself in office even as his tenure allegedly expired about a year ago.
While all stakeholders in Nollywood await the outcome of the court action instituted by another actor, Steven Eboh popularly called Ajeboh, who official records of the AGN, reveal has been on an indefinite suspension (for alleged misconducts) among others, the court case may have caused a deep divide in the sector.
While many feel it is unnecessary against the backdrop of the achievements of Asiegbu within the time he had been president, others are of the opinion that Ajeboh is on the right path. Those in the camp of Ajeboh insist the AGN president should leave office even when the national executive is on the verge of organizing an election to usher in a new administration.
But the main reason for the court action, observers feel, is Asiegbu's stand against an initiative tagged The Face of Nollywood, late last year.
There was a raging argument over who owns the right of The Face of Nollywood with both parties, the AGN and an organization that Asiegbu's antagonists reportedly belonged to. It was a protracted media battle and when eventually the event reportedly held in Abuja, it was stripped of the expected hype because some major sponsors pulled out at the last minute citing the conflict of interest among the feuding parties.
This did not go down well with so many people with interest in the initiative. So, not considering the fact that elections into positions in the national executive have been scheduled to hold early this year, they had to use the court to compel the president of AGN to hold elections.
Ajeboh, in several newspaper interviews, had accused Asiegbu of alleged misappropriation of the association's fund running into several millions of naira. He had also rubbished the new National Secretariat of AGN that Asiegbu for the first time in the association's history helped opened in Surulere, Lagos area. Asiegbu had described the allegations as a figment of the imagination of the actor. "What drew the ire of many people was Ejike Asiegbu's position on the Face of Nollywood. He was fully convinced that it was the trademark of AGN and as such no individual should use it without the consent and collaboration of AGN. Ejike was not fighting for his own pocket, he did not ask for money to be given to him, all he asked was for AGN to be carried along. What was expected from Ejike was for him to collect some percentage like some leaders and allow what belongs to AGN to be taken by some people, now that he did not do something like that, he is now the target of some people who want to take him out of AGN to open the way for them to do business as usual," a source closed to Asiegbu's camp said last week.
The informant said the fresh moves to unseat Asiegbu is just "another manipulation of some individuals who are not comfortable with the exemplary leadership of the present AGN executive led by Ejike Asiegbu. But they will not succeed as truth would always prevail over falsehood."
However, the popular actor is not new to controversies surrounding his office. In fact, he is a veteran of various battles in the past. From the day he was elected in an election regarded to be one of the association's freest held at Jabi, Abuja, in 2005, Ejike Asiegbu had not known peace. Fellow actor, Tony One Week, who came second at the polls, took the AGN president to the courtroom alleging some electoral fraud. Asiegbu spent about six months of his two-year tenure prosecuting that case until the courts ruled in his favour. Thereafter, he began another fresh battle with AGN's board of trustees' members, Prince Ifeanyi Dike, Emmanuel Oguguah and Sunny McDon. Characterized by several intrigues and counter intrigues that led to the 'appointment' of Hakeem Rahman as 'president' of AGN by the board of trustees members, the battle raged until Asiegbu dragged the other parties to court for alleged falsification of the association's constitution. It was owner of O'jez celebrity hangout, O'jez, Chief Joseph Odobeatu that brokered the peace between the warring factions at an elaborate peace meeting held at the O'jez inside the National Stadium premises, Surulere, Lagos. The battle raged for about a year and half by which time, Ejike's tenure of two years was gone. The national working committee at an extraordinary meeting held in Enugu, resolved to give the present executive a year more, which expired towards the end of last year. The Actors Guild of Nigeria Electoral Commission, AGNEC, fixed elections for December 13, 2008, but paucity of funds and complaints by some aspirants led to the postponement till next month. But then, the suit by Ajeboh came towards the tail end of November 2008.
AGN's lawyer, a source said, would attempt to prove that as when Ajeboh instituted the action, he was (and still) serving his indefinite suspension for alleged anti guild activities.
"The court would interpret whether a duly suspended member has the right to institute a legal action against the association. Ajeboh up till now had not faced the disciplinary committee set up to look into his matter, so he remains suspended and it was the decision of the national body, not Ejike Asiegbu's," the source said.
Ajeboh on his part had claimed he was never sent on suspension. He had argued that he was being vindicated for his outspokenness against the perceived misdemeanor of the Asiegbu administration.
The AGN's present situation has however been described as the prize one must pay for being a leader. "I believe when Ejike Asiegbu put himself up for the position of AGN president, he must have known that he would face persecution. This is a man who used his personal money to run AGN from 2005 till mid 2007, an association where most top actors do not pay their dues, they only sit back and criticize what goes on... it is sad, but then, it is expected," said a young man simply called Charles who also identified himself as Special Adviser to Asiegbu.
For the first time in the history of the association, Charles said, only Ejike Asiegbu had the courage and strength of purpose to set up a befitting National Secretariat with a loan got from a private investor and a friend of the industry. "An insurance scheme for actors was set up within the time he assumed office and now because Asiegbu saw that so many actors were dying and friends and family would be organizing fundraising to take their corpses to their hometown. It was a shame but nobody thought of an insurance scheme before he assumed office."
Against the latest development, would the elections scheduled for next month still hold? Asiegbu speaks: "We would await the outcome of the court case, as things are now, every other plan must be put on hold so that we finish exploring the court option. On my part, my administration was ready, and its still ready to organize the national election next month. It (election) was all planned for December last year, but because of some exigencies, we had to postpone to February, so I laugh when people say we are reluctant on holding the national elections. I must remind you also that we spent the better part of last year organizing elections in the state chapters and Abuja. It took a toll on the monies we got in the association, that was why it took sometime to start planning for the national election."
He denied the allegation that he plans to perpetrate himself in office. "According to the constitution, I am entitled to run for a second term having just finished my first term. I have not told anybody my intentions to run or not to run, so I would not listen to rumours if I were you," he submitted.