Nollywood Is Becoming Sterile —Clem Ohameze

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Clem Ohameze, a University of Port Harcourt graduate of Sociology and Anthropology, is one of the most famous faces in Nollywood. In this interview with FUNSHO BALOGUN, the star of Endtime laments the dearth of fresh story ideas in the home video industry.

Q: The ban issue has come and gone, but you seem to be rarely seen in movies these days. What is really happening to Clem?
A: The ban issue was misconstrued by the press.
Misconstrued in the sense that it had nothing to do with money, because we operate what everybody knows as the economic law of buying and selling, otherwise known as demand and supply. You've got something to give, and what you've got to give, someone else wants to buy. The artiste has his talent to sell. The producer needs or wants that talent. He wants to buy it so he could make profit. But be that as it may, what happened has happened.

Q: Why did it happen?
A: For some very personal reasons I wouldn't want to go into that

Q: What reasons?
A: No, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter in the sense that we are all educated, and there's an English word called 'posterity.' And I hinge everything I do on that word – posterity. Posterity determines what happened in the past, what is happening in the present and what happens in the future. I'm not here to condemn anybody.

Q: Is the ban still affecting you?
A: God knows I wasn't banned.

Q: Why then do we see less of you in films?
A: I wasn't banned, I probably was on some kind of protest.

Q: Over what?
A: It doesn't matter. I wouldn't tell you that. I won't tell you because you see, I respect talent. Every other1t all about me. It's about me and my colleagues. It's just an issue I don't want to talk about. It was not a money issue. It had to do with attitude. It's a very sensitive issue. That issue of this person is banned, this person is suspended, this person I wouldn't work with, is a very sensitive matter. Sensitive in the sense that the industry is operating in a circumstance that everybody is treading cautiously.

Q: Why?
A: We've got to because we have people who are in control of the industry. The marketers and producers, these are the people who have made the industry what it is today. They've taken the industry this far. But I'll tell you something, it is normally a phase. Hollywood passed through it. Bollywood passed through it.And we are looking forward to passing through it. But you see, if there's anything I believe in, it is evolution. Not revolution. Evolution is normally peaceful. Revolution is related to violence, okay?
Most of us didn't feel good about what happened. The guild that we belong to (Actors Guild of Nigeria) headed by Ejike Asiegbu, as we speak right now, is trying to align, or is succeeding in aligning and restoring the reputation of the actor. But you see, the marketers and producers are great guys in the sense that an industry as big as the movie industry was abandoned by the government and the business conglomerates who ought to be in control were busy chasing shadows. Now, these marketers and producers are strictly businessmen. As a businessman, I would cash-in just like they cashed-in and took control. And I tell you what, I cannot build a house from foundation to finish, and you come from nowhere to tell me that this land belongs to you.

Q: Who exactly are you referring to?
A: I'm referring to the marketers and producers. Somebody furnishes the house, alright, and asks you into the house with everything set. All you need do is just move into the house with your suitcases. And the next thing you do is turn around to lay claim to that house. No, you don't do that!

Q: Endtime was a notable success, a landmark. After it, nothing as resounding has been seen from you. Why?
A: That is relative. Some people hold the same opinion about Endtime, others disagree. But if you ask me, I never take glory. I give it to God. He owns it because the bible says: 'He would share everything, but His glory he would share with no man.' I had been around in the industry before Endtime. Maybe you did not know how I got into the industry. The question about Endtime takes me back, will always take me back to the very beginning. That was when people got to know Clem Ohamenze, but Clem Ohamenze had been around long before then. I hold the record in this industry, as the first and only artiste whose first time on screen was in a lead role, which was Millionaires Are Saints, back in 1996. It was produced and directed by Madusi Chikwendu, an old school mate of mine in the University of Port-Harcourt.

Q: Why is it that actors/actresses have little or no power in the industry?
A: That's the way it ought to be. The artiste is only contracted to work. The producer is a businessman. The executive producer is the one who brings out the money. He has the money, he wants to invest his money. He looks for means or avenues to invest his money. The producer as a businessman gets to meet with the executive producer, sells his stuff to the executive producer, who buys it. An agreement is reached. Now, the executive producer puts his money down. It is now left for the producer to look for means to plug into the executive producer's investment and get the money to yield profit. That is what the relationship between the two is all about. Professionally, streamlining it to the industry, the producer knows the artistes, actors (men/women). Among these actors are those that have commercial value. And that is determined by the Nigerian movie market audience. You may want to ask me why certain actors(male/female) have commercial strength and I'll tell you. Because, over time, these people have proven themselves worthy of people's delight on the screen. In market terms, they, therefore, become actors with high commercial value.

Q: So, what does Clem earn per movie; your own value?
A: I earn well.If I don't earn well, I wouldn't be in the industry. I would have been gone.

Q: So, you plan to always remain an actor?
A: Please don't talk to me about me earning well and getting into something else, because you know I have a political ambition. In economics there's what is called mobility of labour.Upward mobility of labour; what, today, I tag the next level.Very unfortunately, the industry moved from step one to step ten. Very fast, it got to step ten and is marking time on step ten. Explain further please. You see, work is all about challenges. Let's get elementary. A child in primary one goes through tutorials and at the end of the day, he goes through what is called an examination. If he passes, he's promoted to the next class. Now, the movie industry is on a level. That level has lingered for a period of time and has refused, for whatever reason (which Clem Ohamenze does not know), to move on. It's like people who have sat for exams based on the tutorials we received within the period before the exam was set. Some passed, some failed. And we'd expected to have moved to the next level by now. But it is like moving from class one to class two; you're shown your classroom and everybody is seated but there is no teacher to teach you. Even when the teacher comes in, he has nothing to teach you. So, what do you do? All the students sit back in the classroom. The teacher is watching, the pupils or students are watching. But nothing is happening. The challenges are gone. There are no challenges anymore. What I mean by challenges is that we're not doing any story other than what we had done before. They're the same story told in different ways.

Q: But who do we blame for that? Are the scripts coming in not good?
A: Well, everybody's got a blame in it except the artistes, because it is what you give to the artiste that he interprets. We are telling one story over and over and over again. 'Obi is a boy' is a statement. If we are ten people here, nine of us outside me who made the statement will interpret what I mean in nine different ways. That is the situation.

Q: So what do you think is the solution to this kind of problem?
A: There are so many situations living with us that can be scripted. I think there is a constraint on the part of the writers. This is because the Censors' Board is cautious about the kind of movies it allows. Our writers are capable. They have stories, but they cannot come up with these stories to be adapted into movies because of fear of the unknown, fear of politics and name it. That is part of ignorance of the government. The movie industry should expose the ills in the society; better still, be a barometer of events. So people will get to know, become aware of what is going on in their country. But they censor it because of the political situation in the country. It is the case of 'I put you there, you ought to watch my back.'

Q: What kind of life do you lead off the screen?
A: I am who people say I am. I cannot tell you I'm this or that. It is who people say I am that I am.

Q: So all we read about you is true?
A: Please, listen to me. Even at that, it is left for a mature mind to decipher. I'm not a kid. I've come a long way and I'm educated. Very educated. I'm at the same time very exposed, very traveled. I won't say it's unfortunate. Neither would I say it's fortunate that once you become a public figure, you lose your privacy. But even at that, my apologies go to whoever feels otherwise about who I feel I am. Everybody holds his or her own opinion about whatever or whoever. The opinion I hold about you could be sentimental. The opinion I hold about somebody could be personal. The opinion I hold about another person could be objective. It depends on the relationship that exists between Mr. A and Mr. B.

Q: Again, your fans want to know why you're less prominent these days?
A: I still remain the busiest actor in this industry.To God be the glory. Go into the market. As I speak to you, I remain the busiest.

Q: So which films are you on set for now that you're in Lagos?
A: It doesn't matter, I'm working.There are films I shot last year that have not been released. These marketers/producers have a habit of shooting films and storing them up. One marketer/producer could have shot four, five or six films and you're part of four. They put it in their archives. I guess it's their business. Every business has its own strategy. Anyway, I get lots of calls from my fans saying, 'we've not been seeing much of you.' There were days when in 10 films released into the market, nine or 10 of them, you're there.

Q: Can you give reasons for this?
A: As you grow, you get more mature. Your fans then begin to push in questions and say their opinions that, “oh, we didn't like this film you did”, “we didn't like what that other film you were in was about.” So, back in your closet, you take your time, you re-align yourself and then move on. This is because it is those out there that determine who you are. It got to a point that I started getting choosy. Please tell us about your family. I'm married to Chinwe Esther Ohamenze. She has spent most of her life in London. I have two kids. My first daughter is Skye, my second daughter is Stephanie. Both of them were born out there but they live presently in Abuja, Nigeria.

Q: So all the Abuja stories about your taking on as many babes as you can handle and overstaying in joints are false?
A: But it's stupid. By the nature of my job, when would I, with the little time I have back home to spend with my family, be with other women? On the contrary, from the airport, where my family comes to get me, it's straight home and I'm home until I go back to work. I'm expected to see my family for a period of time. So when I get back to Abuja to see my family, I shut down with my kids. My wife runs a clothing outfit. She also runs an NGO on HIV/AIDS, which is the biggest in Abuja right now. During the Bill Clinton Global Summit on HIV, she was one on one with Clinton. Back to this issue of me and several women, journalists and their captions puzzle me. I remember a caption involving me and one Emma Taylor. I don't even know who she is. It was cover page. And I was in my wife's office, lying on a couch, tired, spent, having just brought the kids back. A friend of hers ran in with that magazine, saying, “Chinwe, Chinwe, have you seen this, have you read this?” My wife picked it up and said, “Look, that's Clem sleeping over there.” The girl came to the couch to confirm if it was me and simply scampered off. When I woke up, my wife said to me, “Baby, see what I saw today.” And that was the end of it. She didn't bother me about it.

Q: Well, what is Clem's plan since you say you intend to move to the next level?
A: Well, I'm moving on. I'm running for House of Representatives come 2007. From Imo State, Oguta, Orlu West.

Q: Do you think you have the financial capacity to venture into today's kind of politics?
A: Let me tell you something. You see, politics in Nigeria is based on money. But I won't be found wanting. I tell you, I won't ask anybody for a dime. I'm very comfortable.
You have refused to disclose your age, but your grey hairs have given you away. Maybe you should come out straight... I started growing grey on the temple when I was 11. It's natural. I'm far younger than you can imagine.