Kanayo O.Kanayo is one of the pioneers of Nollywood as he featured in Living in Bondage, the film that they say started it all.

Kanayo O.KanayoThe graduate of Mass Communication, philosophy and holder of diploma in law from the University of Lagos is angry, very angry. Reason?

Nollywood is dying and no one knows what to do. He gives his panacea in this explosive chat.

What is the secret of your relevance in Nollywood?

I think it is because of the sheer determination to remain relevant. It is difficult to remain there when you get there but I like to say God has been faithful. It has also been by the love of people who urge you to stay on because you add value to their lives through acting.

A lot of commendations you get in the street is the staying factor for people like us. But on the other hand too, one may not start learning to use the left hand at old age. There is a commitment to what you have as talent.

You first ask yourself if you change course, where is it going to lead you? But major among all these is a vision to create or be part of the people who will create the Nollywood that will be part of history.

I think that vision has been the driving force that one wants to be amongst the people whom history will remember as those who weathered the storm when Nollywood was comatose, when it was sick and you took it to hospital and it later survived.

Before Living in Bondage?

I started my career around 1982 in Enugu. I was in New Masquerade popularly called Zebrudaya by many. I had done several television soaps before, like The Mirror, Beyond the Realm on Anambra State Television and other national programmes came up to Enugu then and I was part of them like the Igbo version of Things Fall Apart.

Turning Point?

The director of New Masquerade then Bolaji Dawodu called me to say my talent was wasting in Enugu that I should move over to where it happens which according to him is Lagos. Bolaji came to replace Chris Obirapu who was transferred as director of Masquerade. This caused some agitation in my mind.

I started looking for a vent to leave I then transferred my service to Lagos. My first appearance was in SPACS (special protection anti crime squad) Richard Mofe Damijo was in it just like Mahmoud Alli, Balogun. As the production continued, Mahmoud had called me aside to say where were you all the while? You are good in your art.

I told him I came from Enugu. From SPACS, I graduated to Legacy by Dan Obioha, to New Village Headmaster, TV Playhouse, Ripples, Checkmate. It was while we were doing Checkmate that we were approached by Chief Ken Nnebue to do what later turned out to be Living in Bondage in 1992. I think it was just an experiment we did.

I have always said it at every fora that Living-Bondage is an act of God, we never featured in it because we thought it was going to sell but God knows how He designed his things, it was a wonderful and magnificent design to usher in a new vista for entertainment in Africa not just Nigeria.

16 years after.....?

We have not remained at the same spot. We have taken a leap, it remains to be seen whether it is forward or backward, right or wrong direction. Steps have been taken no doubt. You can agree with me that the cameras used then, the way things were done then has so much changed. In terms of how we are being appreciated by the audience, several things have also changed.

If you talk about the quality of production, we may not have gotten to the best but we have improved in a lot of ways. One thing we have not been able to do is build structures. Structures to take Nollywood to the next level.

I think the major problem is in terms of production and distribution. We had thrown in the towel before the fight started. We have created a market in Africa that we cannot sustain. People like me are clamouring for the enrichment of the content which we are giving out.

I see that as a veritable tool to tell Africa that Nigeria is a magic country, what evolved out of Nigeria to the rest of Africa has become Africa magic. It is no longer Nigeria magic. But because we do not have structures, people are now telling our own stories for us.

We have to start repackaging ourselves like America did to sell its culture and character, strenght and weaknesses to the world. We have not been able to sustain the sale of our norms, ideas, world view and all the other Africa countries, the way we want them to perceive us. We have not been able to espouse the social relevance in our stories.

We need to tell them who we really are. We have gone to war but we have not won the battle. For us to win that battle, we must comeback home, build structures so we can sell all our movies in Nigeria here. We have the highest population and may not need to sell outside the country.

Africa has a large market and we must tap from it. Any one who releases a movie goes straight to VCD so you do not maximize the potentials of endorsement, cinemas and so on. We are losing a lot of money and these are not things to be very happy about.

The guys in the oil industry,banking and others are building structures and they are getting more credible by the day but the actors and movie makers are they doing same? Are they respected? The answer is no.

Can I walk into Access Bank for instance or Zenith Bank and get a loan because I am KOK? They respect you and feel happy for you on television but do they respect you to trust you to take you serious? It is a big problem and I think every practitioner must begin to think about it.

Aside from this, those in the other end of the industry, I mean the marketers, retailers and all must start being honest to themselves. This idea of films are not selling is beyond the issue. They were screaming about the lion when there was no lion .

Now there is lion, no one believes them. People say that is the way they shout all the time. I had thought about writing a letter to the president with a title-

This patient will die tomorrow.

This patient is Nollywood. Nollywood is dying off and unless something critical is done by all interested parties and every stakeholder, those who watch it and interested Nigerian, this simple product that is 100%, Nigerian is dying and has no hope of being alive in the next three years. Quote me I have my facts.

Roles of ritualists?

Every actor is supposed to have one element and that is flexibility and without flexibility, you cannot go far. Have you seen me in Across the Niger?

If not, go and watch Trinity. I was not a ritual don in Across the Niger or in Trinity. Even when you talk about some movies I had done in the past like Fire on the Mountain, you need to see another part of me.

Those other non ritualistic films prove that I am not only good at ritualistic movies but very flexible. I want my admirers to watch the other side of me and critically assess my role.

I remember Blood money (series), Rituals, Millionaires Club, Desperate Billionaires etc. but Nigerians should bank on me. I was the guy who played Don in several ritual movies and made all the money. But I am still the same guy who came out one year after to say Nigerians who are coming behind me are not learning anything from this and that outside, people are seeing us as ritualists.

I said no more and I stopped playing such roles. Nigeria should say KOK, you are a man of policy who would not do anything for the gains of money. We are talking about building a new Nigeria. The Heart of Africa project is one initiative I am passionate about .

We must change our image and it is only us that can do this. I don't see any European or American who loves Nigeria more than us. We must be good from the inside. And if we are good from the inside then every other thing would fellow.

Lack of enduring stories share the same feelings and more. Did you watch Lost Kingdom? It is the story of microcosmic Nigeria.

You have to watch this movie over and over again then it makes sense. Now, several people have badged into the scene and are recycling stories. The major sad commentary or obituary for nollywood is that those people would bring a popular movie from Europe and adapt it to Nigerian environment.

You would see that this is a movie you may have watched. All they change could be making the lead character a woman rather than a man in the original. This is very cheap and makes a mockery of the entire issue.

A lot of writers felt they were not used very well and they started becoming producers. It is difficult to see outside this country some one who is a script writer, producer, director but here people are bamboozled by titles - I am a script writer, I produce and I direct, who gives a hoot about all those titles?

Where do you have the universal selling point? I am KOK and I have an edge in acting and that is where I am and what I do. It does not mean I cannot produce or direct. Without sounding immodest, I am one of the actors in Nigeria who by experience can direct comfortably. I have been through the school of hard knocks and it is experience on the job and this experience could enable me to do anything in this country except for producing and directing.

But I want the professionalism to be entrenched. Let the dead bury the dead, let the writer write the stories, let producers produce and division of labour will thrive. Now that the industry has reached this cul de sac, Am I not better off for telling the truth?

The heavens have never fallen. I cannot be banned. I cannot even be suspended. By whom? I have become a hard nut in the industry and cannot be banned. For what? That I am an incompetent actor or what?

The thing is I am important to Nigeria and Nigerians know that it is childish to say that I am banned or suspended by a little entity like Nollywood marketer. They can only blackmail me. The movie industry needs me just like I need them. We are talking about building an industry that thinks locally but performs internationally.

There are stories we do that should be on 35mm but a lot of people are thinking of how to make the next meal. I have gone beyond this level. I am thinking of how to affect Nigerians and the international audience of the next 30 years.

You should ask yourself, what legacies are you leaving. Don't forget, the Christian Chukwu's, Odegbami's played soccer for passion but Okochas are playing both for passion, country and for money.

People who started this film thing were great men like Ogundes, Eddie Ugbomah, Ade Love, they gave us a path. We should build on this path, we should create legacies to outlive us and nothing more.

Anger, Anger everywhere I am angered at the fact that the United nations has not deemed any Nollywood actor worthy of being its ambassador of goodwill.

I feel very sad that upon all the impact Nollywood has created in Africa, when they want to go to Kenya, they are bringing an American actor when there are several Nigerian stars who have affected Africa with films.

That is an insult to Nollywood and Africa Magic. We have touched Africa really deeply. All over Africa, faces like that of Pete Edochie, Sam Loco, Justus Esiri, Sam Dede, KOK, Bob Manuel Udokwu, Ini Edo, Genevieve etc have influenced the continent, created wealth and value and the people know this. In the issue of national honours in Nigeria, the artists have also been neglected so what do I say?

It is political that if you are not in the party of those who praise government, or those who play partisan politics, you are not considered, Now it is even better not to have the honors because it is no longer a matter of prestige.

Those who have national honours now are more than the population of the those who don't have it. I think some of the artistes are more qualified than those who make the national honors list. I have had more awards and more popularity without sounding immodest, I am far more educated than some of those who make the list.

What to do for Nollywood not to die?

I have been calling for a constitutional conference in the industry. The guilds must jaw jaw and articulate whatever binds them.

Afer the meeting, there would be need for harmonisation. But there is need for all the stakeholders to meet for another conference if not, the patient will die tomorrow.

How do you survive in a dead or comatose Nollywood?

Well, I incorporated a PR outfit called Yobafa as a business entity in 1995 to do PR, marketing communications and advertising.

As you know, I studied mass communications and specialise in public relations. I also studied philosophy and now I am studying law so we are not just stuck in one place. Because of the fact that Nollywood is comatose, I am learning to diversify.