Isoko North, Delta State-born Opa Williams is a well-known show business personality in Nigeria. This graduate of the University of Miami, United States of America, and of two other institutions in London and Nigeria, launched himself into prominence as a top moviemaker several years ago.
In this interview with
Gbenga Bada, Williams, who recently celebrated his birthday, said he has God to bless for his life but insisted on keeping his family out of the picture.
You have been a strong force in entertainment in the last 19 years. How have you been able to achieve such success?
We bless God. I can’t say I’ve achieved it all and I know it’s not by my power or might but simply by His grace. I’ve been in the industry for the past 19 years, (and have worked in) film productions to live stage shows and stage drama, a bit of musical and more. It’s been challenging but very interesting and it’s been enjoyable as well.
Briefly, can you tell us how you began what culminated into what you do today?
I started off with TV production before getting into what you now have as Nollywood as far back as 1992. From there I moved to comedy and I moved back to TV programmes. Later I went back to a bit of concerts here and there starting off with Nite of a Thousand Laughs.
You started off with TV productions then to movies and later to staging of shows and back to TV drama and sitcoms, why the changes?
I won’t really refer to it as changes but rather movement within the same entertainment circle. I have only been moving round and touching all the aspects of entertainment. It’s more like a threshold of always re-inventing and knowing fully well that the only thing that is constant is change. Also, you must know that for anyone to succeed in the industry, you have to know it like the back of your palm. I just believe they are all of the same indices – that is the TV programmes, home videos and events are all of the same factor.
Would it be right to say that your versatility in the industry is as a result of your training outside the country?
Well, it might not be totally as a result of my training outside the country because there are people who have not left the country but are doing great in the industry. I did economics, marketing, theatre arts, business administration and industrial relations. All that combined schooled me enough to know that I have to keep on moving. Well, maybe some of the things I saw and learnt while abroad might have helped my versatility but basically, I understood how to go about it and I’m exploring all the available chances in it. So, it’s not a matter of where I studied but being schooled enough to be able to diversify into other areas of entertainment.
After Deadly Affairs, your first movie in 1994, you have produced over 15 and the last in 2007. Why have you eased yourself out of the industry?
I might not be visible in Nollywood commercially, but I don’t just do things for the fun of it. I ask myself what value this is going to bring to my reputation and the society at large before shooting a film. Predominantly, I don’t play to the gallery; I play to conscience. I don’t look at the commercial gains because money might be involved, but it’s not all about money for me. Aside that, you look again at the bastardisation of Nollywood and ask yourself if you want to be seen among the pack. So, I distinguish myself instead of being extinguished with my values and now I’ve turned into a spectator watching from outside. But above all, I bless God for the continuity of powered knowledge. We can never depart from Nollywood, it’s just me taking a rest and watching other people dance after you have danced and you see a new song and dance steps.
What inspired your diversion into comedy?
I was inspired to do comedy because I saw in it a tool to make people come together irrespective of religion, political background, colour or even age. You see, a joke would only keep you happy. Laughter would not kill you, maybe football might, maybe boxing might kill you but laughter would never kill you, rather, it would make you younger. Look around anyone that has a smile on his or her face looks younger and those that have frown on their faces look ugly and older. So, comedy for me, is a tool I needed to drive a new thing in the industry. When I started comedy shows about 15 years back, there was little comedy in Nigeria. Maybe things have changed and comedians travel up and down but it’s another source of income. For me, it’s about developing another side of the industry, creating job opportunities, manpower and self-reliance, so I think that was why I went into comedy.
I’m into a lot of things. I do home videos, TV programmes, live shows. I’m about production, really. My life is about live productions, TV productions and stage productions. I may not be as commercially visible as I used to be, but I guess you see me here and there once in a while doing different things.
What was the inspiration and idea that created most of your shows, most especially, Nite of a Thousand Laughs, The Evening and MBUFU?
Nite of a Thousand Laughs is a premium comedy concept. It’s probably the only comedy show around because it’s strictly comedy. We needed something that would make a family event and we found out that comedy is one of those things. That was how it came about. Do something different, do something people around will really appreciate. The Evening is another concept because for me, I’m a marketer and entertainment entrepreneur, and as such, we need to create a brand product for some certain kind of market, we created Nite of a Thousand Laughs for the middle class, MBUFU for the lower class, The Evening is for the upwardly settled not for the upwardly mobile because the upwardly mobile already have Nite of a Thousand Laughs. We create most of these events with marketing and satisfaction in mind.
In the past, not many people were into production but we have many of them now. As at then, we were few but you must also know that when something starts, other interests get involved and things increase. We had major technical practitioners; people who had background in TV. We started all, but now you have everybody coming in, marketers and businessmen.
You said entertainment for you is not all about the money you stand to gain but the value you want to add to your reputation as an entrepreneur and businessman and also to the society at large. How then would you say the business has paid off in terms of remuneration?
When we say we are not in for the money, it doesn’t mean that we are there to be poor. We aren’t in for the money because we are also there to create wealth, we are there to make an impact and if Nite of a Thousand Laughs is 15 then we are definitely not there for the money, there are shows that came because of the money and are no more. We are here for the passion, creation of jobs, wealth and capacity building and to make a living out of our passion and what we love doing. Since God has given us a talent, He said we shall live by the talent, ‘which He has given unto thee’ but in the pursuit of talent you must also draw a line showing that you also want to leave behind a legacy that people can look up to. We thank God that we are creating jobs and giving opportunities.
Now there are a lot of comedy live shows, how do you cope with the competition?
I don’t think there is a competition. We have different brands now in comedy shows. It is for you to understand your brand, your target audience and satisfy them. They are rather complementing than competing with us. One has to be up there, some are down there. We have premium brands in any product and you have follow brands. There is no competition. We just do our best. We try to innovate. Our shows are 100 per cent comedy.
You are known to have always kept your immediate family from any interview or inquiry. Can you tell us briefly about your family?
I’m married and I have a family but I don’t talk about my family because they are not the ones in the spotlight. I’m a tree and my family is my roots, you never see a tree and see its roots. You have to dig it, and there is no point digging this root because I want the root to be where it is.
Do you have any regrets?
You see, it is not by my making that I’m here today with you. Jesus said I came to fulfil the prophecy. Which means that what will happen has been written down. So, I cannot regret what has been written for me, I can only be happy with the kind of life I live.
For your kind of personality, who has been able to distinguish himself and has also been involved in virtually all the sectors of the entertainment industry, what would be your take on the Nigerian entertainment industry as a whole?
Unfortunately, the industry is growing like a tumour. There’s growth but not in normal places and that’s why I said it has tumour growth. But first, we have to look at how the industry began and how everything really started. It was self-evolving and there was no structure because several people just got into the industry without background and there were no rules to caution people or check them. It’s still unfortunate because once you produce things, it’s out and out for good, there is no protection of any sort, you find a lot of our job on You Tube and stations even share your jobs and this is because the Nigerian entertainment industry was kick-started without the basic stand to say this is how it should go. It’s like a paper cut in the wind with no direction aside anywhere the wind blows it. So, there’s growth but it’s a tumour growth, those that are supposed to be enjoying the growth are not and those that are not supposed to be enjoying it are doing so. Let’s take the movie industry as an example. Many years back, you could call names of moviemakers because they were all perfectionists but these days there are several moviemakers. At some point, the Igbo traders came in and they were also the financial suppliers and kept it alive when everything seemed to be going down. But now, they too have left because they came and pumped a lot of money into the wrong direction, there were no capacity or structural building and all we had was just glamourising the art. We went to the market one day to get a friend some movies and we found out that it was N100 each. When we were doing movies, it was N100, things have gone up, the equipments have gone and things have changed but imagine the price is still the same. It would only be better when structural and capacity building is put in place then if you pay an artiste N20 million, you are guaranteed to make N200 million but now you can’t even guarantee N5 million… But I sincerely believe it would rise again with the right association, thinking and all that. Same with musicians, they come out with hit songs and they get good pay but it ends there because after every show, they get lesser than they first earned, the structures are not there. A musician can’t sell one or two million CDs and those that say they sell that number do not live a life that represents someone that has sold two million. If you sold two million copies, you should have N20 million. But you don’t see that on these artistes and this is simply because the structures are not there. After we started comedy shows, a lot of comedy shows came onboard but today where are day? They have gone down simply because structures are not there. Marketing strategies are not there, we were happy that other people are trying to open the economy but let’s have structures; entertainment seems to be growing but it’s tumour growth, which is not in the right direction.
What has kept your business growing despite all these problems facing the Nigerian entertainment industry?
I think God’s guidance and my ability to work very hard while learning everyday. I have been able to learn and back up my talent with the education of the mind and the circumcision of the eyes. I always tell myself that I don’t want to be stuck; I want to be able to move all the time.
Give us an insight into your educational background?
I started at the University of Benin (UNIBEN), where I studied theatre arts and during my first session in the second semester, I left for London to study economics and business management and as such I carried along with me the theatre arts thing. Then, at the same university in London, I studied industrial relations and graduated in economics but I also did a diploma in marketing. I was doing all these courses because I was young and the only way I could get myself busy was to either be involved in drugs or education and I chose to be in education.