Some of Gabriel Okoye’s colleagues in the Nigerian movie industry describe him as a controversial person, a nonconformist even.
However, in this interview with Deputy Editor, Charles Okogene, the man popularly referred to as Gabosky, rejected the description but insisted that he is a man who calls a spade a spade.
You were one of those that supported the New Distribution Framework when almost everybody did not want to see anything good in it, but we were surprised to read what we can call your objections to the framework. What is happening?
I’ll be frank with you. When the New Distribution Framework was introduced, we saw it as a way forward for the industry. This is because we knew that distribution is very crucial, the content was getting poor and we were clamouring for a change. We started asking government and meeting regulatory agencies to come in and regulate the industry because the industry has come to stay. So, we embraced the framework despite the fact that there were a lot of people who were not comfortable with it. But we said ‘let’s test it, let’s see the direction it is going to,’because, according to the script, it was going to bring out mega distributors that will take over the apex of the pyramid of distribution and filter down to what is already on ground; community distributors who have only one shop in Alaba, Idumota, Iweka Road or Aba. So, we wanted somebody to be at the apex of distribution and become a mega distributor all over the country and then filter down to these community or regional distributors. When Emeka Mba, director of National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) introduced this-which was a script by Yinka Ogundaisi that he took to Afolabi Adesanya-we saw it as a way forward and embraced it. Along the line, we saw that there was no direction. You cannot say you want to create a few mega distributors to service about 20, 30, 50 community distributors we have already and end up creating 100 distributors that are even worse than what we had at the beginning. So, we started asking to know why he refused to licence people like Andy Best, Ossy Affasson and licenced actors as distributors. The people you have refused to licence have structures, have shops and now you are licensing people who have no business background and are not even planning to own a store. We asked him, ‘you said you were planning to create mega distributors, that was the impression you gave to Nigerians and that was what attracted Nu Metro and Transcorp to buy into it, attracted people like us.’
He ended up licensing every Tom, Dick and Harry and he is asking people in the street to become national distributors. It becomes a laughing matter, there is no genuine intention, no direction, and no commitment. That is why I want to alert the industry that there is no genuine intention on the part of the NFVCB headed by Mba. The framework (is not one) that will benefit the industry. We should go to Dora Akunyili now that we are opportune to have her as a minister of information and communication to address it by getting somebody that has the commitment to take over from Mba and implement the New Distribution Framework.
Are all those who opposed the framework at the beginning not vindicated by what you have just said?
You cannot reject the food prepared for you by your wife without opening it. You have to open it, see whether it is something you desire to have before you say, ‘no, I don’t want to eat it.’The marketers did not come in to look at what the NFCVB has as par the New Distribution Framework before they started rejecting it, but, I had to go in and see what it is all about. Looking at the script, I found out that it was okay, let’s support it but coming to the implementation÷and as I am talking to you, I am not saying that the New Distribution Framework is entirely bad, it is the executioner and the way they are executing it that is bad. If you follow it logically, you will find out that in a way, marketers are like prophets, they saw what I saw when I went in, they saw it without going in. So, in a way, I agree with you that they are vindicated.
Now that you have tasted the food and it is not palatable, what is the way forward?
It is not a coincidence that when the going was rough, when the marketers were rejecting this framework, when there was a storm and the board decided on a retreat at Obudu Ranch, the only person we saw worthy to address that retreat was Dora Akunyili. She told us that if we are to do a regulatory job, we must first of all regulate ourselves. And how do we do that? You look at the staff of the body that is going to do that regulation to see if they are clean, whether they have the capacity, are transparent enough to carryout the regulation. If they are not, retrench or sack all the corrupt officers because that was what she did at the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). So, if we are to revisit that, we have to rid censors board of corrupt people. Akunyili can do that if she wants to and we are looking onto her to regulate the movie industry, come and relieve Emeka Mba and his cronies of the job they are doing now because they cannot do it.
In clear terms, when you say relieve, are you calling for the sack of Emeka Mba?
It is not sack÷if you say sack it is as if I am saying that Emeka Mba should be sacked. I am saying he should be relieved of his duties and find competent people that will do the job. Let him go to another place where he might be needed but for this censors board, he is not needed there. He cannot say the board was not well funded. Demola James suffered as the first DG, he had no fund to function but that is not the same today. Go and see the allocation to the board now. Mrs. Roseline Odey came, she had little money and made little impact. Awareness for moviedom in Nigeria was created during the tenure of Emeka Mba and Frank Nweke Jnr. It was started by Chukwuemeka Chikere and that was when money started rolling into the industry but no impact. Nothing has been done under Emeka Mba, Afolabi Adesanya of National Film Corporation (NFC) and Adebambo Adewopo the DG of the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC). If we wait for sometime and there is no improvement, we will picket the board because we can’t allow the industry to die like that because of one person.
Have you called Emeka Mba’s attention to these anomalies you have raised?
What was his reaction?
He was just true to type.
What do you mean by ‘true to type’?
True to type in the sense that he is nonchalant about the industry.
Your company was one of those licenced?
So, what is the position of the licence?
I am trying to develop it through the banks but the banks are saying that this is no business. And in a situation where the banks were coming in to do business with the mega distributors that were to be created, maybe 10 of them, and at the end, about 100 persons were licenced, the banks withdrew. Imagine a situation where you licence about 100 GSM companies in the country, would the banks be involved? They won’t. So, the banks have withdrawn. Go round all the people that got licence and ask them ‘what bank is supporting you?’No bank is ready to do business with them because what is everybody’s business is no man’s business.
From your point of view, how many people do you think were licensed?
There at the licensing ground at Planet One, 45 licences were given out, Emeka Mba later brought out from his pocket and wrote five more licences and said that there are about 40 provisional licences that will be issued. These have been issued and he is still giving more licences.
Conservatively we have about 100 now.
You spoke about Ossy Affasson and Andy Best who were denied licence and you also took exception to the fact that actors were licensed. Why were this people not given licence?
At the beginning, they did not support the framework; they were calling for a stakeholders’conference to address other issues that border on distribution not licensing people because they felt that licensing is not the major issue. But we said, ‘let’s start from that restructuring, since it is trying to create mega distributors. Let those among you that are already distributing have maybe five to 10 distributors at the top that will be charged with the responsibility of acquiring and releasing movies for others to distribute.’This five to 10 people will be empowered, banks will support them to the extent that they will have the financial capacity that when a movie is produced, they can acquire it by paying say N5 million and the community distributors will come to them to distribute the film. With this method, it will be easy to monitor the distribution network. But when people were kicking against the framework, Emeka (Mba) felt that they did not want to cooperate with him and we said let the framework go ahead, they will join later.
Are you now saying that they were not licensed because of their opposition to the framework?
Something like that. If you are licensing Ossy or Andy, you are just giving him a piece of paper because he is already distributing. But if you win him over, educate him on the framework, bring other infrastructure to support him, create a niche for him by making him a mega distributor, you will find out that every other person will bring his money to support him. He will no longer spend his money making films, you will make the film and he will acquire it. So, if he is acquiring four films in a year, you will strive to make sure that your own is among the ones he will acquire. But when you grant licence to 100 people and charge them with the responsibility of releasing films, they will be scouting for films to be released and so any ‘Tom, Dick and Harry becomes a movie to be released. What you have done is wash the industry down the drain.
What exactly do you have against Jide Kosoko and Paul Obazele?
If Jide Kosoko, Paul Obazele or any other actor or person that is licensed is not grounded in movie marketing, it means that the New Distribution Framework is negating the policy for which it was established. From the policy, the NFVCB said it wanted mega distributors that have facilities on ground either operating as chain distributors (must have chain of stores all over the nation or that has a regional set up as a regional distributor with offices and paid staff). That is where the N50 million bond came in. They sold this idea to everybody and everybody agreed that this is what it takes to be a mega distributor in Nigeria only for them to turn around and begin to look at faces before giving out licence to people who have no shop, no office and no money. If you are setting up a new framework it means that there is a framework that existed before. All they needed do was to find out the shortcomings of the existing one and improve on it. But if you are licensing novices that have nothing to do with movie distribution that is distribution and not new distribution framework.
In essence, what you are saying is that you have no problem licensing an actor provided he has structures on ground.
I don’t care whether you are Paul Obazele or Jide Kosoko, I don’t have any sentiment about it. What I am saying is that if you want to be a distributor, you must have the structures stipulated by the framework. That is why I said that Emeka Mba lacks the willpower to implement the provisions of the New Distribution Framework.
You seem to be fighting this alone…
No, no, you see, the movie industry in Nigeria is plagued by hunger. When we started the industry, the home video or the so-called Nollywood, we were only about two or three and I have always been vocal. I have the passion to talk about the industry. The industry was created out of nothing not by accident. The industry did not come by accident because it took planning and commitment. What I am trying to say is that it is not true that I am on a one-man riot when I talk about happenings in the industry. Some of the people that are supposed to talk are hungry now, they cannot talk because the industry is going down and they don’t have another means of livelihood. I have other means of livelihood so I can talk.
Other means of livelihood like?
I am an importer of electronics. That has been my business before I ventured into movies. I have stake in other industries like oil companies. What I am trying to tell you is that if people like me keep quiet, the industry will go to extinction.
How come most of the regulatory agencies like the NCC, NFVCB are having problems with those it ought to regulate?
I will blame the problem on the politicians. Why do I say so? In Nigeria it has become a tradition that when they want to appoint somebody for a post, they look at who the godfather will be, who will anoint him? By that anointment, they appoint the worse person over the best persons. What is the pedigree of the persons they appointed into these agencies? Where have they worked before? With these things, the person is bound to fail from the beginning because he has been appointed to do a work that is bigger than him. If you go through these agencies you are talking about, you find out that there is no job that any person that is there has started and completed. Adewopo that is in the NCC cannot combat piracy and has shown no direction on that. Emeka Mba cannot move NFVCB forward and so the best thing the government has to do is to look for people who can move the agencies forward.
How would Gabosky react if you hear people say that you are a nonconformist? Is that the right description of who you are?
No. The right description of who I am is that I never support cheating; I don’t support oppressors or evil. If you are corrupt, you will never be my friend because I will be the first person to tell the whole world that my friend is corrupt. But that does not mean you should come to the public and lie so I’ll support you because you are my friend. I will tell you no. If you say I don’t support people, I supported Emeka Mba when he muted the idea of the New Distribution Framework. When I saw that the framework is going the wrong way, I had to tell him immediately that this is not the desire of the people. So, I look at facts not the person that brings the facts. I call a spade a spade, I am not controversial or a nonconformist.
Is Gabosky rich?
Well, it depends on how you quantify riches; if you talk of self-satisfaction in naira and kobo, I am rich in the sense that I have the basic things I need to make me happy. I don’t hope to own structures all over Lagos. What I need is money to train my children to whatever level of education.
Why did you choose to dump your degree for the importation of electronics?
I want to be practical; I went to school to sharpen my knowledge so that I can embrace life. I did not go to the university to become what the certificate they awarded me entails. Education to me is just to equip one for life’s numerous challenges. I am into movies, I did not study movie, I am into business I did not study business. I am into oil and gas but did not study anything about it. I am able to do all these because of my university education. So, I am not so particular about what somebody studied at the university.
How do you relax?
I am gym freak! in fact, I have a whole building stocked with the latest gym equipment and I work out there. I also relax by going to the niteclub with my wife and friends to dance and generally mingle mix and network.