HE started life as a broadcaster, fought in the Biafran Civil war, rose to the position of a director in the ministry before quitting what he has variously described as the drudgery of working in the ministry. He has exchanged that life with the excitement of life as probably the most recognized and famous actors in Nollywood.
His journey into stardom started on a massive high when he played Okonkwo in Nigeria Television Authorities production of Chinua Achebe's award winning book THINGS FALL APART. A role that made him the most recognized face on Nigerian nay, African television and has mostly defined his contribution to Nollywood.
A man voluble and eloquent, a national award winner, the and a man whose sons have towed his line by becoming notable actors themselves Pete Edochie (MON) has very strong views about Nollywood and what is going on in Ibo land.
We caught up with him in his Enugu Town home. With two jeeps and a couple of other cars parked in the garage he cut a perfect picture of affluence. It was ten in the morning. He had just come in from Abuja but his living room was already filled with people who had come to tap from his wealth of wisdom. He offered us palm wine when we arrived.
“We are Ibos. In Iboland we do not offer you Cocacola or Beer. Traditionally we offer our visitors Oji (Kola) or palm wine. I am a titled man and I have to observe tradition and culture. This is who we are, this is what this generation is forgetting and that is why things are going wrong everywhere? The Oji represents the things that bind us that is why it is called Oji which means 'Ojikotara' that which glues us together. So when you give somebody Kola it is an expression of the unity that we are advocating for.” We learnt several other lessons on the Ibo culture and tradition for the one hour we spent with Ogadagidi, the Ononenyi of Nteje Pete Edochie but we also came with our own questions that we wanted to ask.
IT has been a long time we have seen you in any movie. What are you doing now?
Nigeria is going to get its first Saint very soon. The Reverend Father, Iwene Tansi. The process has been going on for a long while now and it is almost complete. I decided to shoot a movie on his life which was researched very well. When I finished the movie, I took it to the Vatican and it was approved and I was told to take the film round the country which is what I am doing. The response has been absolutely amazing. We have to look into all that we have in Nigeria and stop doing movies that insult the intellect. People should start thinking about leaving a legacy for the coming generations.
What are the draw backs of the movie industry as it is presently constituted?
The people who are making movies are children and most of them are unintelligent. The person who is playing the Igwe roles in all the movies these days is Olu Jacobs. He is not an Igbo man. Simply do not understand why somebody who does not speak the Igbo language, who does not understand the culture, the mind and the psychology of a people should be the one playing those roles. This is the reason why those roles are not being properly interpreted. Have you ever seen a woman beside a Northern Emir. But I watched a film where people had to help hold Olu Jacobs wife in the movie and he basically raped her because she refused to have sex with him and he was supposed to be the Igwe in the film. That is an absolute insult to the traditional stools of the Igbo people. If he knew better he would have advised the producers of such a movie or should never have even taken part in it at all.
Haven't you done a movie from another culture that you do not understand fully?
I was part of the movie, Amina, but that was different because I grew up in the North and I understand the culture very well. You have to know a people to understand them. You also have to understand the appurtenances of office they occupy before you can apply them.
What about the new trend of governors of the South- South Sates in particular using much younger actors as advisers in their cabinets, while people like you who are matured and knowlegable and who have also been given national awards are left out in the cold?
I do not have any problems with anybody being made an adviser. personally . Ononenyi does not need anything else from anybody. I have been given so many honors in life. I am a titled man, I am the chairman of the rebranding project in Nigeria and I am a National awardee so why would I be in such a hurry to be a governor's adviser. The truth is this, if those in power choose to use little children as advisers then what they will get is the advice of little children. It is a shame really that people ignore those who have something to offer society.
There have been running issues in the Actors Guild of Nigeria AGN. Issues of leadership between Emeka Ike, Segun Arinze and the rest of them. You were invited to mediate on the matter, what happened?
I was invited alright but if people invite you into something because they think that you are wise enough and old enough to give them the advice they need to forge ahead, they should also trust that can proffer useful advice for them. One thing though that I have never done is to put my hand into something that fails. I have never been associated with failures. Whatever I have done in life has succeeded so when they called me in and suddenly people started talking about why I should be the one to settle the crisis, I took my hands away and decided to concentrate on running my life and my business. I am too old and too busy to burn my reputation.
What about the slide in quality in the Industry?
You should ask the critics and the experts. I am an actor and I make sure that whatever I do has to be of quality. You have been watching my films. You have directed and written some of them so you should know. I felt that people like Wole Soyinka would institute an award and reward excellence not the charade they do in Bayelsa. Let those who understand what we do in Nigeria be the ones who will determine who has succeeded in their calling.
Away from the pressures of work and National duties, how do you relax?
Before my kidnap I use to take walks in the evenings but I do not want to take that chance again. I stay in my house now with my people, drink my palm wine, read my books and say my prayers. I am content with myself and what I have.
That brings us to your kidnap. You have never really said anything much about it.
Because there is nothing much to say. I was coming from church when I was kidnapped. The boys who kidnapped me are a product of a system that has failed itself and its citizens. They did not do anything to me. They had utmost respect for my person and I was released promptly.
What about money? How much was paid to them?
I am not answering that question. I do not know whether money was paid to them or not. I do not know how much was paid if anything was. I think that is a private matter. The only thing is that I am doing everything to avoid a repeat performance.
Should Nigerian Film makers who are basically Ibo's, being that the first notable movie made in Nollywood was an Ibo film concentrate on making language films?
I do not know. The reason for making movies in English was to reach larger audiences but that does not denigrate from our making our films in the language we understand and in the culture we are from. I think we really should make more Ibo films and subtitle them. That way we can reach larger audiences with our message and promote our culture and traditions. Thank God now that we now have stations like Odenigbo and Kpakapndo whose sole goal is to promote the Igbo language and culture.